Director Bjorn Tagemose delves inside his “silent cinema rock opera taking place in hell… with a live band”.
By all accounts, Gutterdammerung is an event like no other. It blends live rock and roll with some of the biggest names in the creative world for an immersive silent cinema experience. Fans can watch action unfold in the unique visual spectacular, accompanied by a full live band. Famous faces and driving forces behind the project include Grace Jones, Iggy Pop, Henry Rollins, Eagles Of Death Metal’s Jesse Hughes, Motörhead’s Lemmy, Tom Araya, Mark Lanegan, Volbeat, Queens of the Stone Age’s Joshua Homme, Justice, Nina Hagen and Slash.
With a jaw-dropping list of collaborators we caught up with the creative mind behind Gutterdammerung, director Bjorn Tagemose, to find out more about the part rock show part immersive cinema experience. His excitement about the project is infectious. “The right for beauty is also for people in the gutter,” he says of the unusual title, nodding to the creative input of the now departed Lemmy. “It’s real rock and roll made by rockers for people who love rock and roll.”
Read the interview in full after the trailer, and catch Gutterdammerung live at a very special performance at the London Palladium.
How would you describe Gutterdammerung?
A silent cinema rock opera taking place in hell… with a live band. Maybe another way to put it would be a rock opera without a cheese element. It’s with real rockers, and real stars. I think that’s a very big difference to classical rock operas. This one has really been supported full force by the cast, who are all my heroes.
Where did the idea come from?
It actually came from a love of both classical and rock music, and also the fact that I’m very addicted to deviant art and film history. I’m a big fan of old silent movies. All the artwork you see by a lot of modern day rock bands is high quality deviant art.
The project has been funded by art collectors, and it’s no wonder why Grace Jones actually went for it. She saw that the quality of everyone working on it was really high. I guess it’s a tribute to rock and roll, but also to art and deviant art around rock and roll. The cast involved in it all share that.
Iggy Pop has a very strange collection of serial killers’ paintings. Josh Homme is an avid collector of deviant art. Slash is a big film buff and a lover of silent movies; if you look at his socials it’s just that. I guess it unites all those people.
I think it’s all of these things together that makes it really special. Mostly the fact that it’s live and performed by an amazing band, which comes to life through the people who back it. It’s half of Iggy’s band and has been produced by several of the cast. The band are very well befriended with Henry Rollins and a lot of the stars who feature in our film, so it’s not just any band; it’s quite something.
How did you approach those stars?
The big advantage I had was that I worked with quite a few musicians in the past, including on Grace Jones’ last two shows. She’s a very credible name. I also worked with The Hives and Editors before that, and made a lot of weird shows that people really liked when I showed them my work.
I made a whole comic story with a brilliant visual artist here in Belgium who drew it out in a fantastic way. We’ll definitely release that one-day. After seeing all of that it was really easy. Grace was onboard straight away when she heard the idea. Then I met Lemmy who totally fell in love with the whole storyboard, especially the big war and history part that’s filmed in all the trenches where the real First World War took place.
You have Grace, Iggy and Lemmy; the holy trio of rock and roll and art together. When I introduced it to Rollins he went berserk. Then everyone else introduced each other. Lemmy introduced me to Slash, Josh introduced me to Mark Lanegan… it was really natural.
When I didn’t have a score I called Josh and asked him to help out and he told me to speak to Alain Johannes. He’s the sh*t when you need the devil’s guitar. We became a whole group of friends. They didn’t get large sums of money; they did it out of love for the things we were making.
Could you believe you managed it?
I still can’t believe it. I slap myself in the face every time I see the show again.
The weird thing is we have a movie and a rock opera, but people stand on their chairs and stage dive. I never thought people would form a mosh-pit in front of our film. It’s pretty crazy. It still blows my mind every time.
When Rollins and I watch it together, we are like dogs wagging our tails. It’s fun every time. It’s crazy it actually happened. Everywhere we play the crowd are like an army. They shout every time they see one of those famous faces. There’s one big roar in the room; that’s my favourite moment.
On the other hand there are very intimate moments. There’s a very silent moment with Mark Lanegan in a graveyard. The film has operatic moments, and very soft moments. It’s not only a film for people who like hard rock, there’s a lot of poetic sides to it. People come for the art, or the opera, or for the heroes, or to shout for Lemmy. You get a very varied crowd in the room; from young to old. It’s very fun to see the whole collective we gather.
Is the final product what you thought it would be?
It became way larger and louder. It started as an art project, with a very small budget. We didn’t have any money to promote it. The only thing we’ve had is the underground rock lovers, and social media. It’s really growing through people who know something about rock and roll, into the mainstream. The cool thing is it’s the fans pushing it, it’s not Hollywood money. It’s real rock and roll made by rockers for people who love rock and roll.
I didn’t expect creating this little movement. We’ve only done 22 shows but we have people who can recite all the words. I didn’t think that would happen. It’s turned into this weird cult thing actually.
We are fighting off corporate money to keep it as a family project funded by very small investors. We don’t want to commercialise it. Now that the promoters see what it is they are starting to support it and book more shows. It’s fun to see the growth. But it’s an on-going battle, really fighting for art and not being seduced by the devil. Which we will not be.
The show has been played at Download Festival, and also in operatic venues. Does it adapt to different venues?
It definitely does. The one at London’s Palladium will be different to the one at Download Festival. It has much more subtle moments in it, and a few surprise guests; young people playing music. It’s been a deliberate choice by some of the musicians involved to bring some new talent onto our stage.
We had a show in Paris with an unknown girl which blew people’s minds. That’s the effect we try to get. We’ll have the same in London. There’s two people coming to play with us who are absolutely amazing.
You get a completely different atmosphere in a theatre. The opera factor is much larger in a space like that. It has a theatrical element. It’s so much more beautiful indoors when it’s really dark; it becomes holographic. The band completely merges with the film in one picture. It’s quite magical and very different to the outdoors.
It’s also not every day as a rocker you get invited to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s digs. We’re very honoured.
Did you ever think this would happen?
You know who actually knew? Lemmy did. He said we’re going to be pissing off people because we’ll be playing Motorhead at the opera. Classically, opera goers think they have the sole right to beauty. The right for beauty is also for people in the gutter. People underestimate how much taste people in the gutter actually have. I think the gutter is bigger than Wagner. Lemmy framed that perfectly.
Gutterdammerung reaches the London Palladium on Thursday 27 April 2017. Tickets are available now through Ticketmaster.co.uk.