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DON CHIPONE - Fine musical noises and textures since 1982

DON CHIPONE comes from a small town near Duesseldorf. At the age of 19, he had produced his first tapes under the name "Innocents Abroad" and "Family Works". Then he bought his first keyboard – a Roland Juno-6, and, shortly after, a Roland TR-606 Drum Machine and started to create electronic instrumental tracks that were recorded directly to cassette tape. 

In 1981, he moved to Berlin in order to become part of the vibrant music scene of the "Mauerstadt". He formed a band named "Sirens Call" and started to write his own songs. Since the two other band members were also songwriters, the band had a decent number of tracks in a short time and first gigs were played. The band also became friends with the then newly formed "Element of Crime", and so it happened that Sven Regener, the singer and bandleader of Element of Crime, played rhythm guitar in a memorable concert at the K.O.B. club in Potsdamer Strasse.

The Berlin magazine "tip" got hold of a Sirens Call tape, wrote a big article about the band, and compared them to "Philip Boa and the Voodooclub".

When the band were booked for a gig in Duesseldorf by a club called "Zakk", Sirens Call's main guitarist had to cancel his appearance due to an important life event, and it was again Sven Regener, who helped the band out by introducing them to Juergen Mann, who had been the founder and lead guitarist in the very popular Berlin band "Zatopek".

The gig in Duesseldorf was a great success, but even more important was the creative potential that Juergen Mann brought to the table. He also was a talented football player and so Don and Juergen both played in the football team that was lead by Burkhardt Seiler, owner of the best record store in Berlin, the "Zensor".

The Zensor was a legend in Berlin at the time and everyone in the alternative music scene would pass through his shop sooner or later. Burkhardt also owned his own a label and concert agency.

One member of the Zensor football team also happened to be an event manager for the Berlin agency "Deplana-Kunsthalle", which was co-organizing the "Sommernachtstraum" festival in Berlin in 1986.

The Sommernachtstraum was celebrated in Berlin every year for a number of years. It was a huge art festival, and that included literally all forms of art. In 1986, Marilyn Wood was the leading artist and organizer of the festival. 

The event manager friend from the football club was at that time looking for artists to put on the lineup for the festival and especially for the grand closing event on Breitscheidplatz. Don and Juergen decided to have a shot at it, hence forming a new duo with the main idea, to create an orchestral music piece that involved the bells of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedaechtniskirche being played live by multiple musicians. To their surprise, their proposal was accepted, a contract was made and advance money was paid. Unfortunately, it turned out that the church was not allowing live music with their bells. To save the show, Don used his advance money to buy the only affordable sampler that was on the market, the Sequential Circuits Prophet 2000.

Don and Juergen composed a 45+ minutes long piece entitled "Ring My Bell". They hired 18 musicians, including 6 string players, 4 brass players including Sven Regener, plus a guitar, a bass, a sampler keyboard (with the bells), drums and percussion, even timpani. At the grand closing event on Breitscheidplatz, the piece was performed in front of an audience of 50,000 people on a stage that was built especially for this performance. The performance was conducted on the stage by Don and directed from behind the scenes by Juergen. It made the front cover headline of the BZ, a large Berlin newspaper.

A short while after that concert, two of the musicians had teamed up to form a new band. The musicians were Bishop, who played electronic drums, and Legion Mars aka Otto von Bismarck, who played guitar and keyboards. The name of the band was Space Cowboys. Bishop and Bismarck asked Don to join the band as the "Chip", i.e., being the one to provide the electronic backbone of the music. The last member to join was Apollo Jones, who had made a name for himself as a very extroverted performance artist of mainly his own poetry. He became the vocalist of the band. Juergen Mann took over the management.

They recorded a first demo cassette, which got heard by Dimitri Hegemann, who was the organizer of the "Berlin Atonal" festival, a festival for experimental music and visual art, which took place every year between 1982 and 1990 at the SO36 in Berlin Kreuzberg. In 1986 and 1987, the Space Cowboys were part of the Berlin Atonal lineup, exciting the audience with their fresh mix of hard beats, sequencer bass lines, loud guitars and Apollo's explosive and sometimes unpredictable delivery.

The demo cassette contained the band's version of the Serge Gainsbourg classic “Je t'aime”, which became an instant favorite at the band's live shows.

In 1989, Space Cowboys were one of the winners of the "Berlin Rock News" competition, aka the "Senatsrockwettbewerb" (a competition of Berlin bands, held by the culture department). The winners were always granted studio time in the "Beat Studio", a legendary music recording studio owned by the senate and since the early 70's operated by the equally legendary Gerd Bluhm. That's how the band came to put down their first professional recording, including Je t'aime, which later became one of three songs on the band's debut 12" record on the Interfisch label (see Discography). It was also the last recording with Apollo Jones, who left the band to have more time for painting and writing. Otto took over lead vocals.

In 1988, Don had started to work in a new local record store, owned by Doro Peters (who also co-owned the Café Swing at Nollendorfplatz) and managed by Axel Schulz, who was also manager of the "Loft" (a club inside the Metropol at Nollendorfplatz) and later became the manager of the (self-proclaimed) "best band in the world", Die Ärzte. The store was called "New Noise" and next to Don and Axel, Niels Wittmann of the Strangemen also worked there. The Strangemen had a recording contract with the Vielklang label. The Vielklang owners were aware of the ongoing success of the live appearances by the Space Cowboys, as they were playing in many of the 'hot' venues, and so it happened that they decided to sign the band for their first studio album, "Home on the Range".

After a short search, a producer for the album was found in Raymond "Nainz" Watts, also known as "Pig", who was at the time working with the likes of KMFDM and Einstürzende Neubauten and was the perfect match for the band's hard-hitting grooves and guitar sounds.

From 1988 to 1992, Don was working as the Berlin sales rep for the German distribution branch of Rough Trade Records, so it was no surprise that Rough Trade Germany came to hear about the ongoing success of the Space Cowboys.

Meanwhile, the year is 1990, the trio wanted to add more colors to their palette and decided to expand the band, so they were looking to add a guitarist, a bass player, and another vocalist, preferably a female one. The guitarist was found in Mike Vamp, who had just arrived in Berlin after spending three years in London where he had become friends with David Harrow. David had had a huge success in 1984 with a project in which he made the music to the spoken word poetry of Anne Clark. “Our Darkness” and “Sleeper in Metropolis” were huge hits, which are still being played on the radio today. David had also worked with ONU Soundsystem and co-produced tracks for artists such as Lee "Scratch" Perry, Bim Sherman, Mark Stewart, Gary Clail, and performed worldwide with all of the above. The idea was born that David could produce the next Space Cowboys record.

Bishop, the drummer, had meanwhile taken on a job as a bouncer at the “Turbine Rosenheim” night club, where (Acid) House and Techno was the main music style. Dr. Motte, a DJ and producer, was one of the central figures there. Motte had a record out that featured a female vocalist named Daniela, and Motte was also the boy friend of Danielle de Picciotto, with whom he launched the Love Parade in Berlin. Still looking for a female singer for the band, Bishop mistakenly called Danielle (instead of Daniela) and asked if she was interested. She said yes and joined the band shortly after. The first concert was a week later and although she had never really been in a band before, she did a great job and her presence on stage was definitely a win for the band.

Shortly after, Space Cowboys recorded their second studio album, “Locked 'n'  Loaded” for Rough Trade's ‘Our Choice’ label, and David Harrow produced it. Working with David was a lot of fun for the band and especially for Don, as they were swapping samples and had inside baseball talks about the secrets of sampling and producing music.

After having played all the hot venues in Berlin, the band expanded their live appearances and started to tour Europe, playing venues in Amsterdam, Zurich and Prague, amongst many others. At some point, Motte and Jonzon, who had played in Zatopek before, and also with Otto in Caspar Brötzmann Massaker, went along with the band on a twin bill.

All went very well and so Rough Trade decided they wanted to put out a follow-up album to Locked 'n' Loaded on the Our Choice label. Like before, they booked David Harrow for the production.

On one of the last days of the recording sessions, David's agent came to visit us in the studio. Gary Clail & ON-U Sound System, who David had worked with before the Space Cowboys album sessions, had a song in the Top 10 of the British Charts, so a huge success awaited to be celebrated. David's agent also had a contact in the A&R department of the British division of MCA, which was a major record label, and that A&R man apparently was very excited about the demos we had made before our studio sessions. So excited that he made a serious offer to sign us to a contract with MCA. Unfortunately, due to the band's ongoing financial problems, we could not resist to agree to the deal behind the back of our loyal record label Rough Trade. The A&R man invited the band to London, MCA paid for the flights and paid for the expensive Sushi that was happily consumed in celebration of the newly signed contract.

A few days later, we were contacted by Rough Trade. They were not happy with what we had done. Although we were quite embarrassed about the uncool nature of our move, we were still hoping for a happy end. Losing a band to a major label was nothing new to an indie label like Rough Trade. It happened all the time. Rough Trade let us know that they wanted their money back for the recording sessions that they had paid for. We looked to MCA to pay that money, however, that never happened.

As it turned out, the A&R man who had signed us, had been fired. The contract still existed, but there was no one left in the British division of MCA who wanted to invest in us. They let us know that they could not convince their German division to be able to sell enough records in Germany to make it a winning deal for all

parties involved, and so that dream came to an end. First, we lost Rough Trade and now we lost MCA, all within a few days. We had a finished album recording and suddenly owed around 30,000 € (then D-Mark) to Rough Trade for the studio sessions. Of course, we were absolutely unable to pay that money ourselves, so we were frantically looking for a new label to buy our master tape and release it as our next album. We had no success.

A friend of Danielle's suggested that we needed to have a manager who would clear the situation for us, and proposed a meeting with KP Schleinitz who had been a very successful manager in the music business, working with Terence Trent d'Arby and Alphaville, amongst others. He was hesitant at first but then he started to warm to the idea, until in the end he was fully convinced that we had the star potential he was looking for, and he started to make managerial moves such as flying in a photographer from London and a rising star producer from Los Angeles, Danny Saber, who had previously worked with Madonna, to record a brand-new single with us which was called ‘Terrorist’.

Unfortunately, KP also believed we needed an art director and contracted a guy called Jamie Rose to do the job. Jamie clearly had the weird plan to convert us into some sort of super stylish yet street credible gangster rap super group, or something like that. We all had to wear clothes for the photo sessions that we would not have chosen ourselves in a hundred years. We all looked super stylish and we all felt super lost and bad about ourselves.

Even worse, Jamie started to take influence on the music as well, and in the end he wanted to become a band member. The promo posters and the cover for the Terrorist single eventually showed only him on it, with a white A for Anarchy painted on his head.

This time it was the band who were not happy about how things were going.

Shortly after, the band was booked for an appearance at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas. However, after what we had just experienced, and with Jamie breathing down our necks we were not fully motivated and shortly after that concert, the band fell apart. The intense fights in political, financial, and artistic fields had finally cost us our identity as a band, whose strength always had been our individuality.

As a last resort, KP tried to convince Danielle and Otto to pursue solo careers, but that never turned out the way KP had envisioned. Both Otto and Danielle are still active and prominent in the Berlin music scene, but both have done it in their own unique way. They have both stopped listening to the crap that some people in the industry dish out to aspiring artists. Danielle later wrote an insightful book about her personal and artistic development, “The Beauty of Transgression”.

In 1993, Don became the father of a daughter and decided he needed a more responsible field of work and a more reliable source of income than the music industry had proven to be. So he turned his back to making music and trained to become a User Experience designer, which he still is today. In 1996, a second daughter arrived, and Don kept focusing on his family.

Years went by and it was 2008, when the idea of making music in a band knocked on the door again.

[to be continued...]

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