Claus Larsen is Denmark’s biggest musical export for the alternative dancefloor. From Strip Farm, his studio in Jutland, Larsen has made his mark as Leæther Strip, releasing hard, energetic tracks and remixing international artists for more than thirty years.
A prolific remixer, Larsen has whipped into shape tracks by Ministry, Boytronic, Die Krupps, Bronski Beat, Project-X, Gary Numan, The Electric Hellfire Club…and a long list of prominent names from the electronic and industrial music scenes.
A self-taught musician, Larsen has an uncanny ability to knock out cover versions of his favourite songs. From Fad Gadget and Soft Cell to Depeche Mode and Simple Minds, his rapid-fire production skills have generated EBM versions of your favourite songs. A double album of Skinny Puppy covers is on the way.
It is not only as Leæther Strip that Larsen has wielded the lash. His other current projects include Klutæ, Am Tierpark and Mirland/Larsen – openings for electro-punk, synth pop and experimental sounds.
The loss of festivals and tours has hit many artists hard. Larsen has also had to cope with the failure of the Danish medical system to properly care for his husband and touring partner, Kurt Grünewald Hansen. Larsen donated a kidney to Hansen, to save his life, but neglect from doctors meant that the organ was harmed and other health conditions were allowed to spread.
Against this difficult backdrop, we asked Larsen to tell about his latest projects and to colour in some of his background.
Back in 1982, you started making music with a Moog Prodigy. That machine was capable of ripping your head off – did it influence your turn towards hard electronics? Is there other equipment that has helped to shape the way you make music?
Not really. I started out learning to play and program sounds on the Prodigy. It came really naturally for me. Being so hooked on music from a very young age, I kinda knew how the structure of a song was. I had composed my first song after fourteen days of owning that synth – a synthpop song titled “Dreaming.” The “darkness” didn’t really appear in my songs until about ’86. Depeche Mode released Black Celebration and that was a life-changing album for me. It was also my first Depeche Mode concert experience that year, and it blew my mind. Holy shit, they were amazing back then! That album led me down a darker path, musically.
Also, I could finally afford a sampler at that point, so that really made me experiment a lot more with sounds other than the synths. My first sampler was the Ensoniq Mirage, and that really was the early start of the Leæther Strip sound.
Staying with your teenage self, what was it like for you, growing up in the Denmark of the 1980s? Did creative work help to overcome the atmosphere?
It was both a horrible time and an amazing time for me. I was in the closet, so I was a very lonely young man, living a double life. I was not out to anyone – not even my closest friends – and I wasn’t a part of any gay social group. I never went to bars and such; so, all my frustrations and sorrow got released into my music. There was no scene for my kind of music around where I lived, so that also made me develop my own sound.
The 80’s was such a great period for music. Bands were allowed to be strange and original, because the record companies made good money on that. Bands were also very productive, so you had so much stuff coming out all the time. Most bands had several releases every year. It was exciting days for a music lover and collector.
When did you know that music was going to become your career, as well as your passion?
The day I wrote my first song, I just knew that this was what I was meant to do. I took the fastest education I could take, to please my parents. A three-year trade school education to be a TV and Hi-Fi salesman. When that was done, Leæther Strip was formed, and two years later I could quit my job. I’ve been living from it since then.
Leaether Strip has remixed or performed with many of the leading names in the industrial and hard electronics scenes. Are there acts with whom you would still like to work?
Yes, several hundreds of bands, and it’s a big passion of mine to work on others’ songs like that. I learn so much doing it, and I hope it also inspires the bands to have me putting my views and ideas on their songs. Being a “solo” artist sometimes gets a bit lonely, so I welcome the challenge very much.
One of my dreams is to write a song for Marc Almond. Well, I actually wrote several songs with him in mind, but I never had the balls to send it to him. I would also love to collaborate with Martin Gore in some way – maybe a DM remix or something. Yes, I know it’s a pipe-dream, but I’ve worked with people I never thought I would, so who knows? But, if something inspires me, they do not have to be rock stars for me to want to work with them. I love discovering new bands, and if I can help them a bit I’m all for that.
Throwing Bones, your tribute to Skinny Puppy, is out soon. They have had their share of tragedy, as well as success. Do you feel a kinship with them?
Yes, pre-ordering can begin on the 2nd of October. I never thought I would finish this album, let alone have it become a double CD; but, not being able to see my husband in the hospital because of the Covid shit, I just needed an escape, and that was what I needed to actually finally do it. I’ve wanted to do the tribute album for years, because I’ve been very inspired by them – but inspired in a different way than other bands have. I feel some sort of connection with the chaos and uglyness of their style. It’s hard to explain. In some ways, I see a beauty in them, and then it’s like they have the urge to destroy any form of beauty in their music; but, no matter how fucked up it gets, I still only hear the beauty.
For me, Skinny Puppy is full of love, and what we hear in their songs are the trash being taken out of their minds – and that’s exactly how I see my own music. If you scratch the surface of their songs, you will find beauty. I would not be allowed to roam free in society if I didn’t have they outlet I have in my songs, and I think we share that.
What I did with my covers was to try to bring that love of life, curiousness and passion out in their songs – the stuff that I hear when I listen to them. They are a very hard band to cover, and I have always welcomed a challenge. I still want to learn, and it inspires the pants off me doing it. And Skinny Puppy is one of those bands that will be remembered in one hundred years, because there is no one like them.
With Am Tierpark, your main project with John R. Mirland, you have been able to explore a line in synthpop, but it seems no less personal than your other work. Do you approach these songs differently than your solo material?
Synthpop was where I started, and you can also here that now and then in Strip. I finally found a partner who had the same vision about music as I have. So it all came very naturally when we started out. We work like this: John sends me an almost finished instrumental, and then I usually have a lyric/melody down in 30 minutes; I record the vocals and send the files to John, and he mixes it. We have very strict roles like that. Only if something is off will we talk about some needed changes, but that is very rare. I connect with him like I’ve never connected with any musician before. He is one of the most talented people I’ve met. A true perfectionist.
Mirland/Larsen, which currently has the Inhuman album on release, is a lot darker and experimental than Am Tierpark. The artwork includes the line, “Young anger in a worn out soul.” How did you and John decide to move in this direction together?
Like me, John has a very wide musical taste; and, one day, he wanted me to listen to a track of his, originally meant for his own act, Mirland. When I listened, I instantly got vocal ideas, so I wrote a lyric and recorded the voices. We both loved it so much that we agreed to do an album – and now there is a second, which wont be the last. This kind of style gives me more freedom with my vocals, so I can work very spontaneously with my voice. 99% of the vocals are recorded live here at the Strip Farm in one take. So, it’s a very punky way of working, and I love that.
“Psycho Love” – one of the tracks from the recent Klutae album, Queer for Satan – has a video that shows abusive medical treatment. We have been clapping for them, but is the attitude of doctors and medical bureaucrats any different, in the end, to that of teachers, parents and priests?
I hate doctors. I do not trust them. Most of them do not know shit and put pride before knowledge. I had a loved one go though the mental institution system here in Denmark. Seeing what I saw there and the treatment he got just reminded me of pure torture and human experimentation. Also, seeing what they have done to my husband hasn’t helped – error upon error. One doctor says one thing; another says something completely different to the next.
If we had known what they would put Kurt though, this past year-and-a-half, we would never had gone through with the kidney transplant. Their many, many errors destroyed the kidney I gave to him and gave him cancer. If I ever need an organ transplant, I will not get it. If I hadn’t been at the hospital every day with Kurt, he would have been dead.
In your version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Reptile,” you flipped the gender of the subject. Was there a particular person you were speaking to, or were you wanting to say something about cold-blooded men in general?
You are the first one to mention that. Well, it seemed kind of natural to do so, since it was me singing it; but I think all sexualities can very much relate to that song. I’ve always loved it and think it’s one of Trent’s absolute best songs.
The global pandemic has shut down many of the links between artists and audiences. You have a loyal base, but what do you think the solutions are so long as festivals and tours are impossible to organise?
I would have been forced to sell all my gear to stay afloat if it wasn’t for the loving support I get in Bandcamp. And I wouldn’t have been able to drive the two-and-a-half hours every day to spend two-to-three hours with Kurt, either. We both would go completely down if we didn’t see each other. So, I can’t stress how much that means to Kurt and I. 2020 really is trying its best to destroy everything I love – and it would have, if it weren’t for the support I get from the listeners. I miss playing live so bad that it’s just eating me up inside, but I’m hanging onto the hope that I will get to do it again.
Here in Europe, especially in Germany, they are starting to have small events now, so my hope is that in the spring of 2021 we will see things going more and more in the right direction. Sadly, I think we are all in for a winter in Hell. I have been so damn scared that Kurt might get it – if he did, it would kill him. I’m also scared that I will, and that I won’t be able to see him. So, please, I beg all of you, follow the guidelines – if not for yourself, then for others. Don’t be a selfish prick, please. Love, C.