In Conversation with German Darkwave Band, Die Selektion

12 June 2024 / by Maya Fettes
Die Selektion

Quotations have been edited for clarity. 


On the first Monday in May—and no, not in correlation with the Met Gala, but regardless with head-to-toe black outfits, platform and patent shoes and strikingly shaped eyewear—I meet Hannes Rief and Luca Gillian of Die Selektion outside of Toronto music landmark Play De Record


Die Selektion is a dark-wave, electro band from the Stuttgart area in Germany. Its performing members, Hannes Rief and Luca Gillian are childhood friends who started the band at age sixteen. The band also includes Samuel Savenberg and producer and co-founding member Max Rieger, their Ehrenmitglied (member of honour). In September 2023, the band released their third album, Zeuge aus Licht


Arriving just 24 hours prior on a flight from Berlin, a missed connection in between resulting in a diversion to Montreal and finally ending up in Toronto, the pair are here three days before their show at the Monarch Tavern for some vacation and—in this case—interview time. 


Inside the store, owner and local celebrity in his own right Eugene Tam, known for the documentary Drop The Needle, tells us we can do “whatever we want,” and that we do, with Rief and Gillian taking their time, sitting on milk crates digging through the dark wave bins, naturally. 


While spinning records on the store’s turntable, Gillian expresses how important it is for the vocals to be “right” in a song, the same applying to their work: “Some people might love us… ‘until Luca starts singing’” he jokes about himself. 


After forty or so minutes of shopping, purchases in hand, we retired to Dumpling House after Rief and Gillian expressed that the many restaurants lining Spadina caught their attention on their way to meet me. We make our way five minutes down the road and arrive in a mostly empty restaurant, hum and haw over the choices, deciding to share two plates between the three of us as we begin to discuss the early days of their music career.


The pair credit Komma, a cultural and event space in Esslingen about twenty minutes from Stuttgart, with the reason the band exists.  What started out as a place where Gillian was a concert promoter booking bands as a teenager turned into utilizing the rehearsal space for their own projects as well.  This is where Rief, Gillian and Rieger established the beginnings of Die Selektion. 

“They were very supportive of us, the people from Komma, especially Jörg Freitag, and always tried to help us and push the project to grow,” says Gillian. “Every Tuesday was our rehearsal day, so we went to the rehearsal studio and had a good time there,” so much so that they would rehearse until they had to catch the last train home. “I think it’s safe to say that without Komma, we wouldn’t exist.” 


Courtesy of Rief, Die Selektion reinvents the darkwave-electro-synth pop genre by utilizing the trumpet as part of their hallmark sound. Creating haunting, ever-flowing melodies from track to track, Rief’s mastery of the trumpet allows for a revitalized influence of Neue Deutsche Welle.


“I mean the music influences were always clear, it was always about 80s music, new wave, synth-pop and these kinds of things so it was always clear that this is the direction,” says Gillian, repeatedly emphasizing the importance of bands like Depeche Mode and Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF). 


In describing their process on their first album, Rieger would contribute an instrumental, Rief would compose a trumpet arrangement and Gillian would contribute lyrics. In working on their second album, Deine Stimme Ist Der Ursprung Jeglicher Gewalt, Rieger stepped away from the band and Savenberg joined as a producer with Rief and Gillian increasingly contributing synthesizer melodies and beats. Rief additionally began producing some tracks entirely on his own, which were released for the first time on Zeuge aus Licht


“I was always curious about production so I just kept on getting into it,” he explains. “I’m really shy with these kinds of things, but with the last album, I felt like, okay there are some proper songs that I’m really happy with which I would really really want to contribute, it’s fine if the others don’t like them but, I want to propose them.”


“In the end, we liked almost all of them,” added Gillian. 


Unlike their past works, making Zeuge aus Licht was the first time that all four members were living in the same city. The band took the better part of a year working on the release. 


“We took, I don’t know seven or eight months and just went to the studio when we—”


“Wanted to,” adds Rief.


“When somebody had an idea,” continues Gillian. “We were all living in Berlin–we’re in Max’s studio so we were always able to access it–but we were like okay we have these few tracks, let’s sit down and leave them for two weeks, everyone thinks about them and listens to them, see what we can change, then meet again if we have some proper ideas. So we were working very effectively and not like my head is burning, I don’t want to listen to these songs anymore.” 


“The concept of how we wanted this album to happen never changed but the output was different. There were weeks where Samuel and I were like okay, let’s get, not a specific number, but let’s get some samples ready because it was just the workflow and it went well and it was so much inspiration from the recent sessions that it was kind of easy to quickly collect a lot of ideas” explains Rief.


Gillian chimes in detailing; “We never had pressure and we never made pressure. Okay, maybe we made some pressure when we decided to finish the second album in ten days… but I mean, we make these plans and in the end if it wouldn’t have worked out, of course we would have just taken more time in the studio but we made this like, low key goal to finish it, and in the end we did.”


“The project fueled itself,” Rief adds. “Let’s put it like this. And it also got more intense during the end. I think we got more picky and maybe more strict, not in the sense of what we have to do but—”


“What we want to do,” affirms Gillian. 


And that intent is what led to an album studded with black and white imagery and music videos that followed a line of continuity across all singles. Working together with directors like Marina Mónaco, the band pulled together an album campaign inspired by the 1980s, Martin Gore and Jürgen Teller. 


“For the second press photo for the album, we are laying on a sand hill, all three of us (Rief, Gillian and Savenberg) hugging each other, and the inspiration for this was Jürgen Teller’s shoot with Kim Kardashian and Kanye West,” details Gillian.


“For our shoot, we did a lot of location scouting; seeing places and having an idea but then getting input by seeing things, driving somewhere and then showing it to the photographer to say the location might look like this, our idea is A and we want to develop B, can you work with this and so on and so forth. For the “Drei Gesichter” music video, the videographer, Marina Mónaco, came to us with a really great concept, and we also offered ideas of locations and stuff,” says Rief. 


“Drei Gesichter” was the second music video, “Zeuge aus Licht” was the main single; it’s important to us that the second one takes a reference to that. To have a line from the first single to the third or fourth,” explains Gillian. 


Fast-forward the album campaign and a European tour, Rief and Gillian find themselves playing four shows in Canada. An invitation to perform at Verboden Festival in Vancouver is what turned into Die Selektion additionally playing their first concerts in Toronto, Montreal and Edmonton. 


“We wanted to come to Canada and play Vancouver but it made sense for us to play a few more shows. We didn’t say let’s play three or five more, we would’ve been happy with even one more, but now we’re playing four shows in Canada which is amazing,” says Gillian. 


Wrapping up our conversation, I ask them how they feel about performing to non-German speaking audiences. There’s a foreignness to the band when they perform outside of their home country and they explain that it’s not that their lyrics are unimportant, but there’s a beauty to being able to enjoy the music outside of them, and that makes up for any lapses in language. 


It’s late afternoon by this point and I bid Rief and Gillian goodbye, pointing them in the vague direction of some bars and cafes, trusting that they will find something through Kensington Market and beyond.

A couple of days later, I watch Die Selektion perform to an enthusiastic crowd at the Monarch Tavern. Playing their new songs from Zeuge aus Licht as well as classics like “Unter Die Haut” and “Gottes Wille,” the band gave an entrancing performance drenched in red and blue lighting. With Rief and Gillian’s captivating stage presence, sheer talent and palpable appreciation for each other, a Die Selektion concert is made for dance, transcendence and perhaps in their words, party people.