An Ocean of Noise
Robin Staps on two decades of Earth-shattering rock music
Although mainly renowned for its electronic scene, if you dive deeper into Berlin’s music community you’ll find a thick bedrock of alternative metal and rock bands acting as an undercurrent to the city’s diverse sounds. Leading this wave of unhinged, merciless guitar music has been Robin Staps, guitar player and songwriter for The Ocean and chief whip at Pelagic Records.
For two decades now, The Ocean have been charting their own direction with a sound that merges together post-rock and melodic hardcore music. Thematically, the band integrates elements of geologic and philosophical evolution, which can be tracked through their LP titles and seen in the band’s aesthetic. With a new LP out, Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic | Cenozoic, we caught up with Staps in the Pelagic Records headquarters in Kreuzberg to discuss the band’s history, their relationship with Berlin, and how Nietzsche and historical world-ending events all play a big part in his musical output.
Deep below an indiscriminate industrial warehouse complex in the centre of Berlin lies the headquarters for one of the world’s most influential post-rock labels, Pelagic Records. Like most modern label bases, space is fought over by masses of merchandise, record stocks, and stacks of a newly-released Pelagic branded coffee. It’s here that I meet Robin Staps to find out how a former philosophy student from a small town in Western Germany ended up owning a globally recognised label, and bespoke line of coffee.
I always try to imagine what this music should be embedded into, in terms of context of landscapes and environments.
On first appearance, Staps is your quintessential rock musician, clothed head-to-toe in various merch from bands that he’s signed over the years. Originally moving to Berlin in the late 90s, chasing the same idealistic dream that pulled in countless other artists at the time, Staps was hungry to assemble a band in his own image. During this period of cheap rent and relatively easy living, the music scene in Berlin was diverse, with plenty of spaces available to perform in and rehearse. Nowadays, it’s hard to find an artist who doesn’t champion the time in Berlin around the turn of the century. Giant rehearsal spaces, numerous venues, and even available apartment spaces in Mitte were all part of the norm.
It wasn’t long before Staps met the other members who would make up The Ocean. As it was difficult to tie any one person into the band full-time, Staps decided to have an open door policy when it came to those he played with. This is why they became known as The Ocean Collective. “At one point we would have four or five different people playing guitar in the band, but not at the same time, depending on who had time to do a gig or a short tour,” Staps explains. “That was fun because there was lots of different input, but the more people you have, the more you need to rehearse.” It wasn’t until around 2010 that the band cemented their permanent lineup, with Loïc Rossetti on vocals, Paul Seidel on drums, along with Peter Voigtmann, Mattias Hägerstrand, and David Ramis Åhlfeldt.
The first gig the band played was at a now legendary spot called Eimer on Rosenthaler Platz. “It was one of these illegal places that got closed down in the early 2000s,” Staps elaborates about the former spot. “It had this industrial vibe, a high boiler room with tall ceilings that fit around 50 people. The stage was situated on top of people, like a grid, and we played above the crowd.”
Do The Evolution
As the band’s sound developed, their reputation started to gather pace thanks to some extensive touring, along with support slots next to heavy-hitting prolific acts, such as ISIS, and The Dillinger Escape Plan. By 2005 they had been picked by the internationally regarded Metal Blade Records, and it was in 2009 that Staps would go on to establish his own label Pelagic Records, looking initially just to re-release the band’s 2004 LP Fluxion. Originally, Staps approached Metal Blade to see if they wanted to re-release the record. Although they passed up on the opportunity, they did put the idea into Staps’ mind to do it himself. “With this I got a taste of releasing records,” Staps explains. “I always found it interesting; not just playing guitar, but also the management side of things. At the beginning in 2009 we did three releases, and then at one point it got more and more.” Nowadays the label is home to the likes of Pg.Lost, God is an Astronaut, and cult-Japanese screamo band Envy. The act that really stands out, though, is the heavy instrumental band Mono, who joined the label in 2014. “They’ve broadened our scope and brought a lot of the post-rock crowd into our space,” Staps says. “They’re a great band that I have a lot of respect for. Super intense live, plus they have a new record coming out next year.”
Pelagic Records, which still lies under the radar for many in Berlin, has helped define a globally recognised sound of heavy, post-rock. “It grew into something people associate a certain sound with, which is really nice,” Staps says proudly. “There’s the really heavy side, as well as the fluffy, ambient sound that is all somehow linked to Pelagic, which is cool.”
One thing noticeably absent on the label, however, is music from Berlin. Aside from The Ocean and stoner-rock outfit Earthship, Pelagic’s representation of its home city is somewhat lacking. “It’s a shame because Berlin has such a vibrant scene. We go to a lot of shows here, and I think I know all the bands in the city, but it hasn’t really happened so far,” explains Staps. “It’s not just a Berlin thing, it’s a German thing. We have also no other German bands. We’re open to it, but it just hasn’t really happened – nothing came our way that was fitting.”