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HVOB: ‘We’re Not a Fake Live Act’

Austrian house duo Anna Müller and Paul Wallner on keeping it real and collaborating with Winston Marshall of Mumford & Sons on their latest album

Urvija Banerji Jun 16, 2017
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Paul Wallner (left) and Anna Muller (center) always play live shows with a real drummer. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Paul Wallner (left) and Anna Müller (center) always play live shows with a real drummer. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What happens when you’re an EDM artist and you have a show in a country where dancing is illegal? It may sound like an unlikely hypothetical situation, but there are several countries where busting a move could land you with legal repercussions, such as Kuwait.

That’s exactly what Anna Müller and Paul Wallner of the Austrian house outfit Her Voice Over Boys are explaining to me on a Saturday night at Antisocial, Mumbai. HVOB played a show in the tiny Middle-Eastern country last year, which both Müller and Wallner consider to be one of the weirdest tour experiences they’ve ever had. The pair are remarkably calm for being fresh off a high-energy soundcheck, but when getting amped for a show is part of your daily routine, it probably makes sense to have an off-switch. But how do you turn that switch on in the first place if your crowd isn’t allowed to dance? “We needed a special paper that [said that] people were allowed to stand at the concert, because normally you’re just allowed to sit,” says Müller.

The band’s promoter in Kuwait was able to secure the permit that allowed a standing audience but even then, that’s hardly a rager. There was no alcohol, either (save for one clandestine bottle of vodka that people were “completely freaked out over” backstage, Wallner reveals). “We started playing; after the second song, everybody was dancing, even the security who was there to [ensure] the people [didn’t] dance,” says Müller. “I will always remember this concert. People were so happy to dance and just let it go.”

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That HVOB was able to get a crowd of people moving even when it was actually illegal is no surprise when you hear their electric live set for yourself. The band, who have just finished roaming India on a four-city tour, incorporate real instruments and live performance into every aspect of their show. The first thing you notice about their setup is the drumkit, a rare sighting among the gear accompanying the average EDM artist today. HVOB have been touring with a drummer from when they first began in 2012. “A person is making the beats, not a machine, it’s different,” says Wallner. “It was always important for both of us that we are a real live act, not a fake live act.”

The duo intend to return to the subcontinent with their full-blown audio-visual setup soon. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

The duo intend to return to the subcontinent with their full-blown audio-visual setup soon. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

“Having a drummer in most clubs was strange for most people, and especially for the club owners, because [they would say] ‘Oh my god, there is no space for a drummer,’” says Müller, who plays the keyboard during HVOB’s live set. Her vocals are also live, and she even adds distortions and delays to her voice live. “We can adapt it to the mood of the audience, and we can react to the audience,” she says. “That’s very important for us, because that’s the reason why we play live.”

The band are currently on tour to promote their latest album, Silk, which is a collaboration with Winston Marshall of UK indie band Mumford & Sons. When the pair first received an email from Marshall introducing himself and asking to collaborate, they thought that it must have been a scam. “At first, we thought it was a fake email, ’cause Mumford & Sons is a totally different sound [from us], and it’s huge,” says Müller. “We get a lot of emails, and we thought, ‘Fake, forget it, delete.’” A few weeks later, they received another email, this time from Marshall’s assistant, confirming that it was in fact him, and requesting to set up a meeting.

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“And then we met, a couple of months later, and it was a great meeting, and he’s such a great guy,” says Müller. “At first he wanted to do one or two songs together, but then we had so much joy making music together that we said, ‘Okay, let’s do an album, a small little album.’” And thus, the heady, strange music that is Silk was born. “It’s like the combination of our two worlds: of his indie world, and our electronic world,” Müller says. “We felt really comfortable with it and we didn’t feel we made compromises; it’s just a new side of our art, and a new side of what we are.”

The band leave Indian shores to head back to Europe for the rest of their tour, but they already have ideas in mind for when they’ll be coming back. “In India, we have our small setup with us. But in Europe, we play with our bigger setup which includes visuals and lights,” says Müller. “As it’s a lot of travel, we tried to keep it small in the beginning, but as the feedback was so overwhelming the last couple of days, that next time we have to bring everything with us.”

Listen to “The Blame Game,” a song off ‘Silk’:

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