IN CONVERSATION WITH SIMONE DE KUNOVICH
Simone de Kunovich, an artist based in Milan, is inherently drawn to the world of obscure…
Over the last 12 months or so, life has changed a lot for Apsilon.
In early 2022, the young rapper from Berlin shot to prominence with his debut EP Gast, and what followed would be enough to intimidate anyone. Anyone, that is, except Apsilon.
While fame hasn’t exactly come naturally to Apsilon, he hasn’t shied away from the spotlight, either. His most notable memory of the last year is a rooftop performance in his home district of Moabit. Immortalized on TikTok, the show plays like the open-top bus parade of a championship-winning soccer team, with packs of fans gazing up from back alleys, peering down from overpasses and balconies or any space with a view of the breakout star putting their kiez on the map.
In a year when so many people felt disconnected from the world beyond their screens, Apsilon provided a tonic of raw authenticity and hard-fought reality. From first impressions alone, there is little mistaking him. The young artist cuts an impactful presence. Though his long frame is immediate, it is his posture that is more striking. Propped up with an enviable level of lumbar discipline, Apsilon’s youthful poise implies not rigidity, but rather confidence softened into kindness by his disarming, smiling demeanor.
He speaks English with a measured and purposeful meter that allows him the time to wrap his mind around each word of his ever-considered responses. It’s as if he is checking each syllable for its unique mouthfeel, comparing and contrasting sounds, ideas and connotations as he goes. Now, reflecting on the previous year that launched two EPs and his first major experiences touring and playing serious shows, it is the sheer emotion of it all that stands out.
In a year bookended by the release of Gast and then 32 Zaehne, Apsilon became a leading voice in political, socially-conscious rap. Upon closer inspection, Apsilon’s music resists such easy categorization. Still, he knows that a lot of his fans are politically active and come to his gigs for that very reason and, on the whole, he is okay with it.
While naturally somewhat reluctant to be typecast in that one box as opposed to the multidimensional artist he wants to become, he tries not to let those ideas control him. “I’m trying to not let that influence my art, but I prefer it to not having anything to stand for.” After all, it is undoubtedly an important part of both his early career and his generation at large. He thinks that most young people are both critically engaged while also suffering from a pervasive sense of numbness and cynicism. Between the climate crisis and wars all over the world, he says, “When we talk about our generation in general, I think that there is always this apocalyptic feeling.”
On stage and off it, Apsilon has the habit of taking the time to talk to people genuinely. Struck by the way that his fans always sing his songs together alongside him, he has developed an urge to know just what it is that people are feeling when they come to his shows. “They’re really angry, they’re really frustrated, sometimes they’re really sad and they often just don’t know how to express those feelings or how to reach them.”
Anger is a large part of what Apsilon is about. But, it’s not youthful naivety, nor is it lashing out at the system just for the sake of it, either. Instead, just like everything he does, it seems to be part of a larger methodology. Apsilon believes that there are two ways to react to the mental barriers that are so evident among his generation, among his community, and among his friends and peers. “On the one hand, you can be cynical about the world, which I understand, but the other way is to be angry and vocal and active.”
Berlin-born, Moabit-made, and Turkish by descent, Apsilon, like so many others in Germany and all around the world, struggles to derive meaning in the concept of any kind of national identity. “A country is too big and ideologically loaded for someone to identify with it healthily. It’s not authentic to me to relate to the German or the Turkish flag, or the concept of the country. I have no real-life experience or relationship to that which I can feel, name, or hold.”
Generational minimization of social experience is one of the core themes of Gast. The EP aims for a feeling that is both intensely personal to Apsilon and, at the same time, widely dissociated. In many ways, it mirrors the kind of politics of the fans that arrive at his shows, the ones that are both incredibly riled up, sad, apathetic and jaded, all at the same time. To be a part of his generation is to struggle with a mixed bag of competing emotions. While that can be said of every generation that faces off against the values of the generation that came before, it always takes a new form.
Living in a moment when broader concepts of national identity are surging in popularity may well be a part of that mental divide in Apsilon’s thinking. Tellingly, he feels that while the concept of the nation-state is too problematic, he has no such issues identifying with Moabit. For him, the outlines of his ‘hood’ are much more sharply drawn in his childhood, in his friendships, and in the artistic and social practices that have shaped him as a person. Compared to the flag-waving jingoism or cultural expectations that you may find in both Germany and Turkey at large, Moabit seems to feel authentic to him. It is a feeling that he doesn’t need others to share. It is enough for him to grasp at, enough for him to start shading the contours of his specific authenticity.
While he knows not everyone in his area will feel the same way, for Apsilon, it is an intensely personal feeling. “It’s the people in the restaurants, it’s the people in the shops, and it’s what I see on the streets every day, too. It’s the school I went to when I was a little child. Family, friends, and the streets that I walk through, listening to music. It’s where we had a concert on the roof with over 2000 people in the streets and we were collecting money for the victims of the right-wing terrorist attack in Hanau. You know, there was such a sense of community there and that is a part of my identification. But, there are also a lot of bad things happening. There is a lot of homelessness right next to rich people eating in a fancy restaurant, and I hate that.”
Apsilon’s neighborhood is a complex, pulsing, social environment. Regardless, whether for better or for worse, he can grasp it, hone it and reduce it to its essential qualities, and see it for what makes it real, for what makes it authentically identifiable. In his line of work, authenticity is a big deal. “Hip hop culture comes from real experiences, real authentic lives, and real stories being told.” More than being a so-called ‘conscious rapper,’ it is this authenticity that Apsilon strives for in his work. Yet, when he considers how a young artist blowing up is supposed to navigate their career and retain their individuality amongst the expectations of the music industry, things are less clear.
“It’s a tough time. And it’s a tough time with a lot of opportunities, too. Not only for me, but for a lot of artists, there’s a lot of anxiety as well as artistic anxiety because of the way that you have to promote your music on social media and such. I think a lot of people feel that music is getting more and more gimmicky, or that it doesn’t transport a lasting feeling or connection.”
What is your all-time favorite piece that you could always wear? “Umtc vegan leather jacket”
Was there a piece you chased or that you are still chasing? “PAF down center jacket”
Even as Apsilon speaks about his anxiety, he projects a certain knowing aura, or at least a level of acceptance. For most, acceptance is a vaguely passive feeling. One that acknowledges that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing to be done about it. For Apsilon, as in so many other ways, acceptance seems to hit a little differently. He accepts certain structures and moves within them to the best of his ability. Say, for example, the way that the media functions. If he has to be labeled as one thing to be presented to listeners in a way that will encourage them to connect with his music, then so be it, it’s no skin off his back. Yet, in others, he acknowledges the way things stand, and he does everything in his power to agitate against it. Reclaiming the aspects of the experience that he wishes to have control over with remarkable craft and success.
As his thoughts slide out of his artistic anxieties and back into the emotions that he conjures with his music, his voice grows increasingly confident. His sentences become more rhythmic. There is less thinking and more knowing. This, after all, is what he has made his name on. “I feel proud when I talk about the issues in my music. When we talk about emotions, it is really simple and you can bring it right down to the core. I think everybody has some hidden anger in them. Anger is always represented in our society as something bad. Something we should control and get a grip of and not let affect the way we act. And I think, really?”
Anger, in Apsilon’s view, is a much more nuanced emotion. Anger can inspire real change, but most importantly, it can be a shot in the arm to invigorate those who have simply gone numb in the face of the world’s ambivalence to their lives. He acknowledges you have to be careful because anger can also be self-destructive if you are experiencing it alone. If you let it brew inside you, never speak it or feel it alongside others, anger can turn to hate and become malicious and insidious. Yet, as a collective experience, “Well, maybe that can be a little bit destructive in the right ways.”
What Apsilon is driving at is another, less acknowledged, aspect of anger. Anger that speaks up, anger that marches, anger that is destructive in the sense that it can topple structures of violence, ignorance and oppression. “Those things need destruction and change, and it is freeing to experience anger about it and to let it all out. When I’m playing a show, I channel that anger and frustration and share it collectively with the crowd. It is a relief for everyone. It stops those feelings from becoming self-destructive. Without a place to focus them, it becomes extremely isolating.”
Right now, this raw framework for channeling emotions is the defining quality of Apsilon’s music. While the lyricism and the themes are undoubtedly important, they are thematic concerns that are liable to change from record to record. Meanwhile, the feelings of authenticity and identity remain clear, even in a young artist struggling to define those ideas for himself.
Apsilon’s music trends towards the whole gamut of human emotions. He finds catharsis in their expression and great frustration when they are hidden behind closed doors and masked by structures of inauthenticity.
“I channel that anger and frustration and share it collectively with the crowd. It is a relief for everyone. It stops those feelings from becoming self-destructive. Without a place to focus them, it becomes extremely isolating.”
“This feeling, it’s not only in music, but in every part of our lives. We are taught that we should only talk if we are talking nicely. But I think, for our generation, we can see that nothing changes when we just talk nicely because we have to present trimmed-down, compromised opinions and feelings to be a part of the discussion. It is really important for finding solutions that we understand that you can speak nicely and display raw emotions, simultaneously. In my music, community and concerts, there’s a lot of anger because there is a lot of love. It doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. They can and should coexist.”
“When we talk about our generation in general, I think that there is always this apocalyptic feeling.”
“You know, it’s been a crazy, crazy year.”
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