Hans Grusel’s Krankenkabinet

Photo by Matt Brislawn

Someone suggested this week’s weird band to us over a year ago and I really have no good explanation for why we haven’t featured them sooner, other than the fact that for such a visually compelling band, there are amazingly few decent photos of them on the Interweb. Meet Hans Grüsel’s Kränkenkabinet, the greatest avant-garde German noise band ever to dress up like birdhouses.

Actually, that last sentence isn’t exactly true. HGK aren’t really from Germany, nor do they always dress up like birdhouses; sometimes, the lead singer (Hans Grüsel, I presume) dresses up like a tree trunk. Also, as you can see from the YouTube clip in that link—which kinda looks like it was shot in my middle school library—they’re not always that avant-garde. Sometimes they do Motörhead covers. They also do a mean version of “Tea for Two,” complete with tap-dancing. Hans Grüsel’s Kränkenkabinet is one of those bands that, just when you think they can’t possibly get any weirder…they get weirder. Even minus the goofy covers and eye-popping costumes, their music is a uniquely unsettling mix of hurdy-gurdy carnival music and migraine-inducing electro-noise assault. It kinda reminds me of the time I tried to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons with an ear infection and a vertiginous codeine high. Remember when they put codeine in cough syrup? Those were the days. But I digress….

The lunatic behind the Krankenkabinet is not, in fact, Hans Grüsel (at least not on his birth certificate), but a Bay Area composer named Thomas Day. Members of fellow Bay Area psychedelic noise wackos Caroliner are (or were) probably also involved in the project; certainly both groups share the same fingerpainting-on-acid design aesthetic. Another SF eccentric named Liz Allbee may or may not have been in on the action. But as far as I can tell, the exact identities of Day’s collaborators remain shrouded behind the myth that Hans Grüsel was a great but semi-forgotten enfant terrible from East Germany.

Day’s first Krankenkabinet release was 2001’s Das Boot, which purported to be a compilation of Grüsel’s “early works” and came wrapped in hand-painted cardboard, again a la Caroliner. One collector site describes the liner notes as looking “worm eaten,” but I’m not sure if that’s because someone stashed it in their basement too long or if the disc just came that way.

Over the next eight years or so, Hans and co. appear to have been semi-regular fixtures on the Bay Area underground art scene; they even toured occasionally. But from what I’ve been able to glean in my research, 2008’s Blaue Blooded Türen was the project’s last release. Since then, HansGrusel.com has been taken over by Asian cyber-squatters and those birdhouse and tree stump costumes have presumably been stuffed into a dark corner of Thomas Day’s closet—although they did make at least one return appearance in Seattle in 2011. The article about that show describes HGK as a “husband/wife duo” and says the dude in the tree-stump costume is a Seattle singer/guitarist named Sean Curley, who I suspect was recruited for just this one show. Whether the husband/wife thing is true or not, I have no idea.

It’s hard to sum up the weirdness that is Hans Grüsel’s Kränkenkabinet in just one video, but this clip capturing them in full electro-noise-freakout mode comes close. Is it just me, or does whoever’s playing ol’ tree-stump Grüsel (at the 1:30 mark) kinda look like Mr. Peanut’s angry, coke-addled brother?


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