Michael Popp (photo by Bianca) Estampie from Germany is probably the most well known medieval ensemble around. For many years they are bringing back medieval music to life. Both in the world of classical music and of (alternative) pop music they have gained suces.

For Funprox we had a little chat with Michael Popp, co-founder and one of the leading musicians of the ensemble.

Can you introduce yourself in a few words (although most readers will be familiar with your work)?

We started to work already in the eighties. At that time medieval music was very little known among ?normal? music listeners, so we had to do some pioneer work. In the last two decades a lot has changed in the musical world and in our personal lives and so did our music. ?Progress? is our magic word in dealing with music….we released eight albums so far and one dvd is to be released the end of this year.

How long have you been playing music as Estampie?

Nearly twenty years and still there?s so much to do.
Estampie - Syrah

What are the musical backgrounds of the musicians in the ensemble?

Most of the musicians have a classical training and a lot of private lessons in oriental and european folk music. Syrah and myself have also experience in the gothic scene through our second band QNTAL.

In the review I called your latest album ‘Signum’ (don’t be offended) more of the same. I also wrote it still is of the highest quality but musically the formula is the same as with many other of your records. Do you agree or think you are still developing your style and skills?

Estampie - Signum Basically you’re right. We have developed our style in the last years and somehow it turned out to be unique. But when you look closer at our cd?s you will discover a musical development. For example we recorded on ?Signum? for the first time 4-part renaissance pieces, there?s less percussion than on the previous cd?s and so on.

Is the repertoire you are specialised in not limiting you? I mean are there many more medieval songs and dances you haven’t yet recorded?

Estampie - Marco Polo project No, the repertoire is unlimited and so are the ways for interpretation. Plus we also compose melodies on medieval lyrics. I find the ways of inventing new styles much more limited, when you are a dark wave or a rock’n roll or metal band and so on. The ears of listeners of medieval music are more open, for example our last project ?Marco Polo? involves musicians from Mongolia, Persia and India. The sound is very much different from regular Estampie music.

You are no longer with Warner (the record label). Why?

You probably know that all major companies are in trouble. So they change their programs quite often. The guy who signed us at Warner had to leave at one point, a year later the whole compartment ?classical and jazz? was closed. In the music business a lot of things are in a rapid movement. So also we musicians have to be flexible.

You have had much succes in the wave/goth scene but also in the classical world. What audience do you prefer to play for and why?

I prefer the mixture. I like to open up the ears and minds of the audience, to surprise them. More important than how the audience looks like is the venue itself. To play in a castle, a ruin or a beautiful church is for any kind of audience, and the band, a great experience.

In comparison with other medieval groups and ensembles I often find your music more complex. How do you look on the many groups that play medieval music? Do you like and support it or think most of them need to go to the library and musical school?

Simplicity can be a part of the medieval music. I don?t condemn bands who walk this path. What I don’t like too much, if bands work with primitive rock?n roll idioms just to have a quick success and then come others and imitate the sound just because of the same reason. They say, medieval is just ?fun?, but in reality they have the money in their mind, which they can make. I hate the commercialisation of music, I hate mainstream. That?s why I liked wave in the eighties, because it was alternative.

How do you look upon interpretation of medieval music? How authentic is Estampie, or don’t you try to be authentic but just translate the music to a nowadays context?

Nobody knows how ?authentic? medieval music sounds. There are theories about it, but nothing is really clear. It is important to make the listeners feel that the music has little to do with common commercialised musical expression. It is, if you will, music from another time, from another planet. The listener has to be ready to make this journey together with the band to understand and feel the beauty of this music.

You have started a new label (Distant Mirror Records) for modern cross-overs with traditional music. Can you tell a bit more on how this started and what we can expect for releases on this label?

I can?t say anything about this, because the company we released this label with is in severe financial problems and it’s completely uncertain how everything will develop.

Anything else you want to say or I forgot to ask?

I just want to greet our fans in The Netherlands and in Belgium. They always gave us a warm feeling of being welcome, wherever we played in these countries.