Histories of German popular music generally focus on examples of West German music which were commercially successful and/or are considered to be aesthetically and musically ground-breaking. Bands such as Kraftwerk, Can, Neu! or the Scorpions are the subject of many academic as well as non-academic publications, and they are considered as canonical as genres such as Krautrock or Neue Deutsche Welle. East German musicians or movements, on the other hand, tend to be overlooked, as do specific artistic forms of expression which were developed in response to authoritarian leadership in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The examination of a relationship between the GDR and the arts is almost altogether absent from a pan-German popular music history. Continue reading →
Nothing is more German than Kraftwerk, not even Germans themselves. Kraftwerk has long since risen to national myth, with significant help from English-speaking writers with a certain affinity for everything German. The obituaries that appeared after the recent death of founding member Florian Schneider resemble the usual pieces written about the group. All emphasize the numerous popular references to the band and the influence their sounds, beats and melodies have had on the music world: from David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” and “V2 Schneider” (1977) to the Kraftwerk samples in the early hip hop and techno tracks of Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” (1982) and Cybotron’s “Clear” (1983) and the work of Daft Punk and Coldplay. What they do not mention, however, is that Florian Schneider, together with his long-time partner Ralf Hütter, managed to create an image that would prove to be Germany’s most internationally successful pop export: the cold German.
Paradiso in Amsterdam is one of the most well-known concert halls in the world. Back in 1968 the former church was converted into a space with a stage. But without the rise of the punk movement in 1977, Paradiso would probably never have been able to celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018. The Paradiso Punk Years is an ungoing series of booklets in which Amsterdam based music journalist Oscar Smit describes the history of punk in Paradiso.
Jeffrey H. Jackson and Stanley C. Pelkey open their collection, Music and History (subtitle ‘Bridging the Disciplines’, 2005) by asking: ‘Why haven’t historians and musicologists been talking to one another?’ They suggest that at the heart of this absence is a problem of communication, concerning the distinct methods, knowledge and skills employed in both disciplines: does one need to be able to read, play or even ‘appreciate’ music for instance in order to make sense of it historically? On the other hand, do musicologists need an understanding of historiography to write histories of music? The issue for scholars in both disciplines is the status of the musical object: how to account for music as music, without losing a sense of its historical specificity. Continue reading →
In 1989, a survey of French cultural taste revealed that Serge Gainsbourg was both one of the most popular singers and yet a near outcast in his native country. When he died, two years later, President Mitterrand called him “our Baudelaire, our Apollinaire”, claiming he had “elevated chanson to the level of art”. But he might just as well have acknowledged Gainsbourg as the first artist to top the British charts with a single in a foreign language. With the hindsight of almost thirty years, one thing is, in any case, certain: sampled by Beck, De La Soul, Massive Attack and Fatboy Slim, remixed by Howie B. and David Holmes, translated by Mick Harvey and covered by Iggy Pop, Donna Summer, Portishead, Madeleine Peyroux, the Pet Shop Boys and Franz Ferdinand, “the man with the cabbage head” remains the Francophone songwriter whose contribution to the international appeal of French popular music has been the most significant in the post-war era. Continue reading →
Federico Ribas, La Evolución del Tango …, Mundial Magazine, Nr. 28 (1913).
In the 20th century, tango argentino, Argentinean tango dancing, became a popular cultural practice in many metropolises all over the world. The image the broader public has of the traditional pair dancing style is, to a large degree, shaped by its depiction in mostly Western, but also Latin American popular culture. Movies such as Tango, no me dejes nunca [English title: Tango] (1998), Naked Tango (1998) and Scent of a Woman (1992) as well as celebrity dancing shows like Dancing with the Stars promote Argentinean tango as a highly sexualized, intimate and exotic dance oozing with stereotypical attributes of masculinity and femininity. In this sense, tango dancing can be fascinating and engaging, but may also be perceived as disreputable or discriminatory, and, thus, repelling. This tension makes for interesting and complicated characterizations of tango dancing, both when it first became a transnational phenomenon at the beginning of the 20th century and from a contemporary perspective. Continue reading →
Punks in Tallinn, ca. 1982. Photo: Arno Saar, collection of Tõnu Trubetsky.
The first punk bands in the ESSR were established at the end of the 1970s. Punk was blacklisted in the ESSR, after youth riots erupted at a September 1980 concert of the punk band Propeller. During the first half of the 1980s the punk movement was small but steady in size. The punk’s main ways of expression were extravagant behaviour and clothes, organizing illegal concerts and social life in Tallinn’s cafés. Nevertheless, being a punk was socially frowned upon and meant problems with family, in school and in public where the youths were ofter arrested by the militsiya. Continue reading →
Call for Papers: Underground Adventures: Temporal Experimentation in Postwar Countercultures (24 – 25 March 2017, Berlin)
When the Berlin Techno scene emerged in the wake of the fall of the wall in 1989, party-goers often occupied urban relics: they danced in old factories and power stations, in the basements of decaying buildings, and in the obsolete infrastructure of the Cold War. Much like other countercultural movements since the 1950s, the ravers of late twentieth-century Berlin sought adventure in the interstitial, “underground” spaces of the everyday. While scholars have thoroughly addressed the spatial dimension of countercultural and underground movements – the construction of “heterotopias” (Foucault) – less attention has been paid to the creation of distinct temporal experiences – what might be termed the “heterochronies” of the underground. Continue reading →
In a year, the Danish music and radio research project Ramund will close. To mark this, we will organize a seminar focusing mainly on the theoretical aspects of the many different relations between music and radio and the meetings between the two in music-radio. The aim of the seminar will be to publish an anthology of articles. Continue reading →
The West Berlin avant-garde music scene from around 1980 was a wild movement. This scene is an inexhaustive source of fascinating stories and ideas. For instance, while the rest of West Germany was trying to cope with the threat of a nuclear war, Blixa Bargeld tried to recreate the sound of collapsing buildings, and the girls from Malaria! played with the gruesome idea of bathing in ice cold and clear water, as if they couldn’t wait to speed things up and call upon the end of the world by themselves. Frontstadt West Berlin was the perfect playground for developing an experimental and mysterious scene like this one. But how to define this avant-garde scene? Continue reading →
Initially, delinquency and crime provided the lens through which academics discussed youth culture. Studying deviant behaviour ensured that criminologists focused on questions of re-education and the relationship between the newly-branded ‘teenager’, delinquency and youth culture.With the emergence of Cultural Studies in Britain, ‘youth’ was interpreted in generational terms, through which a critical understanding of the changing nature of British society could be inferred. Across the academic landscape of historical studies, however, youth cultures tend to play but a minor role in general overviews and historical narratives of the history of European societies after 1945.