The excellent Rainer Bartel – proprietor of some of Germany’s best blogs, successful journalist and author of a German guide to the EEEPC – and myself are currently having an animated discussion on the issue of Duesseldorf and its influence on popular music. Being the staunch defender of his beloved hometown that he is, he cited a long list of more or less influential musicians that for him prove that Duesseldorf is far more important than the footnote status that was I willing to give the place.
The only thing that I can think of is Chris Rea’s comment in ‘Windy Town’, that he comes home with the ‘taste of Duesseldorf’ still on his lips. But I am being facetious.
It nevertheless made me think of a wider issue: forget Duesseldorf: what actually is Germany’s role in contemporary, popular music?
There is no discussion about its influence within the world of non-entertainment music: Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Schumann, Mozart (ok, he was Austrian, but that was almost the same then), Schoenberg and their contemporaries produced the majority of what we listen to on BBC Radio 3. Within the last fifty years Henze and Stockhausen have added themselves to that list, but they are certainly no household names anymore. So, Germany rules among the Italians, French, English and Russians when it comes to the classical stuff.
But within Pop/Rock? Unfortunately these days, when you ask somebody born after 1980, the only examples he/she will probably come up with are Rammstein (who do not deserve a link) and -shudder- the Scorpions (ditto). For people remembering the eighties and the seventies, Krautrock champions Can, Bavarian Balladiers Muenchner Freiheit (who had a Number 1 in the UK with ‘Keeping the Dream alive‘. Don’t ask) and Duesseldorf’s best exports: Propaganda, Kraftwerk and the short lived DAF come to mind. Then there was the ‘School of melodious House’ from Frankfurt, producing such anonymous, producer led projects as Snap! or Culture Beat. These guys went so far to change their name to something vaguely American to remove all associations with THAT country.
As you might have noticed, all the aforementioned groups released their singles in English.
Mostly, everybody not speaking English lives happily ever after, completely ignorant of the wide variety of artists releasing their work in German, which they probably find as accessible as the latest Number One from Kazakhstan.
So, is it all about the language, then? Is the main reason that my fellow scotsmen don’t buy the latest album by Marius Mueller Westernhagen is because neither can pronounce his name nor any of the songtitles, or that singing along to a song called ‘Skandal im Sperrbezirk’ (or even better: ‘Mit Pfefferminz bin ich Dein Prinz‘. Try singing that…) just doesn’t roll of the tongue like, say, ‘Umbrella’? With a language like that, it’s no wonder that New Zealand and Australia, countries who together have a quarter of the German population, had more Number ones.
On the other hand, millions of inebriated Englishmen had no problems singing along to either ‘Bambolero’, ‘Voyage, Voyage’, or ‘Donald, where’s your troosers’ (wait..). So it can’t be the fact that it’s foreign.
It’s just the wrong type of foreign. It’s German. It still conjures up the wrong associations.
With other words, it’s not so much the quality of the German musical output, but the inability of the world to speak the language. Or get over its accociated history.
I leave the rest of this argument to the comment section and leave you in the safe Duesseldorfian hands of Claudia Brueck, Susanne Freytag and, uh, Trevor Horn.