Monday, November 09, 2009

Beyond The Wall - Part 2

Last time I mentioned how impressed I was by volume 3 (Kult) of the Das Beste Aus Der DDR series of music from the now vanished East Germany; join me now as I recount my further explorations of that lost country's music.

My subsequent acquisitions of DDR reissues were thereafter driven by the more interesting tracks on Kult, and by what Saturn* was offering in its DDR nostalgia section. One record that has given me much enjoyment is Oktoberklub's Das Beste. Oktoberklub are a funny lot. They seem basically to have been East Germany's reaction to the kind of idealistic folk scene you got in Western countries. There is a very earnest feel to their music, and they create an ersatz version of Western folk music.

The funny thing with Oktoberklub, though, is that they seem to be protesting in favour of the East German state, rather than against it. This is, of course, hardly surprising – actual anti-regime protest would never have made it onto record. And for all Oktoberklub's ostensible happy clappy idealism, they were very much creatures of the state, with their main guy being some big-wig in the East German youth apparatus (and subsequently a DDR culture minister – hopefully not the one depicted in The Lives of Others). For all that, their music (a combination of original tunes and covers with socialised lyrics) is very engaging, and I have gained much enjoyment from listening to them.

Records well worth keeping an eye out for are the Amiga-A-Go-Go series of reissues. The first of these presents us with Deutsch-Demokratische Rare Grooves. The draw for me with this was its having the track 'Tentakel', by Walter Kubiczek, theme music to the cop show of the same name. This track also appears on the Kult disc of Das Beste Aus Der DDR, where it is one of the highlights. It is a brash, brassy tune, and it serves as a good pointer to the kind of stuff that appears on the rare groove record. It suggests that East Germany was a pretty funky place, nothing like the land of drab conformity as which it is normally painted.

Volume 2 of the Amiga-A-Go-Go series presents us with Deutsch-Demokratischer Beat. These seem to be a load of beat tunes from the sixties, coming close at times to being Socialist psychedelia. The record mixes original compositions with covers, with several of the former being by Thomas Natschinski. I know nothing about this fellow, but he seems to have an incredible ability to churn out perky up-tempo tunes.

Volume 3 gives us Deutsch-Demokratisher Soundtracks, and consists entirely of music by Walter Kubiczek. As well as 'Tentakel' again, we also have 'Maskentanz', 'Kalahari', 'Abbisinia', 'Exotica', and many others, all conjuring up worlds of danger and excitement. Maybe my new hobby should be tracking down copies of these East German films and TV programmes – if they are anything like their themes, they must have been pretty exciting.

And that, sadly, is that. The one big gap in my East German music is that I have never come across anything by Wolf Biermann. He was kind of like the East German Luke Kelly or Ewan McColl, singing songs that often highlighted the less ideal aspects of actually existing socialism, but always from a perspective of broad loyalty to the German Democratic Republic. Unfortunately for him, the regime found Biermann a bit too troublesome, and while he was on a tour of the Bundesrepublik, they revoked his citizenship and blocked his return home. I think Biermann must have become less popular over time, with his music slipping out of print, perhaps because he was overshadowed by Nina Hagen, his now more famous daughter.

To illustrate further the advanced nature of the Democratic Republic's music, my next post will take you through a CD-R of sounds from that now-vanished land.

source of images of Alexanderplatz World Clock and temporary memorial to people killed crossing The Wall

* Big record shop in Berlin's Alexanderplatz, basically the only place I have ever seen these Amiga reissues on sale.

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