So if I were to ask you what constituted German music what would you go for? I’m guessing that the majority of readers will put two and two together and come up with David Hasselhoff, a disturbing equation. Sure he has some level of popularity and whenever he does something of note or he takes a confidence boosting trip to Germany there will be a level of news coverage. That being said I have only had misfortune fortune to hear his dulcet tones emanating from the radio on one occasion but that glorious day was a long time ago.Maybe you have been exposed to a little more German music and will select some Schlager band. Schlager is a style of traditional, schmultz that was popular a few decades ago and has recently had a resurgence with the surprise success of Heino, a premier exponent of romantic warbling. That might not be so bad if it wasn’t for the fact that Heino appears to enjoy ripping off other musicians and quoting Adolf Hitler. So once we get passed the Hoff and a retro racist, what are we left with?
The first, and most obvious source for German musicians should be German radio. Yet in Bavaria, one of the more popular stations, Antenne Bayern, provides a more eclectic mix of tunes, weighted heavily towards English language tracks. However, to listen to this station one must remove all preconceptions on how radio should work. In fact listening to Antenne is kind of like being thrown out of a very tall music tree and smashing your face on every genre branch on the way down. The hypnotic mix of Robbie Williams, Pink Floyd, U2, Coldplay, Natasha Bedingfield, Roxette, Dr. Alban, Men At Work, Foreigner, Bon Jovi, Rihanna and Pink is truly something to behold. In actual fact it has come to my attention that the latter artist, Pink, appears to have some kind of blackmail dossier on all the owners of music stations across Germany. This can be the only explanation as to why on any given day Pink must be played on at least one radio station. If that wasn’t insufferable enough, it is vitally important that they play something she recorded at least ten years ago. Germany has enough official rules and regulations without radio stations taking it upon themselves to introduce unofficial ones too.
In fact it’s this myriad of copyright laws that make the German music scene such a complex beast and regulated to a point of exhaustion. The copyright body GEMA (Gesellschaft für musikalische Aufführungs- und mechanische Vervielfältigungsrechte or Society for musical performing and mechanical reproduction rights) holds the reigns of power in it’s iron fist and has sparked condemnation from a variety of sources for it’s aggressive tactics. Essentially the problem boils down to money for the use of copyrighted music, which on the face of it appears fair.
What people have taken exception to is the draconian logic of the agency; one rule dictates that should a club or venue play music it will be automatically assumed that these songs are from the GEMA catalogue of songs and so the venue or club in question is required to pay a fee until they can prove otherwise. Another bone of contention is the exorbitant fees charged to clubs around Germany that presents a very real threat to the music scenes of major cities such as Berlin and Hamburg. Of course all these stories pale in comparison to the heinous crime committed in Düsseldorf a week or so ago that saw the all powerful music police come down heavily on a despicable group of pensioners who had the temerity to use copyrighted swing music during a tea dance…the bastards.
But to answer my original question, what about German music? To be fair to our teutonic brethren they do have a excellent hip hop scene that is best exemplified by the Berlin based collective Seeed. Their clever lyrics and social commentary are mixed nicely with their penchant for wearing oversized suits and cycling around the capital. One of their number, Peter Fox, is also worth a listen with a solo album to his name and a rather astonishing monkey orchestra. So go forth and enjoy the fruits of German music, sure I could have just written about Krraftwerk and Yellow but that would have got me in trouble with the electro coppers…they have that here!