Saturday, September 21, 2013

Electronic music in the 80's in East Germany

Most unique and outright fascinating oral history of the year?

I'm not even sure what I can add to this, since the subject matter is so far removed from my personal experience, but this is essential reading.  Cold War era Eastern European music history is sitting on a gold mine of great stories and important music criticism just waiting to happen (at least in English).  For the longest time, these stories literally couldn't be spread outside of their extremely well guarded borders.  The press and other forms of written communication were subject to crackdowns, and so the best way to perpetuate a music scene (and preserve its memory) had to be through word of mouth and personal experiences of those involved.  Thus, for retelling the story today, the oral history is completely appropriate and not simply the fashionable thing to do.

This really turns the American version of DIY on its head.  In New York there were countless stories of art school dropouts forming bands because they were bored.  They didn't know how to play instruments but it hardly mattered -- in fact, it was almost a badge of honour -- and they would stumble into regular gigs without even trying  But in East Berlin in the 80's, you had talented musicians who were heavily devoted to their craft who had to jump through a labyrinth of hoops just to get their instruments smuggled into the country, let alone find gigs.  Building a fan base without getting the secret police on your case was a challenge, and you practically had to know somebody in the ruling communist party to sniff the inside of a recording studio.  There's no doubt it was DIY, but it couldn't be more different from the oft-told American version.

Hopefully this and anthologies like Depeche Mode's Monument are just the tip of the iceberg.

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