A Brief History of West Berlin New Wave

The beginnings of Neue Deutsche Welle trace back to the late 1970s — a rich, energetic underground movement born in Germany which lent on a similar DIY mentality to the London and New York post-punk and new wave scenes of the same time. But it’s simplicity, characterised by eccentric lyrics delivered in the German language set it apart from its Anglo-American counterparts. Unfortunately by the early 80s the mainstream had already taken over, propelled by artists like Nena and Falco, and many of the pre-existing Neue Deutsche Welle acts practising at the outset were forgotten.

Berlin DJ and producer Sascha Funke and drummer and Wolf Müller collaborator Niklas Wandt owe a lot of inspiration to this movement, citing its “nostalgic” feel, “postmodern sentiment of cut-and-paste” and “openness to experimentation” as hallmarks of its appeal. These attitudes can be felt throughout Wismut – their debut joint EP for Dreems and Thomas Von Party’s Multi Culti imprint – which is a by-product of a similar approach to DIY experimentation. Here they explore a brief (alternative) history of a musical movement that’s close to home.

Where does your love for West Berlin New Wave stem from?

Niklas: First of all from a lot of the music itself and on second glance for a strange nostalgia. Berlin almost thirty years after reunification is a very different place. A lot of the scene’s best known exponents are now better known for their red wine cellar or hardware store advertisings than their music, a lot of old squatters are now proud proprietors and the place is getting more in demand and expensive as we speak. Because of that, the old “island” of West Berlin is mythologised by contemporaries and young folks alike, and for a good reason. It’s fascinating to think of having lived in such a contradictory place: severely closed in by the GDR territory and at the same time loads of time and cheap space to work artistically or just to spend days out on sinister binges.

What marks out a West Berlin record, compared to the rest of the genre?

Niklas: Maybe a certain playfulness, an openness to experimentation and a postmodern sentiment of cut-and-paste. That is in general a trait of New Romantic, New Wave etc, just that in West Berlin it found a specifically open form and maybe a little less reference to polished surface, David Bowie and Roxy Music than in Britain.

What record from this time and place has left the biggest impression on you as a DJ, and why?

Sascha: E2-E4. It’s a timeless and magic record and will always remind me of my first years when I discovered electronic music.

Manuel Göttsching – E2 – E4

Sascha: During my first visits to the Hardwax store in Berlin in 1992 that record was always displayed on the wall of fame surrounded by the newest techno records of that era. It got my attention and after listening I bought it straight away. A few years later I realised that it actually wasn’t from that time in ’92, originally it was recorded in ’81 and released in ’84. It sounded so fresh and futuristic, an endless trip and a blueprint of what we later called electronic music. The track was covered by many other artists such as Sueno Latino, Die Dominas and Carl Craig. Manuel Göttsching was also member of the 70’s Krautrock band Ash Ra Tempel.

Palais Schaumburg – Wir Bauen Eine Neue Stadt

One of the leading post punk bands named after the residence of the chancellor of what was then West Germany’s capital, Bonn. Palais Schaumburg played with Dadaism in their lyrics and was seen as the intellectual and super cool dance band in the German punk scene. Originally founded in Hamburg most of the band members moved later in the 80’s to West Berlin and became pioneers of the electronic music scene. Holger Hiller is now a teacher, but Thomas Fehlmann became very well known as one part of The Orb and Moritz Von Oswald as the founder of Hardwax records and Basic Channel.

Futurologischer Congress – Körperwärme

Niklas: At first glance, West Berlin subculture until the fall of the Wall in ‘89 is engrained in public memory as grimy, grey and gritty – apocalyptic post-expressionists and squatters on endless amphetamine sprawls through dimly lit taverns. That Neubauten legacy is surely a big part, what one tends to forget though is just how much in flux and in exchange all the artists on the scene were – and how delicate and playful some of the less brutalist music of the “Geniale Dilletanten” (sic) was. The standout track “Körperwärme” (Bodily warmth/Body Heat) is far from bleak – a polished and perfectly executed piece of Balearic bliss, including sexy lyrics and a very early addition of a superbly meaty 303.

Notorische Reflexe – Das Afrikateil

Niklas: Notorische Reflexe were an audiovisual group fusing electronic music with projections of Super8 video works. A lot of West Berlin artists and collectives like Malaria! or Die Tödliche Doris were made up of sculptors, painters, conceptual artists for which the music was merely one facet in an art heavily receiving poststructural theory. The Merve edition of little theory books came from the same scene – no surprise most artists were constantly producing deeply playful and doubtful works. Hard to be more intertextual than by using samples. In “Das Afrikateil” (The Africa Thing) the African vocal gives extra ecstasy and strange rhythmic counterpoints to the powerful synth arpeggio. Freak out to this one!

Cosa Rosa – Ich fliehe mit dir

Rosa Precht took to the national stages as keyboardist for the great songwriter Ulla Meinecke. She also happened to be the boyfriend of the spectacular talent Reinhold Heil, keyboardist with Nina Hagen’s band i.e. Spliff and present-day Hollywood composer – a more mainstream scene that centred around a Kreuzberg factory loft run by photographer Jim Rakete. “Ich fliehe mit dir” (I flee with you) is maybe their finest joint effort – heavenly almost Japanese style synth pop with breezy multi-layered vocals. Rosa never saw more than minor pop success and unfortunately died of cancer in 1987 but has been rediscovered in recent years.

Wismut was released on Multi Culti earlier this month. 

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