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The Essential… Underground NDW

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  • published
    24 Jan 2013
  • words by
    Matthew Ingram
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The Essential... Underground NDW

Earlier this month saw the publication of The Big Book of Woe, an ebook compiling the unfailingly informative and iconoclastic 2003-2010 blog posts (and other internet writings) of Matthew Ingram, aka Woebot. To mark the occasion, we asked Ingram if we could re-publish one of his classic primers, specifically his 2009 guide to noteworthy records to come out of the Neue Deutsche Welle (German new wave).


My friends at Dissensus have witnessed the saga of my investigation into Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW for short), and so I should apologise in advance if they’ve heard any or all of this before of.

My research has been severely hamstrung by my lack of German, and unlike the largely established canon of Krautrock there is as yet no translated history for NDW. Music fans take for granted things like Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler and the pioneering forays into that music made by the likes of Ian McDonald. Listening to Krautrock nowadays you almost “think through it” in English, obviously there are English language points of entry, Kraftwerk’s willingness to do translated versions of their music and Damo of Can’s fusioneering approach to his lyrics, a pile-up of English/Japanese/German, both softened the barrier.

Just the other week I rounded up all the stuff I’d collected this year, and built a compilation of what amounted to my choice of the best, most interesting, most relevant pieces of music. This post is a companion to that compilation, a blow-by-blow breakdown of the little I know about each of the tracks. Firstly it ought to be stated that this comp amounts to a “second grade” primer to NDW. If you’re a total newbie to this music you should first get the following LPs: DAF’s Die Kleinen Un Die Bosen, Pyrolator’s Ausland, Palais Schaumburg’s debut LP, Der Plan’s Geri Reig (which if you get on CD is doubled up with the also excellent Normalette Surprise), Liaisons Dangereuse’s eponymous LP, Einsturzende Neubauten’s first LP, and the quite excellent Verschwende Deine Jugend: Punk und New Wave in Deutschland 1977-83 compilation. In truth if you have those 7 things you’ve probably got enough. You’ll very regularly hear people singing the praises of Fehlfarben’s Monarchie und Altag, stuff by Malaria and Abwarts, so there must be something to them as well, but I’ve not got anything out of them – I suppose it may be case of personal taste.

Close readers will probably have noticed I’d been trying to do this as a Primer in The Wire. To give them their dues they did consider it, but sadly my enthusiasm for the subject wasn’t enough to convince them I was the man for the job. The fact that I was going to have to rely on the very generous Alexander Pohle (of the Backagain site and NLW label) to essentially provide the basic skeleton to the piece further scuppered me. From my half-baked, albeit completely under-researched comments here you’ll fathom I wasn’t ready to be unleashed on a “NDW Primer.” For a while I wasn’t going to take no for an answer and actually managed to get an audience with Chris Bohn, the editor, in an attempt to convince him by the sheer presence of my towering charisma (ha ha ha).

Bohn had an important role to play in the music’s reception out of Germany. In his own words he ” was there”: as well as cheerleading Einsturzende Neubauten and breaking Pyrolator’s Ausland over here, he hung out with the genius Christlo Haas of Liasons Dangereuses. I asked him about Haas, whose recent death prompted Bohn to contribute to a radio show about him on Resonance FM, and was regaled with a great story or two. Tales of Haas and his compulsive music-making, days of work spooling on to a reel-to-reel, work which Haas would then often quixotically destroy. Bohn’s reluctance to run a Primer also foundered on his conviction that NDW was, in the main, a crock of shite. That all the promise exhibited by German Punk was quickly squandered as the German majors descended on the movement, swiftly bringing us dreck like Nena, Falco and The Spider Murphy Gang. I hummed and ha-ed a little at this point. Wasn’t there some kind of distinction between Underground NDW and the mainstream? Well, certainly I hadn’t bothered making it.

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