Band Erdmöbel geben Konzert über den Dächern Köln, © KölnTourismus Axel Schulten

Travelogue Sound of Co­logne

To the hub of the world and back

Co­logne is prob­ably not the coolest of cit­ies. The money is shif­ted in Frank­furt, fash­ion is de­signed in Düs­sel­dorf, the zeit­geist is de­cided in Ber­lin, and snoot­i­ness lived out in Ham­burg. Co­logne has its cathed­ral. Oth­er­wise, for­eign vis­it­ors might well be shocked by the city?s plain­ness. Last year, the ed­it­ors of Vice Ber­lin wrote that Co­logne is like the em­bod­i­ment of Lothar Mat­thäus in a city: ?En­tirely con­vinced of it­self even though it doesn?t have much reas­on to be from an ob­ject­ive point of view.? Non­ethe­less, the city on the Rhine at­tracts cre­at­ives: it of­fers fine arts and gal­ler­ies, a rich theatre land­scape, urb­an arts and film, and a lively av­ant-garde mu­sic and jazz scene. All too of­ten, the at­ten­tion garnered by the Beatles and sub­cul­ture of Ham­burg, Kraft­werk and the Rat­inger Hof in Düs­sel­dorf, or the techno scene in hyped Ber­lin, has de­trac­ted from Co­logne-bred pop mu­sic, which is both in­nov­at­ive and in­ter­na­tion­ally ad­mired. The cathed­ral city is un­doubtedly the un­der­dog of Ger­man mu­sic hubs. And in the very be­gin­ning, there was a band called Can. 

Can Illustration, © Saskia Wragge
Studio für Elektronische Musik Lawo PTR WDR Cologne, © McNitefly [CC BY-SA 3.0  (httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

From Stock­hausen to Can

The birth of Ger­man rock mu­sic

It?s Car­ni­val Sunday as we walk in­to south Co­logne to in­ter­view Irmin Schmidt. The same old car­ni­val ever­greens boom out from the pubs in Sever­instrasse ?songs by bands like Brings, the Höh­ner or Kas­alla, which Co­logne folk love but are vir­tu­ally un­known in the rest of Ger­many. There is something odd about dodging drunk­en Car­ni­val en­thu­si­asts on the way to meet the key­board­ist of the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed band Can to talk to him about Karl­heinz Stock­hausen, av­ant-garde jazz and ex­per­i­ment­al rock mu­sic. We are lucky to find Schmidt in Co­logne at all. He has lived in Provence for a long time, where he works as a com­poser for film, op­era and bal­let. And he is ac­tu­ally in town to cel­eb­rate car­ni­val with his grand­daugh­ter, as he tells us at the be­gin­ning of our in­ter­view.

Born in Ber­lin in 1937, Schmidt was already a fully-fledged mu­si­cian by the time he came to Co­logne in the mid-1960s. While still at school, he worked as a con­duct­or be­fore com­plet­ing his stud­ies as a pi­ano teach­er in Dortmund with dis­tinc­tion. He foun­ded the Dortmund En­semble for New Mu­sic, worked as a con­duct­or through­out Ger­many and then stud­ied in Es­sen and Salzburg. The Co­logne courses for New Mu­sic by Karl­heinz Stock­hausen drew him to Co­logne. ?At that time, Co­logne was a really ex­cit­ing city,? he says. ?It was the heart of the Ger­man gal­lery scene and free jazz. And also Stock­hausen and the New Mu­sic scene, with the WDR (West Ger­man Broad­cast­ing Co­logne) and sym­phony con­certs per­form­ing New Mu­sic. That was my world back then, and that?s why I came to Co­logne.?

Par­al­lel to his stud­ies, Schmidt or­gan­ised hap­pen­ings and ex­hib­i­tions, and re­mained an act­ive con­duct­or. For this reas­on, the Ger­man Mu­sic Coun­cil gave him a schol­ar­ship in 1966 to take part in the pres­ti­gi­ous Mitro­poulos Com­pet­i­tion for Con­duct­ors in New York. There, he met and played with com­posers of elec­tron­ic and min­im­al­ist mu­sic. The ac­quaint­ances he made, es­pe­cially with Steve Reich and Terry Ri­ley, changed his vis­ion of mu­sic-mak­ing: ?When I came back to Co­logne, the sep­ar­a­tion of clas­sic­al and pop­u­lar mu­sic here seemed com­pletely weird. Con­duct­ing Dvorak and Brahms is won­der­ful and I would still en­joy it today, but I wanted to do something ? also as a com­poser ? con­nec­ted to the present. And I was in­ter­ested in jazz, too, which I un­der­stood as be­ing a part of New Mu­sic. Then came the first Zappa al­bums, Moth­ers of In­ven­tion, Jimi Hendrix, the Vel­vet Un­der­ground, Cap­tain Beef­heart. Sud­denly I real­ised that a kind of con­tem­por­ary mu­sic was de­vel­op­ing, which was just as im­port­ant as the mu­sic evolved from the European tra­di­tion.?

In re­sponse to this in­sight, Schmidt, to­geth­er with the free jazz mu­si­cian Jaki Liebezeit, his class­mate Hol­ger Czukay and beat gui­tar­ist Mi­chael Ka­roli foun­ded a band that was a cros­sov­er between elec­tron­ic and un­der­ground mu­sic. In ex­tens­ive jam ses­sions at Schloss Nör­venich and from 1971 on­wards in their own re­cord­ing stu­dio in Weiler­swist, the mu­si­cians de­veloped an im­press­ively in­de­pend­ent style of mu­sic that gave room to re­pet­it­ive im­pro­visa­tions and bound­ary-break­ing free-jazz pas­sages, as well as in­flu­ences from clas­sic­al, con­tem­por­ary, non-European and folk mu­sic.

Ex­tens­ive tours through­out Europe, nu­mer­ous soundtracks and an en­thu­si­ast­ic re­cep­tion fol­lowed, es­pe­cially in Lon­don and Par­is. But the band was also a suc­cess in Ger­many, reach­ing the charts with the single ?Spoon?. When, in Feb­ru­ary 1972, al­most ten thou­sand spec­tat­ors came to the Co­logne Sports Hall to hear Can live and free of charge, it was clear that the mu­si­cians had broken down the bar­ri­er between clas­sic­al and pop­u­lar mu­sic for once and for all. To this day, many pop his­tor­i­ans re­gard this con­cert as the hour of birth for in­de­pend­ent Ger­man rock mu­sic. This was only able to take place, ex­plains Irmin Schmidt, be­cause of Ger­man his­tory. ?We were born in a coun­try where a com­plete de­struc­tion of cul­ture had taken place, com­par­able only to the Thirty Years? War,? says Schmidt. ?Of course that?s a form­at­ive ex­per­i­ence. There was no Ger­man jazz mu­sic to fall back on. At most there was pre-war mu­sic. Everything else had been des­troyed. So, we tried to cre­ate something of our own. But it was not based on im­it­a­tions of Eng­lish or Amer­ic­an stuff. We felt the need to in­vent something from our own ex­per­i­ence. And only something like Can could emerge from it. This was a kind of mu­sic that could only be cre­ated in Ger­many, a mu­sic where you could dis­cov­er, if you looked for it, its ori­gins in a totally broken tra­di­tion.?

Sev­er­al times dur­ing our in­ter­view, Irmin Schmidt stresses that Can should only be seen very con­di­tion­ally as a Co­logne band. ?It de­veloped be­cause I wanted to de­vel­op it and not be­cause of Co­logne. I al­most ended up in Ber­lin be­cause many of my friends were study­ing art at the Hf­bK (now the Uni­versity of the Arts Ber­lin). And I swear, Can would have then star­ted up in Ber­lin!?

Can - Free con­cert

Sporthalle Co­logne 1972 / © Spoon­Re­cords 1999

Severinstorburg Chlodwigplatz Cologne, © Tourismus NRW e.V.

The na­vel of the world

We re­flect on the in­flu­ence of the city on Can?s mu­sic as we reach Chlod­wig­platz on the way to the tram. For more than ten years, a new un­der­ground train line has been un­der con­struc­tion here. As a res­ult of this build­ing work, the steeple of St. John Baptist?s church nearly toppled over, and the city?s archive centre col­lapsed in 2009. The area around Chlod­wig­platz is the heart of Co­logne, much more than the touristy old town. Here is Sever­instor­burg. Here win­ner of the No­bel Prize for Lit­er­at­ure Hein­rich Böll was born. ?I was born here and grew up with­in an eight-hun­dred-metre ra­di­us. Here I know every plane tree by name, every spar­row, every stone in the wall of the old city. My na­vel of the world is still Chlod­wig­platz,? sings Ger­man rock­music icon Wolfgang Nie­deck­en.

We meet Nie­deck­en, front­man of Ger­man rock group BAP at the band?s headquar­ters, which are hid­den in a back­yard in the centre of Co­logne. Nie­deck­en is very busy. He is play­ing con­certs and plan­ning oth­ers; he has pro­mo­tion work to do for his band and solo al­bum. The night be­fore, the band played in Bonn. ?I en­joy it im­mensely,? he says. ?The worst part of the even­ing is when I real­ize, ?shit, just one more num­ber.? I could play for eight hours.? After the stroke he sur­vived in 2011, his en­ergy is all the more im­press­ive.

Nie­deck­en?s BAP is prob­ably as­so­ci­ated with the sound of Co­logne more than any oth­er band. They have sold over six mil­lion re­cords and re­cor­ded a con­sid­er­able num­ber of hits since they got to­geth­er. But they had to travel a long way un­til they reached that stage. In the mid-1970s, the band?s style was as far re­moved from the zeit­geist as it could be. While the punk re­volu­tion was break­ing out, Nie­deck­en was writ­ing songs in Co­logne dia­lect that were more geared to­ward Bob Dylan or The Kinks than the Sex Pis­tols and The Ra­mones. But BAP?s fun­da­ment­al at­ti­tude was not that far apart: ?At the end of the sev­en­ties, we were a purely am­a­teur band who could play two or three chords if we really put our minds to it. And we wer­en?t even on the mu­sic­al map of the people in the city. But it was very good not to be stuck in some scene, be­cause all those mu­si­cians some­how had a ca­reer plan. We didn?t have any kind of ca­reer plan,? says Nie­deck­en. ?We didn?t con­sider ourselves a punk band, but ac­tu­ally we were a lot more punk than some of those who strictly fol­lowed the punk code.? In vari­ous band form­a­tions and as a solo artist, Wolfgang Nie­deck­en be­came a loc­al le­gend, ap­pear­ing at the Chlod­wig-Eck bar among oth­er ven­ues, which at­trac­ted such huge crowds that their con­certs had to be in­ter­rup­ted all the time to let the loc­al buses get through. Be­cause they sup­por­ted the oc­cu­pi­ers of the former Stoll­wer­ck chocol­ate fact­ory and vari­ous civil so­ci­ety ini­ti­at­ives, BAP be­came a mouth­piece of the al­tern­at­ive left scene, more ac­ci­dent­ally than in­ten­tion­ally.

Wolfgang Niedecken Illustration, © Saskia Wragge

And in 1981, just as the Ger­man New Wave was be­gin­ning to roll out, BAP be­came the coun­try?s best-known band. Their highly ra­dio-in­com­pat­ible, deeply sad six-minute single ?Ver­damp lang her? was a sur­prise hit, and the ac­com­pa­ny­ing al­bum Für usszeschnigge was only knocked from its No. 1 place in the charts by the band?s next hit, Vun drinne noh drusse. Far bey­ond Co­logne, listen­ers now got to hear stor­ies about the area around Chlod­wig­platz (?Süd­stadt verzäll nix?) and the people in the Chlod­wig-Eck (?Jupp?). El­ev­en num­ber-one al­bums later, Nie­deck­en?s source of in­spir­a­tion is still the city centre of Co­logne, a po­s­i­tion from where he ob­serves the world. On his 2011 al­bum Halv su wild, he even had God him­self wander between Chlod­wig­platz and Sever­instor. ?Yes, for me it all star­ted at Chlod­wig­platz,? he says at the end of our con­ver­sa­tion. ?I know ex­actly what?s in each dir­ec­tion and this is how I?ve got my bear­ings since I was a kid. I knew south­wards of Bon­ner Strasse, at some point the moun­tains start and bey­ond the moun­tains there?s an ocean and then comes Africa. And I knew that the trains on the South Bridge trav­elled east­wards and when they?d trav­elled really far, they reached Rus­sia. I grew up there. I got my bear­ings there. It?s my na­vel of the world.?

Bap- Ver­damp lang her

Rock­palast Gruga­halle © pinki123able

What Nie­deck­en does not say is that south­wards down Bon­ner Strasse, there is a green belt that comes be­fore the moun­tains, sep­ar­at­ing the old-fash­ioned in­ner city from the pic­tur­esque, af­flu­ent sub­urbs. And bey­ond it lies the sleepy vil­lage of Roden­kirchen. Stu­dents from south Co­logne have been at­tend­ing the red-brick sec­ond­ary school here for 50 years. Posters an­nounce school theatre per­form­ances. Soon there will be Abit­ur (?A?-level) parties and the leav­ers? ball. In a res­ol­u­tion on the school?s homepage, the class reps prom­ise that dur­ing these fest­iv­it­ies, they will ?in no way dis­turb the peace at school, dam­age or en­danger the repu­ta­tion of our or oth­er schools. Moreover, we re­spect the school?s house rules and un­der no cir­cum­stances will be on school premises between 10pm and 6am.?

Few places seem less likely for a sub­cul­tur­al re­volt than the school?s tidy as­sembly hall, built in the early 1970s as a stu­dio stage and con­cert hall with tiered seat­ing. And yet, here at the fever pitch of the Deutscher Herbst or ?Ger­man Au­tumn? in Oc­to­ber 1977 with ter­ror at­tacks by the RAF, the first his­tory-de­fin­ing punk con­cert in Ger­many took place. Per­form­ing on stage at a deaf­en­ing pitch were Male (who went on to be­come The Krupps, among oth­ers) and Char­ley?s Girls (later Mit­tag­s­pause and Fehl­farben). The con­cert quickly turned in­to a battle­ground between punks and the oth­er stu­dents, who pre­ferred clas­sic rock mu­sic. And so, Ger­man punk es­tab­lished its found­ing myth as a wild op­pos­i­tion to stuffy, aca­dem­ic rock and prog rock. Even if Co­logne nev­er suc­ceeded in be­com­ing a real punk strong­hold and Düs­sel­dorf, Ham­burg and Ber­lin be­came the centres of the scene, the in­nov­at­ive, sub­cul­tur­al ex­plo­sion of punk is forever con­nec­ted to this sub­urb­an hous­ing dis­trict in south Co­logne. As so of­ten, journ­al­ist and mu­sic­man­ager Al­fred Hils­berg, the ?great definer? of pop ter­min­o­logy, coined a phrase that summed it all up. Half a year later, in an art­icle for the magazine Sounds, he eu­phor­ic­ally de­scribed the bur­geon­ing punk re­volu­tion and an­nounced the move­ment?s max­im: ?Roden­kirchen is burn­ing?. Mean­while, the of­fi­cial school chron­icle of 1977 noted: ?Dur­ing the East­er hol­i­days the first stu­dent ex­change will take place with Saint Quentin, France.?

A few days later we meet song­writer Wolf Maahn in the beer garden of the Köl­ner Stadtgarten con­cert hall, which has since ris­en to be­come a centre of European jazz. We want to talk to him about the early eighties, when Co­logne began to trans­form in­to the pop centre of Ger­many. Maahn, born in 1955 in Ber­lin and raised in Mu­nich, began his ca­reer in 1976 with Food Band, which he foun­ded to­geth­er with today?s TV key­board­ist Helmut Zer­lett and later BAP drum­mer Jan Dix. An Eng­lish la­bel offered the band the chance to re­cord in Lon­don in the late sev­en­ties, which was a de­cis­ive event for Maahn and led to their wish to pro­duce their own mu­sic. Des­pite per­form­ances at Lon­don?s Mar­quee Club, Food Band did not suc­ceed in break­ing through, es­pe­cially when their la­bel went bank­rupt. Maahn dis­solved the band in part be­cause he was im­pressed by the be­gin­nings of new Ger­man-lan­guage mu­sic. ?I was in­spired by the Ger­man New Wave,? he says. ?All sorts of mu­sic styles sud­denly be­came more com­mon in Ger­many. I got the feel­ing that what I had learned from Food Band, and what I had in mind as some kind of R ?n? B, could work very well in Ger­man. I thought it might be something of a pi­on­eer­ing act. What ap­pealed to me es­pe­cially was prov­ing it was pos­sible.? Maahn re­leased Deser­teure, his ac­claimed first solo al­bum, in 1982. In the fol­low­ing years he be­came a cent­ral fig­ure of the Co­logne mu­sic scene with songs like ?Fever?, ?Roses im As­phalt? and ?Ich wart auf Dich?, and as a pro­du­cer of Klaus Lage, Purple Schulz, Anne Hai­gis and Nie­deck­en?s solo al­bum Sch­lag­zeiten.

All these Co­logne mu­si­cians met in the eighties in a city that was well-suited to be­ing Ger­many?s centre of pop mu­sic: EMI, one of the largest re­cord com­pan­ies world­wide, WDR, the Deutsch­land­funk ra­dio sta­tion, and from the late eighties on, the TV chan­nels RTL and VIVA, all turned Co­logne in­to Ger­many?s lead­ing me­dia city. The good-qual­ity re­cep­tion of the Brit­ish Forces Broad­cast­ing Ser­vice, which trans­mit­ted from a villa in the Mari­en­burg dis­trict up un­til 1990, was also sig­ni­fic­ant. Mod­er­at­ors such as Dave Lee Trav­is, Chris How­land and, above all, John Peel in­tro­duced new, in­nov­at­ive mu­sic on ul­tra-short­wave ra­dio from the mid-1960s on, provid­ing in­spir­a­tion to loc­al mu­si­cians. What?s more, well-known ven­ues such as the Base­ment, the Roxy and Luxor ex­is­ted, as well the large-scale Sporthalle. ?There?s not an­oth­er city that beats Co­logne people?s love of go­ing out. Co­logne is a lead­er in that way,? ex­plains Wolf Maahn. ?Back then, you could eas­ily fill seats for a vari­ety of events and it?s still that way to this day.? The city?s stu­di­os ad­ded to its already lead­ing po­s­i­tion. By the sev­en­ties, Di­eter Di­erks in Puhl­heim and Conny Plank in Wolp­erath had re­cor­ded the most sig­ni­fic­ant Ger­man bands here such as Ihre Kinder, Ash Ra Temple, Tan­ger­ine Dream, Birth Con­trol, Guru Guru, Amon Düül, Har­mo­nia, La Düs­sel­dorf and Kraft­werk. These stu­di­os in­creas­ingly at­trac­ted in­ter­na­tion­al artists to Co­logne in the eighties. Stars like Ike & Tina Turn­er, Eric Bur­don and bands like Boomtown Rats, Ul­tra­vox, Eurythmics, Les Rita Mit­souko and Killing Joke all re­cor­ded with Di­erks and Plank.

But in step with the in­creas­ing in­ter­na­tion­al­ity of city?s mu­sic scene at the end of the eighties, the pres­sure for mu­si­cians to con­form grew sig­ni­fic­antly too. BAP is a good ex­ample of this. At­tempts by the gui­tar­ist Ma­jor Heuser to gear the band to­wards in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­cess­ible pop mu­sic led to a con­flict with Nie­deck­en, a mu­si­cian loc­ated in re­gion­al storytelling. The res­ults were the weak­est al­bums in the band?s his­tory. Wolf Maahn too be­came sick of be­ing mar­keted as ?the Ger­man Spring­steen?, re­fused to live up to ex­pect­a­tions with his al­bum Third Lan­guage and ended his pro­duc­tion work. Since then, his al­bums have been far re­moved from any mu­sic scene and are the res­ult of him work­ing in his own stu­dio as a self-suf­fi­cient mu­si­cian.

Chlodwigplatz Cologne, © Tourismus NRW e.V.

All in all, it seems that the com­munity spir­it of the Co­logne mu­sic scene crumbled to­wards the end of the eighties. The pre­ma­ture death in 1987 of one of its pi­on­eer­ing fig­ures, Conny Plank, was partly re­spons­ible, as well as the lost battle for the cul­tur­al centre in the Stoll­wer­ck fact­ory, which was de­mol­ished in the late eighties. But above all, the spir­it of the times op­posed Co­logne-based artists: their polit­ic­ally com­mit­ted, re­gion­ally fla­voured Ger­man rock, which was in­jec­ted with new vigour by Ger­many?s Re­uni­fic­a­tion, was re­placed by the pub­lic?s taste for sta­di­um pop an­thems about united Ger­many at the end of the dec­ade, such as West­ernha­gen?s ?Free­dom?. From the late eighties on, Co­logne?s mu­sic turned to carneval­ist­ic Sch­la­ger and lost touch with the zeit­geist. And so, one of the most sig­ni­fic­ant days in Co­logne also be­came the sym­bol of the end of its com­munity spir­it. When, in Novem­ber 1992, 100,000 people pro­tested on Chlod­wig­platz against xeno­phobic vi­ol­ence, the mu­sic on stage was sung ex­clus­ively in Co­logne dia­lect. BAP and Bläck Fööss, Brings and the Höh­ner, Willy Mil­low­itsch and Zeltinger all per­formed ? mu­si­cians who didn?t sing in dia­lect, were not among the line-up. ??This event was long over­due and very suc­cess­ful,? says Maahn in hind­sight, ?but even if the concept was a great hit, I don?t think it was a good idea. Be­cause ever since, Co­logne mu­si­cians have stayed in their own world. They de­cide a lot of things now on their own.? Only in the last few years have these bound­ar­ies col­lapsed. Young­er bands like the brass and samba combo Quer­beat have star­ted de­mol­ish­ing the walls built by the old Co­logne big names.

AG Arsch Huh - Arsch huh, Zäng ussen­ander 09.11.1992 (Chlod­wig­platz Co­logne)

© Stephan B

Cologne Belgisches Viertel - LeBloc Kiosk, © Georg-Hopp alias Fänger der Zeit

It takes less than ten minutes by tram from Chlod­wig­platz to the Bel­gian Quarter that ex­tends around Brüssel­er Platz in Co­logne?s new town. In­stead of Co­logne brew­er­ies, car­ni­val dive bars and tra­di­tion­al loc­al char­ac­ter, hip bars, gal­ler­ies, small de­sign­er shops and or­gan­ic food res­taur­ants typi­fy the streets­cape. The Bel­gian Quarter is cur­rently the trend­i­est dis­trict in the city. Here, the ?sound of Co­logne? was cre­ated in the early 1990s by la­bels like A-Mu­sik and Kom­pakt, with com­puter-gen­er­ated mu­sic without any big names, chor­uses or hits. This sound trans­formed the city in­to a world-renowned Mecca for elec­tron­ic mu­sic.

We talk to Jan St. Wern­er to learn more about the ori­gins of this Co­logne sound. Wern­er is one of Ger­many?s most in­ter­na­tion­ally re­cog­nised and in­nov­at­ive elec­tron­ic mu­si­cians, which stems from the work of his bands Mouse on Mars and Mi­crostor­ia; from col­lab­or­a­tions with artists such as Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Ste­re­olab?s Læti­tia Sad­i­er or Tor­toise; from di­verse solo works, mul­tidiscip­lin­ary in­stall­a­tions and mul­ti­me­dia pro­jects; and from his work as a la­bel man­ager. Along­side Wolfgang Voigt and Jür­gen Paape of Kom­pakt, he is one of the pi­on­eers of the sound of Co­logne, even though Mouse on Mars?s ec­lect­ic mix of genres such as house, techno, min­im­al, am­bi­ent with krautrock ele­ments and sound­scapes has al­ways been geared to the in­ter­na­tion­al scene and in­teg­rates in­flu­ences from the Co­logne-born com­poser Stock­hausen as much as the Düs­sel­dorf schools of Kraft­werk and NEU!

Mouse on Mars, which Wern­er foun­ded to­geth­er with Düs­sel­dorf-based Andi Toma in 1993, was cre­ated in a spe­cial cul­tur­al en­vir­on­ment in the early 1990s: ?It was a time of a cer­tain na­ive eu­phor­ia in so­ci­ety,? he ex­plains. ?Everything star­ted to mix: styles and cat­egor­ies such as high and low cul­ture, ad­vanced and cheap tech­no­logy. Hip-hop had es­tab­lished it­self, techno star­ted to burst open many doors and it brought dif­fer­ent things to­geth­er. The 1990s were a total break­down of dog­mas, bor­ders and dis­tri­bu­tion chan­nels.? Tech­nic­al in­nov­a­tions such as af­ford­able samplers led to the demo­crat­iz­a­tion of mu­sic-mak­ing, al­low­ing Toma and Wern­er to try out new sounds in their own stu­di­os in Düs­sel­dorf and Co­logne without re­straint. In clubs and re­cord stores, a vi­brant scene of elec­tron­ic artists formed, made up of ob­scure mu­si­cians.

Wern­er tells us how A-Mu­sik went from be­ing a mail-or­der out­fit to a re­cord store and in­flu­en­tial la­bel: ?At some point I shared a base­ment flat with Georg Odijk and Mar­cus Schmick­ler on Brüssel­er Platz. Then we per­suaded Georg to sort all the mail-or­der stuff in such a way on the shelves that we could open the door once or twice a week. Everything was sor­ted so that not only Georg but also oth­ers could find things, and twice a week we opened our door ? and sud­denly we had a re­cord store.? Wern­er laughs and then con­tin­ues: ?At the same time, there was the re­cord store called De­li­ri­um. It?s a chain, like a kind of mini-techno fran­chise for Ger­many. And at some point, the guys there said: ?We?re go­ing to do our own thing. We?re go­ing to call it Kom­pakt and turn it in­to our own store.? That happened al­most at the same time. And from the mo­ment that A-Mu­sik was set up, all sorts of mu­sic had a home: En­ten­pfuhl, Ge­friem, Er­folg, Monika West­ph­al and Hans-Jür­gen Schunk, Sch­lam­mpeitzi­ger, C-Schulz, Har­ald Sack Zie­g­ler, my stuff. Be­fore, they had all been free rad­ic­als, and then they came to­geth­er. And it was sim­il­ar with Kom­pakt and Groove At­tack.?

This co­oper­a­tion came about due to the prox­im­ity of clubs and bars in the Bel­gian Quarter. Every la­bel had its loc­al hang-out and mu­sic was played every­where. ?In the Six Pack, you could meet the people from Kom­pakt. The Hall­mack­en­reuth­er was the home base of Whirl­pool Pro­duc­tions with Eric D Clark, Hans Nieswandt and Jus­tus Köh­ncke. Ad­ded to this was the im­pro­vised mu­sic scene, the mu­sic col­lege and ven­ues like the Loft, the Mu­sikfab­rik and the Feuer­wache. And every­body some­how had something to do with someone else. It was like a re­laxed ex­plo­sion.?

Mouse On Mars Live (Pal­la­di­um, Co­logne 13.05.1999)

© Basi ley

This ex­plo­sion quickly reached bey­ond the coun­try?s bor­ders. Mouse on Mars caused an in­ter­na­tion­al furore in 1994 with their first EP single ?Frosch?, while their second al­bum Iaora Tahiti was cel­eb­rated by Melody Maker as one of the al­bums of the year in 1995. The ab­surd ?From Disco to Disco? by Whirl­pool Pro­duc­tions be­came a European hit in 1997. Fol­low­ing Tri­umph, the first re­lease by Kom­pakt, Jörg Bur­ger, Jür­gen Paape and Wolfgang Voigt, Co­logne was turned in­to a bas­tion of min­im­al techno.

While av­ant-garde, non-con­form­ist elec­tron­ic mu­sic was be­ing de­veloped in the Bel­gian Quarter, two streets fur­ther on, along the Köl­ner Ring road, a European hot­spot for main­stream techno and dance mu­sic emerged from the be­gin­ning of the 1990s on. We real­ise this when we talk to Piet Blank and Jaspa Jones, who first ap­peared un­der the pro­ject name Gor­geous, and who launched their ca­reers in Co­logne from 1999 as the DJ duo Blank & Jones. ?This ?do-it-your­self? punk at­ti­tude was passed onto a new gen­er­a­tion at the time,? says Piet Blank about the spir­it of in­nov­a­tion, which was also triggered for him by be­ing able to buy an af­ford­able sampler. ?This made me feel like I didn?t need a band any­more. All of a sud­den, you could sit alone in your bed­room, fiddle around with a track, take it to a club and test out wheth­er it caught on or not.?

The Rave Club, the Space Club and the Ware­house be­came places where mu­sic was tested and ex­changed, at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tion­al dance artists to play gigs in Co­logne. ?Mu­sic tele­vi­sion VIVA was foun­ded here in 1993, which caused a huge hype through­out the 1990s. All the cre­at­ives who made these shows gathered in Co­logne,? says Blank. There was also Pop­komm, which evolved from a loc­al mu­sic fair in­to an in­ter­na­tion­al in­dustry event after mov­ing from Düs­sel­dorf to Co­logne. ?Dur­ing those five or six years, you could say without ex­ag­ger­a­tion that Co­logne was the mu­sic cap­it­al of Ger­many,? says Blank. It was at the Pop­komm that Blank and Jones got to know each oth­er. The two DJS have gone on to sell over two mil­lion re­cord­ings, have col­lab­or­ated with the likes of The Cure?s Robert Smith, Sarah Mc Lach­lan and the Pet Shop Boys and ? in­clud­ing re­mix and com­pil­a­tion al­bums ? have re­leased more than 100 re­cords.

Blank & Jones - De­sire

© blankand­jones­videos

When we ask Jan St. Wern­er why Mouse on Mars have moved to Ber­lin a couple of years ago, he ex­plains that his move was mostly for per­son­al reas­ons, but adds something strik­ing: ?In Co­logne, it was al­ways clear that you had a cer­tain amount of time. When people star­ted to move to Co­logne to make elec­tron­ic mu­sic, I real­ised that it was go­ing to be like Seattle, that it was a hype and would even­tu­ally pass. And then at some point, these chic little de­sign­er fur­niture shops ap­peared.?

Pop­komm 2003 was the swan­song to the mu­sic in­dustry met­ro­pol­is of Co­logne. In 2004, Pop­komm moved to Ber­lin (where it soon fol­ded com­pletely), fol­lowed by the TV sta­tion VIVA in 2005, the mu­sic magazine SPEX in 2007 and EMI in 2013. Mu­si­cians and in­flu­en­tial la­bels like Karaoke Kalk also moved away.

?At that time, no-one was aware that something dra­mat­ic was hap­pen­ing, quite typ­ic­al of Co­logne? says Ral­ph Chris­toph, co-founder of mu­sic fest­iv­al and con­ven­tion c/o Pop, its long-stand­ing pro­gramme dir­ect­or and one of the city?s proven mu­sic ex­perts. ?We star­ted c/o pop partly be­cause a lot of ex­cit­ing mu­sic wasn?t giv­en enough cov­er­age at the Pop­komm and hadn?t been made vis­ible in the years be­fore it left for Ber­lin. That was why we wanted to set up a club fest­iv­al based on the mod­el of Son­ar in Bar­celona, with space for everything that was neg­lected at Pop­komm.? The ini­tial fo­cus of c/o Pop, which took place for the first time in 2004, was elec­tron­ic mu­sic. Its oth­er goal was a bet­ter in­teg­ra­tion of the homegrown scene. Un­typ­ic­al ven­ues were used for con­cert per­form­ances all around the Stat­dtgarten and Stu­dio 672, rep­res­ent­ing a vari­ety of Co­logne la­bels, or­gan­isers and artists. ?In the first year, c/o Pop ran for 17 days,? says Chris­toph with a smile. ?It was in­sane. And al­most fin­ished us off.? Man­fred Post and the city?s pop de­part­ment saved Pop­komm from the cash­flow prob­lems of its overly am­bi­tious early days. Since then, c/o Pop has evolved in­to an im­port­ant club fest­iv­al and in­dustry meet­ing world­wide, which is in­dis­pens­able for the in­ter­na­tion­al­ity of the Co­logne mu­sic scene and dis­cus­sions on cur­rent is­sues re­gard­ing pop cul­ture. Each year, ex­cit­ing, young Co­logne bands like Vimes, Wo­man or Xul Zolar are show­cased at the fest­iv­al. In total, more than 160 acts can be ex­per­i­enced on more than 30 stages through­out the city. An ac­com­pa­ny­ing con­fer­ence provides the op­por­tun­ity for a much-needed pro­fes­sion­al ex­change.

Our for­ay in­to the mu­sic of Co­logne is near­ing the end. As a con­clu­sion, we have set up meet­ings with a num­ber of our fa­vour­ite in­die mu­si­cians to talk about the sound of the city, their mu­sic scenes and the life­style on the Rhine. First, we meet Peter­Licht in an ana­chron­ist­ic café for little old ladies, where the wait­resses wear ap­rons with bows over their be­hinds. His min­im­al­ist elec­tro-pop single ?Sonnen­deck? was a minor hit in 2001. Since then, he has been pro­du­cing his own quite unique ver­sion of post­mod­ern polit­ic­al pop and has writ­ten and re­cor­ded six out­stand­ing al­bums. He smiles in a friendly way, the very in­carn­a­tion of un­pre­ten­tious­ness, and ex­plains why he prefers to stay in Co­logne: ?True, many artits go to Ber­lin. And I think that this has a very, very good ef­fect. It cre­ates a huge space for cre­at­ive free­dom. For me though the idea of go­ing to Ber­lin, the place every­one flocks to be­cause that?s where ?it? is all hap­pen­ing, seems really stress­ful. In fact, it?s so stress­ful that I don?t think I could think clearly any­more in Ber­lin. Here in Co­logne, it?s just the op­pos­ite. There?s air and space every­where.? And Peter­Licht, who wants to re­nounce any af­fil­i­ation to a par­tic­u­lar scene, needs his space.

?When I hear that bands go to an­oth­er city es­pe­cially to get the sound of that city or be­come part of some scene, it really amazes me. For me, the word ?scene? is the epi­tome of stress and de­marc­a­tion,? he says. ?I don?t want that. I?ve nev­er wanted to be part of a scene, and nev­er have been. All the things I as­so­ci­ate with the concept of ?scene? are things that I don?t want in my life. Be­cause if I am part of a scene, then I am part of a scene, but not my­self. I am just per­ceived some­where in that scene?s rank­ing or­der.? But hasn?t he re­cor­ded with the Co­logne-based pro­du­cer Jochen Naaf, who also pro­duced Klee? And in turn, hasn?t Klee?s Su­zie Ker­st­gens worked with the Co­logne bands Wolke (whose key­board­ist Be­ne­dikt Fil­le­böck plays on Peter­Licht?s al­bum Das Ende der Beschwerde) and Erd­mö­bel (whose bassist Eki­mas is the pro­du­cer of ?Sonnen­deck?)? So, isn?t this mesh of col­lab­or­a­tions a scene? ?Of course, we sup­port each oth­er, we know each oth­er, we value each oth­er a lot,? says Peter­Licht, as if this were the most nor­mal thing in the highly com­pet­it­ive world of mu­sic. ?But I don?t see artist­ic com­mon ground with the oth­er artists.?

Peter­Licht - Sonnen­deck

© cnrt­ft

Ekki Maas, ali­as Eki­mas, con­firms this no­tion when we meet him in the stu­dio of his band Erd­mö­bel. ?Yes, every­body does their own thing and that?s the way it should be.? he says. ?The Co­logne men­tal­ity is very lais­sez-faire, and that?s spe­cial. It?s much more her­met­ic and con­form­ist in oth­er cit­ies. There are a lot of crazy people here,? he ex­plains, ex­plain­ing why this is pre­cisely what drew Erd­mö­bel to Co­logne. ?We were ori­gin­ally a Mün­ster band,? he says. ?But we didn?t feel par­tic­u­larly loved there, and so we came to a city where we were loved auto­mat­ic­ally, right away.? He laughs loudly. ?It?s not al­ways great here either, but it?s some­how won­der­ful when no-one raises im­me­di­ate ob­jec­tions to your work. People here in Co­logne don?t do that. It makes you much freer, and you?re not al­ways won­der­ing the whole time wheth­er what you?re do­ing is any good.? This sense of free­dom can be heard on every one of the band?s el­ev­en al­bums. They con­tain pop songs that pay at­ten­tion to de­tail, in which brass pieces, melody-em­bra­cing bass lines and small-scale rhythms fuse with storytelling lyr­ics about the beauty and ter­ror of every­day life. ?What con­sti­tutes good mu­sic is when you hear something and you get goose bumps or cry,? says Eki­mas. His at­ti­tude of un­der­state­ment and his love of mu­sic, which gives room to emo­tions both big and small, is a fea­ture of all our con­ver­sa­tions with in­die mu­si­cians in the city. It can be heard in their songs too ? with Erd­mö­bel, for ex­ample, who un­apo­lo­get­ic­ally cov­er the easy-listen­ing song­writer Burt Bachar­ach or sing ?Das Leben ist schön? (?Life is good?). Pop is not a line of de­marc­a­tion in Co­logne, not a dirty word.

Peter­Licht says: ?There?s an at­ti­tude im­pli­cit in in­die that you are not one of those spine­less jerks who con­sume pop. That you?re one of the hard lads who walks the path of hard truths, who goes the full nine yards and is really liv­ing. It makes me laugh ? I think it?s great. I want to be tough too, and I want to be rel­ev­ant, but ul­ti­mately, of course, part of this idea is just our long­ing: not to be pop and yet be pop all the same.?

erd­mö­bel & ju­dith holofernes: hoffnungs­maschine

© erd­moe­beltv

Oliv­er Minck who, to­geth­er with key­board­ist Be­ne­dikt Fil­le­böck, is the voice of the un­res­trainedly soul­ful, min­im­al-pop band Wolke and who plumbs the depths of adult­hood?s tribu­la­tions in his in­die rock quin­tet Die Sonne, con­firms Co­logne?s pref­er­ence for ?rel­ev­ant pop? in his con­ver­sa­tion with us: ?The sound of Co­logne, if you want to de­scribe it, com­bines pop?y-ness and ra­dio com­pat­ib­il­ity. And a big open­ness to elec­tron­ic in­stru­ments, as well as ser­i­ous but not aca­dem­ic lyr­ics. I think it has something to do with the fact that the area of highly aca­dem­ic, highly com­plex mu­sic is com­pletely covered by the New Mu­sic and jazz scenes in Co­logne.?

Open­ness, free­dom, un­der­state­ment. Those are the key terms to un­der­stand­ing today?s pop mu­sic in Co­logne. It is in­de­pend­ent of trends in the best sense and it is pop without be­ing truly pop­u­lar: few if any hits come from Co­logne these days. Bands and artists are not able (or will­ing) to join in the (over)stage man­age­ment of pop. For the mo­ment it seems very un­clear where the fu­ture lies. On the one hand, the mu­sic scene is suf­fer­ing from the pres­sure of gentri­fic­a­tion. In re­cent years, many of the most im­port­ant clubs, such as the Base­ment, the Un­der­ground or the Papi­er­fab­rik, have been closed down and oth­ers are strug­gling with rent in­creases, neigh­bour­hood protests and changes in night­life habits. Stu­dio spaces are rare and com­pet­it­ive. On the oth­er hand, the city is still a dy­nam­ic mu­sic city, with fest­ivals like Week-End, count­less club con­certs every week or the on­go­ing es­tab­lish­ment of many in­de­pend­ent la­bels.

Die Sonne - Neu er­fun­den

© ta­peter­ecords

A few hours later in a small café in north Co­logne, Su­zie Ker­st­gens is wait­ing un­der a disco ball to talk to us about her won­der­fully wist­ful band Klee and the Co­logne life­style. Klee, who were called Ral­ley un­til 1999 and re­named them­selves after a ser­i­ous car ac­ci­dent, are the co-founders of a new type of fe­male pop (songs in­clude ?Erin­ner Dich?, ?Tausend­fach? and ?Die Stadt?, plus sev­er­al al­bums). Our planned 45-minute in­ter­view with Su­zie Ker­st­gens turns in­to four hours, after which we be­lieve we have truly un­der­stood Co­logne?s life­style and the city?s love of mu­sic and its mu­si­cians. The open­ness of the city is also a de­cis­ive factor for her: ?It might sound clichéd, but maybe it?s partly due to the Rhine­land. And by that, I don?t mean the ?cheer­ful Rhen­ish nature?, but the open-minded­ness for new things, and curi­os­ity in oth­er people. People don?t take them­selves too ser­i­ously, or them­selves just as im­port­ant as they take oth­ers. Per­haps people here in Co­logne define them­selves more through feel­ings and emo­tions than at­ti­tude. If you think of car­ni­val and its mu­sic, it is emo­tion­ally charged and cel­eb­rates to­geth­er­ness. You soak all that up and if you?ve de­cided to stay in Co­logne, then you take part in it. If you can?t handle it, then you might find Co­logne bor­ing and pro­vin­cial. Then you have to go away to Ber­lin.? Ker­st­gens laughs loudly and we real­ise that this is a per­fect de­scrip­tion of Co­logne?s un­der­stand­ing of pop mu­sic. ?Ex­actly!?, she replies. ?Mu­sic not just for your hood. It?s really im­port­ant when you make mu­sic in Co­logne not to think that only a small, elite group and the people you al­low are per­mit­ted to like it. That kind of at­ti­tude just doesn?t ex­ist here.?

Illustration Klee, © Saskia Wragge

In this way, the city has room for tricky elec­tron­ic mu­sic as well as thump­ing car­ni­val hits, rock in dia­lect and ser­i­ous in­die pop; in the 1970s, the bald punk Zeltinger, and in the 1980s the polit­ic­al an­arch­ist Floh de Co­logne; in the 1990s, the tender, in­tro­ver­ted elec­tro­pop of Donna Re­gina, and in the 2000s, reg­gae by Gen­tle­man. For some time now, the post-Kom­pakt gen­er­a­tion has been find­ing its feet, a group made up of young elec­tron­ic mu­si­cians, who fuse an in­die at­ti­tude with an elec­tro back­ground ? from New Wave and the Italo sound of the duo Coma, to the bop­ping synth-pop of Roosevelt?s Mari­us Lauber. Around the Ger­man-Chilean techno-in­nov­at­or Ma­tias Aguayo and the un­com­prom­isingly ec­lect­ic Lena Wil­likens, an artist­ic­ally fas­cin­at­ing Co­logne-Düs­sel­dorf ax­is has de­veloped. Wil­likens, a reg­u­lar at c/o Pop and res­id­ent DJ in the Salon Des Am­a­teurs, has a back­ground in punk, ap­pre­ci­ates Düs­sel­dorf?s krautrock past and doesn?t shy away from mix­ing break­beats, house, techno and ob­scure in­ter­me­di­ate forms to make a wild con­tem­por­ary sound.

Fortuna Ehrenfeld Illustration, © Saskia Wragge

The last song of our playl­ist about Co­logne sounds strange, touch­ing, en­chant­ing through the head­phones, as we get off the train at Co­logne Cent­ral Sta­tion. We have an ap­point­ment with pro­du­cer and song­writer Mar­tin Bechler. The elec­tron­ic­ally in­flu­enced Pop, which he plays un­der the name of For­tu­na Ehren­feld, is among the best mu­sic that has spawned the Co­logne mu­sic scene in re­cent years. The songs of Bechler are hard to grab. They os­cil­late between subtle pi­ano mini­atures and ex­cess­ive punk. Their com­pel­ling charm comes from the abund­ance of lyr­ics that one wants to tat­too in the heart. And from nu­mer­ous mo­ments of ir­rit­a­tion dur­ing the per­form­ance, in which one can re­cog­nize Bechler­'s love of the theat­er. On stage, this is re­flec­ted in the fact that the song­writer ap­pears wear­ing pa­ja­mas, a feath­er boa and bear paws on his feet. The con­certs he plays with the two tal­en­ted young Co­logne mu­si­cians Paul Weißert and Jenny Thiele are an ex­per­i­ence. It's fas­cin­at­ing to see how the audi­ence's ini­tially amazed giggles with­in a few songs be­come mouth-open listen­ing and wet eyes. In 2017 he re­leased his second al­bum "Hey Sexy" on the Ham­burg la­bel Grand Hotel van Cleef. It is per­haps the quint­essence of what can be the sound of Co­logne in the present: Rel­ev­ant, free-roam­ing pop without fear of pathos and emo­tion and with the know­ledge of the rich Co­logne pop his­tory.

For­tu­na Ehren­feld - Das Let­zte Kom­mando

© Clash Wien

Mar­tin Bechler wel­comes us in his stu­dio close to the Co­logne Cathed­ral. Here he works door to door with oth­ers in a stu­dio com­munity. We be­gin the con­ver­sa­tion by ask­ing where he would loc­ate the be­gin­nings of his pas­sion for mu­sic. "Par­ents," says Bechler as shot dead. "My moth­er played pi­ano very well, home mu­sic was still be­ing made at that time and in my early child­hood I was fed with two things: one was the Beatles and the oth­er was Kurt Weill. The 'Three­penny Op­er­a' got knocked on my ears un­til I knew it by heart. Luck­ily. "He grows up in a small town in the deep­est moun­tain­ous coun­try. 60 kilo­metres from Co­logne. He starts learn­ing pi­ano at the age of five, un­til ad­oles­cence comes to his head. "For a while I really en­joyed go­ing to pi­ano les­sons," he says. "That was a fas­cin­a­tion for years to mas­ter such an in­cred­ible device. In the pu­berty years, how­ever, there was also an in­cred­ible re­jec­tion of the con­form­ist, con­ser­vat­ive at­ti­tude of my pi­ano teach­er. And then, when the rock­'n'roll brain was awakened, the yearn­ing for chaos and loud­ness be­came enorm­ous. "He be­gins to play the drums, de­lib­er­ately without any guid­ance from a teach­er. In the boil­er room of his par­ent­s' house he ham­mers the pu­ber­tal frus­tra­tion, the an­ger and en­ergy in­to the drums and cym­bals. AC/DC, the thirst for ex­per­i­ment­a­tion of Trio, the emo­tion­al tur­moil of Beeth­oven's sym­phon­ies, the mix­ture of chaos and struc­ture of Frank Zap­pa's Moth­ers of In­ven­tion be­come ini­tial fir­ings. "I was one of those tape-re­cord­ing the ra­dio at the time, al­ways with my fin­ger on the re­cord­ing but­ton," talks Bechler of a cru­cial mo­ment. "At the be­gin­ning of the 80s, in the middle of the New Wave, on comes Jimi Hendrix! I could not even press 're­cord' be­cause I was so su­per­stoned. It be­came per­fectly clear to me, that I heard someone do­ing something that nobody else did. It was a mile­stone. I knew then, I had to go out in­to the world and seek out those who are like-minded. "

For­tu­na Ehren­feld - Hun­deherz

© Grand Hotel van Cleef

In the rur­al sur­round­ings of the Ber­gisches Land he be­gins to enter the stage. "Hard on the verge of em­bar­rass­ment, I gave my best to shake my long hair as a loc­al hero in the loc­al rock bands," Bechler de­scribes this time with a wink. He comes to Co­logne in the mid-90s. Here he works as a mu­si­cian, lyr­i­cist, com­poser, pro­du­cer, sound en­gin­eer for oth­ers like comedi­ans Rain­ald Grebe and Ha­gen Reth­er, act­ress Anna Thal­bach or pi­an­ist Hans Liberg, for the Köl­ner Phil­har­mon­ic Or­ches­tra as well as for TV sta­tions. From these artists he learns what it means to de­vel­op an in­cor­rupt­ible in­de­pend­ence. These years in back­ground also sharpen his own mu­sic­al ap­proach. Away from a ra­dio-ori­ented sounds of over­power­ing, his credo is: Less is more. "The main fea­ture of a For­tu­na Ehren­feld pro­duc­tion is: De­lete! Let go! No one needs it! ", He ex­plains. "I want to keep everything that you hear as simple as pos­sible, so that you per­ceive the things that ex­ist as in­tens­ively as pos­sible. Wheth­er the acous­tic gui­tar sound can still get a cherry on top, passes my ass. It's about the song. All prom­in­ence be­longs to the song, not any su­per­flu­ous ton­al de­tails. "One can hear this ap­proach in the min­im­al­ism of his single" Matrosen "or the en­chant­ing love song" Ge­gen die Ver­nun­ft".

For­tu­na Ehren­feld - Matrosen

© For­tu­naEhren­feld­VEVO

By now it is more than 20 years that he has his home base in the cathed­ral city. He is cur­rently build­ing a new stu­dio in Co­logne Bickendorf. And yet he does not like to see his songs be­ing as­so­ci­ated too much with the city and its pop his­tory. "Of course Co­logne was in­spir­ing for me, when I came here as a small town kid. There were clubs we did not have. There was a tram here that we did not have. That was a great fas­cin­a­tion. But I really can not say that Co­logne is im­port­ant for my work. All I need is a dark base­ment stu­dio, a power out­let and a train sta­tion. "

Bechler is a free spir­it. Be­long­ing to scenes, genres or the sound of a city does not in­terest him at all. When we ask him about the sound of Co­logne, Düs­sel­dorf and Kraft­werk, but also the strict rules of the Ham­burg scenes, ac­cord­ingly, he gives an an­swer fully to the twelve: "I real­ized very early, that I com­pletely don?t care about cat­egor­iz­ing mu­sic. For­give me, it?s the journ­al­ists who need something like that. Someone who listens to mu­sic couldn?t care less wheth­er it's in­die-trash-speed-coun­try or not ... My lo­gic is that the real, in­cred­ible gift of mu­sic is its di­versity. "He takes a breath and adds," So far, that did not really hap­pen to me, but if any­one should try to get me in­to a scene or rules, then I will smile con­fid­ently in his the face and ask him not to steal my time. Who­ever is in­volved in such camp form­a­tions, out of nerdi­ness or cool­ness reas­ons or mak­ing him­self im­port­ant, he for me is a hack­neyed, miser­able phil­istine. Please leave me alone with that ..! "

Des­pite this un­com­prom­ising autonomy and the con­tem­por­ary sound of his mu­sic, , the songs of For­tu­na Ehren­feld are knee-deep in Co­logne's pop his­tory. If only be­cause the two pre­vi­ously re­leased al­bums were co-de­signed by René Tin­ner. The Swiss is a pro­du­cer le­gend of­ten over­looked by the pub­lic and has dir­ec­ted the le­gendary Can stu­dio in Weiler­swist from 1978 to 2007 fol­low­ing work with Can, Trio and Lou Reed. That is why we ask Mar­tin Bechler about Co­logne?s most prom­in­ent band. "Can is very spe­cial mu­sic that I can listen to some­times and some­times not," says Bechler and then ex­plains what the in­spir­ing thing about the band is for him: "Can was a Co­logne band that said very early on: we do it This is the way we want it and the rest can lick our asses. Also in­tern­ally there was a great free­dom to al­low things. That had an in­cor­rupt­ib­il­ity. And that's what it?s all about.. And in the Co­logne re­gion, of course, there were also René Tin­ner and Conny Plank. Such people show that there must be something in the air in Co­logne, that turns the city in­to an en­vir­on­ment in which things could be in­ven­ted and driv­en for­ward without pre­ju­dice. Things which then triggered many oth­er things. "

But just as Mar­tin Bechler does not want to be tucked away in a genre-draw­er called ?Co­logne Sound?, he op­poses any kind of loc­al pat­ri­ot­ism. Im­me­di­ately after com­pli­ment­ing Can and Conny Plan, he con­tin­ues: "At the mo­ment we rest too much on the his­tory, which has already happened here in Co­logne. The fact is: Today the places are taken from us at a rap­id speed. Keyword: gentri­fic­a­tion. That's what I as­so­ci­ate with Co­logne today: a massive loss of qual­ity of life, be­cause there are few­er and few­er places where live mu­sic can hap­pen, be­cause no one can af­ford the rents, be­cause of the crappy ve­gan ice cream par­lors. Few­er places, be­cause all the beau­ti­ful in­dus­tri­al areas where the artist­s' stu­di­os were and the il­leg­al clubs ex­is­ted, get taken away. "

In his own artist­ic way, he coun­ters such de­vel­op­ments. The pro­ject For­tu­na Ehren­feld can also be un­der­stood as a res­ist­ance nest of non­con­form­ity. The song "Das let­zte Kom­mando" puts it in a nut­shell: "What happened to the punks? Every­one is do­ing web design. It?s bet­ter to be screwed, than to be one of them. Holy fuck, there must be something else. "

?That?s a dis­tin­guish­ing fea­ture, I think. That so much can hap­pen and de­vel­op and live along­side each oth­er and every­one still knows each oth­er and there?s co­he­sion. That there are no walls between groups or genres. I like to think that Co­logne folk ? not Co­logne the city ? can be proud of it,? says Ker­st­gens. We drink an­oth­er cof­fee and then an­oth­er, dis­cuss Co­logne?s pop his­tory, com­plain about the Kölsch cliques, have an­oth­er cof­fee and talk about Co­logne?s con­stant long­ing for re­cog­ni­tion, its en­joy­ment of pop­u­lar cul­ture, its sym­pathy for the un­cool un­der­dog and its spe­cial ?Levvens­je­föhl? (at­ti­tude to life). ?Yes,? Su­zie Ker­st­gens con­cludes. ?Here in Co­logne you can be un­cool! I think it?s great. There is no pres­sure here to keep say­ing: ?Oh, I?m so hip, I?m so cool.? No, people here are just un­cool, be­cause nobody needs to be cool.?

Clos­ing and Playl­ist

This text is the re­vised, abridged and sup­ple­men­ted ver­sion of the chapter ?Co­logne: The Na­vel of the World? from the book ?Sound of the Cit­ies. Eine pop­musikalis­che Ent­deck­ung­s­re­ise?, Kein & Aber 2016, ISBN: 978-3-9540-3091-0. Re­prin­ted with kind per­mis­sion by cour­tesy of Kein & Aber AG, Zurich. Trans­la­tion by Lucy Jones, Trans­fic­tion Ber­lin (ht­tp://www.trans­fic­tion.eu).


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