New Fall Festival Tonhalle, © Andreas Schiko

Travelogue Sound of Düs­sel­dorf

The Pop-his­tory of Düs­sel­dorf - from then un­til now

As a pop met­ro­pol­is, Düs­sel­dorf is a phe­nomen­on: the cap­it­al of Ger­many?s largest state should be much too small to at­tract in­ter­na­tion­al at­ten­tion, but time and again it has fostered un­usu­al mu­sic scenes, bands and move­ments. Kraft­werk, for ex­ample, is the pro­to­typ­ic­al Ger­man pop band that gave im­petus to the emer­gence of new wave, hip-hop and techno. The long-for­got­ten NEU! has been named fa­vour­ite Ger­man band by mem­bers of Blur, Ra­di­o­head and Ste­re­olab. The Düs­sel­dorf punk scene of the late 1970s was less em­bittered than its coun­ter­parts in Ham­burg and Ber­lin, which led to more ex­per­i­ment­al styles of mu­sic. Der Plan, Fehl­farben, DAF and Li­ais­ons Dangereuses and their av­ant-garde new wave at­trac­ted fans far bey­ond Ger­many?s bor­ders. The Krupps were co-founders of the in­dus­tri­al mu­sic move­ment. And the homegrown band Pro­pa­ganda be­came hit writers of the elec­tron­ic wave in the 1980s.

For many mu­sic fans, the era of Düs­sel­dorf as a pop met­ro­pol­is ended in the mid-1980s when many mem­bers of the scene de­cided to take up bour­geois pro­fes­sions and life­styles, or even left the city al­to­geth­er. But time and again the city?s fas­cin­at­ing pop his­tory and con­tinu­ing artist­ic in­fra­struc­ture has brought to­geth­er new cre­at­ive minds. Cru­cially, the Kunstakademie art col­lege kept and keeps on at­tract­ing ex­per­i­ment­al mu­si­cians. Kreidler mem­ber De­tlef Wein­rich foun­ded the club Salon des Am­a­teurs, which re­mains the cent­ral meet­ing place for a young elec­tron­ic scene that con­nects (Krautrock) tra­di­tion and mod­ern mu­sic. Düs­sel­dorf might no longer be the mu­sic­al hub of the world, but every dec­ade or so, great things hap­pen here: in the mid-2000s, Hausch­ka in­tro­duced the concept of a pre­pared pi­ano for the pop scene, and ten years later, Grand­broth­ers re­fined it. This en­ter­pris­ing streak was con­tin­ued in hip-hop and punk with the An­ti­lo­pen Gang and the Broil­ers.

Kraftwerk Konzert 2014, Washington, © CC BY 2.0 Janine and Jim Eden (Flickr)

It?s high time to set off on our jour­ney. We have taken the re­gion­al train. On the jour­ney to Düs­sel­dorf, we listen to 25 tracks on our head­phones that we?ve chosen to rep­res­ent the sound of the city. First on the list is Di­eter Süverkrüp, Ger­many?s most elo­quent and po­et­ic polit­ic­al sing­er-song­writer. Then come NEU! and Kraft­werk?s ?Auto­bahn?. These 22 minutes of pop his­tory are in­ex­tric­ably linked to Düs­sel­dorf. They con­jure up the Ger­man mo­tor­way and in­ter­na­tion­al ho­ri­zons, Krautrock and elec­tron­ics, the ma­chine-like chil­li­ness of Kraft­werk and re­cord­ing-mas­ter­mind Conny Plank?s warmth. In its best mo­ments, the sound of Düs­sel­dorf is a mu­sic of con­trasts.

Ti­mon-Karl Kalayta, lyr­i­cist and sing­er of the elec­tro-pop band Susanne Blech, takes us through Düs­sel­dorf?s old town. On the way, we pass mul­tina­tion­al fash­ion chains and Rhen­ish dive bars, punks beg­ging for change and the chic König­sallee. We see con­trasts every­where. In a café over­look­ing the Rhine, it does not take long be­fore talk turns to the city?s most fam­ous band. Kalayta, who caused a shit­storm by pulling Kraft­werk off their ped­es­tal in his icon­ic song ?1000 Jahre Kraft­werk? (?That stuff by Kraft­werk, turn it off or turn it down. Every­one sees it, no one says it: they?re the em­per­or?s new clothes?), is re­fresh­ingly ir­ate: ?They?re revered here like gods,? he grumbles. ?It?s only right and fit­ting ? they were pi­on­eers and all that ? but if every­one agrees on something, then there has to be a counter opin­ion, just out of prin­ciple, even if it?s wrong. In Kraft­werk?s case, the dis­cus­sion has come to a com­fort­able end. No one in their right mind would say any­thing dis­rep­ut­able about elec­tro­pop av­ant-garde from Düs­sel­dorf without mak­ing a fool of him­self. The pop ref­er­ences are ob­vi­ous, case closed. Kraft­werk? Geni­uses, of course! That?s the ver­dict.?

In fact, it?s al­most im­possible to take an im­par­tial ap­proach to Düs­sel­dorf?s mu­sic scene. In­ter­na­tion­al su­per­stars who have been in­flu­enced by Düs­sel­dorf and Kraft­werk ? from Dav­id Bowie to Simple Minds, De­peche Mode or the Chem­ic­al Broth­ers ? are too nu­mer­ous. And enough has been writ­ten about Kraft­werk to fill a small lib­rary with pub­lic­a­tions on the top­ic, while con­fer­ences and sym­po­sia on the sub­ject are fre­quently held all over the world. Elec­tri_City, the title of an or­al his­tory pub­lished in 2014 about the ?Mecca of elec­tron­ic mu­sic? (as the blurb states) says that the city?s pop-his­tor­ic­al im­port­ance can?t be over­es­tim­ated. And yet! Düs­sel­dorf re­ceived its first cru­cial thrust from a man who was born in Kais­er­slaut­ern, was in­flu­enced by Amer­ic­an troops sta­tioned in Ger­man mil­it­ary bases, worked in Co­logne and Ham­burg and who spent most of his life far away from Düs­sel­dorf.

Conny Plank was ?per­haps the most im­port­ant cre­at­or of the sound and mood of those years, one of the friend­li­est people in the world and cer­tainly the greatest pat­ron of geni­uses and slobs; the hub around which Düs­sel­dorf?s wheel spins,? said Mi­chael Re­insch a while back in the Frank­furter Allge­meine Son­ntag­szei­tung. Plank re­cor­ded the first Kraft­werk al­bum Tone Float to­geth­er with Ralf Hüt­ter and Flori­an Schneider in 1970, who were still go­ing by the name Or­gan­isa­tion at the time, and ex­plained to them how to use the equip­ment they had bought with their par­ent?s money. First in ren­ted or pro­vi­sion­al stu­di­os, then in his own pro­duc­tion em­pire in Wolp­erath, he cre­ated the sound of their four fol­low­ing al­bums and spent night shifts tinker­ing with Kraft­werk?s sound on their first big hit ?Auto­bahn?. From 1970 on, Plank also christened this genre of mu­sic, tak­ing the name from his mu­sic pub­lish­ing house Kraut. The biggest Krautrock bands of the era re­cor­ded their main tracks and al­bums with him ? from Kluster to Ash Ra Temple, Guru Guru to Grob­schnitt, and NEU! to La Düs­sel­dorf.

Conny Plank - The po­ten­tial of noise (Trail­er)

© Kon­tor New Me­dia VOD

We meet up with Mi­chael Roth­er to find out more about the time in the early 1970s when Düs­sel­dorf first put it­self on the mu­sic map. The gui­tar­ist and com­poser is one of the most ex­cit­ing fig­ures in the Düs­sel­dorf mu­sic scene. As a mem­ber of the Kraft­werk line-up of three in 1971, and most im­port­antly as the founder of NEU! to­geth­er with the drum­mer Klaus Dinger, he shaped the early Düs­sel­dorf sound like no oth­er. Roth­er tells us in con­ver­sa­tion that he came across some of his most de­cis­ive in­flu­ences dur­ing a three-year stay in Pakistan from 1960 on. There he got to know In­di­an mu­sic styles. ?It was just a very form­at­ive ex­per­i­ence to hear that kind of mu­sic ? not pro­cessing it in­tel­lec­tu­ally, but let­ting it af­fect me emo­tion­ally,? he says. ?Ar­ab­ic and In­di­an mu­sic, with their melod­ies and rhythms car­ry­ing you end­lessly for­wards, and which I didn?t un­der­stand at all with my Cent­ral European ear, had a mag­net­ic pull on me.? Re­pe­ti­tion and in­fin­ity be­came im­port­ant con­cepts to him.

When he moved to Düs­sel­dorf in 1963, which was in the Brit­ish zone of oc­cu­pa­tion, he let him­self be car­ried away by the beat move­ment. ?What the Beatles, Stones, Kinks and sim­il­ar bands were do­ing was so fresh, new and in­spir­ing,? he says. ?I think every oth­er per­son in my class wanted to make mu­sic and play in a band.? Roth­er be­came the lead gui­tar­ist of the school band Spir­its of Sound, whose mem­bers also in­cluded the later Kraft­werk drum­mer Wolfgang Flür and the sing­er Wolfgang Riech­mann at the end of the 1960s. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and es­pe­cially Jimi Hendrix in­flu­enced Roth­er. In an at­mo­sphere of aes­thet­ic and polit­ic­al awaken­ing from Beuys to Ueck­er, Mom­martz, Kri­wet and Brandt, his need for artist­ic in­de­pend­ence and dis­tinc­tion in­creased from the late of 1960s on: ?I didn?t just want my mu­sic to sound like Brit­ish or Amer­ic­an bands, but dif­fer­ent to everything else that was play­ing in Düs­sel­dorf, Mu­nich or any­where else too.?

Mi­chael Roth­er - Flam­mende Herzen

© Lisf70

The year 1971: was the year of a cru­cial meet­ing. Dur­ing a polit­ic­al demon­stra­tion, an­oth­er gui­tar­ist told Roth­er about a band called Kraft­werk and im­me­di­ately in­vited him to come over to the re­cord­ing stu­dio. ?I knew noth­ing, not even Kraft­werk. I wasn?t part of a net­work or scene, noth­ing at all,? Roth­er re­calls, still sound­ing as­ton­ished. In Kraft­werk?s stu­dio in Min­trop­strasse, Roth­er met the band?s founders Ralf Hüt­ter and Flori­an Scheider and the drum­mers Charly Weiss and Klaus Dinger. ?I picked up a bass and star­ted play­ing with Ralf. And that was the first time I had played mu­sic with someone, ex­changed sounds, and played melod­ies back and forth that had noth­ing to do with blues. It was a com­pletely new ex­per­i­ence for me.?

When Ralf Hüt­ter stepped down for a while af­ter­wards, Schneider, Roth­er and Dinger played nu­mer­ous con­certs as a ?Kraft­werk?-trio, in­clud­ing a le­gendary TV ap­pear­ance for the ?Beat Club? show; sub­sequently they failed to re­cord a suc­cessor to Kraft­werk?s de­but al­bum with Conny Plank.

The band split in­to two sec­tions: Mi­chael Roth­er and Klaus Dinger left and star­ted NEU! while Ralf Hüt­ter and Flori­an Schneider got back to­geth­er and tuned their im­pro­vised Krautrock be­gin­nings to struc­tured elec­tron­ic pop mu­sic. The fourth Kraft­werk al­bum Auto­bahn climbed the in­ter­na­tion­al charts in 1974 and be­came the blue­print for the aes­thet­ics and sound of the band. Kraft­werk be­came an in­spir­a­tion for elec­tron­ic mu­sic all over the world, in­flu­en­cing hip-hop pi­on­eers and provid­ing the im­petus for techno. With Die Mensch-Maschine and Com­puter­welt, they cre­ated time­less mas­ter­pieces of elec­tro­pop.

Kraft­werk - Rück­stoß Gon­do­liere

© Wern­er Paul

When you hear ?Hal­logallo?, the first track on NEU!?s eponym­ous de­but al­bum from 1972, there?s no need to ex­plain why Roth­er and Dinger had to part from Kraft­werk. It is ten mes­mer­iz­ing minutes of proto-punk­ish, hand-played mu­sic, a style that harshly con­trasts to Kraft­werk. Clue­less Ger­man journ­al­ists have called this sound ?Mo­torik? (which trans­lates as something like ?mo­tor func­tion?), re­du­cing it to its mono­ton­ous beat. You can hear the sharp clashs between auto­di­dact Klaus Dinger?s im­petu­ous tem­pera­ment and Roth­er?s bal­anced char­ac­ter, il­lus­trated by his del­ic­ate gui­tar work, both held to­geth­er and guided by Plank?s pro­duc­tion.

The al­bum NEU!, like its suc­cessors NEU!2 and NEU!75, were re­leased on the Brain la­bel, Krautrock?s cent­ral dis­trib­ut­or. The al­bums were not com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful: NEU! 2 even sparked con­tro­versy be­cause Roth­er and Dinger filled the B-side with new ver­sions of already re­leased tracks ? thus, some said, in­vent­ing the re­mix. ?The re­ac­tions to the second al­bum and the B-side were dis­astrous. People did not think it was le­git­im­ate. They thought we were hav­ing a joke at their ex­pense,? says Roth­er. However, the ef­fect of the band?s third al­bum can­not be over­es­tim­ated. NEU! 75! had a great in­flu­ence on Eng­lish punk. Dav­id Bowie, too, whose at­ten­tion was brought to Düs­sel­dorf?s mu­sic by Bri­an Eno, was par­tially in­spired by NEU!?s third al­bum to be­gin re­cord­ing his Ber­lin tri­logy. Bowie in­vited Roth­er to par­ti­cip­ate on his al­bum Her­oes, but un­clear cir­cum­stances, per­haps a mis­un­der­stand­ing on the part of Bowie?s man­age­ment, pre­ven­ted their co­oper­a­tion in the end.

Klaus Dinger and Mi­chael Roth­er did not reap the re­wards of their work un­til the end of the 1970s. Dinger be­came suc­cess­ful with his band La Düs­sel­dorf, and Roth­er, after meet­ing Hans-Joachim Roedeli­us and Di­eter Moebi­us von Cluster in the mid-1970s and form­ing the su­per­group Har­mo­nia along­side NEU! in their stu­dio in the Weser Hills, had a com­mer­cial break­through as a solo artist with his al­bum Blaz­ing Hearts in 1977.

By that time, Mari­us Müller-West­ernha­gen already had a few years of small gigs un­der his belt. But it was still not clear wheth­er he was go­ing to fol­low a ca­reer in act­ing or singing. Born to a fath­er, who was an act­or in the Düs­sel­dorf Schaus­piel­haus en­semble and died early on, Müller-West­ernha­gen had gained ex­per­i­ence act­ing and was in­trigued by the idea to be­come a mu­si­cian. In any case, West­ernha­gen ju­ni­or had the tal­ent for both. But he was still look­ing for the right role un­til he figured out, that both ca­reers could work. He be­came an act­or in one of Ger­many?s most suc­cess­ful movies of the 80?s Theo ge­gen den Rest der Welt (1980) [LINK RUHRGE­BI­ET­S­TEXT] and re­cor­ded mil­lion-selling Ger­man rock al­bums such as Mit Pfef­fer­minz bin ich dein Prinz (1978). His song ?Freiheit? (?Free­dom?) be­came the soundtrack of Ger­man uni­fic­a­tion 1989/90, al­beit un­in­ten­tionaly. Es­pe­cially the lyr­ics: ?All who dream of free­dom, should not miss the cel­eb­ra­tion. Free­dom is the only thing that counts? cap­tured the spir­it of eu­phor­ia and hope dur­ing that time.

When we meet West­ernha­gen in Ber­lin, he is pre­par­ing for his un­plugged tour. Dir­ect­or Fatih Akin has shot a con­cert video for the eponym­ous live al­bum. In our con­ver­sa­tion, West­ernha­gen, cer­tainly one of the three most fam­ous mu­si­cians in Ger­many, among the most com­mer­cially suc­cess­ful in any case, dives deep in­to his mu­sic­al past. ?The cru­cial in­flu­ence that made me want to sing, even be­fore my voice had broken, was the blues,? he says. ?I had heard R ?n? B be­cause of what the Stones were do­ing. That?s the way I wanted to ex­press my­self. Then came the soul era with Ot­is Red­ding and James Brown. Then came Jimi Hendrix, who ad­ded a new di­men­sion. None of that had happened be­fore.?

West­ernha­gen?s in­terests made him end up in the same scene as Mi­chael Roth­er in the mid-1960s. They some­times even played to­geth­er in the same bands. ?He was in a band that was in­to sweet-sound­ing rock. We were more punk. I also played with Kraft­werk founder Flori­an Schneider. We did ses­sions to­geth­er at the time. Back then a guy dropped in and asked, ?Can I join you??? West­ernha­gen re­calls. Many of those who later put Düs­sel­dorf?s name on the map were also around at the time in­clud­ing Karl Bar­tos, who later be­came Kraft­werk?s drum­mer and Bodo Stai­ger, who went on to have some of the early Neue Deutsche Welle hits with Rhein­gold. And Conny Plank was there too. ?Conny Plank was still an as­sist­ant at a stu­dio near Co­logne. So he had the keys. We opened it up at night, com­pletely stoned, and jammed. The tracks were ba­sic­ally 20 minutes long. Conny al­ways said: ?The tape?s rolling?,? says West­ernha­gen. But in this re­spect, con­cep­tu­al dif­fer­ences were already show­ing. While Roth­er, Schneider, Hüt­ter and Dinger were break­ing the mould and in­vent­ing something com­pletely new, West­ernha­gen fell back on tra­di­tion. ?Ever since my earli­est youth, my kind of mu­sic was Amer­ic­an. That?s why I didn?t really take to it,? he says.

Illustration von Marius Müller-Westernhagen, © Marius Müller-Westernhagen - Illustration by Saskia Wragge

In 1978?s hit-re­cord Pfef­fer­minz West­ernha­gen sings about his early ex­per­i­ences as a rock ?n? roll sing­er in Düs­sel­dorf. And this al­bum proved, that he West­ernha­gen had what it takes to be a rock star. In later al­bums, West­ernha­gen crooned pop­u­lar songs like ?Sexy?, ?Weil ich Dich liebe? and ?Wil­len­los?, while his bit­ter hymn of an al­co­hol­ic ?Johnny W.? be­came a party-hit. Dur­ing these years he in­creas­ingly out­grew his home city of Düs­sel­dorf, but has stayed in touch with his early blues in­flu­ences to this day.

At the be­gin­ning of his ca­reer, West­ernha­gen had to face some de­cisions that all Ger­man pop mu­si­cians have to face soon­er or later: the chances of at­tract­ing in­ter­na­tion­al at­ten­tion are much high­er if a Ger­man mu­si­cian pro­duces elec­tron­ic mu­sic, plays down his or her per­son­al­ity and doesn?t write Ger­man lyr­ics. This dom­in­ant line of tra­di­tion in Düs­sel­dorf from Kraft­werk to NEU! to Pro­pa­ganda, Kreidler and Hausch­ka has been suc­cess­ful. West­er­ha­gen re­fused, cling­ing to his moth­er-tongue and his love for the blues. In the end: Al­though the cha­ris­mat­ic West­ernha­gen is one of Ger­many?s hugest pop stars and can fill sta­di­ums, he?s hardly known in Aus­tria. ?I nev­er wanted to be in­ter­na­tion­ally suc­cess­ful, al­though people have of­ten tried to per­suade me. I think I?m in a really good po­s­i­tion. I?ve been con­sist­ently suc­cess­ful on a large mar­ket, but it?s still man­age­able. When I travel out­side the coun­try, no one knows me,? he says. He has, how­ever, at least ex­per­i­mented with styles out­side his field. ?I had a phase when I tried to work with elec­tron­ics. That was in­ter­est­ing, and I tried to com­bine it with Kralle Krawinkel, who was, in the broad­est sense, a blues gui­tar­ist. But: Whatever I?m look­ing for, mu­sic on stage can some­times take on an al­most spir­itu­al as­pect, and you enter a zone which you can?t in­flu­ence but can only ride out. I don?t think you can do that with ma­chines,? he says.

West­ernha­gen - Freiheit

© Muserk Rights Man­age­ment, UBEM, Warner Chap­pell

Doro Pesch, who is a good fif­teen years young­er than West­ernha­gen, took a very dif­fer­ent path and made a name for her­self in the city?s heavy met­al un­der­ground scene in the early 1980s. With her band War­lock she took up in­flu­ences from the first wave of Brit­ish heavy met­al bands like Ju­das Priest and Iron Maid­en. The res­ult was a melod­ic, high-en­ergy power rock with plenty of pathos. The Bel­gian mu­sic la­bel Mauso­leum Re­cords were con­vinced by Pesch and her crew. With Eng­lish lyr­ics they rode the wave of a stead­ily grow­ing glob­al met­al scene and quickly be­came cult stars with their al­bums Burn­ing The Witches, Hell­bound and True As Steel. Part of their nov­elty was to have a wo­man singing in heavy met­al band. War­lock were also part of the im­mensely suc­cess­ful met­al-scene all over North Rhine-West­phalia. Doro Pesch was also the first wo­man to per­form at the Brit­ish fest­iv­al Mon­sters Of Rock. But then there were dis­putes about the band?s concept. The re­cord la­bel in­terfered with their rep­er­toire. Rudy Graf left the band to pro­duce the smash hit al­bum Tri­umph & Agony in 1987. Pesch used this in­ter­na­tion­al suc­cess to launch her own very suc­cess­ful solo ca­reer. Un­like West­ernha­gen, who be­came a Ger­man su­per­star from Düs­sel­dorf without an in­ter­na­tion­al reach, Doro Pesch be­came an in­ter­na­tion­al su­per­star from Düs­sel­dorf in a small but sig­ni­fic­ant seg­ment of rock mu­sic.

War­lock - Hell­bound

© Ac­cept91

If you stroll through the centre of Düs­sel­dorf today, not much of its sem­in­al peri­od in the early 1970s is vis­ible any­more. Kraft­werk?s former Kling Klang stu­dio in Min­trop­strasse has van­ished ex­cept for a faded sign say­ing Elektro Müller GmbH. Even the scene?s most im­port­ant wa­ter­ing hole is not what it used to be. Cream­cheese in the old town was the hangout for loc­al mu­si­cians and artists up un­til the mid-1970s. It was where sculptors rubbed shoulders with film­makers and mu­si­cians at a long bar with a rear wall of mir­rors, sur­roun­ded by art­works from the Düs­sel­dorf art scene. Today, the build­ing hosts an agency for com­mu­nic­a­tion design and a mod­el­ling agency. Two blocks fur­ther on, you find your­self in front of an or­din­ary little rock con­cert ven­ue called Stone, which of­fers an even­ing pro­gramme of ?The best of in­die rock, punk, 60s and 70s.? It?s hard to be­lieve, that here, in the former Rat­inger Hof, Ger­man punk and the Neue Deutsche Welle were brought to heights in the late 1970s.

?Al­though Rat­inger Hof was a really small place, you knew that if you per­formed there, just by do­ing a gig in that little club, you?d made it ? as ab­surd as that sounds. But that?s of­ten what happened in the end,? says Gabi Del­gado, sing­er and song­writer of the elec­tro band DAF and today a solo elec­tro/techno artist. We catch him for a few minutes be­fore a con­cert in Krefeld. Del­gado was part of the Rat­inger Hof scene from the be­gin­ning and wit­nessed how the small neon-lit club be­came the centre of the Düs­sel­dorf mu­sic and art scene by the end of the 1970s; how gigs by early punk bands Male and Charly?s Girls in­spired oth­ers to take up in­stru­ments; how elec­tron­ic pi­on­eers like Li­ais­ons Dangereuses or DAF de­veloped their raw sound, or Der Plan or Fehl­farben re­in­ven­ted Ger­man-lan­guage pop lyr­ics by writ­ing a com­bin­a­tion of po­etry, Da­da­ism and am­bigu­ous lyr­ics; how the in­de­pend­ent la­bel Ata Tak evolved from the scene around Rat­inger Hof to shape an en­tire mu­sic genre and, when Fehl­farben signed with the EMI and the ska song ?Ein Jahr (Es ge­ht vor­an)? was a ma­jor hit, com­mer­cial­isa­tion gradu­ally des­troyed the scene.

DAF, © DAF - Illustration by Saskia Wragge
The Ratinger Hof, © Markus Luigs

Gabi Del­gado (DAF) about Rat­inger Hof

Rat­inger Hof

At the out­set, Rat­inger Hof was a lib­er­at­ing space. But the only way to ex­plain how it evolved in­to one of the birth­places of the Ger­man punk and new wave is its prox­im­ity to the nearby Kunstakademie. Markus Oehlen, Jörg Im­men­d­orff and the anti-in­sti­tu­tion­al Joseph Beuys in par­tic­u­lar be­came reg­u­lars. Meet­ing these artists triggered a tre­mend­ous cre­ativ­ity among the DIY punk crowd. ?They were in­ter­ested in punks and punk people thought, ?Who the hell are they?? There was a re­cip­roc­al ef­fect,? says Del­gado. ?And sud­denly some 20 or 30 people thought, ?We can do what we want??. For DAF, whose sig­na­ture style was Del­gado?s ex­tro­vert per­form­ances and con­tro­ver­sial lyr­ics com­bined with Robert Görl?s se­quen­cer sound, this meant turn­ing punk mu­sic to club mu­sic. That?s how they be­came cru­cial con­duits for genres like EBM and elec­tropunk.

Of course, we ask Del­gado why DAF left Düs­sel­dorf so quickly and went to Lon­don just as they were start­ing to get at­ten­tion. ?In Ger­many there was the Rat­inger Hof, the Mark­thalle [in Ham­burg] and SO36 [in Ber­lin] where you could play as a punk band. There was not a single la­bel in­ter­ested in mu­sic like ours,? he says. ?And in Lon­don there were thou­sands of clubs! And thou­sands of punks! And thou­sands of la­bels! It was the place to be.?

Campino, © Paul Ripke

Campino on the Rat­inger Hof

Düs­sel­dorf, Old Town, 1975

In an ice cream par­lour far from the old town, we meet up with Ralf Dörp­er to find out more about this peri­od of Ger­man mu­sic his­tory. His mu­sic­al ca­reer is im­press­ive too. Start­ing out as a cas­u­al mem­ber of the pro­topunk band S.Y.P.H., his ex­per­i­ment­al solo single ?Eraser­head/As­sault? in 1980 was named ?Single of the Week? by the in­flu­en­tial NME and he was a pi­on­eer of genres such as in­dus­tri­al and synth pop as a mem­ber of The Krupps, es­pe­cially on their al­bums Stahl­werksin­fonie and Volle Kraft voraus. Dörp­er?s fol­low-up pro­ject ?Pro­pa­ganda? be­came Ger­many?s most suc­cess­ful elec­tro­pop ex­port in the mid-1980s, after which he made a hit in 1989 with the track ?Dr. Acid & Mr. House?, which was one of the very first European acid-house tracks. In the same year, a second phase of the Krupps began, whose fu­sion of in­dus­tri­al and hard elec­tron­ics paved the way for the Neue Deutsche Härte (New Ger­man Hard­ness) with bands like Oomph and Rammstein.

Like Mi­chael Roth­er, the Brit­ish in­flu­ence in Düs­sel­dorf was also de­cis­ive for Dörp­er: ?It really mattered that we were part of the Eng­lish scene here in Düs­sel­dorf,? he says at the be­gin­ning of our con­ver­sa­tion. ?We had BF­BS and John Peel, and the bar­racks were full of Eng­lish. And be­cause of that, Düs­sel­dorf was a fo­cal point for con­certs by ma­jor artists like Dav­id Bowie, The Who and Roxy Mu­sic.?

We ask him for his view of the scene at Rat­inger Hof and his an­swer re­lativ­ises the im­age of a sub­cul­tur­al scene liv­ing in har­mony. Dörp­er em­phas­ises that the ini­tial phase was dom­in­ated by an emu­la­tion of Lon­don trends. ?Gen­er­ally speak­ing, Rat­inger Hof was like a fancy-dress party lag­ging be­hind Lon­don. Punk star­ted in Düs­sel­dorf when it was already over in Eng­land,? he says, cit­ing the ex­ample of the le­gendary NRW Punk Fest­iv­al at Düs­sel­dorf?s Carsch House in 1978: ?All the bands soun­ded like Eng­lish punk bands, and they had to sound like that, oth­er­wise they wouldn?t have been in­vited.? DAF, Der Plan or The Krupps, for ex­ample, were the only truly in­nov­at­ive bands, who were striv­ing to be as good as late-1970s Anglo-Amer­ic­an post-punk and elec­tro bands like Pere Ubu, Throb­bing Gristle and Cab­aret Voltaire rather than try­ing to sound like the Ger­man Ra­mones. Still, in Dörp­er?s view, the scene in Rat­inger Hof was al­ways at risk of los­ing touch with the mu­sic­al zeit­geist, even if it man­aged to cre­ate a pub­lic im­age with the help of journ­al­ist Al­fred Hils­berg. ?El­bows were out, there was a lot of push­ing and shov­ing. It was about who was on top of the pile. And when suc­cess led to money, things got really bad,? says Dörp­er.

Pro­pa­ganda with Ral­ph Dörp­er - p: Ma­chinery

© zt­tre­cords

Jür­gen En­gler, who was part of the Düs­sel­dorf scene as a mem­ber of Male, played to­geth­er with Dörp­er in the Krupps and now lives in Aus­tin, Texas, con­firms this view: ?The Rat­inger Hof was the CBGB of Düs­sel­dorf. In the old town, everything was dis­tilled in­to a mi­cro­cosm where the whole world met and made plans. Ini­tially it was like a home,? he says. ?The scene in Düs­sel­dorf it­self was very small. At the be­gin­ning, between 1977 and 1979, the audi­ence for the bands play­ing there was just mem­bers of oth­er bands.? En­gler also em­phas­ises the ant­ag­on­ist­ic at­mo­sphere of Rat­inger Hof: ?There was a lot of rivalry on the scene. I don?t know what caused it. People ri­diculed each oth­er and there wasn?t much co­oper­a­tion. I?d put it down to the scene be­ing quite Ger­man on the whole: rivalry, mock­ery, elit­ism and push­ing oth­ers out of the way. It ruined a lot of things.?

Die Krupps - Wahre Arbeit, wahr­er Lohn (1981)

© mure­cran

Per­haps it was these ten­sions ? between art aca­dem­ics and mu­si­cians, os­tra­cizers and har­mon­izers, money and the lack of it, Düs­sel­dorf loc­als and vis­it­ors from Solin­gen, Krefeld, Ha­gen or Wup­per­tal, punks, rock­ers, elec­tron­ic fans, anti-com­mer­cial punk and suc­cess-ori­ented new wave ? that sparked so much cre­ativ­ity. This led to the re­cord­ing of some of the most im­port­ant Ger­man-lan­guage rock al­bums ? Fehl­farben?s Mon­arch­ie & All­tag ? as well the elec­tron­ic Da­da­ism of Der Plan or the hard­core elec­tro of DAF?s ?Tanz den Mus­solini?. As the first hits came, how­ever, the mu­sic in­dustry pounced on the sound of Düs­sel­dorf, over-com­mer­cial­ising and des­troy­ing it. But for En­gler this isn?t enough to ex­plain why the scene came to an end: ?The gen­er­a­tion liv­ing un­der chan­cel­lor Helmut Kohl ushered in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent vibe. Sud­denly, none of the punks and new wavers wanted to go to the Kunstakademie any­more but chose to study busi­ness. Then it was all over. Sud­denly, the guys who had been strut­ting around look­ing tough got them­selves de­cent hair­cuts. People who had built up a united front with us did a U-turn and star­ted do­ing of­fice jobs,? he says. ?I really think that a new con­ser­vat­ive era washed over the whole scene and des­troyed everything. Sud­denly there were no people who thought, ?We need to change something!? All of a sud­den, every­one thought that everything was really good.?

Düs­sel­dorf didn?t quite man­age to re­tain its status as a ma­jor play­er in Ger­man pop mu­sic. The peri­od of the late 1980s and well in­to the 90s in par­tic­u­lar was a time of bore­dom. Too many in­nov­at­ive mu­si­cians left the city and there was a lack of mu­sic­al in­fra­struc­ture. It was not un­til the mid-1990s that cre­at­ive people like De­tlef Wein­rich, Alex Paul­ick, An­dreas Reihse and Thomas Klein from Kreidler, which was foun­ded in 1994, man­aged to put Düs­sel­dorf back on the in­ter­na­tion­al pop map. ?I?m ac­tu­ally from South Ger­many and ended up in Düs­sel­dorf for my year of na­tion­al com­munity ser­vice,? says Reihse. ?I thought ?Great! Düs­sel­dorf, yeah, that?s where Kraft­werk and all that post-punk stuff comes from.? And then I got there and there was noth­ing!?

In re­ac­tion to this, Kreidler, who fused elec­tron­ic mu­sic with ana­logue in­stru­ments and cre­ated a unique mix­ture of av­ant-garde elec­tron­ica, dub, techno and post-something, set up their own struc­tures over time. From 1999 on­wards they ran the artist?s and mu­si­cian?s as­so­ci­ation ?Innen­stadt Main­stream? at Düs­sel­dorf train sta­tion, which also in­cluded the artist group hobby­pop­MU­SEUM and the un­der­ground club Ego; later, Wein­rich be­came one of the op­er­at­ors of the Salon des Am­a­teurs.

Vladimir Ivkovic at Salon des Amarteurs, © Markus Luigs

Salon des am­a­teurs

When he vents about the top­ics of the city and pop mu­sic, time and again Wein­reich?s am­bi­val­ent re­la­tion­ship to Düs­sel­dorf clearly shows through. On the one hand, his bar is one of the main places that con­nects Düs­sel­dorf with the in­ter­na­tion­al pop de­vel­op­ments. On the oth­er, he res­ists the role of be­ing put in card­board with the la­bel ?Sound of Dus­sel­dorf?. At a read­ing of Sound of the Cit­ies in Düs­sel­dorf?s So­lob­ar this be­comes very clear when a guest asks him about the artist­ic sub­cul­ture of the past. The gist of Wein­rich?s angry re­sponse is that the city is un­grate­ful be­cause it doesn?t ac­know­ledge how the artist­ic free­dom Düs­sel­dorf en­joys today is thanks to a great deal of ef­fort and hard work by cre­at­ive in­di­vidu­als of today. Many who still talk about the great­ness of av­ant-garde of the 1970s and 1980s, for ex­ample, would not come to the Salon to ex­per­i­ence and ap­pre­ci­ate new sounds, he dia­gnoses.

Lena Willikens, © Lena Willikens, Illustration by Saskia Wragge

In this re­spect Wein­rich?s re­la­tion to Kraft­werk and NEU! is highly am­bi­val­ent: ?Per­son­ally, I would like to dis­tance my­self from all that be­cause I?m tired of al­ways be­ing asked about Düs­sel­dorf?s past. And be­cause, over the past few years, there has been an idea, held up mainly in Ber­lin, that Düs­sel­dorf is a centre of mu­sic. This idea tends to be ar­ti­fi­cial,? says Wein­rich, who spins discs un­der the name of DJ Toulouse Low Trax. What?s im­port­ant for Kreidler and their pre­de­cessors are ties to Düs­sel­dorf?s Kunstakademie. Klein em­phas­ises ?the art world?s habit of find­ing niches and tem­por­ar­ily oc­cupy­ing places, thereby cre­at­ing a sub­cul­ture that at­tracts oth­er people or draws at­ten­tion to it­self.? And Wein­rich states the im­port­ance that cre­at­ive in­flu­ence needs un­der­ground places in or­der to de­vel­op. ?There was al­ways a con­nec­tion in Düs­sel­dorf between the Kunstakademie and a good bar. If these hang-outs hadn?t ex­is­ted, much less would have happened. In the 1970s, it was Cream­cheese and Rat­inger Hof, and per­haps for a short time the Salon was a place every­one talked about. In between there has been the Ego and dif­fer­ent kinds of mu­sic. It might have to do with the fact that people said ?No, I don?t want to have any­thing to do with the city as it is. A kind of anti-stance,? he says.

No mat­ter how am­bi­val­ent De­tlef Wein­rich?s re­la­tion­ship is to the city, from the out­side ? mean­ing not only out­side Düs­sel­dorf but out­side Ger­many too ?Düs­sel­dorf as a mu­sic city is seen today through the fil­ter of the Salon des Am­a­teurs. The sound of DJs like Co­logne-based Lena Wil­likens who op­er­ates as the Salon?s res­id­ent DJ along the spec­trum of mod­ern elec­tro and av­ant-garde Kraut is re­garded as the new Düs­sel­dorf school. The Salon it­self has mean­while be­come a found­ing myth sev­er­al times over. ?In ten years of book­ings for the Salon, I have al­ways made sure that sev­enty-five per­cent of the people we present are from abroad. I don?t let all my friends play. And some people have re­sen­ted me for that. Re­cently I?ve be­come more open, per­haps be­cause I?ve be­come lazy. But it?s really im­port­ant to me to have a win­dow on what?s go­ing on else­where by in­vit­ing artists here,? says Wein­rich.

Performance of artist Gigi Masin in 2016, © Markus Luigs

Gigi Mas­in play­ing at Kunstakademie, 2016

The Oscar-nom­in­ated pi­an­ist Hausch­ka is an­oth­er ex­ample of how Düs­sel­dorf stil of­ten gen­er­ates an im­petus that reaches far bey­ond the bor­ders of Ger­many. He was born in 1966 as Volk­er Ber­telmann in Kreuztal near Sie­gen. Around the re­gion he re­fined his idea of the pre­pared pi­ano. In the early 2000s, he began to com­pose pi­ano mu­sic. He re­leased his first tracks on the la­bel Karaoke Kalk as well as his 2005 al­bum, Pre­pared Pi­ano ? a highly in­flu­en­tial, ground­break­ing work.

In the sup­posed no-man?s-land between con­tem­por­ary clas­sic­al mu­sic, pop and elec­tron­ics, a scene began to form. Mu­si­cians such as the Ger­man-born Brit Max Richter and the Ham­burg-born Ber­lin-based Nils Frahm com­posed pi­ano pieces, wrote film soundtracks and gave con­certs that were in­flu­enced by min­im­al mu­sic and of­ten used dis­tor­ted pi­ano sounds. Hausch­ka be­came one of the cent­ral fig­ures of the scene. Re­cords like Ferndorf (2008) and What If (2017) re­ceived crit­ic­al ac­claim. In 2017, he and his Amer­ic­an com­poser col­league Dustin O?Hal­lor­an were nom­in­ated for an Oscar for the film soundtrack to Li­on. But it was a year of tough com­pet­i­tion: the duo was not able to con­tend with the mu­sic­al La La Land, one of the crit­ics? fa­vour­ites of that year.

Hausch­ka?s idea of the pre­pared pi­ano, in which the pi­ano strings are ma­nip­u­lated by ob­jects and in do­ing so change their sound, ori­gin­ated from the Amer­ic­an av­ant-garde com­poser John Cage in the 1940s. His goal back then was to cre­ate per­cuss­ive ef­fects for a mod­ern dance piece with lim­ited re­sources. In pop mu­sic of the early 2000s, the Brit­ish ex­per­i­ment­al techno mu­si­cian Aphex Twin was one of the first to take this ball and run with it. Hausch­ka in turn ad­op­ted and re­fined the concept over the years. On his 2017 al­bum What If , there are mo­ments of mas­tery. It has echoes of role mod­els such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Some­times tango rhythms set the pace, while at oth­ers, you feel trans­por­ted back to Ber­lin at the turn of the mil­len­ni­um with its un­der­stated min­im­al techno. And all of it is pro­duced on the pi­ano.


© Hausch­ka

Grandbrothers main photo, © Tonje Thilesen


After all we have dis­covered about Düs­sel­dorf as a pop city, it?s no sur­prise that its latest ex­port suc­cess is, once again, and ex­ample for what dis­tin­guishes the city: its prox­im­ity to the fine arts, its av­ant-garde, ex­per­i­ment­al at­mo­sphere and in­ter­na­tion­al con­nec­tions that out­grow the ex­ist­ing loc­al mu­sic in­fra­struc­tures.

The Düs­sel­dorf duo Grand­broth­ers, a Ger­man-swiss duo who met while study­ing here, has de­veloped a sound over two al­bums that com­bines the most ex­cit­ing ele­ments of mod­ern elec­tron­ics, pre­pared pi­anos and Amer­ic­an min­im­al mu­sic tra­di­tion. Their highly ac­claimed per­form­ances fill large in­die clubs as well as churches and con­cert halls, in­ter­na­tion­al crit­ics rave about them.

Erol Sarp (*1986) and Lu­kas Vo­gel (*1986) moved from Wup­per­tal and Zurich to Düs­sel­dorf in 2007 to study sound and video tech­no­logy at the In­sti­tute of Mu­sic and Me­dia. Phil­lip Schulze, a lec­turer in Acous­tic Mu­sic and Me­dia Time Forms, was a par­tic­u­lar in­spir­a­tion to them. ?We ex­per­i­enced a lot of cre­ativ­ity and free­dom to try out what we wanted. That?s how things worked at the in­sti­tute and we star­ted to tinker around. Schulze was an im­port­ant in­flu­ence. We were able to let our hair down,? says Sarp.

He works the pi­ano, op­er­at­ing the keys which are con­nec­ted to the pre­pared strings; Vo­gel pro­cesses the sounds with a laptop. Düs­sel­dorf?s long elec­tron­ic tra­di­tion, from Kraft­werk to NEU!, Pro­pa­ganda and Kreidler, lives in their work, even though it was a dif­fi­cult leg­acy for both of the mu­si­cians. ?It was cool to know that bands like these formed here and were among the pi­on­eers of elec­tron­ic mu­sic. But for us there was a more spe­cif­ic factor con­nect­ing it all,? ex­plains Sarp. ?Hausch­ka! He was here ten years be­fore us and de­lib­er­ately named one of his al­bum Salon des Am­a­teurs. When we met him for the first time, he was very ob­li­ging. We did our first gig at his fest­iv­al?.

Mixing board at Salon des Amateurs, © Andreas Schiko

The event they are talk­ing about was the Ap­prox­im­a­tion fest­iv­al. Hausch­ka and the visu­al artist Aron Me­hzion launched it in 2005 at the Salon des Am­a­teurs. Over the years, they have in­vited many im­port­ant in­ter­dis­cip­lin­ary clas­sic­al and elec­tron­ic av­ant­garde artists to Düs­sel­dorf. These in­cluded Max Richter, Ry­ui­chi Sakamoto, Steve Reich, Bar­bara Mor­gen­stern, Howe Gelb, Jan Jelinek, Kronos Quar­tet, Bugge Wesseltoft and Múm. The fest­iv­al sees it­self as ?an ex­per­i­ment­al plat­form that brings mu­si­cians from dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, na­tions and scenes to­geth­er ? a for­um for the con­tem­por­ary ex­plor­a­tion of pi­ano and key­boards.? Stu­dents, am­a­teurs and artists come to­geth­er to col­lab­or­ate with com­posers from com­pletely dif­fer­ent genres.

Over­all, the Salon des Am­a­teurs was a place of in­tense ex­change for Sarp und Vo­gel and oth­er cre­at­ives. They per­formed twice there as Grand­broth­ers and cel­eb­rated the re­lease party for their first al­bum Dila­tion in 2015. From here on out, their first single ?Ezra Was Right? was picked up and fre­quently played by the in­flu­en­tial Lon­don-based DJ Gilles Peterson, quickly turn­ing Grand­broth­ers in­to an in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed phe­nomen­on. Al­though they only lived in Düs­sel­dorf for a few years (Sarp now lives in Ber­lin and Vo­gel in the Ruhr area) they re­gard their time there as a peri­od of cru­cial in­spir­a­tion and still refer to them­selves as Düs­sel­dorf mu­si­cians. ?I haven?t been to the Salon in a while, but back then it felt really in­tense. It was very form­at­ive, be­cause there wer­en?t many al­tern­at­ives in Düs­sel­dorf. That?s where the scene and its sound are con­cen­trated. There are many mu­si­cians in the crowd, of­ten closely linked to the Kunstakademie,? says Vo­gel. And the scene?s ap­peal goes far bey­ond the city lim­its, en­sur­ing that Düs­sel­dorf con­tin­ues to have a repu­ta­tion as a mu­sic hub. ?De­tlef Wein­rich and Lena Wil­likens are known world­wide. They take the sound of the city out in­to the world,? says Sarp.

Mean­while, their pre­pared pi­ano has been set up in a re­hears­al room in Bo­chum after short-lived stays in Reck­ling­hausen, Gelsen­kirchen and a ?creepy de­part­ment store? in Herne. ?The Grand­broth­ers pro­ject wasn?t af­fected by these moves, be­cause by then we had our own sound,? says Vo­gel. In Bo­chum they are not part of the scene ? as of­ten hap­pens with mu­si­cians who have worked out their concept and no longer need the in­spir­a­tion and sup­port of the set­ting they work in. There is no doubt that their trail­blaz­ing second al­bum, Open, is the work of two es­tab­lished artists with their own sig­na­ture ? shaped by Düs­sel­dorf but the res­ult of their own vis­ion.

Wheth­er you look at Hausch­ka, Grand­broth­ers and Kreidler ? or bands like the elec­tron­ic mu­si­cian Sta­bil Elite, who make un­mis­tak­able ref­er­ences to Krautrock in their lyr­ics, aes­thet­ics and mu­sic, and who con­sciously re­leased their first EP on Klaus Dinger?s death ? none of the present-day Düs­sel­dorf bands are con­ceiv­able without their fore­run­ners. ?I am a big fan of struc­tures. One struc­ture forms, then an­oth­er, without any­one be­ing able to say ex­actly where it began. Path de­pend­ence is what it?s all about!? ex­plains Ti­mon-Karl Kalayta at some point in our con­ver­sa­tion. And it?s re­mark­able how much his own band Susanne Blech is a Düs­sel­dorf band over­all, al­though the mem­bers are all from out­side the city and Kalayta swears he com­pletely lacks mu­sic­al train­ing. Like many of their fore­run­ners, Susanne Blech are bold, ex­per­i­ment­al and have been shaped by elec­tron­ic in­flu­ences. Without ever hav­ing been to the Rat­inger Hof, Kalayta sees a com­pat­ib­il­ity between elec­tron­ics and punk, sees mu­sic as a means of self-em­power­ment, and the fu­sion of art and mu­sic as the basis of his work. And he likes ex­per­i­ment­ing in un­usu­al ways: Kalayta has set up an In­sti­tute for Con­tem­por­ar­i­ness, runs a pub­lish­ing house for nev­er to be pub­lished books and or­gan­ises ex­hib­i­tions. Above all, how­ever, Susanne Blech con­stantly blur the lines between polit­ic­al ser­i­ous­ness and post­mod­ern irony, between af­firm­a­tion and dis­tance, re­gion­al loc­al­isa­tion and in­ter­na­tion­al ori­ent­a­tion, sur­face and depth. ?For me, there is only one rel­ev­ant prin­ciple when I write: de­lete every let­ter of kitsch and pathos! Elim­in­ate it 100 per cent,? Kalayta ex­plains at the end. The con­stant ten­sion of mov­ing between two poles has al­ways char­ac­ter­ised the sound of Düs­sel­dorf from the out­set and makes it ex­traordin­ary to this day.

Susanne Blech - 1.000 Jahre Kraft­werk

© Susan­neBlechChan­nel

But, not only the elec­tron­ic tra­di­tion has left last­ing traces in Düs­sel­dorf. The Toten Hosen, one of the Rat­inger Hof era?s later bands, are an in­sti­tu­tion nowadays. With over 14 al­bums since Opel-Gang in 1983, they have pop­ular­ised Ger­man punk ? and trivi­al­ised it too in the eyes of their de­tract­ors. In the early 1990s, after suc­cess­ful al­bums like Auf dem Kreuzzug ins Glück and Kauf mich! they began to tour to packed sta­di­ums. Des­pite their Ger­man lyr­ics, they also cre­ated a fan base abroad, as shown by their well-at­ten­ded tours in Lat­in Amer­ica. Lead sing­er Campino is a pub­lic fig­ure who ap­pears on talk shows and does not only talk about mu­sic. The rise of the con­tem­por­ary punk band Broil­ers, who have in re­cent years be­come something like the young­er ver­sion of the Toten Hosen, has shown that sup­port­ing young­er mu­si­cians is a win­ner? Die Toten Hosen signed the Broil­ers to their JKP la­bel.

Die Toten Hosen - Hier kom­mt Alex (Live 2008)

© dthis­cool

The Broil­ers were foun­ded by sing­er Sammy Am­ara and drum­mer An­dreas Bruges in Düs­sel­dorf when the two were still teen­agers. Be­sides the Toten Hosen, The Clash and Bruce Spring­steen are two of the band?s main in­flu­ences, whose sense of be­long­ing is rooted in the Oi! punk move­ment - a wave from Eng­land, which sees it­self as anti-ra­cist and takes in­spir­a­tion from ska, reg­gae and pub rock. Am­ara also used to work as a graph­ic de­sign­er for the Toten Hosen. So the band be­came aware of him and his group. Then, after play­ing as their sup­port band, the Broil­ers be­came very suc­cess­ful very quickly. In 2011 they re­cor­ded the al­bum Santa Muerte, which climbed to No. 3 in the Ger­man charts. And their sub­sequent al­bums, Noir (2014) and (sic!) (2017), even made it to No.1. Sammy Am­ara and his band are su­per­stars from Düs­sel­dorf in the tra­di­tion of the Toten Hosen and they define how punk rock from Ger­many sounds in the 2010?s.

The Broil­ers had their ma­jor break­through when they star­ted be­ing man­aged by JKP, where the Toten Hosen were also signed. Three years later, the hip-hop band An­ti­lo­pen Gang joined this la­bel. That crew brings to­geth­er mem­bers of the Düs­sel­dorf and Aachen hip-hop scene, united by in­tel­lec­tu­al, polit­ic­al lyr­ics that are of­ten iron­ic and quite con­tro­ver­sial. An­ti­lo­pen Gang?s sound is very dif­fer­ent from the wide­spread Ger­man gang­sta/hip-hop pop: real in­stru­ments, soph­ist­ic­ated rap and a de­cidedly left-wing at­ti­tude. With their song ?Beate Zschäpe hört U2? (Beate Zschäpe listens to U2), they de­nounced Ger­man bour­geois ex­trem­ism and in ?Bag­gersee? they sug­ges­ted det­on­at­ing a nuc­le­ar bomb in Ger­many to re­place it with a man-made lake. ?Drop an atom­ic bomb on Ger­many, that?ll shut every­one up,? as the pro­voc­at­ive first verse of the chor­us goes. In 2013, the sui­cide of their de­pressed band mem­ber NMZS al­most brought their mu­sic-mak­ing to an end. But chan­ging to the JKP la­bel brought them suc­cess. The al­bum An­arch­ie und All­tag, which is fur­ther proof of in­ter­tex­tu­al ref­er­ences with­in the Düs­sel­dorf scene with its ob­vi­ous al­lu­sion to Fehl­farben?s Mon­arch­ie & All­tag, made it to No. 1 in the Ger­man charts in 2017 and won the Echo Mu­sic Award in the cat­egory ?Na­tion­al Crit­ics? Prize?.

An­ti­lo­pen Gang

Beate Zschäpe hört U2

In re­cent years, Düs­sel­dorf has again de­veloped in­to an ex­cit­ing hub for live mu­sic. The pat­ron of the Open Source Fest­iv­al, which takes place an­nu­ally at the race­course, is none oth­er than the city?s lord may­or. In 2018, Ci­gar­ettes After Sex and Joan As Po­lice Wo­man are booked as head­liners. And since 2011, the New Fall Fest­iv­al has also taken place each year, whose ini­tial concept was to stage styl­ish mu­sic acts in a dig­ni­fied set­ting. The Ton­halle Düs­sel­dorf, the Sym­phon­iesaal and the former plan­et­ari­um are used as ven­ues, as well as the Robert Schu­mann Saal and the in-house con­cert hall of the Mu­seum Kun­st­palast. In the very first year, the spec­trum of artists ranged from the cham­ber pop artist Ólafur Ar­nalds to the reg­gae stars of Gen­tle­man and in­die pop­pers Nou­velle Vague. Such reg­u­lar events en­sure that the young­er gen­er­a­tion in Düs­sel­dorf still re­ceive a steady sup­ply of in­ter­na­tion­al ma­ter­i­al, which might someday be­come the source of their dreams and cre­at­ive out­bursts- just like in the mid-1960s when Mari­us Müller-West­ernha­gen ex­per­i­enced his R ?n? B idols up close.

Open Source Festival, © Sebastian Wolf
Entrance with flair: The Museum Kunstpalast, © Düsseldorf Tourismus GmbH

Düs­sel­dorf is very much aware of its im­press­ive pop his­tory in a way that is fas­cin­at­ing and of­ten puzz­ling to out­siders. There are sym­posi­ums ex­hib­i­tions about Düs­sel­dorf?s grandes in pop, and Kraft­werk them­selves were cel­eb­rated as le­gends dur­ing their con­cert at Ehren­hof in 2017. But at the same time, a feel­ing of sa­ti­ation has spread, es­pe­cially in sub­cul­tur­al con­texts, en­cap­su­lated by Wein­rich?s state­ment that Düs­sel­dorf has bred an ar­ti­fi­cial idea of it­self as a city of mu­sic. The journ­al­ist Phil­ipp Holl­stein from the Rhein­is­che Post wrote a clear-sighted art­icle, in which he claimed that Düs­sel­dorf could only cel­eb­rate it­self as a pop city if it be­came re­cept­ive to new in­flu­ences.

But there is prob­ably no way it can es­cape see­ing its former her­oes in mu­seums. Kraft­werk, who have long since per­formed without its cent­ral mem­bers Flori­an Schneider, Karl Bar­tos and Wolfgang Flür, and now only con­sists of Ralf Hüt­ter and three much young­er mu­si­cians, have be­come art ex­hib­its. In 2012, they per­formed their en­tire work since the al­bum Auto­bahn in the New York?s MoMA, re­peat­ing this the fol­low­ing year in their ho­met­own of Düs­sel­dorf and in Lon­don?s Tate Mod­ern. Mean­while, their former pat­ron Conny Plank has re­ceived the re­cog­ni­tion he de­serves. Her­bert Gröne­mey­er?s la­bel Grön­land, which re-re­leased the three NEU! al­bums, paid trib­ute to the pro­du­cer in 2013 with a com­pre­hens­ive LP and CD box set called Who?s That Man: A Trib­ute To Conny Plank. Four years later, his son Stephan Plank ded­ic­ated an in­tim­ate doc­u­ment­ary film to him with the title The Po­ten­tial Of Noise.

If Düs­sel­dorf does not want to rest on its laurels, it has to learn, like oth­er ma­jor pop cit­ies, to cope with the sim­ul­tan­eity of mu­seum her­oes and new av­ant­garde forms of mu­sic. Oth­er­wise, its im­press­ive tra­di­tion lies like a lay­er of dust over everything to come. With its small old town,and the Kunstakademie, the city has ideal con­di­tions to con­stantly at­tract fresh cre­at­ive minds, who cre­ate ex­cit­ing pop mu­sic with new ideas. But cul­tur­al scenes age and need fresh in­put to give space for growth. Places like the Salon des Am­a­teurs show how this can be done: by an un­com­prom­ising, res­ist­ant and un­com­fort­able at­ti­tude that does not settle for main­tain­ing the status quo. This at­ti­tude is the pre­requis­ite for keep­ing Düs­sel­dorf on the mu­sic map - the in­ter­na­tion­al one.




This text is the re­vised, ex­ten­ded ver­sion of the chapter ?Düs­sel­dorf: Menschmaschinen and Al­stadtpunker? from the book ?Sound of the Cit­ies. Eine pop­musikalis­che Ent­deck­ung­s­re­ise?, Kein & Aber 2016, ISBN: 978-3-9540-3091-0. Re­prin­ted with kind per­mis­sion from Kein & Aber AG, Zurich.


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Sound of #urb­a­nana: Düs­sel­dorf playl­ist

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