Title: Lies, lies, lies
Author: Graham K
Source: Record Mirror
Publish date: March 31, 1984
Remember those glorious early days of Stiff, 2-Tone, Postcard and the like? — heady times when copping the labels’ latest carried more clout than procuring any puny popster’s posturings. Well, those days are back! Despite the flak for its reputed Art attack, Zang Tumb Tuum is shaping up to offer Constant Class. We’ve already been blessed with Frankie and the Art of Noise, and now, brandishing their ‘Nine Life of Dr Mabuse’ come Propaganda.
“The idea is to be very big commercially, but without the compromises of being big.”
So speaks rockin’ Ralf Dörper, on quarter (or maybe one fifth) of German pop group Propaganda.
“Propaganda is about secrets. The idea is much more important that the people, but at the moment it’s a group… a pop group with four characters like Abba. Two boys and two girls — a deliberate choice. We’re not the puppets of anyone but it is all part of the Grand Scheme… and that scheme might not always involve us being a group, but for the present, we are.
“Propaganda involves lies… and maybe we lie — perhaps that’s the point. You see bands and you know it’s not really them playing — we like to play around with those ideas.”
Who needs ‘em… but here goes…
Propaganda, the new Abba, come from Düsseldorf, Ralf Dörper and Andreas Thein, the noisy ones, wanted to make something Big. They wanted to spread themselves, they wanted to be international, they weren’t that concerned about the truth. Thus Propaganda. Claudia Bruchen and Suzanne Freytag, the Girly Ones, were half of an unserious, funny group called Topolinos. Own songs. Just four. Very short sets. They had a tune on a German sampler LP. Suzanne thinks John Peel played it… once.
Ralf had a solo disc out in the UK a while back. ‘Eraserhead’. Not very good, but enough reason to come to London in search of a future for his new music machine. Morley and Horn got wind and made them an offer. Propaganda ‘decided to risk it’.
And so Trevor set to work…
“Trevor Horn has a certain knowledge about a pop song that we still need to learn. His function is to put our ideas into a marketable end product and so what he does is to point out weaknesses where we have to make it stronger.” But he does like to have a finger in the pie…
“But the original idea is still the most important thing — is has to come through. It would be no good for him or us if he interfered too much — as soon as our original ideas get changed we might as well stop. If we started making ordinary pop songs — which we are quite capable of doing — it would no longer be Propaganda.”
A value-for-money package that sets toes tapping, fingers clicking, eyebrows arching and people pondering. Mabuse is… melodic, but it’s not Barry Manilow — bombastic, but it’s not Kiss — arty, but it’s not Bauhaus (nor the Bauhaus!). Propaganda, which is Mabuse?
“Mabuse is about a fascination with evil. The Doctor was initially a character in a simple criminal story but Fritz Lang took the character and made him into a symbol. He mixed him up with the idea of Faust (‘The man without shadow promises you the World’) and his view of the political situation in Germany — it was a warning against fascism. We neither advocate nor warn about Mabuse — we agree with both — we’re affected by it but we don’t direct. Like the hand in the video — it comes from Lang’s ‘M’ — it could be guiding or warning.”
“No. We’re not political — only our name hints at it. Pop is too fond of reducing certain values and polities shouldn’t be part of it. It’s too dangerous to do that with politics — you end up with slogans and extremism. I may have political beliefs but they shouldn’t be part of an interview for a pop paper.” (That’s us!)
DEUTSCHLAND UBER… ALLES ODER NICHTS?
“At the moment in Germany you have to be traditional — we want to prove that it’s possible to have original ideas and be successful. While we want success here it’s more important to show the German audience and music industry that a German band can be successful and popular while still having certain attitudes in the songs that are new.”
Nena must have been a bitter, bitter blow…
“Yes. That is a problem. Now she’s done it it’s merely shown the German record companies how easy it is to succeed with old American and English style of music. Nena is so American. But it means that more German bands are signed — good. I just hope they pick the right ones!”
Can the metal music break that stranglehold?
“In Germany no-one’s talking about that anymore. I’ve never worked with Einsturzende Neubauten but we were doing that kind of stuff two or three years ago in Die Krupps — metal bashing and electronic sounds. Here in England it’s still a hyper… a fashion, but it only had an impact in Germany two years ago when it was the new Avant Garde — much more Art than music.”
KEIN ZURÜCK FÜR DICH?
Is there really no going back?
“We were here as a tactic. We’re a German band and we still live and base ourselves there. We came here because we want wider success. When we started our direction was already fixed. Coming here merely means it has broadened — the possibilities are much larger. Now we can do it 100% whereas before we could only concentrate on certain aspects. Our influences tend to be people like Lang and painters, not really by music at all. Also people who’ve had to emigrate to fulfil their ideas — they’re quite a bunch, not only Germans but Russian writers as well. We’ve had to come to England to be later appreciated in Germany because we don’t have the opportunity to get ideas over there. The main thing is to get over the ideas. To do that you have to go for a big market — it’s not good just being a cult figure at home — I’ve done that and it’s so easy — and there’s no future in it.”
BUT IS IT ART… OR MUSIC… OR FASHION… ?
“Sometimes we don’t consider ourselves to be musicians at all — the idea of how we treat music is a different one. A musician is someone who sits at home with a guitar — when we work, we work for a finished product, product to spread the idea. Ours is a combination of opposites — technology and the punk ideal of ‘one chord wonders’ — to create new things. Very soon there’ll be a new generation of music makers — kids who’ve grown up with computers and video games. In two years they’ll have music making gadgets to create music now only possible in advanced studios. Musicians aren’t important, ideas are.” …Don’t worry, Paul — we’re getting the idea, slowly.
Propaganda are a fine addition to the slim ZTT roster. Propaganda know that in the pop war the first casualty must be truth, subjugating their fifth member (maybe their sixth) in order to do battle with their deadly rivals, the Swedish war machine ABBA.
Progaganda have sold their souls to that devil Morley. Don’t Be A Fool… do likewise.