PROPAGANDA. THAT’s a teasing, pleasing, more than engaging name for a pop group ensemble. A jumble of boys and girls, slotting their ideas and abilities into a pop group shape. Imagine them as an inverted Abba, an evil Abba—but better!
Propaganda are German. Grown up outside of r’n’r conventions (“We don’t live for Elvis” was one giggled admission in an afternoon of many) yet aiming their scheming young anger at the plodding dodo’s heart.
In the wake of the Neue Deutsche Welle horrors, there’s a tiresome ‘cult’ fixation rife in Germany. It stems from the No Entry signals sent out by the archly conservative major record companies but is oft covertly complied with by musical groups of limited drive and vision.
Propaganda recognise the reducing effect of cultdom. A nullification of a potentially wider excitement. Propaganda mean/imply a cultured, imaginative assault on the senses, a use of a mass media. No nostalgia or empty rage.
Ralf: “That world has always to do with mass, with a lot of people. But then Propaganda isn’t really the name of a pop group because it has a meaning behind it and you don’t expect a pop group to have a name with a meaning behind it.
“If someone is reading a teeny magazine and sees the name Propaganda then maybe he’s making up his mind for the first time what Propaganda is. It’s a word often used in newspapers but not in the pop context. So the reader will react to it, not just be consuming.
“We like to play around with the concepts people have of, for example, a pop group. We play with the image and the meaning of words as we play with the music for the meaning of sounds—for atmospheres.
“In part of our song you can find very fine strings behind that you have the sound of enemas. The two noises fit together where normally they would be annoying.
Enemas? Shit, they’re wilder than I imagined! Then I realised Ralf said ‘animals’. Ah.
Ralf is Ralf Dorper. Previously part of 1981’s steelworker favourites Die Krupps. Their savage ‘Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn’ and ‘Stahlwerksynfonie’ helped stimulate some of the subsequent and sometimes provocative German underground noises. More recently you may have heard his ‘Eraserhead’ single.
He sits here with Andreas Thein. Together, both with clipped locks and large specs, they’re like the clever twins in my class at school. The ones who’d watch Blue Peter and make notes on dog sizes and uses for waste paper.
I put it to them. Are you cynical men?
Ralf: “Ha-ha (he goes, as if with experience of the question). No I wouldn’t say we were cynical. If you are cynical it is because you have already made up your mind. In the short year of our existence we have stepped from one level to another. I think cynicism is something for the end. If you’re finished then you can be cynical. But we’re not finished yet. For us it is like always walking into a new room with new furniture. In a year’s time it will also probably be different.”
And you’re stepping out of the cult thing. Not becoming trapped in defined circumstances.
Ralf: “When we began our intentions we were very limited, now it has got, well, a new horizon. But when we started we wanted to do something that was not already done in Germany, we wanted the challenge of reaching a broader audience. To do something of what we wanted to do without the tools that other people had used.
“A year ago we did a track, he was a strange combination of rhythm, noise and energy. And discipline. That wa the idea. The whole conception of the music was based on the idea of discipline. Having an aim and not giving too much space in the minds to business matters as a lot of people seem to do at the moment. Trying to get how ideas across without taking care of the cost.”
Andreas: “It is different for many people, to have a strong idea and come through with it. Normally you have to have money and special ways to create and develop your ideas. But we didn’t care about anything like money, just to work strictly on this idea. Same as we do now.”
Ralf: “The problem was how to do with our money. We had the chance to get money from a company in Germany but in that case we would have to have compromise. I think even now in England you can be uncompromising but still reach an audience if you are strict with what you do. In Germany that is impossible.
“We could have become a cult in Germany, no problem, but really we wanted to have a wider spectrum. Because I think what we do has an interest for a lot of people and could attract a lot of people. If we restrict ourselves by the way we work, the idea of Propaganda would soon die. It is not the idea of a cult band.
“My ‘Eraserhead’ single was everywhere called the cult record. That wasn’t my intention but with a follow-up in the special direction I could have stayed at that level. And now this is a new challenge. I think we’re part of the pop sector and no one would think that if you mention my name.”
Andreas: “When we meet Paul (Morley) he had this wonderful idea with this labels Zang Tumb Tuum and it fits. The only reason we are here is because we can work the way we want to, not with the pressure to make a hit record or do what the company say.” Ralph: “Paul and Trevor (Horn) are used not to compromise but to fulfill their ideas are not look for the consequences. So we hit by fate maybe, in the way it fits together. Fate has always played a big part in our existence up to now.” Propaganda’s most blatant insurgency against solid German conservatism came with their chance (again!) invite onto a TV talent showcase in Munich.
Ralf: “It was a certain clash of tastes, of ideologies.”
Andreas: “I’ve a friend who runs a big talk show, he heard a tape of ours and said we could be on the show. It’s a controversy y’know. A big theatre, huge stage, our backdrop with a big white squares, very much unusual. Just the atmosphere was one clash. The people there didn’t expect anything like that. It was quite funny for us, we didn’t understand why they reacted so strange.”
Ralf: “It was a TV programme aimed at families. With us on stage it was like another channel had been switched in because we had music you don’t hear on German TV. Continue »
Ralph grins, imagining more to come. He compares the affair to the Grundy/Pistol fracas.
A more traditional ‘clash’ with the mainstream pop his imminent. Their song (all these goings on still they find time to sing!) ‘Dr Mabuse’ will be their first single. It’s not so much intended as a dazzling embodiment of all their ideas but more an investigative little branch of pokes out from a few of them.
Andreas promises a “special event” to promote it. “We don’t want to tell it now but people will be surprised. Something very different.”
Ralph: “And if not, then it wasn’t.” Exactly.