ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”


PROPAGANDA came all the way from Germany to explain everything to Mick Mercer. Why does “Duel” have two sides? Why is the video awful? Dont say we didnt warn you.

AND about time too!

A little fury to place among the florid, fawning, groaning pop charts. Propaganda step back into our hearts after the clockwork “Dr Mabuse”, parading their “Duel”/”Jewel” with lustful love bites, contrasting Cocteaus pillow talk. Modern Romance (sic transit…) from four unlikely cultured types who are, shamefully, exceedingly un-bratlike, standing a good head and inflatable carcass above their more scroffulous peers. ZTT, a home for the hearty, has done us all a big favour.

They let me in through the front door at ZTT and I sit awhile as my two subjects are busy. Claudia Briickman and Susanne Freytag are off corrupting accumulated demands elsewhere, so I have an appointment with the sleepy Ralf Dormer, who sings, defines, translates and writes while pursuing my questions, relaxing alongside Michael Mertens who spends most of the time demonstrating and identifying programmes as l bat him round the head. Both would have gone down well in Quatermass movies. I mean, these boffins make that music? The worlds a wonderful place sometimes.

Incidentally, as I sat sipping coffee downstairs I chanced to overhear some startling news at the reception desk. Studio One costs £105 an hour and the overtime rates are £21.” I book it until the end of May and then get dragged upstairs. Duran Duran are playing on the radio (make of that what you will).

We sit in a cool but surprisingly vile room — quiet and quaint, of a light blue hue. Most distressing. Ralf fidgets when Michael answers and Michael all but vanishes from sight when Ralf begins.

Are Propaganda stars in Germany?

“No,” says Michael with a light chuckle. “We had a hit with ‘Dr Mabuse but one Top 10 hit doesnt make you a star. Its not our aim to be stars. I dont think when people see us in Germany they know we are members of Propaganda.”

“What we do is totally unexpected,” I hear drifting from Ralfs lips. “People were really surprised. I was part of a scenery that was more or less based upon the underground, like X-Mal Deutschland and based upon Independent channels and what we are doing is different because we want a major success.

“We dont want to work on a cult level, we want to go further because for me it is much more valuable as a challenge.

I think it would be quite easy to do what X-Mal Deutschland did, but if we go one step further its a challenge again, so then you can really affect something.”

As you dont want to be gormless pop stars like Frankie, what sort of challenge?

“The challenge,” says Ralf, without hesitation, “is to use the big machinery of the pop industry to your views, having the ideas represented in the Independent movement, that are watered down there, and put those ideas into a bigger market, being aware of the situation, using the big machinery.”

Like driving a bus, I suppose.

“For instance,” adds Michael, “I found it very interesting coming into a studio. It offers up a lot of sound possibilities which you havent had which is fascinating to me. Im looking for things in life which are fascinating, and if I have the chance to work in a studio then I must say I am fascinated.

“If you are living by your ideas it is the perfect situation We are a very electronically orientated group and so you have lots of things you can control and make happen in a way you want to happen.”

“Well thats all fine and dandy! l may only be a bomb-site boy in the Bank of England but l can see the difference between Propaganda and other German bands. Propaganda bulge with passion (so to speak).

“We are all about emotion,” agrees Ralf. “We are not working with the purpose of being different, we are just ourselves but some people using electronic equipment just seem like the stuff out of science fiction movies where they have to pretend to be robots, which is absolutely wrong.

“They are just part of our society now and our society isnt as cold as some people pretend, or shouldnt become as cold. And so we want to get, with electronic equipment, everything that is happening, the atmosphere of real life. And it can be very emotional.”

Testify! Plug in that “Duel” knowingly. Weep glowingly. ZTT have a reputation for serving the crudest house wine in lead crystal decanters, which is a palpable lie, mes braves. They are manufacturing several passion plays, real or unreal, in a wholly distinctive manner. Art Of Noise are the most natural, but Propaganda are the finest. (Frankie quite frankly — Say Bugger All.)

And (a ho ho) The “Duel” in the crown is a worthy winner, complete with a tight, muscular frame. Pop music without stays. And, vicious B-side stylists that they are, Jewel” (flip, flip, FLIP like youve never flipped before) is the real goods for me. Forget the sleeve and concentrate instead on the Drakes Eardrum-bursting sounds and rhythm currently stirring up the stratosphere more than just a little. Dip your wings in salute.

Explain yourselves, boys.

“I think not enough people use the space of a single,” says Ralf, all of a tizzy. “They should just release a one-sided single because they only care about the A-side and a single has two sides and I think people should realise that. We used both sides to use the theme of the record, a duel, to provide a scope.

“We have very different attitudes to the song. On one side its very poppy and melodic and the second is very hard… like two fighting opponents. The listener is going to decide who is the winner. Its also this kind of musical elements every time, fighting inside us.”

Any preferences?

Well, l couldnt say,” says Michael, apparently unable to say. “I dont know…”

I bet. You chose “Duel” for commercial appeal, I presume.

“Naturally,” says Ralf with a grin, “but I think its funny for someone whos playing the record having listened to it on the radio, and then turns over…”

Well, lets talk about your image.

“What is our image?” asks Ralf, all innocence. “Tell us.” Well, whatever it is, it hints that you are sparkling brilliant, immaculate creatures.

It is a ZTT image,” says Michael quietly. “That is not so much to do with us. Its something we have to deal with but on the other hand it shouldnt be so important.”

And it isnt, but there is a chance that sleeves such as “Duel” will get you a reputation for being pretentious icepicks.

“Having two boys and two girls was inspired by Abba,” Ralf informs me. “In the Sixties and Seventies the perfect image was a band, a four-piece. Now this has changed. Having the idea of four individuals not being a band, or a singer with backing musicians… who can share their few minutes in the spotlight. So we are very open and we can put a different stress on us really.”

Youve had a low profile. Will this increase?

“I think it is nice to have a secret atmosphere,” says Ralf, drawing the curtains and slipping a cord around my neck, “because if the media wants to pinpoint something like Frankie always having the laughs and they have to be funny now — we are not going to fulfil these expectations, though, we play around with them. To us its a game. Its not serious.”

So what sort of musical style can we expect at the forthcoming ZTT gigs?

“The sound live is like The Jesus And Mary Chain.”

Ralf is a little knave!

The video version of “Duel” is quite appalling. Any humorous investiture being badly bungled, only the little girl in the corridor of hands coming out with flying colours. For a band who play the chessboard of pop very well this item is quite stinkeroo! (“Person smashes mirror”. Deduct 10 points.)

“Really tongue in cheek,” gurgles Ralf. “We are not keeping a straight face, because we know what we are doing. We are laughing at it. I think it was hard for them to cut out all the laughing.”

By day Michael works in a German orchestra of great repute and Ralf works in a high finance bank. I am not keeping a straight face either. What do their employers think of them?

Michael: “I dont talk to them all about it because there is no reason to. The people who know are quite interested. They dont really know whats going on. They cant see the dimension of it. They are too classical. For me its different because I grew up with popular music. When I started in an orchestra l was fascinated by it because the musics great.

“I am a chamber musician already, thats what my title is! I think its very important if you are a musician that you have a wider scope in what you do. So many different kinds of music that are really fascinating.”

And Ralf?

“They are only caring about money. And so am I!”

We split our sides.

“Its about big loans, financing… wars! Maybe they respect me because they know Im making money from somewhere!”

Okay then sweethearts, what do you want from Propaganda?

Michael: “It thrilled me when I met Ralf. Id just got interested in electronic music and the way his attitude is, to take a theme, like ‘Dr Mabuse. You can point this picture of Dr Mabuse musically. On the whole album we have very theme orientated way of making music, like ‘Duel with two sides. Its very important that the words and sounds have the right atmosphere. This is a good thing to work on.”

Ralf: “It could still be a challenge and an adventure. Not just the way of doing it but how you do it. I think the most boring thing is if you have achieved it.”

Do you want the glamour?

“Its part of the plan,” Ralf confesses, “but only a part of the aim because we work more on the long term. Right now you are confronted by Propaganda as the pop group but it is not the final thing. There will be something behind it. Maybe the pop group will last five years of so.

“I guess we will move to other fields after that.

Film music, but not the way Eurythmics did ‘1984'. The way you actually work with the film director in a way that music and film are working together to achieve something. That is much more fulfilling.”

Ah, Elysian fields forever. Being a headcold on the sweetest summer day, Propaganda works, as you might expect.

And how about you Vicar?

Well, at first glance it certainly appears to be a vibrator.”