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A song from Europe

The German pop group Propaganda released their last single, “Dr Mabuse”, over a year ago. Then they had to wait while their record company devoted time to Frankie Goes To Hollywood. And whats happened since? A new single and a lot of talk about “shocking and disgusting things”. Relax, says William Shaw, only one of thems a vampire.

Michael Mertens has just flown in from Dusseldorf, German. Propagandas home country. Only a few hours earlier he was performing Bruckners Eighth Symphony with the Dusseldorf Symphony Orchestra, playing cymbal and triangle. In one and a half hours of music, he had two beats to play on the cymbal and two on the triangle, all the time keeping one eye on his watch to see if he was going to be in time to catch the plane to London to meet the other three members of Propaganda.

That sort of tight schedule, he explains, is the worst part of sharing his time between being a professional classical musician and being a member of a successful pop group whove just released their second excellent single “Duel”. But apart from these problems in timetabling he revels in the contrast between his two musical careers: “I dont like the attitude of thinking that classical music is the ultimate way of making music,” he explains. “It doesnt mean anything to me.”

Both careers started late. It wasnt ‘til he was 18 that he took to studying classical music and learning the rudiments of percussion, and on the other side he was almost 30 when Ralf Dorper walking into his room one day, saw his collection of classical and electronic instruments and asked him whether hed be interested in collaborating in a musical project of his by the name of Propaganda. “It is interesting,” he says, “to meet someone who wanted to paint pictures in musical terms.”

Back in Dusseldorf his colleagues in the orchestra remain generally unaware of the other side of his life: “They dont really know what it means. They just think ‘Ah yes. Michael is going to London to make a record…

Claudia is the only member of Propaganda who doesnt live in Dusseldorf, having now moved to London, to stay with her husband, ZTTs Paul Morley. Shes the youngest and most recent addition to Propaganda, though shes served her apprenticeship in an all-girl Dusseldorf band called The Toppolinos (The Mickey Mouses): “We werent well known, we were nothing really. For me it was still a joke, you know.”

But then Ralf and Susanne, who were friends, came along looking for another member for Propaganda and now shes taking her turn in the limelight as the voice on “Duel”: “Its just for this song, because Im singing. The next song might not be the same.

“We just wanted to do something completely different from the last single ‘Dr Mabuse. Thats what Propaganda means you know, that we can show every face, we can go in every direction. So we can make a love song like ‘Duel which is a duel between two lovers, and we can do a very dark song like ‘Dr Mabuse.”

Being married to Paul Morley and taking part in Propaganda, Claudias in the odd position of being the wife of a man whose record label shes contracted to. “But,” she says, “I dont want Propaganda to be involved with our marriage. Its just an accident that we work together. I could easily have problems with Paul over ideas, but we havent has any and if we did Id be with my band always.”

But meeting up with ZTT was, she reckons, a stroke of luck for Propaganda who up ‘til then hadnt released any records. “I think that ZTT is a fantastic label, and Paul is very good at playing with images. Its what we wanted.”

Playing with images includes things like the single sleeve, on which Claudia is pictured screaming, wearing crucifixes. (“Theyre not mine,” she laughs, “they were borrowed.”) and where, on the 12" version, Paul has written the lines ‘Claudia takes an interest in shocking and disgusting things. Is there any truth in what Paul wrote there?

“Well yes,” she answers laughing again. “I love blood and Im a vampire really.”

According to the same sleeve notes, Susanne compels her boyfriend to do infamous thing and Ralf loves flowers and certain special smells. Ralf chuckles at the description: “We dont give a damn about whats written on the sleeve.”

Theyre the longest serving members of the group who came over to England with a tape theyd recorded in 1982 which led to them getting signed and to last years debut single “Dr Mabuse”.

“From the beginning it was more a music project, not a band. At that time ZTT didnt exist. Someone gave Paul Morley a tape and then they contacted us and we were invited to come over to England and spend some time in the studio.

“When we signed,” he says of ZTT, “we signed to a company, we didnt just sign to ZTT and,” he grins, “I doubt if we had that we would have signed to ZTT…” Hes interrupted by Susannes laughter for a second before continuing, “…because we dont want to be part of something. Were on our own.”

Being on ZTT also had the disadvantage of having to play second fiddle to Frankie Goes To Hollywood last year when they wanted to go straight ahead with releasing “Duel” after “Dr Mabuse”.

“We wanted to have the one following the other because it makes sense if you look at the two songs,” says Ralf. “There are quite a lot of ways we can sound, and on ‘Duel we show the two opposites — the one side very sweet and the other very harsh.”

Theres an animal noise on the single at one point, which sounds a bit like and elephant. Is it?

“Oh no. Its a microchip,” answers Ralf. “A microchip with big ears.”

Ralf Dorper

Age 25. Continues to work in a Dusseldorf bank alongside playing in Propaganda which he started with a friend whos since left the band in 1982. States that his worst habit is talking too much.

Claudia Brücken

Age 21. Left school with ambitions to study art and graphic design, but joined Propaganda instead. Bites her nails and admits to being very moody in the morning.

Susanne Freytag

Age 27 — A trained professional jewellery maker — “we all like to have work outside music” — who says she never had any ambitions to be in a band. Claims to be prone to laziness.

Michael Mertens

Age 31. For the last five years has been percussionist with the Düsseldorf Symphonia, having discovered classical music at 18. Met Ralf while he was trying to sell him a rhythm box.