Max Herre’s fondness for the music of the GDR is nothing new. Almost 20 years ago, the Berlin musician and rapper cleverly brought the city song “Der King vom Prenzlauer Berg” into the present, talked about the guy with whom he “was at school in Stuggi” and about the “anthropological development of this region in recent years”.
On the studio album “Athen”, released in 2019, he knitted his song “Nachts” around a sample from the Panta Rhei song of the same name, and later even played it live with Veronika Fischer. The fact that he and the hip-hop producer Dexter have now compiled a sampler for the GDR record company Amiga’s birthday with “Hallo 22 – DDR Funk & Soul von 1971-1981” (Amiga/Sony) is only a mild surprise. The fact that both have immortalized themselves at the end of the compilation with two musical footnotes, just as little: Panta Rhei’s “Aus und über” and Manfred Krug’s “Das war nur ein Moment” are converted into hip-hop tracks by the two. Interesting experimental setups; maybe also: the attempt to build bridges to the present.
The 18 tracks that Herre and Dexter selected from the original Amiga catalog date from the period between 1971 and 1981. Of course we hear the great Manfred Krug, who released a number of albums for the record company before he left for the Federal Republic of Germany been in a constant cycle of rediscovery for years, and deservedly so. A song like the one featured here, “When it’s green outside”, with its Heinrich Heine references, its funk-squinting beat and its wild background vocals, is just as great a friend as the following “Kutte”, in which Angelika Mann dramatically combats alcoholism attached.
The ballad “Septemberliebe” by Holger Biege, with its sea of strings, still comes over you powerfully today, and Veronika Fischer’s “Schönhauser” is a groovy staged reminder that Schönhauser Allee was once a street where the “beautiful crowd” prevailed. And Uschi Brüning’s “If it is like that” floats gently through spring, including virtuoso guitar solos and delicate flute.
Anyone who has dealt a little with the music of the GDR, but also generally with the border areas of Schlager, jazz and groove in German-language music, should experience a few moments of deja vu, most of the songs are classics. But there are also surprises: The “Lastack” by the Joco Dev Sextett, for example, can definitely be considered the GDR counterpart to Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”, so beautifully tangled up in its effect loops and its unrestrained organ-giving. Electra’s “Über Feuer” with its fuzz guitar is also a song that you could very well imagine in the rare groove disco.
What is striking: all of these songs live primarily from their arrangements. They are finely balanced and leave nothing to chance. It’s wonderful how jazz, soul, chanson and beat traditions are combined here without ever being banal, without ever being cheesy, without ever being Easy Listening becomes.
This is thanks to musicians and producers like Reinhard Lakomy, but above all to Günther Fischer, who achieved remarkable things: If you listen to their songs, you imagine the GDR to be a single nightclub, with a glittering curtain and a large show staircase and shell lamps and waiters who diligently serving sparkling wine specialties to an audience smoking thin cigarettes or large cigars at small marble tables. It’s clear that this has absolutely nothing to do with reality, but that’s exactly what pop music is about: negating realities, replacing them with worlds of experience that do without the unreasonable demands of everyday life.
There were also similar musical approaches in the Federal Republic of Germany, and the “The In-Kraut – Hip Shaking Grooves Made In Germany” series should be mentioned here. In the GDR, however, the starting position was different, as Beat and its kind were always suspected of being hostile to the system and every word had to be used carefully. In some of the songs you think you can hear it. This vague hope for another, for a better world, but at the same time the arranging with the circumstances.
It is to be hoped that Herre and Dexter will continue digging in the archive, as there is much that could be salvaged for a second part. For example, Barbara Kellerbauer, who released the album “Schönhauser Allee” with her group DDR in 1979, is missing: “Sometimes above the clouds”; one of the best German groove tracks ever.