Discus Mix: #20 – Dunkeltier
  NDW/German synth special

Just in time for the soon-to-be-released 2×12” Poligam LP Dunkeltier aka SneakerDJ delivers a recording of two and a half hours of German (+ Austrian & Swiss) synth music commonly dubbed as NDW (the commercial tag) and from the Kassettentäterszene (underground tape scene). The mix was recorded for eternity at the small community-run venue Pracht in the wilderness of East Germany we know as Leipzig.

Record mail order Discus Throwers asked me a few questions in their features section:

… and in case the site will went down a t some point I copy/paste it here, too:

Discus Throwers: This is a mix of mostly music with German vocals. What is your personal connection to electronic music with German lyrics and what do you think adds the language to the music to make it specific?

Sneaker: Although everybody is allowed to play any music (free minds at least) German vocals give me an identity. Often these artists refer to a feeling apparent in the German society at its time that I can reenact inside myself and certainly relate to (you should see me dumbly gaping at Cuban musicians last month). Although I am also – in heavy contrast – into house music with my main alias Sneaker, we can play and love this music. But we do not entirely feel the Ghetto House from Chicago or the Wild Pitch Sound of the Paradise Garage. Not talking of more Gospel and black and Latin community influenced sub-genres (yes, I am digging and collecting all of that).

And on your second question – I don’t know if it’s the language, but the German vocals and lyrics were expressive to all edgy directions one could imagine. Often closer to performance art than music, they just let loose! To me – and I really like to state that in capitals – THE UNDERGROUND NDW WAS THE LATER MUSICAL PENDANT TO THE 20s GERMAN DADA ART MOVEMENT. I’d really argue hard if someone disagrees. Just like Dada the tape kids were fed up with authorities and the older generation (compare first world war monarchies and the Thatcher / Reagan cold war!). So instead of direct rebellion (’68 student movement being just a fart in history) both went into denying any logic and sense in order to reject false and pathetic ideology and by this becoming immune against these and “their devils”! At least at home and in an edition of 20 or so tapes. This no-sense layer was most obvious in the lyrics (besides dilettante musical structures): Lyrics – willfully German – against Big Brother America. Their parents embraced the occupying forces and their “Coca-Cola & Elvis” – partly (the older) in some false moral in an effort to forget the collective guilt of the 3rd Reich – partly (the younger) in blind hedonism of the Wirtschaftswunder. Us – however – are the detached internet generation (we are not NDW) looking for nostalgia to feel realer than everyday’s virtual “life in our laptop office”.

I could unfurl an extra theory on the East German scene (my childhood), but as I might bore you this is best covered already in the book “Wir wollen immer artig sein!” (only in German language). The book is mainly covering the punk scene, but also the tiny bits of high quality low key electronic DIY music in the socialist G.D.R..”

“Wir wollen immer artig sein!” on Amazon
Deutschlandfunk on “Wir wollen immer artig sein!” (German language)

DT: There is a lot of this German music still to be discovered that was recorded and is stored on tapes. You are quite into the German 80s synth/wave tape scene, why do you think there was such a big tape movement in that era?

Sneaker: Honestly I’d have to guess and we’d better ask a witness and activist of that time like Felix Kubin. There is a great podcast (2 parts + lyrics) made by him for a Spanish (!) museum explaining in detail the Kassettentäterszene.”


DT: In Austria it is really hard to find tape recordings of bands that focussed on synth music. We recently discovered the Poligam material that will be out on a 2×12’’ album soon where you also contributed a remix. How can the Poligam material and the Austrian scene of the early 80s in general be compared with the German scene?

Sneaker: I’d judge that Austria was smaller only in terms of quantity due to the size of the country. And maybe you can tell me if my observation is right – that the Austrian scene was more gravitating around Vienna? In Germany it was a remarkably decentralized scene. Not only we had several higher concentrations such as in Berlin (not as dominant as you might think), the scattered Ruhrgebiet and Hamburg – you also had numerous DIY projects from the attics of small towns and villages (like “The Gotling” we remastered last year for a reissue on Mond Musik). Despite a minor, loose network people hardly gathered for festivals nor did they combine forces (equipment, exchange of knowledge and label infrastructure). So the quality remained the same charming naive approach like anywhere else in the 80s tape scene (so actually there was no vigor scene!). It was more likely to become a pro for these chaps than growing into a full-blown youth culture – what never happened!

DT: Do you think it is a good thing to make almost forgotten musical material like this accessible for a bigger audience again? In times of rising vinyl reissue numbers this is a quite controversial topic.

Sneaker: “Anything goes!” in the first place. And “Whatever works!” in the second. I like old music and it is essential to me as my direct source of creativity. For samples, edits, pattern and arrangement structures, mix balance, even mastering – all is inspired and competes with the iconic history. I wanna have it accessible. So when it comes to edits I am grateful for any CD-reissue and hi-res download. Only the best! Remastering is a different topic and more controversial to me. To sum up – myself doesn’t want to convince anybody else to like or need old music. “Live and let live!”

DT: With Bad Boy Baader you already contributed a widely lauded podcast on Soviet synth to the Discus Mix series – now it’s NDW and German synth from tapes. – What does it mean to you to record genre-themed mixes?

Sneaker: When I compare my variety of genres – laid out from one mix to the next, entirely different one rather than in one eclectic mix – I only see a comparable theme-based scheme with classic radio DJs. And podcasts are in this tradition. However I also play like that in clubs (this NDW mix was recorded at Pracht, Leipzig during a club night). At Dr. Seltsam in Leipzig I have regular nights with Saša Sora. A year ago we played one night of NY & gay house. Then – never again. Another night we ping-pong cosmic (him) and wave (me) for hours. Then again I might play acid and techno all-night. You can’t pin me down, so “what it means” you ask? … It means freedom and the Forrest Gump metaphor of “You never know!” what to expect tonight!

All this diversity is still handled with a sense for a musical flow and for example garage house you will only truly feel after a good set of a few hours (preferably in the right setting). It’s not a genre to drop for one track. Also NDW often fails when I try to integrate it in between techno and wave (they instead go well together in the hands of a knowledgeable DJ). NDW is a gritty beast – tempos from 80 to 200 bpm, full stops and track lengths of 1:30 min, plenty of harmonic changes, cacophonic climaxes … with NDW you better assemble a DJ set one by one rather curating the flow by a proper selection (in a balance of steadiness and dynamics of moods and speeds). … just as I tried with my Mix for Discus Throwers. Still my style is classic. If you wanna listen to masterfully assembled NDW madness … experimental, daring and out there as if the newbie-horrifying tag ‘beat-matching’ never existed … one should listen to a German synth set by Ober Mannkind!