It’s a miracle that any of this happened at all, given the claustrophobic nature of the (can’t believe it called itself Democratic) DDR/GDR. If you’ve ever seen The Lives of Others, you’ll get a good idea of level of repression and fear the folks behind the wall were bombarded with on a daily basis. If it wasn’t the Stasi chasing your shadow, it was your axe to grind neighbour dobbing you in for the slightest excuse.
Straight from behind closed doors, this was a subversive verve spread on the immediacy of the cassette, balancing its precarious existence on a make-do shoestring. The pared-down rhythms often born of cheap circuitry and whatever was to hand, an ingenuity to admire, and some tracks even sound like the band have broken into the local kindergarten and appropriated the toys for the greater good.From the depressive canter of Ornament and Verbrechen to the screamy reverb of Sendeschlub, you can taste the off-the-bone urgency here, the seething discontent snipping from basements and behind closed doors. The direct punkish vibes of, say, L’Attentat and Planlos mixing with the refined arthaus discordia / gothic dissatisfaction of others, all homed in on a common cause, firing out plenty of feeling to all that numb obedience. After all, ideals are fine — but when they stop you expressing stuff they are just straitjackets to be rid of – right?
This was all about redressing the balance, and Grabnoct‘s tightly wound cobras of waspy drone, drum machine and edgy female vox certainly make for a convincing argument; throw some superb positives out of funnelling frustrations and so do the explosive obliques of Rosa Extra that dance in your head like a Grosz amputate, the catchy Kleenex-like chop of Der Schwarze Kanal (named after a Soviet propaganda TV programme) is really inspiring too – it must have sounded blinding in all that prevailing East German grey.AG Geige (one of the handful of artists I actually recognize here) supplying a beautifully lo-fi slice of Der Plan-like playfulness that contrasts nicely with the more propaganda-esque keytones of Herbst In Peking and the dubby javelins of the Magdalene Keibel Combo that follow. It’s a varied mix with no shortfalls – 3T0t‘s Weltmeister-fed spirals and accompanying operatics cut a heady late-Weimar glow as does the Brechtian Fett. The Local Moon‘s Madame Butterfly zither spurring on a surprise splash of Tom Verlaine, Ornament and Verbrechen returning on a paramilitary monologue to pouting Bavarian spikes.
Twenty-four glittering tracks to which the accompanying booklet supplies those all-important written extras. The imposing architectures of its cover/inner sleeve documenting the botched demolition of the gasometer at Thälmannpark that had the locals cheering at the government’s incompetence to obliterate. The meticulously researched text highlighting how closely knit these groups were, continually evolving, branching out like a virus to infect the overbearing reality, that enforced conformity the weirded bouquets of Klick And Aus and the de-tuned defiance of Pffft bought the ultimate antidote to.It’s often thought the underground in the east wasn’t as adventurous as its western counterpart, but I’m glad to say this excellent compilation demonstrates otherwise.
(Note: This review is of the CD edition. There will be a double vinyl release of this album if enough pre-orders are made before 1 June 2017 – order by emailing the label here)