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This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to… FSK November 6, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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A very welcome guest post from anarchaeologist…

Stunde Null
The joys of the internet allow me to recall the first time I became aware of FSK, a band started in 1980 by four members of the editorial collective of a Munich art-fanzine Mode & Verzweiflung (Fashion & Despair). On 13 August 1986 I was living in a block of flats in East London which still demonstrated structural evidence of the Blitz, listening that evening to John Peel with a few cans of cider and a take away. Peel announced a second session from a band he correctly pronounced Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle, who promptly barged into a Germanic fuzz-guitar stomp I Wish I Could ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’, a song which later became something of a hit among Peel’s constituency of skinny white-boy indie kids like myself. This wasn’t however some half-wit comedy combo with half a dozen rubbishy singles in the NME Indie chart: with the last verse sung in obviously exaggerated American accents and with the drum machine approximating marching feet, there was obviously something more nuanced going on. The next track I heard appeared to be an enthusiastic though lugubrious appreciation of Dr Arnold Fanck, the cinematographer who ‘invented’ the Bergfilm, the type of high altitude epic which reached its commercial apogee in America during the opening frames of The Sound of Music (and indeed FSK were later to consider further the career of a submarine captain from the Austrian alps and his brood of crooning brats, mediated however via John Coltrane).

‘M’ wie München: bombing, walls, trains and bricks
Though drawn from all over the BRD, the band convened in late ‘70’s Munich, then perhaps the most radicalised city in the country. Munich had been the most cosmopolitan of the main German cities in the late ‘60s and ‘70s; its gemütlichkeit borrowed from the Austrians combined with its rowdy beer-hall culture and tourist footfall was an attractive proposition for many Germans arriving in the city from this period onwards. It was also a main railway hub for southern Europe, one of the first cities to attract gastarbeiters from Turkey and Spain, not to mention blow-ins from Austria, South Tyrol and indeed the DDR. The Balkanbusbahnhof also brought people in from Yugoslavia and by the mid-‘90s the streets around would become a crepuscular zone populated by the coughing passengers of randomly parked busses with destination boards to hundreds of towns in southern Europe, their redundant No Smoking signs yellowed by nicotine in the torchlight.
Where a unified Berlin was to emerge in the ‘90s as the centre of a rather imported counter-culture, Munich’s ascent through the ‘60s and ‘70s is tied into the history of groups such as the Amon Düül collective(s) and indeed the madness that was the RAF. A significant number of RAF activists hailed from Bavaria, including Andreas Baader himself. Others were people who had migrated to Munich after 1968 when events such as the student demonstrations generated more publicity than the more prolonged and politically-driven rioting in Berlin. In Munich there had been two fatalities that Easter: an AP photographer and a student, both killed in a hail of bricks), Older German activists arriving in Munich had taken it a step further and had been involved in minor firebomb campaigns throughout the BRD aimed at capitalist targets and especially the Springer Press group.
And then came the Olympic Games of 1972 and Black September. And loosely woven through the narrative was the city’s relationship with the East and perhaps more significantly, with southern Bohemia. As FSK were archly to imply, the construction of the U3 for the Olympics in the early ‘70s brought thousands of people into the city, killing its thriving postwar Bohemian underground. The political undercurrent in Munich had always appeared more Situationist in tone compared to the revolutionary orthodoxies preached elsewhere in Germany. While the Amon Düül collective issued communiqués and released their music to a political audience, the city’s creative world had had nothing of the Berliner DADAists or Dessau’s Bauhaus and its art music had always been blandly light-classical. For die Junge, the popular quasi-traditional Schlagermusik would be overtaken somewhat by disco in the ‘70s. In either event, popular culture mostly ignored the music of Amon Düül who provided the soundtrack of this underground in the lead up to the Olympics.
Neue Deutsche Schlager
I next heard FSK the following winter when Peel broadcast to the Liberties a track called Blue Yodel für Herbert Wehner, the combative socialist who, apart from holding the record for getting ejected from the Bundestag, had now seemingly appropriated Pierre Bourdieu’s aphorism that youthful anarchists in later life make better democrats. Wehner, a member of the KPD resistance against the Nazis, had returned to kickstart the SPD and became the parliamentary nemeses of Franz Josef Strauss, the right wing head of the Bavarian Christian Democrats, whom indeed the band were to sing about on The Sound of Music (1993). I also heard a re-working of ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ recorded in Leeds from an EP called American Sector. Now the drums had indeed morphed into jackboots, with the band suspiciously whistling a coda you might have heard on a major Japanese infrastructural project during the war, or indeed from the depths of Steve McQueen’s corrugated cooler in Upper Bavaria.
I acquired the early releases on cassette (from the DDR) and by mail order from Hamburg. An EP Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle had appeared in 1980, followed quickly by Teilnehmende Beobachtung. I got Stürmer (1981) later on, a provocative title from a Munich band, meaning ‘striker’ in the football sense or alternatively the title of the particularly vile Nazi tabloid published from 1923 until the very end.
Their early stuff is collected on a double CD Bei Alfred (1995) that points to the Velvets and post-punk as much as the early Mekons, a band who would follow a similar path through to what’s loosely called roots music. While suspiciously light on the Krautrock, this music seemed heavily influenced by the local Schlager groups and the showbands who traded in sentimental, rustic lyrics set to traditional rhythms and oomph-pah instrumentation. Regular Cedar Loungeniks should think Declan Nerney in leatherhosen singing about Saor Éire from the perspective of, say, Grainne Seoige as a clandestine cadre leader of the Connemara League of Young Communists.
Notwithstanding my non-existent German, FSK appeared to be saying something different about the culture of that political Germany we’d see on television: the war, the Wall, the Nazis, the Baader-Meinhofs, Uschi Obermaier’s tits and of course the DDR. Yet we were also getting yodelling, a brass section and beautifully distorted surf guitars, with lounge, rockabilly and c/w thrown in at appropriate moments. Crucially, here were Germans singing from perhaps the most Americanised country outside of North America, who, by working the idiom of the American music brought over by the GIs, were facilitating an admittedly skewed lyrical investigation of their own country’s recent past. Other explorations into their rock’n’roll counter-heritage were facilitated by Peel with the Fabs also getting the treatment, which naturally enough included a version of Komm gib mir deine Hand.
Their music was very different to that of other groups that emerged from Germany in the early ‘80s. FSK were further away from Nena’s 99 red balloons and even the more Americanised second wave of groups who sung in English at the record company’s behest. FSK remained staunchly independent, in the old sense of that word and apart from the odd cover version would continue to sing in German (in Czech and occasionally in French).
Take the skinheads yodelling
A pair of LPs from the late ‘80s FSK in Dixieland, and Original Gasman Band, took the group further west from their post-punk roots and the cul-de-sac of the Neue Deutsche Welle. While lighting out for the territory they encountered David Lowery, late of Camper Van Beethoven, who produced the next few albums and joined the band on US and European tours. Thus the group became purveyors of what Lowery subsequently coined Germericana, although the band themselves traded on what they called the Trans-Atlantic Feedback.
This move brought them to south central Texas, where German and Czech were still spoken and where the dance music the emigrants had brought with them had assimilated well into the Tex-Mex tradition. Thomas Meinecke, the band’s main lyricist and lap steel feedback virtuoso, was particularly enamoured with this part of the world and he produced 2 CDs of field and archive recordings under the banner Texas-Bohemia, letting the music bleed into the band’s lyrical concerns which remained firmly grounded in the political complexities of a united Germany entering a new period of its history. FSK would go on to fully embrace this counter-heritage on 1991’s Son of Kraut, which opened with the band’s melancholic version of the East German National Anthem, recorded in Richmond VA, a month after that country ceased to exist.
The three albums produced by Lowery, Son of Kraut, The Sound of Music (later the name of Lowery’s studio in Richmond) and International (1996) brought on board (late) stalwarts such as Rainer Ptacek and Mark Linkous. These recordings continued Meinecke’s lyrical exploration of his country’s past and present, throwing in covers of GI songs popular in Germany in the ‘50s and ‘60s and providing obscure though entertaining sleeve notes for non-German speakers. The band continued to record sessions for John Peel, their last session taped a few days after the great man died; they’ve apparently recorded more sessions for the show than any other non-British band. Meanwhile Chicks on Speed (a Munich electroclash band with an American singer, sharing FSK’s art college roots) covered Euro-Trash Girl where Robert Forster (an Australian living in Bavaria) covered Freddy Fender’s Sohn, a song ostensibly about ‘Roman Catholicism and Latin drugs. In stereo.’
From post-rock to Detroit Techno
Apart from the occasional nod to electronica (and the Japanese disco yodelling of Euro-Trash Girl, hated by the band at the time), there was ostensibly little in the band’s past that would point to the next direction they’d take in the late ’90s. Explorations ‘deeper and deeper into band-oriented electronic music and repetitive sound-structures between post-rock and post-electronica’ led to the release of Tel Aviv (1998) and X (2000), mostly instrumentals in the post-rock vein. Yet this change in direction was, in retrospect, only a continuation of the explorations the band had been making in Amerika all along, excavating and disinterring the roots and bones of the music and bringing it all back home.
Back to Munich that is, home of the Munich Machine and for a while in the mid ’70s the hauptstadt of Eurodisco, the tinselled bailiwick of a handful of producers, including South Tyrolean Georg ‘Giorgio’ Moroder. In the early ‘70s he had written, produced and performed on a number of hits in the BRD, where soul music was popular due to the ubiquitous cultural force that was American Forces Network radio. In Munich he crafted a sound that sold millions of records all over the world, and laid the foundations of House, Techno and possibly Gabba in the ‘80s. FSK paid dues to this connection on Lost in Munich the closing track of Tel Aviv, just as they’d name-checked another influence, Roxy Munich on International.
With Tel Aviv and X came an obvious nod to the soundscapes fashioned by second division Krautrock groups such as Cluster, Harmonia and NEU! This was a music with little obvious influence derived from the blues or indeed that traditional music that had been brought over from Europe to the new world. The early Detroit Techno scene in particular was more heavily influenced by the second wave of German synth groups, with the clean sounds of bands like Kraftwerk connecting to a local obsession with a post-industrial future. FSK went on to explore this aspect of the Trans-Atlantic Feedback, working extensively with Detroit producer Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir. The title of the album they did together in 2004 First Take Then Shake, could suggest something of the band’s ongoing engagement with American music, however it’s actually a reference to getting the songs down on the first take and passing the tapes to their producer.
FSK was nun?
FSK continue to revise, evolve and confuse. As a comment on their latest Nokturn video suggests:
‘um you guys are ok…. what laNguage are you guys singiN…. anyways we use FSK for “FUTURE SHOCK KREW….” we do graffi… bombiN… walls… traiNs… bricks…. basicaly anythiN….’
which perhaps brings the story back to the radical Munich of the ‘60s and ‘70s: bombing, walls, trains and bricks.
The band’s last album, Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle, their 12th, brings Meinecke’s lyrics back to the mix marking a return to guitar-based music with a few beats thrown in for good measure. Michaela Melián continues to pound a Höfner bass (just as McCartney did on the Reeperbahn); the rest of the band weave the music around her beat and all is good in the world again. If you like what you hear, next year will apparently see the release of Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle ist ein Mode & Verzweiflung Produkt, a 3 CD retrospective with copious notes and photographs.
anarchaeologist

Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle sind:
Justin Hoffman – Electric Piano/Guitar/Accordion/Xylophone/ Vocals
Thomas Meinecke – Guitar/Vocals/Lapsteel/ Keyboards/Cornet
Michaela Melián – Bass/Melodica/Keyboards/Vocals
Carl Oesterhelt – Drums
Wilfred Petzi – Trombone/Guitar/Vocals/Percussion/Keyboards

Musik


I Wish I Could ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch’ John Peel session (1986)


Blue Yodel Für Herbert Wehner (from Goes Underground, 1984)


Westberlin Tanzparty (from Herz aus Stein, 1980)


Gudrun E. (from Teilnehmende Beobachtung, 1981)


Kinderparty (from Stürmer, 1981)


Viel Zu Viel (from Magic Moments, 1982)


Hol Dir Die Bundeslade (from Ça c’est le blues, 1984)


Lieber ein Glas zuviel (from Last Orders, the John Peel sessions, 1985)


Birthday John Peel session (1987)


Diesel Oktoberfest (from The Sound of Music, 1993)


Euro-Trash Girl (from International, 1996)


Swing to Bop (with Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir, First Take Then Shake, 2004)


Ballroom (with Anthony ‘Shake’ Shakir)


Nokturn (from Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle, 2008)

Comments»

1. sonofstan - November 6, 2010

Fantastic. A band I’ve never been more than dimly aware of – definitely a mistake. I have a vague recollection of a TV programme about Peel and his glamorous lifestyle as they followed him on a roadtrip to Germany to do one of his ‘discos’, which included a meet up with FSK. Apart from proving again that TV wasn’t Peelie’s metier, I recall that they insisted on the part-time nature of the group, and how they had no ambitions to be full time musos – I remember it, because at the time – desperate to be full-timer ourselves – I dismissed this as dilettantism, and got quite indignant.

Their longevity, and obvious continuing invention, clearly indicates the sanity of their view.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2010

I’d echo that entirely. Fantastic contribution to the series.

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2. ejh - November 6, 2010

This weekend you might also like to reverse whatever error has italicised practically the entire site…

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ejh - November 6, 2010

Hurrah! Thank you.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2010

Weird one, just a simple ‘close italics’ in the above post and boom, over goes the CLR.

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ejh - November 6, 2010

Almost as good as the great Crooked Timber quirk which means you can’t write “socialism” in a comment.

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WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2010

That’s no quirk, that’s a feature! 🙂

I’m kidding, I think!

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3. goodhardrant - November 6, 2010

Had never heard (of) them, but great track selection and write up by anarchaeologist. I thought they sounded a bit like a Germanic lo-fi Stereolab on first listen, but the yodelling really stops that comparison going further! Interesting to find Sparklehorse / Modest Mouse links to FSK via country music. Apparently Robert Forster of the Go-Betweens was friends with Meinicke and counts FSK as an influence. Thanks for the introduction. 🙂

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4. WorldbyStorm - November 6, 2010

Also the Cracker Camper Van Beethoven link which sort of makes sense…

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5. John Green - November 8, 2010

Also heard and loved FSK on Peel back in the day and bought the first two LPs. Still find myself singing “Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that ball?” from time to time.

I always thought the name translated better as “voluntary self-censorship” than “voluntary self-control,” which is the literal translation but lacks the irony the band exhibited in spades.

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6. thomas meinecke - November 11, 2010

thanks for this great contribution! we were friends with stereolab, actually, and shared the same bill once when they were still mccarthy at the ica in london. (at another ica rock week we had a young support act called the pet shop boys…)

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7. Mark P - November 12, 2010

Ha, bet you weren’t expecting the man himself to show up in the comments section!

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8. WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2010

That’s probably true 😉

Thomas, McCarthy kind of makes sense. And in an odd way so does the Pet Shop Boys.

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thomas meinecke - November 14, 2010

Thank you! The Pet Shop Boys were announced as music journalists who wanted to perform some songs. (We were okay with it as long as we didn’t have to remove our instruments and amps.) There was another band then whose members borrowed us their amps when we came to town and who we were friends with: Scatter (close to a British re-reading of the music by the American band Love) – who turned into the Stereo MCs later (which was more surprising than McCarthy turning into Stereolab). Other London musician friends we had in those days: Tot Taylor (The Compact Organization) and Virna Lindt turned up at our gigs frequently. But our biggest friends then were the Mekons – who had a comparable band history (and they were kind of responsible for our record deal with Ediesta / Red Rhino – who went bankrupt a couple of years after signing us).

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WorldbyStorm - November 14, 2010

That’s amazing about Scatter/Stereo MC’s though I have to admit I always had a soft spot for the latter.

The Mekons, needless to say… 🙂

Great band, though I always loved their [parallel?] band, The Three Johns, from which I take ‘worldbystorm’ as my online name!

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10. Thomas Meinecke in Dublin | Wasted on Archaeology - June 30, 2013
11. Jeanett - April 23, 2014

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