Various Artists: Teutonik Disaster

Various Artists
Teutonik Disaster
Available as import

By many accounts (admittedly, American and British accounts, as they are the ones that are most readily available in my little corner of the world), the 2002 re-splattering of “post-punk” (as a musical “style”, not necessarily a musical temporality) across the canvas seemed to invoke the same old British bands. For example, Ikara Colt could be compared to Wire with their huge dollops of slashing guitar and artypants angst, Interpol could be Echo and the Bunnymen smeared with the malaise of Joy Division, the Rapture might be Gang of Four colored with Robert Smith-y vocals, while Hot Hot Heat is essentially a stained-by-Elvis-Costello Buzzcocks, right?

This is not to say that the above bands are therefore horrible because of their rehashing of familiar sounds; in fact, all of them (not to mention their innumerable ilk) are creating some of the most important music today (as much as “today” in that last phrase is understood to mean “today, yesterday’s obvious influences notwithstanding”). What is, however, annoying, is that, by constantly invoking the great names of the past, a self-contained system is created. In other words, the critical movement made along axes such as Pink FlagChat and Business or Unknown PleasuresTurn on the Bright Lights only recasts the musical canon in new aluminum disks, and potentially shuts off any access to bands outside of this canon. While it may be true that these bands are drawing on their influences (and who doesn’t), and that they are paying these influences tribute (and who wouldn’t want to), and that the aforementioned canon is constantly reaffirmed by music critics (and who are you looking at?), this is certainly a case of cultural imperialism in microcosm.

Hence, the importance of a release like Gomma’s Teutonik Disaster. Most notably, on the album art, the flags of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Cuba (?) are colored black, yellow, and red, after Germany’s. On a purely visual level, then, we’re in an imagined world where Germany also has an important hand in painting the post-punk canvas. And then there’s the matter of the record’s subtitle: “Obscure German New Wave Funk, Trashdisko, & Hobbyrock”. Rather than relying on the simple generic nomenclature, the label tries to do something new with the old and tired formulae. (Is it too early to hope for a “hobbyrock” insurgence? Which artist would this most sound like: Daniel Johnston or James Figurine? And is “new wave funk” like new wave mixed with funk, the new wave of funk, or some combination of the two? Is Rick James “new wave funk”? Or would he be more “new funk wave”?)

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the album cover, which surely takes the piss out of itself: an imposing fellow — a refugee from Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen? — stands tough with a spear in his hand and an obviously-PhotoShopped red rose added to his beardy mouth: is he a Teutonic disaster?

This self-mocking sense of humor might lead you to believe that the music under this cover art is a collection of faithful recreations of the sound of Germany, from 1977 to 1983, done up in an ironic style. While the label might be trying to find a new way to wrap their music, what’s inside is assuredly the real thing.

As a (biased) musical portrait of the country at that time, one conclusion we can draw from these various songs is that dub weighed heavily on a few of these bands’ shoulders: Exkurs’ “Fakten sind Terror” has their vocalist recreating with his mouth the dub effects whooshing around in the background behind him; this song and their “Steril” — a bubbling Silver Apples (oscillator?) riff that gives way to a pogo-riffic disco song — perhaps prove that the guitar is the most superfluous instrument in the post-punk world. In the former, the solo comes out of nowhere, runs around for a bit, and disappears like an angry dog looking for a leg to chew on, while in the latter, the guitar acts less like a rhythmic complement and more like a rhythmic insult. Meanwhile, Scala’s “Irrsinn in Dub” marries a gleepy cocktail synthesizer line with a wicked bassline.

Another conclusion? Well, with songs like “Yellow Power” and “Rabbits” (both by Explorer, the former zooming around in Giorgio Moroder’s realm, the latter dipping slightly in Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop” territory), “Lover’s Walkman” (by Ampilla’s Delight, a Debbie Harry pseudo-rap tune that’s one of the more “accessible” songs on here, whether calculatedly or not), and “MusikMusikMusik” (by the Tanzdiele, coming off as more herky-jerky than Six Finger Satellite, who I swear stole this song’s intro for their “Simian Fever”), this era also dabbled with electronics in ways much like their American and British cousins did at the same time, and still do now.

And the rest? Reifenstahl’s “Je t’air (Ich Dich Luft)” nerds along gently in the bedroom-pop style of a better-equipped Young Marble Giants. Somewhere along the line, one of these bedroom geeks plops out “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on a synthesizer. Until the 2:10 mark, that is, when some atrocious guitar erupts, turning a slow dance into the prom inferno from Carrie. Before you know it, we’re back to Nerdsville, until the timer hits 3:18, when said nerds decide to simulate having sex while their synthesizer fades, a metronome clicks away, and someone in the next room decides to practice the riff from “La Bamba”.

Reiz Des Neuen’s “Gilda” is sub-Tom Waits junkyard beat poetry that makes you want to place a moratorium on megaphones. Schwarze Bewegung’s “Traumfrau” is the most interminable 2:30 ska song you’ll here this side of any one of the Selecter’s later musical belches. More happily, though, Carmen’s “Schlaraffenland” reimagines the Flying Lizards, both in sound, and in their tendency to roll out cover songs from American pop music’s past (in this case, it’s the Archies’ “Sugar Sugar” that we’re sucking on).

Of course, I realize that my comparing the artists on this compilation to their more well-known English-speaking sister bands might contradict my initial rant against critics who re-ensconce bands within cultural imperialist contexts, but my comparisons are deliberate. As are the instances I point out where these bands directly cover American and British bands’ songs. Presumably like the crate-digging folks who’ve put together this wonderful compilation (albeit one with more than a few songs that demand a heavy “track up” finger), I’d like to see more post-punk music readily available that disrupts notions of an Anglo-American past linearly influencing our present and future.