The Electronic Revolution: How German DJ culture reshaped popular music

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By Žikica Milošević

Photo: Exit Festival, Promo, Getty Images

We know that Germany has irreversibly changed some of the best and the most influential pop music writers of the 20th century, but we are not going to talk about that again. The new story goes one step further and this is basically the continuation of the last year’s article on how Hamburg and Berlin influenced Nick Cave, The Beatles, Bowie and Depeche Mode, and how Kraftwerk and Krautrock influenced Electronica. This time around, we’ll start by reminding our readers that the first parties in the era when electronic music producers and DJs were the superstars, took place in Germany in the1990s.

THE REAL MAIN STAGE

Germany was the real Main Stage that triggered the whole dominant Dance Arena culture, which subsequently spread all over the world, particularly in Europe. Most of the then DJs came from Germany and its neighbouring countries. The first DJ to be nominated for an award was the German DJ Marusha in the late 1990s. An avalanche of protests ensued! How can a DJ, a person who basically only programs music on the computer, then mixes, remixes and produces it, and doesn’t even play a synthesizer or knows how to sing, can receive an award for the Best Female Artist?!

Reading the articles back then, I became aware that we were witnessing a revolution. And once again, the revolution originated from Germany. But it did not stop in Germany! Just have a look at David Guetta – the guru of today’s Dance Arenas all over the world. The best artists now, alas, to my complete disappointment, are not bands, but producers. Like Martin Garrix from the Netherlands, Max Martin from Sweden, Dr. Luke from the USA, Calvin Harris from Scotland or Nina Kraviz from Siberia. Electronic music is everywhere today. Sometimes, these DJs get singers to sing the vocal part of their hits, and in this way, they resemble more classic pop. Then, for instance, you go over to EXIT’s Dance Arena, you listen to DJs while waiting for the vocal part to start….. And you wait, and wait some more! Today, the whole world has become Berlin and Germany from the 1990s, while Dance Arena is, practically, the real Main Stage at the EXIT Festival, which has been invariably moving towards electronic sound.

THE FOUNDING FATHERS

Actually, it all started a long time ago! One of the main events in Belgrade, a few weeks ago, was the performance of a band, elegantly dubbed ‘The Founding Fathers of Electronica’. They are German, of course, from Düsseldorf, and they are called Kraftwerk. Although they did not come to Belgrade in their original four-member setup, they performed everything we have ever dreamed of – it was a real audio-visual show. It was also deeply German – robotic, deliberately cold, megalopolis-influenced, technical, immaculate, and very precise. Back in the day, in the 1970s, they used analogue synthesizers that sounded so digital. But now, some 40+ years later, we can see the sheer brilliance of their vision. They sang in many languages back then – German, English, French, Spanish, and Russian. They did not like Europe divided in hate. They wanted us all to be different, but to love and accept each other. They were one of the first examples of a European Union and they were a kind of a cultural Proto-Schengen. They were not, like their American counterparts, afraid of robots and machines, always depicting some sort of dystopian future with the inevitable war between the man and the machine. They liked the machines. They loved the idea that one day we would all be mixed. And, of course, they did it first in their music. Kraftwerk was the first to utterly ignore the American rock’n’roll heritage, namely that everything had to be “live” and played by “living people”. They coined the idea that the Man-Machine can be a person of the future, and that the music of the future would be partly played/sung and partly programmed. They saw Europe as their playground, with all nations respecting each other, learning each other languages.

THE MAN-MACHINE HAS WON

Today, it really doesn’t matter to people dancing at 7am in Dance Arena if Nina Kraviz plays or sings any instruments. The thousands of people, who have stayed awake until morning, are ecstatic. Nobody cares! These are the new generations who believe in the “Mensch-Maschine”. In 2016, at the Sea Dance Festival, one of my dance-arena-orientated friends commented on the band Hurts and said: “Hurts are DJing it very good!” “No, mate, they are actually playing, not deejaying”, I retorted. The new upcoming generation has forgotten the verb “playing”. Marusha’s children and Kraftwerk’s grandchildren took over. Germany wins again in music!

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