This year marked the 50th birthday of Andreas Dorau; a personal celebration publically commemorated by concerts in Hamburg and Berlin, organised also in conjunction with the release of a new album and a retrospective collection. You may greet this information with the words ‘this means nothing to me’, or a disinterested shrug, even a listless engagement. And these reactions wouldn’t be abominably dismissive. Considering that the only exposure afforded Dorau’s best work, outside of Germany, has been courtesy of rereleases via Mute Records and Bureau B, it’s almost to be expected (though this may not apply to Germanophiles and those with an obsession for early synth music)
Although Dorau may have attained a crossover, cult appeal with the release of Fred Vom Jupiter (originally distributed by Dusseldorf’s Ata-Tak in 1981 before attracting Mute in 1982) and his subsequent association with Neue Deusche Welle, this doesn’t seem to have extended in any significant way to the full length collection it appeared on in the same year, at least on these shores.
One of them though, was Holger Hiller (most notably of Palais Schaumberg) who was in the midst of studying improvisation in music. Hiller introduced Dorau to the wonders of a four track recorder after another botched lesson, which Dorau evidently found liberating as a technology; through these means (considered meagre by today’s standards) he recorded and completed his first foray into pop in 1981; a mad, ersatz compound of Schlagermusik, bubblegum kitsch, and punk-like squall and snarl, augmented by cosmic effects seemingly drawn from outer space fantasies for children.
It was the same year of Tainted Love, Fade to Grey, Computer World and Everything’s Gone Green; four supreme zeniths of synth pop; a year in which Dorau’s fellow countrymen Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft* (I) and Einsturzende Neubaten released four albums between them, a year that signalled the tail end of post-punk and disco (depending on who you ask) as these forms morphed with other styles and grew into new strains. Within all this though, Blumen…seems worthy of consideration, if not similarly estimated in the annals of pop history, then recognized as a worthy classic from a fringe act, still in the wings, but a delightfully weird little bastard nonetheless, capable of undermining even the staunchest advocates of such grandeur with spiky, infantile dissent.
Its title translates as ‘Flowers and Daffodils’; an appropriate non sequitur for the overload of saccharine pop exhibited over the albums course. But for all the sweetness, there’s a sense of disjunction, between the blithe flurry and boisterous cheer of the sugar-coated melodies and harmonies which abound, and the way Dorau and The Marinas accent their vocals, rife as they are with performativity; sweet to the point of snarky, theatrical to the point of sarcastic, a nihilistic kind of kitsch. The artwork too, is a striking visual match for this tone. Like a combination of Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, and the kind of dreamboat (you could get lost in those eyes) depictions reserved for Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly or some other sensitive charmer, it exudes an exaggerated polish, establishing, along with the music, a unified aesthetic which revels in circus-like caricature. These kind of hijinks continue in their videos; here’s the hilariously amateur promo for Fred…replete with school-play style production, dainty dancers prone to missteps, and half-arsed repetitions of Springsteen-esque shimmies from Dorau, who looks like an awkward alien minstrel blissfully unaware of the concept of cool and the prospect of being beaten to a pulp for his trouble;
And again in this ‘live’ performance (from 1982); transparently fake miming and humorously shoddy dancing. Apparently the conceptual this time was the seaside; masterly realised by crass sailor outfits, and twerp-chic, all with the indelible aura of last-resort-party-shop-fare. The audience, made up of nonplussed children, look as though they haven’t a clue, vaguely traumatised by their confusion, until balloons rain down. Then the idiots can’t get enough of it. I love the slackness of their appreciation to this day…
In the same year as this performance, one of Blumen’s other highlights, Junger Mann, featured in the film, Die Letze Rache (The Last Revenge), a homage to the iconic expressionism of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, soundtracked by Der
by Plan; the German group who headed Dorau’s initial home, Ata-Tak. In this rendition, there’s less of an angst and brood than on the album, which has the superior version. But even despite the absurd, nursery-rhyme glee which Dorau and Carmen Thelan-Gaspar (one of Die Marinas) give in this divergent instance, there’s still an appealingly freakish tinge to it, largely established by the crude, cartoonish, sci-fi effects:
Blumen as a whole, is similarly shot through with such effects, executed in a fashion not dissimilar from Joe Meek, Raymond Scott or Bruce Haack* (II); creatively sourced, other-worldly, unruly and unconventional, sometimes even deranged transmissions and sounds. A kind of starry-eyed futurism frequently measured by a healthy dosage of levity. Unlike the work of Scott or Haack though, and more like the work of Meek, on Blumen…these sounds are subsumed into the more conventional landscape of Dorau and the Marina’s buoyant pop, which only adds to the bizarre lark of it all. Ernst(Seriously) , for one, has the cries, licks and screeches of cats arising in the background. Arriverderci, the album’s dubbed-out swansong, is less perplexing but no less interesting. Another standout example; awed, spaced, gleaming;
But, not unlike Scott or Haack, Dorau also journeys outside of this landscape. On one of his earliest solo efforts (a track included on the bonus version of Blumen…and originally released as a single in 1981) Der Lachende Papst (The Laughing Pope), the propensity for something more deranged is indulged. Military-march drums and disrupted, rewound litanies combine and emanate as if walled within a cathedral. The way the latter sounds are manipulated gives a primal, twisted bent to the apparently sacred origin of the sounds. The original B-sides (also included on the bonus version) are similar in their split with the predominant pop formula. Sehnsucht Nach Dem Osten (Longing for the East) is a sparse, delicate vignette of Oriental import and Negermuskeln (Negro Muscles) is a cold, jarring, atonal mess. These three show another dimension; odd instrumental departures which seem to share DNA with The Residents and Conrad Schnitzler; genes which are wonderful mutations of pop and which stray beyond light eccentricity or quirk into something full-blown, almost dada.
Despite all the abnormality and antics, Blumen isn’t devoid of reflection or unworthy of more conventionally serious contemplation. Nordsee (North Sea) is toned palpably with what sounds like a simpler but deeper introspection. It offers a melancholic moment, made more affecting by its rarity within the smirk-laden clamour. The poignancy is only more keenly felt in light of Dorau’s admittance that at the time he was somewhat plagued by the turbulence and dislocation of formative teenage years, worsened still by the fact he felt an outsider to the usual pursuits of adolescent masculinity. This more reflective depth could even be attributed to Fred Vom Jupiter; a character from another planet perhaps a fantastical channel for an erratic time, and a misfit status.
Nordsee also reveals an extent of instrumentation (accordion at one point…?) that belies the adages often adhered to within more purist punk. Similarly in other instances brass often gets a look in, and the guitars don’t so much thrash (though Ich hab das Gluck/I have the happiness does a good job of rising to such an intensity) as revel in agitated - though melodious – bursts; sunnier, funkier and of greater range than rudimentary rebellions constrained to a few chords and guitars and the disregard of such variety. Einkauf (Purchase) and Reisen Um Die Welt (Travel Around the World) are two notable examples* (III);
The pure-pop gaggle-chorus provided by The Marinas adds another layer; a carnival of back-and-forth which, considering the disorderly execution and wealth of elements elsewhere, only further confounds the prospect of getting a precise handle on the predominant sound and sensibility of Blumen… as an album. Here they are again, sweetening the longing of young Andreas. Like the previous videos referenced, it has an undeniable budget-charm;
Blumen…veneers its more volatile stimulants (experimental electronics, raucous punk-stomp) with these kind of sweet ?vocal and instrumental traces till it resembles a mad, mixed spew. Considering that our perceptions of modern German music* (IV) are often rooted in the achievements of, and lavish critical praise heaped upon, certain past luminaries* (V) this kind of spew represents an essential break with such a canonical fix. Serious innovations in electronic or industrial music aside, everyone needs to laugh, fuck around once in a while and regress to a teenage time. In contemporary terms too, this might represent an appealing respite from the frequently cold impenetrability of something like Berghain techno. It adds a gaudy colour to a perception that can be oppressively monochrome.
Even whilst contending with the language barrier, you can sense that Die Doraus Und Die Marinas provide such a premise, operating on a plane uninhibited by rationality or authority. In spite of this Blumen und Narzissen is still imbued with hidden depths. It hurtles along in facetious fury, but reaches unexpected impasses and emblazons it all with experimental sounds just as imaginative and wildly offbeat as you’d expect from a teenager seemingly enjoying their apparent freakishness. Something to raise eyebrows to and greet with a grin - after all, zu spielen ist wunderbar* (VI)