Friday, 15 June 2018

Amiga Electronics (2017 box-set of 5 albums, rel. 1985-89)

Tangerine Dream's legendary, Berlin Wall-crossing concert at the Palast Der Republik at the beginning of the 80s was a landmark in many ways.  Not least in raising the profile of electronic music in the GDR, to the point where the authorities in charge of Amiga, the state label for popular music, began to take it seriously.  Excerpts of the TD concert were released as Quichotte (Pergamon everywhere else), and eventually a short series of LPs by East German artists, often stating 'Electronics' on the album covers, emerged.  This little CD box collects five of these, giving them their first digital outing and making a fascinating piece of Iron Curtain electronica history easily accessible.  Here goes then...

Reinhard Lakomy & Rainer Oleak - Zeiten (1985)
Reinhard Lakomy is by far the most high-profile artist among all those featured in the box set.  By the start of the 80s, 'Lacky' was well known in East Germany as a pop/rock artist, and had even recorded albums for children.  His electronic period began with 1982's Das Geheime Leben, which I've seen featured on a few blogs over the years, and it's a good one.  Three years later, Zeiten was a collaboration with Rainer Oleak, who'd been in a handful of minor GDR bands, and it's one of at least two essential listens out of the five albums in this post, with the longest, most exploratory tracks.

The first two tracks, Gleichzeit and Raumzeit, are the most abstract and atmospheric, gradually becoming more sequencer-based.  Ruhzeit is a more mellow interlude; Klangzeit follows the ambient to uptempo pattern of the opening pair, and Hochzeit is an anthemic closer.  As might be expected, the influence of Tangerine Dream is very much apparent, but Zeiten is in no way a ripoff - it's a very strong album in its own right.

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Servi - Rückkehr Aus Ithaka (1986)
The Cottbus-based duo of Jan Bilk and Tomas Nawka started out as a larger rock band called Servi Pacis, before slimming down to an electronic act and playing (apparently very well received) church services.  A few years later came their debut LP, which seems to be a sort of concept piece inspired by Homer's Ithaca.  It's another winner, with a variety of moods and tempi and good bits of sequencing, much of it likely on the locally-produced Tiracon synthesisers.  My favourites here are the 10-minute Kirkes and 7-minute Nausikaa.

Again, the influence of Tangerine Dream is unmistakable, but the overall sound is unique enough to produce a fascinating and enjoyable album that stands up to repeated listens.  By this point in the 80s of course, TD were fast losing the subtle atmospherics that Servi conjure up, especially on the slower tracks like Laistrygonen.  And what really makes for Servi's USP is the use of accordion on the track Sirenen, integrating folk melodies from the Germany/Poland-straddling Lusatia region that they hailed from.

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Jürgen Ecke - Sound-Synthese (1986)
Jürgen Ecke's main gig seems to have been as a film/TV music composer, and his contribution to the 'Electronics' series was this LP.  Rather than approach Sound-Synthese as a cohesive album, it's best enjoyed as a collection of soundtracky/library music-style synth-pop tracks.  And enjoyable it certainly is on those terms - there's a good variety of uptempo and midtempo stuff, all of it nicely produced and well composed, as you'd expect given Ecke's background.  Most of the digital synth tones might sound a bit off-the-shelf and accordingly dated, but he does sound like he's having a lot of fun exploring the rhythm tracks and breaks available to him and his collaborators in the studio.  Perhaps one for the crate-diggers in that respect.

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Key - Key (1988)
Speaking of fun... ah, Key, how much I've come to love you pair of wacky studio hands (check out the pictures at the bottom of this post) behind this album.  They did play live quite a bit too, once being spontaneously joined on stage at the Palast Der Republik by two breakdancers who were then invited to become part of the group.

This album though... I've probably listened to it more than any other in the box set since acquiring it.  Honestly, this music could be prescribed as an antidepressant.  Sure, it's mostly instrumental synth pop, including covers of Crockett's Theme and Axel F, but it's just So. Much. Fun.  Like Ecke above, Frank Fehse and Andreas Fregin of Key did seem to know their way around a bit of rhythm programming and sampling, with the best uptempo tracks ageing strangely well because of this.  Kein Anschluss (No connection) suggests an awareness of Kraftwerk's Electric Cafe, and album highlights Mikado and Abaca wouldn't have been entirely out of place on a compilation of rare European electro.  Or am I way off with that?  Don't care, got too much love for this album.

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Hans-Hasso Stamer - Digital Life (1989)
Little is known about Hans-Hasso Stamer, responsible for the last Electronics-series album before reunification, other than that he was a computer programmer who liked to windsurf, according to the liner notes of his only LP.  For that little gem, and much of the other info in this post, thanks are due to Achim Breiling of the German website Baby-Blaue Prog Reviews.  Also drew on this wonderful article, which reveals that Stamer subsequently became a poet and pianist.

Digital Life is pretty much exactly the album that you might imagine a windsurfing computer boffin making in 1989, with some blaring, MIDI-tastic keyboard tones.  There could've been scope to enjoy this along the lines of Jürgen Ecke's album above, and the first few tracks would make pretty good video game music, but you get the idea that Stamer had a higher-minded serious album in his sights.  Tackling Ravel's Bolero definitely suggests classical training, but the result doesn't match up to the warmth of the attempts of others that I've heard from the 70s, much less Isao Tomita's benchmark (interestingly, Ecke's LP also used the rhythm of the Bolero on one track).  Don't get me wrong, I did enjoy Digital Life on its own terms, and it is cheesy fun to listen to today, if only somewhat amusing as opposed to the outright hilarity of the Key album.

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As a bonus, here's a couple of pics of Key in all their glory.  Andreas Fregin, eh?  That is clearly Jeremy Beadle (that's one for UK TV viewers of my age and above) in the second picture.  Bonus points for any eagle eyed tech-spotters that can work out what all their gear is in the first pic.

10 comments:

  1. Quite a scoop: thanks for this crash course!

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  2. wow - brilliant post! thx (new Eclanage address: eclanage2.blogspot.com) M3

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  3. Excellent blogging as usual, thanks for all this music

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  4. Hey Mega kudos for this one! I had a sampler years ago fo some early 80s GDR electronica and it was great yes the Tangerine Dream influence was there but Im guessing die to the lack of access to the latest electronics they made the best with what little these musicians could get ahold of. This is rare stuff to come by. Thanks a ton!

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    1. cheers - check out their reminisces in the article linked to in the Stamer description, fascinating stuff about synth availability in the East. Those who had the contacts/cash could take advantage of smuggled gear, and yes, I guess those who couldn't had to make to with what was around...

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  5. I see a Casio Cz-3000, Yamaha Dx7 MkII x2, a Roland D-50, a Yamaha Rx11, and two Commodore Sx-64s

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    1. Good eyes! Not all of these musicians had the $$ owning D-50s etc that was rarer than you might think. Many used alot of older Soviet era synths which gave their music a little edge. Nevertheless its a time-capsule of sound!

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  6. Also an Akai S950 sampler in the gear line-up I think...

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