The Eighties Subculture Breaking All Conventions
On 4 September 1981, things got loud in Berlin when bands like Einstürzende Neubauten and Die Tödliche Doris played and experimented at the Festival Genialer Dilletanten. Now, an exhibition is recalling that thunderous era of new departures. By Mathilde Weh
Geniale Dilletanten (Brilliant Dilletantes), was the deliberately misspelled title of the concert held in Berlin’s Tempodrom on 4 September 1981. The title has become synonymous with a brief era of artistic upheaval in West and East Germany. During this period in the early and mid-1980s, conventions were broken and new forms of expression sought in all of the arts. Rather than devoting themselves to the global revolution, artists lived alternative lifestyles amidst anti-American demonstrations and urban warfare, feminism and homosexuality, drugs, punk and new wave.
The rejection of normalcy was expressed by deliberately abandoning technical skill, in crossing the boundaries of genres and resisting aesthetic conventions, in the desire to provoke, unbridled expressiveness and a shocking aesthetic. This epoch is now being remembered by a Goethe-Institut exhibition entitled Geniale Dilletanten: Subculture in Germany in the 1980s starting today at the Haus der Kunst. The Haus der Kunst touring exhibition was enhanced with original art works for the presentation in Munich. It shows protagonists and meeting places of the scenes in various parts of Germany and offers insights into the diverse networks and simultaneous trends in music, art, film, fashion and design in that era.
Zum Fotoalbum auf Facebook | For the first time, new techniques made independent and cost-effective production of music, videos and films possible. A cross-genre approach was characteristic of the times: musicians shot Super-8 films, painters played in bands or established clubs that served as incubators for the scene that was exploding not only in Berlin, but also in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Hanover, Limburg and Erlangen.
Clips could be produced using the first portable and affordable video cameras and for the first time the German language held its own against the dominance of English in pop music. Die Tödliche Doris (The Deadly Doris) from Berlin or Der Plan (The Plan) from Dusseldorf experimented with different artistic forms such as music, film, object art and painting and performed wearing surreal costumes and spouting ironic, sarcastic lyrics. In Munich editorial members of the underground magazine Mode & Verzweiflung, who were mainly interested in cultural disruptions, founded the band the band Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle (F. S. K.) (Voluntary Self-Regulation). Its best-known slogan was, “Today the disco, tomorrow the coup, the day after tomorrow a country outing. We call this voluntary self-regulation.”
The Einstürzende Neubauten (Collapsing New Buildings) from Berlin explored the boundaries between music, sound and noise with instruments compiled from scrap and everyday objects. In their songs like Tanz den Mussolini and Der Räuber und der Prinz, the Düsseldorf-based duo Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft (D. A. F.) (German-American Friendship) combined hard drumbeats with minimalist synthesizer effects and provocative lyrics. The music by Palais Schaumburg from Hamburg was given its special character by a mixture of synthesizers, samplers, trumpet and bizarrely atonal singing. Despite difficult circumstances in East Berlin, artists and musicians were also involved in avant-garde band projects like Ornament und Verbrechen (Ornament and Crime), which was influenced by jazz, industrial and electronic music.
Seven examples of “brilliant dilletantes”
Mathilde Weh, consultant from the Visual Arts Division of the Goethe-Institut, curated the Geniale Dilletanten exhibition.
Want something brilliant?
Would you like a copy of the exhibition catalogue along with a CD containing a selection of the music? Then drop your email address in the bucket! We will draw three Geniale Dilletanten packets from all submissions sent in by 1 July. Staff of the Goethe-Institut are excluded from participation.