German Musicians Sing me a song in German

It is sometimes rumoured that German does not sound nice, is not melodious – a harsh succession of sounds reminiscent of bronchitis. Yet this does not appear to be the case in music, the multi-lingual language.

Whether Nena flicked her mane back during the New German Wave or whether Helene Fischer filled stadiums. Whether Die Ärzte scream for love or whether Hannes Wader is ready to strum his guitar: music made in Germany can no longer be wished away from the soundtrack of our lives. Pop, rock, hip hop or hits, German music can be found across genres and niches.

A new movement is currently under way in German music. Young musicians whose first experiences were often gathered as street musicians are taking over the country’s stages. Frequently equipped with a guitar, sometimes alone, sometimes supported by a band, but always with German words in their luggage. The old-fashioned term of ‘songwriter’ comes briefly to mind – it sounds so appropriately rustic and handcrafted. As does the language in German songs.

Yet this description is not always apt and hence we must settle for the following: There they are, musicians who sing in German, a language that can sound so harsh but can also be as soft as velvet in their songs. Listed below is only a small selection of the artists whom we will encounter. It is certainly subjective, yet not only will those who are learning German but also those who can already quote Goethe discover the one or other musical gem.

AnnenMayKantereit

Until a few years ago, the pavement was the stage for this young band from Cologne which has recently been showered with success. Christopher Annen, Henning May and Severin Kantereit fuse their surnames together to create a band name, set themselves up in the pedestrian area and start to play. In 2014, Malte Huck joins as bassist. What lingers, more than anything else, is the distinctive voice of Henning May, which sounds like whisky, cigarettes and a Bukowski poem. Pushing its way between the lines, the harmonica or the accordion sounds unusually rebellious. The texts shift between the smoke-filled world of shared kitchens and bar counters where one reflects on life and love. 
Today, it is not only the passer-by who listens to the 20-somethings: their album Alles Nix Konkretes is out on 18 March and most of their tour dates for 2016 are already sold out.

Spaceman Spiff

Spaceman Spiff is actually a figure from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. He is Calvin’s alter ego. An adventurous astronaut who fights against the aliens in daily life. That Hannes Wittmer chose this as his stage name seems appropriate. His texts revolve around the perils of life, the emotional pitfalls that imperceptibly weave themselves around you. The texts of the songs, usually melancholic and lyrical, grab feelings by the collar and leave them hanging for a while. This accursed growing up, when decisions must be taken on the where, the how, the what and, above all, the whom to meet. Whether one needs an alter ago to be able to cope with the stories of life is left to the individual to decide. Spaceman Spiff’s songs are already a help. Hannes Wittmer has, however, announced that Spacemann Spiff is withdrawing for a while. Perhaps to hone a new alter ego and to develop new texts which one is happy to put under the pillow of a friend in need.

Gisbert zu Knyphausen

There you go now bungling through life, and wandering and seeing if you can scrounge around for knowledge. A feeling that also resonates in the music of Gisbert zu Knyphausen. He rolls a cigarette and thinks about the pitfalls of life in melancholy songs. Both his albums talk about seeking and finding things for which one cannot find accurate names. Sometimes the lines groan with Weltschmerz, only to be catapulted into lightness in other songs. Melancholie, Fick dich ins Knie (melancholy, fuck you in the knee) shouts Gisbert zu Knyphausen to his faithful, invisible companion (while celebrating it at the same time).

A collaborative project with Nils Koppruch (a musician who died suddenly) with the name of Kid Kopphausen combines the voices and linguistic talents of the two musicians on the album called I. These days, Gisbert zu Knyphausen is seldom seen on stage. Once a year, however, he invites his musical companions and friends of cultivated melancholy to his father’s vineyards for the Heimspiel Knyphausen, an open-air music festival. Picnic rugs are spread out under the summer sun and wine glasses raised defiantly: Melancholie, Fick dich ins Knie.

Maike Rosa Vogel

Something of the old songwriter does come across when Maike Rosa Vogel picks up the guitar. Slogans, charmingly packaged, are handed over to the listener who can stick out his chin rather rebelliously. Maike Rosa Vogel sings against the achievement-driven society. Her declaration: ‘I am a hippie and always wanted to be one’, is sung out loud and clear, without a trace of irony. No label but, together with Sven Regener (Element of Crime), she has recorded her latest album Trotzdem Gut. Rebellious, courageous and authentic. Maike Rosa Vogel has remained a hippie.

Felix Meyer

For years, the pedestrian area was his stage and passers-by his audience. It was at one of these pavement appearances that a producer noticed Felix Mayer and his band, then called projectîle. His fourth album fasst euch ein herz is due to appear in early 2016. The stories collected on the street and on travels through Europe, will certainly be heard in this album too. Because Felix Meyer has not left the street behind – he has converted cobblestones into music. 

Sebastian Hackel

In 2011, in the programme Inas Nacht, he carried his chair barefoot to the stage, quickly arranged his dreadlocks, and clasped the guitar. Sebastian Hackel played his song Warum sie lacht, which he also played at the Bundesvision Song Contest 2014 where he represented Saxony. It may have only made it to position 15, but the melancholic songs by the man from Dresden have taken tentative steps in the public sphere.  Kreideblumen (Flowers of Chalk) was his debut in 2011, a name that sums up his music rather well. The flowers embellish rough days, yet can also be washed away by rain. It’s best to listen once more – the traces of chalk cling to the fingers. His latest album, Tageszeitenkurier, churns out songs for all weather conditions and all emotions. This time with a band that drives the pieces with drums, keyboard and accordion. And texts that float almost spherically over the instruments, leaving you feeling fluffy in the head.

Olli Schulz

Olli Schulz makes music. One tends to forget this because Olli Schulz also does many other things with which he rummages around just on the surface of the internet. He is currently to be seen in the talk show Schulz & Böhmermann, which started on ZDFneo (a German DDTV channel) early this year. On television and radio, Olli Schulz is an entertainer who often plays practical jokes and who comments on the world. His music can also strike more serious tones. It sounds handmade, as if Olli Schulz has just pulled up a chair and has started to sing about the first things that come to his mind. This sounds honest, it suggests a young man who seems confused by having grown up all of a sudden. Olli Schulz makes music. For a while now. Fortunately.

Dota Kehr

Die Stadtpiraten (the Urban Pirates), die Kleingeldprinzessin (the Small Change Princess), Dota: over time, Dota Kehr and her band turn out in several names. The names themselves give you an idea of where the songs first found an audience: the pedestrian area was conquered by the Urban Pirates; the Small Change Princess played street music for loose change. Despite the changes in name and performance spots, what remained the same was the music with its socio-critical texts, which are sometimes a quiet reflection on love and then an expression of outrage at our everyday lives. The style, once strongly reminiscent of bossa nova, now sounds more like folk rock. Between the chords, one hears occasional flashes of the many years that Dota Kehr spent in South America. Her new album Keine Gefahr is due to appear on 15 March 2016 and will be followed by a concert tour. This will be a time for dance and reflection, and perhaps one can feel a bit like an urban pirate oneself, boarding the ship of the street.