Various Artists ‘Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik’ (Finders Keepers)

Eclectic compilation from the back-in-the-day West German DIY scene, where the cassette tape was king

We may well look back on the late 1970s and early 1980s, that point where punk mutated into post-punk and begat new romanticism, synthpop, punk-funk and all manner of disparate sub-genres, as one of the most crucial of periods in modern music’s genesis. It was an era inspired by the DIY spirit and propelled by the relative ease with which it was possible to pick up cheap gear and make passable tracks out of the most economic of means and ideas. A time when anything went and nothing needed to conform to preconceived notions of what made music “music”.

‘Science Fiction Park Bundesrepublik’ taps into the burgeoning home recording and cassette label scenes in what was then West Germany. If punk fired the imaginations of the youths of Germany, as it did their UK and US cousins, it was the humble cassette that provided its most utilitarian means of dispatch. To press vinyl, you still needed to engage with the recording industry’s infrastructure – manufacturing plants, minimum orders, release schedules – whereas any musician with a cheap tape deck, a stack of blank C60s and access to a photocopier could get their music out there. This was DIY as the first punks never believed possible.

In Germany, that cassette culture led to the dominance of esteemed independent labels like ZickZack, while many of its icons later went on to become significant players in the wider German music scene. That said, for every Kurt Dahlke – who operated under the alias Pyrolator and now runs the Ata Tak imprint – there was an Ernst-Norbert Kurth of The Residents-esque Nero’s Tanzende Elektropäpste (Nero’s Dancing Electropopes), who rapidly disappeared into obscurity (the liner notes advise that Kurth is now a lecturer in China).

Between the poles of scene luminaries, cult artists and artsy one-offs, beneath the layers of hiss and the flimsy xeroxed covers, lie some of the most interesting sounds to have emerged from the underground. Blending spiky guitar art-punk, industrial noise blasts, naive synths and musique concrete tape experiments – all staples of the post-punk scenes, admittedly – this was an era in which German music was often much more innovative than anything being produced in the UK. 

The list of contributors to this album includes what appears to be lots of made-up band names – Kleines Schwingvergnügen, Wat?Sanitär! and Plastiktanz being just three great examples – but there’s also rare and unreleased material from important artists like CHBB (original DAF man Chrislo Haas and Einstürzende Neubauten founder Beate Bartel) and Palais Schaumburg’s Holger Hiller. Beginning with the brilliant Swell Maps-indebted Dit & Uta’s ‘Science Fiction Park BRD’ (which gives the collection its title), the 25 cassette gems add up to one somewhat complicated album. It’s intentionally linked only by a recording format and the intense swell of experimental ideas that informed the scene, rather than by any single, unifying sound (other than tape hiss).

The result is something that occasionally leaves you feeling dizzy. Genres and concepts clash, sometimes uncomfortably. At the heart of it all is the obsessive curatorial vision of electro-futurist boffin Felix Kubin, one of many whose imagination was fired by seeing the likes of DAF on his TV screen when he was young, and his liner notes lovingly recount the epiphany that would lead him to start issuing his own music – and his own cassettes, naturally.

With tracks ranging from Kleines Schwingvergnügen’s ‘10 Jahre Frauenbewegung’, which sounds like a German cover of The Cure’s ‘Lovecats’, to Andy Giorbino’s ominous John Carpenter-ish synth pulse on ‘Stadt Der Kinder’ to the Autechre-esque industrial grind, distortion and bleeps of ‘Insekten’ by Eisenhauer, this is a survey with incredible reach, a testament to the inventive minds of its many creators and the magpie-like skills of the enigmatic Kubin.

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