Day 60: Speed Niggs & The Weirdness Of German Rock Music

originally published February 29, 2012

Who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humor?

Today I’ll be checking out the German indie rock scene, or at least as much of it as I can fit into a kilograph. My interest was immediately piqued by the card I pulled from the Wiki-deck today: Speed Niggs.

Is that an offensive name? Is it offensive that I’m even asking that question? I don’t know, but these guys came out of a freshly united Germany (they formed in 1989), so I’m sure they were still getting a grasp on Western Capitalist Culture.

Their first album was called Boston Beigel Yeah! I ran the middle word through Google Translate, and it turns out ‘beigel’ is German for ‘beigel’. I’m not sure that’s completely accurate. Or if you can put lox on it.

Apparently their music ‘can be classified between classical rock acts like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and songwriters like Neil Young’. Alright, I’m intrigued. I watched a video for one of their songs, and while the quality sounds like it’s being played on an Edison wax cylinder that either is or has recently been on fire, the song itself isn’t bad. It’s a shame I can’t locate a track off their third album, entitled 667 – Right Between The Dicks. I’m sure that stuff is downright haunting.

Another band from recently-de-commied Germany is the 90s rock group known as Fuckin Wild. They apparently cite blues, progressive rock and middle eastern influences, which sounds like something a band would say if they want to be considered as high-brow rock. Their first album was called Live Fast, Love Hard, And Get Into The Boogie, which may explain why they weren’t more successful. Nobody in the 1990s was interested in the boogie. The rest of the world had officially checked the boogie into the musical retirement home in 1982.

I checked out a video for a song called “Time of Sleeping”. This band is quite possibly the greatest band I have ever heard, provided you measure greatness solely by how much they use a smoke machine. I heard no trace of middle eastern influence in this track, and even less of the blues. Granted, it’s a ten-minute track and I didn’t listen to all of it, but that was 98 seconds so full of delay-pedal madness, I just couldn’t handle any more. If you are deeply into music that you vaguely nod your head at while making a frown of concentration, Fuckin Wild might be for you.

The Baseballs are apparently a German rock ‘n roll band. By looking at them, I’m not entirely sold on that description though. They do appear to be German, I won’t dispute that. But is a three-man band that covers Katy Perry and Rihanna songs a ‘rock ‘n roll’ band? Also, they aren’t a band. They are three singers, so they seem to be as much of a band as ‘N Sync (kids, ask your parents).

Here’s where Wikipedia’s editorial standards are a little weak. Note this magnificent use of math:

“Their version of “Umbrella” was a hit in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Iceland, Austria, Switzerland, Sweden and Norway and charted in all seven countries.” (I guess Denmark is big into dubstep right now or something)

Alright, math aside, I’m going to jump back a few paragraphs and take back my criticisms of the Baseballs. (NOTE: I could just do that, delete what I already wrote, but I don’t want to deprive you of this special glimpse into the process. Also, it’s getting late and I’d like to finish this article in time for Jon Stewart) These guys are awesome. They are rock ‘n roll in the purest, most classic rockabilly sense of the word. They apparently take new songs that have more to do with image and marketing than quality musicianship, and cover them (with their backing musicians) as if they were vintage rock ‘n roll tunes. Check out this video of their cover of Perry’s “Hot And Cold”.

I’m getting too nice here. Let’s see if I can track down another band that I can mock.

Here we go. Slapp Happy, a German ‘avant-pop’ group from the 70s. They formed in 1972 when British composer Anthony Moore suggested to his girlfriend that they start a group with their American buddy Pete. Pete called their sound ‘naïve rock’. I can say with certainty that I will never in my life know what the hell that means.

I found a video for a collaboration they did with something called Henry Cow (it might actually be a cow, I’m not sure). The song is called “Some Questions About Hats”. It sounds like an excerpt from a confused piece of musical theatre. “Can a hat aspire to higher things? Can one dismiss hats as simple things?” This is the kind of lyric you’ll find in naïve rock, I suppose.

Any band that has a song called “Dancing in the Sunshine of the Dark” deserves a mention in an article such as this. This is a track by Fury In The Slaughterhouse. I’ve got a hunch they don’t do any Rihanna covers.

Next in the litany of ridiculous band names comes Improved Sound Limited, which is admittedly an improvement on their original name, Pyjamas Skiffle Group. These guys formed in 1961 and while their bio is pretty limited on Wikipedia, their discography indicates that they were still producing as recently as 2004. I checked out a song called “Hoppe Hoppe Reiter”.

The song sounds like generic 60s rock, either from before music got trippy and wild or from a band who didn’t like the long-hair music of 1966 and beyond. This is the generic music they used to play in movies and TV shows when they wanted some ‘youth music’ that sounded happy and Monkee-ish. (An astoundingly topical reference; I wrote my rough draft before his heart attack this morning.)

For the chorus, ISL has children speaking the song’s title. Somehow they did not feel that this would make people weep from their ear-holes. Maybe these guys were on drugs that the rest of society couldn’t get – the strong stuff that makes crap like this sound good, even in retrospect.

I’ve learned more today about German bands than on any single day of my life, except for that one day back in 1985 when I did a tremendous amount of exhaustive research on Falco. Who, it turns out, was actually Austrian. Dammit. I’m going back to Youtube, see if the Baseballs cover any Lady Gaga.

Oh look! They do!

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