Contemporary German Pop Music

German Music is far more diverse than one might think

Old fashioned cassette tape
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When you read the words „German Music“, you’ll probably think of Names such as Bach, Brahms or Schubert. But add the terms “contemporary” or “modern” to the mix and it’s getting a lot harder to come up with names. Well, you might have heard of “Rammstein” or even the notorious “Tokio Hotel” but it remains tough to say what contemporary German music is. Is that actually a thing? Probably not, but let’s try to give it some framework.

 

 

A little history of Contemporary Music in Germany

In the 60’s and 70’s German music – or better: music in Germany – ranged from traditional German folk music (which is pretty much forgotten about today), over folk imbued “Schlager” (best compared with a mix of country, r & b-oldies and very soft and cheesy pop) to pop and rock music that was strongly influenced by what reached Germany from the US or UK. And there was of course: classical music. But to keep things simple let’s just neglect that for now. 

By the end of the 70’s a new kind of music had started to become popular in Germany: electronic music. Germany’s electronic music pioneers spawned one of the most influential bands of all times – “Kraftwerk”. They singlehandedly created the sound that is the fundament of today’s electro, techno and hip-hop music. Throughout the 80’s with the birth of “Neue Deutsche Welle” (the German take on punk and new wave – relevant artists would be the band “Trio” or “Falco” – even though he was Austrian), Germany stayed a relevant place for electronic music up to being one of the cradles of techno in the 90’s.

Berlin (along with e.g. Detroit) became one of the world’s techno-capitals. Up to today, Berlin is an international music-melting pot, stirring up a stew that is long past being “German” music. Germany in general is still an important destination for techno and electronic music with record labels such as “Kontor” or “Kompakt” or artists like Sven Väth (our “Godfather of Techno”), Paul van Dyk or Paul Kalkbrenner.

 

To narrow it down a little further, let’s only look at music with German lyrics. Ever since the implementation of mainstream media there has been a major influence of American, British and Australian music on German musicians. Today, a great deal of German bands and music producers release their music in English. Songs with German lyrics rarely ever become famous outside of the German speaking countries (Austria, Switzerland and of course Germany). Exceptions that prove the rule would be songs by the aforementioned “Rammstein” or “99 Luftballons” (also released in English as “99 Red Balloons”) by “Nena”. 

 

We do it all

Successful German pop music of course also knows its superstars. Our equivalents to Springsteen or Bowie are Herbert Grönemeyer and Marius Müller-Westernhagen – rock-crooners that have been around forever. We have our pop-punk bands with Die Ärzte and Die Toten Hosen, filling stadiums as well as right-winged “Deutsch Rock”-bands such as “Böhse Onkelz” or recent upcoming Italian import “Frei.Wild” (singing in German none the less). In the last couple of years German pop drew closer to “Schlager” music witnessing the rise of our new queen of pop – “Helene Fischer”, who became absolutely unavoidable in Germany.

 

German hip-hop started out as an either very pop-like or very underground thing. While big players such as “Die Fantastischen Vier” or “Fettes Brot” stuck to the pop-approach, other successful bands like “Deichkind” took a turn to electro-music to secure their market share. Meanwhile the German variation of gangster-rap made its way to the top of the pops with Sido, Bushido and numerous other acts. 

Basically the only genre really staying clear of the charts is metal. But the gigantic “Wacken” festival is proof, that Germany is heaven – or better: hell – for metal fans too. And of course we have also been struck by a revival of folk-pop bringing us Bands such as Mumford & Sons or Mighty Oaks (a band that was actually started in Berlin). Our local heroes have names like “Gisbert zu Knyphausen” (if you like it more folky), “Clueso” or “Johannes Oerding”.

But some artists, like the old indie heroes of “Tocotronic” are still around, not being swept away by wave after wave of newcomers.

 

How to discover it

You see, just as pop music everywhere, it is hard to get a grasp of the whole of German music. So apart from the artists named in this article – where do you find sources for the German music you want to hear? 

After the decline of music television, the best way to find some interesting music is of course the Internet. Apart from checking the billboard charts, there are some great websites for discovering German music, and music in general.

One of them is the great online-radio Last.fm, giving you the opportunity to create your own radio channel with a lot of settings and options. You can for example only listen to music tagged with the label “German”. That is an option you can of course also use with streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music. 

If you’re more of a visual type, you could check out the video platform putpat.tv. It’s a music video channel that lets you choose the kind of videos you want to watch. So it’s basically youtube for music only.

The Goethe Institute offers a website on German music, featuring a podcast and monthly video updates. Speaking of podcasts: if you use iTunes you’ll find many interesting podcasts concerning German musix   Should you want to know everything there possibly is about music in Germany, there’s that too. The “Deutsches Musikinformationszentrum” (German Center for Music-Information) provides a compendium of knowledge about “Musical Life in Germany”.

There are even “German Music” threads on reddit.com

Another non-depleting source is laut.de, one of the biggest German music-blogs. 

So yes, the Internet is your friend when it comes to discovering German music and we can assure you it is worth a listen.