The 80s are remembered as a vibrant and inspiring era, and one of the most significant cultural contributions during that time was the rise of electronic music.
Drawing influences from Detroit, Chicago, and Frankfurt, this new music genre quickly gained momentum and evolved into a distinctive techno sound.
Amidst the changes in the political landscape, East Berlin churches became alternative venues for concerts, fostering an underground music scene that pushed the boundaries of creativity.
When I think back to the late 80s, I can’t help but remember Milli Vanilli, the notorious pop duo that became an international phenomenon.
Star German producer Frank Farian played a significant role in their success, contributing to the duo reaching number one on the US charts several times. Although their career was marred by scandal, their story remains an intriguing part of the German electronic music scene of the 80s.
The Genres and Evolution
The Krautrock genre originated in the late ’60s and early ’70s, characterised by its electronic elements combined with rock and psychedelic music. Bands like Kraftwerk were pioneers in making extensive use of electronic components in their compositions. This was the start of German electronic music.
As the 80s rolled in, German music evolved into the contagious beats of Synthpop. It was hallmarked with a unique blend of catchy melodies, synths, and drum machines.
Depeche Mode and New Order are some of the most influential artists in this genre. The great thing about Synthpop is its ability to infuse other styles like Electroclash, which fuses ’80s electro and new wave with funk and punk elements.
Speaking of New Wave, this genre captured my attention with its creative use of electronic instruments and diverse musical styles.
Bands such as Joy Division played a significant role in shaping the sound of New Wave. Its influence can be felt even today as artists continue experimenting with electronic sound and incorporating elements of punk rock, alternative rock, and dance music.
Ambient made its mark in Germany’s electronic scene in the 80s, characterised by its atmospheric textures and minimal beats.
The music often focuses on creating a soothing, immersive experience, making it perfect for relaxation and introspection. Some of the most notable German Ambient artists include Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream.
Finally, I cannot discuss German electronic music without mentioning Techno. Originating from Detroit, Techno found its way to Germany in the late 80s, and the scene exploded.
Berlin, in particular, became a hub for raves and club culture, with pioneers like Dimitri Hegemann contributing to its growth2. Techno is characterised by its repetitive beats and hypnotic bass lines, making it the foundation for much of today’s electronic dance music.
In conclusion, the electronic music scene of the 80s gave us a plethora of genres and sounds that continue to influence today’s artists.
Whether I’m in the mood for an upbeat Synthpop track or a contemplative Ambient piece, the rich history of German electronic music offers something for everyone.
Instruments and Technology
During the 80s, electronic music was heavily influenced by the use of synthesisers. I’ve seen this trend across many pioneers of the genre.
The synth sound was truly revolutionary at that time, giving electronic music a plethora of new sounds to experiment with.
One of my favourites of that era is the Minimoog. It offered a compact design and many parameters to influence the final sound output.
This instrument allowed for incredible soundscapes that were never heard before. The creation of unique and captivating sounds played a significant role in shaping the music scene.
Another noteworthy synth that comes to mind: the Yamaha DX7. Like the Minimoog, it influenced the sound of many electronic productions in the 80s. Its characteristic FM synthesis perfectly created bright, digital, and bell-like tones.
Kraftwerk, one of Germany’s most well-known electronic music pioneers, was at the forefront of this movement. They released their groundbreaking album, Autobahn, in 1974 and continued to shape the genre throughout the 80s with their innovative use of technology.
Electro encompassed both the synth sound and the use of drum machines, which provided electronic music with unique rhythmic patterns to accompany the synthetic melodies.
The Roland TR-808 was a popular drum machine at the time, with its distinctive sound still heard in many electronic tracks today.
In addition to the iconic instruments and technology used during this era, the influence of German electronic pioneers can also be found in various aspects such as song structure, time signatures, and tempo shifts.
These dynamic techniques gave their music a timeless quality, making it still relevant and enjoyable to listeners today.
Popular Bands and Solo Artists
Nena was one of the most popular artists from the 80s era. This band, formed by Gabriele Susanne Kerner, better known as Nena, gained international fame with their hit song “99 Luftballons.”
The catchy tune and powerful lyrics made it an anthem for many people. Nena’s unique style combined rock and electronic music, creating a sound that captivated fans worldwide.
Even though the band broke up in 1987, Nena herself continued a solo career and kept producing music.
Modern Talking is another name that comes to mind when discussing 80s electronic music.
This duo, consisting of Thomas Anders and Dieter Bohlen, quickly gained popularity with their catchy synth-pop tunes and memorable lyrics. Songs like “You’re My Heart, You’re My Soul” and “Cheri Cheri Lady” became true classics in the 80s.
They had an impressive comeback in the 90s, and their music is still widely recognised and appreciated today.
Last but not least, let’s talk about Sandra – a German artist who started her solo career in the early 80s.
She was known for her enigmatic songs, which combined electronic music with sultry vocals. Some of her biggest hits include “Maria Magdalena,” “In the Heat of the Night,” and “Everlasting Love.”
Sandra’s music had a distinctly dreamy, atmospheric quality that was truly engaging. She made a lasting impression on the electronic music scene, and her songs are still enjoyed by fans across generations.
I am truly fond of these amazing German artists who shaped the electronic music scene in the 80s.
They took the world by storm with their catchy tunes, creative lyrics, and captivating stage presence.
Impact on Global Electronic Music Scene
During the ’80s, the rise of German electronic music significantly impacted the global dance music scene.
German techno pioneers were instrumental in establishing a harder, more minimalistic sound, inspired in part by East Berlin youth who were starting to experiment with electronic sounds and beats without vocals.
The contributions of clubs like Tresor and E-Werk in Berlin, who were at the forefront of shaping the techno music scene, provided an influence on dance music as a whole.
I’ve always loved how the German electronic music scene managed to infuse funk elements into their sound.
During the ’80s, bands like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, both known for their pioneering synthesiser work, started experimenting with funk and groove-based music.
The result was inspiring, as it provided a fresh twist on funk, reinvigorating the genre and inspiring musicians worldwide to explore the fusion of electronic and funk elements.
These experiments contributed to the development of more adventurous electronic music that could combine aspects of jazz, fusion, and world music with the technological advancements of the time.
This brought a whole new dimension to the electronic music world, attracting even more listeners and broadening its global appeal.
Cultural Influence and Legacy
I immediately think of Berlin when I think about German electronic music’s cultural influence and legacy in the 80s. The city played a significant role in shaping the scene and contributed to the rise of electronic music in Germany.
In the mid-80s, East Berlin churches began to be used as alternative venues for concerts, fueled by the open-minded policies of perestroika and glasnost implemented by Gorbachev, leader of the USSR.
This freedom allowed creatives to experiment more; a byproduct of this experimentation was the evolution of electronic music.
The 1980s also saw a new wave of German subculture centred around art schools, where performance artists and music groups began to experiment with electronic equipment.
This cross-genre experimentation marked the beginnings of the techno genre in German electronic music, drawing influences from Detroit, Chicago, and Frankfurt.
Germany is home to some of the most influential bands in the history of electronic music, such as Kraftwerk, which was formed in ’70s.
Their strictly electronic instrumentation and vocals made them revolutionaries in the industry and set a path for many others to follow. In fact, their 1974 album Autobahn was one of the first largely electronic pop records to gain critical favour.
So, when we examine the legacy of 1980s German electronic music, we see the city of Berlin played a massive part in shaping this cultural phenomenon through its openness towards experimentation, inspiring generations of electronic musicians to take flight.