Berlin Dispatch: Dance Music Gives Rock a Beatdown

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Between 1961 and 1989, Berlin was divided by a wall, and on each side was a culture, one of which was communist. Which isn’t to say that the commies didn’t rock—far from it: They had bands in East Berlin, notably The Puhdys, who are still going strong. But West Berlin wasn’t a part of West Germany, and was administered by French, British, and American forces. Since the German army wasn’t allowed, and West Berlin had two great universities, it teemed with young men escaping the draft and the young women who followed them there. There were bands, but many couldn’t tour.

To be honest, most were derivative and dull. Not even punk changed this. Where Berlin really shone, though, was in its early adoption of Detroit’s black techno artists, who appeared around the time the Wall fell, playing long into the night at clubs like E-Werk and Tresor, abandoned industrial spaces in the former East. Rock was yesterday’s news. Of course, some didn’t get the memo.

An Anglo-German guitarist assembled an East/West mini-orchestra that played what sounded like folk-dance music from some country you couldn’t place—mostly because they were writing it—and 17 Hippies became one of the most successful bands ever born in Berlin. But they did it by touring all of Europe, and finding their greatest success out of town.

It’s similar to the strategy being pursued by The Fireproof Flames, a young trio that’s picked up an astonishing MySpace following of late—in Britain. Writing clever, catchy rock tunes, they’re going to head straight to England, where their fans are, using Berlin as a brand but not a base.

Berlin is also crawling with British, American and French hipsters at the moment, and who knows what they’ll come up with. But at the moment, dance music, Turkish hip-hop and other strictly local phenomena out-shout rock here.

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