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The Munich Underground Scene: a (half-) Decade in Review

I take a little bit of time off of my paid holidays (that’s such a new and welcome concept) to look back on the last few years of my Munich adventure. In a way, I think my journey reflects a reality that is bigger than myself – for example, the number of Clubs in Munich got cut in half in the last five years. In the same time frame, my excitement at discovering great artists working together in a vibrant scene (once penned the city of hard choices by yours truly) turned into delusion and apathy. And I had been warned about it from Day 1 by the artists of the Munich subculture. 

This learning process, which makes me now say back “Yes, you’ve been right all along,” helped me really understand why the different constellations of the Munich Scene work the way they do and somehow I became one of its members, instead of one of its curators. 

This is why in the following few pages, I write about the personal (Part 1 : From fanaticism to apathy), I jump to the community (Part 2: The Munich Underground Sound in the last decade), to politics (Part 3: Autopsy of a City™).

I don’t take it personal if you don’t read everything, I know I wouldn’t. 

Part 1: From fanaticism to apathy

2014: From a Canadian Tumblr Blog to Bavarian Radio, a timeline

For this year, it’s easier to give you blog excerpts of my ascent to greatness / my descent to madness. 

You can find a summary of the genesis to that point here. 

April 2nd, Damenkapelle and the point of no return :  a curious colleague finds out about Damenkapelle as she googled Anna McCarthy because of her work on the Erdbeer Mund Video. The next days are spent digging into Damenkapelle’s music and sharing the love with my fellow fangirls. “Seriously though why do you need sex and alcohol and food and air when there’s Rollerdisco by Damenkapelle”

A couple of us created a Fan Blog about Damenkapelle, which they reposted to their Facebook page on April 11th. As fans are normally used to experience a one way relationship to the artists, this was groundbreaking, just to know that they were aware and probably following us. It creates a different narrative. 

April 19th first mention of the Munich Scene : “Can we talk about how in the Munich music scene there’s a band named Pollyester and then there’s Anna who’s stage name is Spandex like what’s the deal”

April 23rd, an Obsession : “Google history : “munich art scene” “german classes” “travel grants for young artists”… guess what i’m obsessing over”

And the day after : “Can I just open a bar named Munich and play underrated German art scene songs all day and serve Weiss bier [sic] and schnitzels [in Montreal]”

In May I started using the #munichagain tag on my tumblr to categorize content that was not Franz Ferdinand, Damenkapelle or Box Codax related. 

July 2014 :  Fans colleagues are joking about making a Kickstarter to send me to Munich.

August 20th : “Btw it’s my 25th birthday on sunday. It’s your last chance to get me that one-way ticket to Munich, just sayin’”

August 24th : For my birthday, i ordered vinyls from Echokammer, 10 to be precise. At the moment, I didn’t even own a turntable. That came later. I also bought a Candelilla shirt on Bandcamp. This was the first time in my whole life and many years as a member of fandoms that I put money in a fandom. The reason for it: for once, the money would go to real people and not megacorporations.

September 23rd : Because I want to keep track of my discoveries, I publish a Munich Scene Intro Playlist on Spotify. I still listen to it up to this day and use it as a reference for friends that show interest in the subject.

November 7th, Das Weisse Pferd writes on Facebook : “An ocean separates us from our Fans. Hold on, one day we play in Montreal!” 

November 10th, as a way to keep the readership that was slowly growing, I started a “2014 Top Albums” Countdown, of albums from Munich that really touched my year. The response is incredible (Facebook reposts, reblogs, etc.). On a review publishing day, I could get 50 to 80 visits. 

November 22nd : I publish a photo of me for the first time: “The last few weeks have been a crazy ride on #munichagain! Thanks for following this blog, some of you are actual regulars and it warms my heart to no end.”

November 25th : I change the blog name from thequeenston to munichagain…. The Queenston got recycled years later when I needed a DJ Name.

December 9th : Hallo München! My choppy English is going to meet you this Thursday on the marvellous Zündfunk radio show. Thanks again to Mister Ralf Summer for the very sweet 45 minutes spent on the phone in his lovely company.  Who would have thought, eh? A fan blog broadcasted to all of Bavaria…”

December 11th 2014, the Zündfunk broadcast and #EmilieInMunich: “Yes! It’s official now 🙂 It’s a #munichagain and Schamoni Musik joint effort that made this amazing thing happen. I will be in Munich (!!!) from January 22 to February 4, 2015, just in time for the Das Weiße Pferd and Pollyester LP releases!” I get over 4000 views on the blog in 2 days thanks to the radio broadcast.

To note: coincidentally, some days later, Atomic Café was closing its doors forever.

2015: In the Flesh 

2015 is what I affectionately call the Munich Sandwich: I was there in January-February, and then later from November to February 2016. And the 9 months in between? Oh nothing important, just my life falling apart because of my obsession (well portrayed here and here and definitely there if that interests you). But how did I get there, from 2 weeks of partying at the end of January 2015? It might have to do with the “Rehearsal Rooms Festival / Shows for Emilie”. It might also be something more personal. That’s another story.

What’s important for now, is the pure nostalgia of the Praxis Days (“Heilung durch Musik”, that controversial slogan). Remember, when there was a Pop-Up Store on Schützenstraße, between Hauptbahnhof and Stachus, before Kreativwirtschaft made Pop-Up Stores a thing? We too were selling Limited Editions and having DJs and Concerts, it was just much cooler. By the way: 4 years later and the local is still empty.

During these glorious months of my self-proclaimed (probably the first of many) midlife crisis, I wrote more than usual, about my Munich Nights. I still hope, at some point, to develop on this era of Munich’s nightlife, because I truly believe that something special was happening at this point. 

2015 is also the only year I did a proper review of, and it is still gold if I may say so. Funny enough, we are STILL waiting for a River album, but at last Punkra Wandler / Daniel Door came through this year.

2016: From living in limbo to moving to Munich

So the year started with the end of my three months of Not Being a Productive Member of Society with this love letter. And then I went into a very necessary self-preservation mode until July, where I posted this before coming back to Munich for a month, a month which changed everything, but you cannot really grasp it through blog posts, because the real Munich Underground is offline… Which is its power, and its Achilles heel at the same time. But let’s just say for posterity, that the Olympia Einkaufszentrum Amoklauf and its repercussions on the second Peace and Noise Festival on the same night made some ripples into my life. For the first time in my career, I had found a place where I can organize something and feel like I make a difference, that I am not just a part of a well-oiled machine, and that was addictive. The feeling of free will, of creating beauty. Oh. What a drug. 

So with that, we finally, slowly approach the learning curve. I moved to Munich in November (after a two-months, 180-degrees turn of my life). All in all, I was approaching my second Silvester in Munich with the quite non-german, candid positivism of ostriches putting their heads in the sand and telling themselves that everything will be alright.  

2017: The year of the Red Sun

The main reason for my positivism was that the Munich Again Thursdays in Rote Sonne were already in the works. We started in February and make weekly bookings nearly all year until December, when we decided to put an end to it. Halfway through, we decided to go more punk, with Munich Against, a sub-series that would give Carte Blanche to some Scene actors (leading to the superband Chat Group and other great discoveries). 

There is so much to say about the whole year. So much that was never said. I can’t believe I had the privilege to try, struggle, fail and succeed a year long in this unbelievable playground. I was as free as can be (…within reason in a neoliberal system). But even if we invested so much in a creative, subversive, weekly program, something very important was missing… 

And there you have part one of my Munich Underground Scene schooling: there is no audience for a weekly experimental concert series in Munich. In good English, it was just way too hochschwellig. There was always a good reason why a Thursday would “fail”: the weather is too good, the weather is too bad, it’s a long weekend so people get out of the city, it’s a long weekend so there’s too much happening tonight, and so on and so on. At the end of the day, people don’t have the time and/or the money to go see a show at the same spot every week (but I do appreciate the troopers that faithfully came over as often as they could, they know who they are). 

That brings us to 2018, where I tried a monthly(ish) format.

2018: The year that lead to giving up

At least once a month during the whole year (well, from February to the end of November), I kept on trying, from curating thematic experimental showcases (Munich Again Mittwoch series), to cobooking (hi, Holy Fingers!), to the unforgettable Knobs & Wires (which you can learn more about here). A lot of it happened offline (as munichagain.com’s empty void can attest), and all of it was a financial struggle – in 2018 I learnt how necessary the financial help of the venue (in the form of flexibility) really is. When you’re just another Fremdveranstalter with a few Sonderkonditionen, nobody’s gonna say “don’t worry, you can pay the technician next time you have a successful night”. 

This harsh reality check and my own Visum-based precarity (until summer I was not allowed to work) made me go through a rough patch of deep misunderstanding of the audiences in this city: if I, with my non-existent income, am able to still go see shows and give a resounding 8 bucks away to support artists, why can’t people with full-time jobs do the same? If the reason is not financial, than is it about music taste? Venues? Lifestyle? Why don’t people come to the shows? Is it really because local bands are not cool enough? How shallow is that? 

As I started working full-time (thanks to countless visits to the Ausländerbehörde), I started to understand the audience. Either through my gastro jobs or my desk one later, I was just too tired to go out as much as I did before. My social needs adapted with my new daytime routine and I didn’t need to go to bars to feed conversation to my brain anymore. And my tired self wrote the rant on December 1st 2018

As a young Veranstalterin that came to Munich with the explicit idea of being part of said subculture (there’s very few of us), I can say the following:
1- 2 years and over 50 concerts and a couple festivals organized later, I don’t think it’s possible for anybody to live from concert organization by themselves. Either you need State support, or you need a rich boyfriend/girlfriend to pay for your “Luxus hobby”.
2- there’s not a single venue in this city that will support a long term local experimental music showcase 100%. It will always be a question of “can we get city money from it” or “you need to cover your own costs” – not because the venue managers are assholes that don’t believe in the music, but because there is no stable audience for experimental music in Munich.
3- once again for the people in the back, there is no stable audience for experimental music in Munich and organizing experimental concerts is a financial risk that nobody can afford to assume
4- 99% of Munich’s representations of subculture (the Boat, the Containers, the Hotel happening, the Beach and the Tents) are actually a capitalist dream that screams “Disneyland” more than “artistic freedom”. Your bottled Weinschorle is not feeding my creativity.
5- Munich finally pushed me beyond my limits and I am too tired to care anymore. To hell with this scene, or absence thereof, I will do like many before me, and we will organize some public representations of subculture when we feel like it, at our own financial risk, for an audience that doesn’t grow, and keep to themselves through bonds of friendship rather than lifestyle.

2019: The Beauty of Failure

Just as 2018 ended with frustration and exhaustion, 2019 started with very little prospects of creating anything new. The few concerts here and there that I helped organize throughout the year were, as hinted in the rant above, only friendly, punctual collaborations. I nearly didn’t go out at all… still more than the average Munich pen-pusher, but I drastically reduced my nightlife consumption. That’s usually what happens when you have a fulfilling day job, you don’t need to compensate so much somewhere else. 

All in all, I failed to do what I moved to Munich to do quite spectacularly. I came in 2016 to Munich with the grand dream of creating something long-lasting, ground-breaking and necessary. My huge mistake: the ways to achieve said dream had absolutely nothing to do with professionalisation, internationalisation or revitalisation. 

The problem is, Munich doesn’t need anything new, it needs to protect what it already has. I know this sounds CSU as fuck, but bear with me, I’ll explain what I mean later on (Part 3).

But first, let’s do a little review of the beauty hidden in the city in the last ten years. 


Part 2: The Munich Underground Sound in the last decade

Let’s take the time to honour the scene actors and actresses of the last 10 years.

Here’s a small playlist to shuffle through while reading 🙂 More stuff that is not available on Spotify you can find on this FB Feed.

In the last decade, Echokammer released 30 Albums starting with the iconic Motherlamp, which I still DJ with love. This decade saw Damenkapelle, Murena Murena, Parasyte Woman and Multiboy come and go. It gave us Das Weiße Pferd (who gives steadily yearly shows nowadays, in true Munich Underground Fashion), the Grexits, Sasebo, Jason Arigato, Dizzy Errol and Tom Wu, even though I cannot say when the real genesis of the bands was, but that’s also true Underground Fashion. I look forward to hearing more of H, to see where the Salewski Live Supergroup will bring us, and I am sure we will hear more from Josip Pavlov (Zwinkelman, Ippio Payo) too.

Meanwhile, Alien Transistor released over 40 Albums (my favourite being the eponymous Le Millipede album) from a small, stable roster of prolific artists. This decade saw Alien Disko come and go… I have saved my impressions of the first edition here, if that interests anyone. Another feat from the Alien Boys that I think needs to be underlined is the groundbreaking collaboration with Gutfeeling Records, which came to life for the audiences of Alien Disko and different guest appearances in each of the labels’ performances. And we cannot forget to mention the huge success of Hochzeitskapelle: how many reissues did they need to do of The World is Full of Songs? In terms of Zukunftsperspektiven: I am really looking forward to seeing where Fehler Kuti will bring us. And Zündfunk posted something about a new Notwist album coming up but I can’t verify if it’s a joke I didn’t get or if it’s a thing. 

The award for “most stable yet expanding its portfolio in the most interesting way” goes this decade to Gutfeeling Records. Not only did the institutions of the Haus of G. Rag came steadily with new releases through, the label gave a platform to new essentials like Fred Raspail, Leonie Singt, and aforementioned Grexits and Hochzeitskapelle. What really needs to be underlined though, is the frenzy around g.rag / zelig implosion deluxxe, a band that has attracted more attention than your usual compartmented scene corners. From Theatron to Schau Ma Moi to touring across Europe, they connect with audiences in a way that you don’t see often here: it’s tight enough for the mainstream, yet weird enough for the underground. I am looking forward to what they might be coming up with in the next months-slash-years.

In the last-but-not-least fourth corner of my little Underground Review, we have of course Schamoni/Jahmoni Music. The only newcomer here (outside of our honourable mention down below), founded in 2013. During my own Munich “golden years” did Schamoni Musik also go through a Munich Scene love story. These golden years saw Protein, Leroy, Pollyester and Manuela Gernedel to name a few, and also an impressive array of Singles, Compilations and EPs from local pillars of the scene like Daniel Door, Didi Neidhart and Peter Pfaff to institutions of electronic music like Josef Anton Riedl. In the last few years, the label took a sharp turn into a more international direction (hashtag imageproblem). Where is it heading to? I’m gonna follow it still, out of a mix of nostalgia, deep respect and curiosity. Label boss may have hinted on social media that a new Das Hobos LP might be coming up though. So there’s maybe hope for more local gems from Schamoni Musik. 

There is a lot I didn’t cover. It’s always the same. Too many corners, too many genres. From stuff that I never truly covered like Trikont, Ilian Tape or Rave and Romance; to stuff I might have covered before like SVS, Save the CD-R, Höllenfrau and Kollaps… the thing is, what makes these four labels / constellations so special, on top of their proficiency, is that none of them is a clean label. Gutfeeling is not only folks, Schamoni is not only electronic, Alien Transistor is not only contemporary, Echokammer is not only bastard pop. These four labels transgress genre barriers to the profit of networking and collaboration. None of them have a pristine, curated selection of similar records, either in sound or vibe (what would make a lot of sense, marketing-wise). Instead, they publish what is necessary. If it’s released, then it’s worth it. And if you don’t like it, rest assured that it’s somebody else’s cup of tea. 

But back on track. Honourable Mention goes to the unforgettable Raketenbasis Haberlandstrasse for their relentless publishing, even this year on Christmas. Label Owner Sascha Schierloh, the man with the thousand pseudonyms, is a model of Munich Survival: somehow, somewhere between passion, playfulness and irony, he manages to join up a day job to owning a record/cassette label. Let’s also honour some of this decade’s fallen, Disko B, Gomma (they DID release the important Box Codax’s Hellabuster in 2011!) and YRUSMTSIM, a triptych that probably didn’t expect to be named with one another except on the label list of Sub Bavaria


Part 3: Autopsy of a City™ 

In the last few years, parallel to my own story, there was a new discourse coming through, the one of Monokultur München. What started as a debate about if there was a problem with Munich’s culture (as explained at the beginning of this article) turned into a concrete political issue, where very few stones were left unturned and the specific issues of musicians were brought to light by Stereokultur München, from Proberäume to Lärmschutz (z.B. in Giesing or Glockenbachviertel), from the possibility of a Nachtbürgermeister*in to Zwischennutzungen. The deeper, sociological and economical aspects of the problem were also named: the housing crisis and neoliberalism in culture and in general take their toll on venues, artists and audiences. 

“Why are the artists whining again, we already proposed many solutions”

There is a constant flow of new solutions in the public discourse. Hashtag innovation, hashtag Munich needs this and that, or let’s make Munich weird or great or something. 

So let’s go back to my CSU-sounding statement. It’s not so much that Munich needs to preserve / conserve anything, more than it’s about stopping this dumpster fire called startup culture *in* culture. The idea that you can invest in (sub-)culture with the goal of getting a return on your investment has nothing to do with art but with venture capitalism. This is why places like these here are not doing it for me. Too much container (pun intended), not enough content… and I am not talking about the con$umabl€s, the bio-limos and the vegan snacks.

The first misunderstanding that we have here, is that there is no consensus about the definition of what subculture / the scene is. This leads to mostly empty and/or weird debates in the public sphere, because there is no common sense of what part Art and Creativity should have in the city. Is it subculture or pop culture? Is it indie or underground? Is subculture a lifestyle or a product to be purchased? Or something completely different?

Here’s what my journey here told me. Subculture is actually a safe space for people outside of the norm. 

Everybody should be able to feel comfortable going there on their own – while still respecting the safe space of others thank you very much. You don’t mind going there alone, because you take for granted that your friends, collaborators or peers will be there, and if they are not, you will not feel out of place and you have something to do/see/hear. Such safe spaces take time, love and a community. You cannot make them pop-up through sozpäd-moderations or even worse through workshops (*cough* design thinking *cough*) that talk about creativity like it’s a messiah for happily-ever-after economic growth. 

This is why I am, after changing my mind a few times about them in the last few years, completely against Zwischennutzungen. They fall for me in two categories: either they already sold their soul (here I would like to mention the wave of temporary venues sponsored by Paulaner, great marketing, no sustainability) or somebody in there is not getting paid properly for their time and their art… Friendly reminder that there’s still a Betterplace campaign going on to pay the artists of Z Common Ground, and that the rest of the “good” temporary venues in the last 3-4 years were paying artists strictly through passing a hat around.

It’s also why I think that even if all the efforts of the different levels of Kulturpolitik are of course more than welcome to do a material improvement in the lives of artists, there’s a big immaterial need that is not addressed properly. Some of us do art in ways that are neither professionalisable nor capitalisable and our main need is space. We don’t need workshops and contests. We don’t need new spaces, but spaces that don’t close every couple months. 

We want to stop getting problems with neighbours that don’t like the sound of our music. We want to be able to fail and get back up and try again, without our results getting quantified. We want to try to create new dialogues with other isolated local networks instead of being pushed into a cultural and political masterplan (don’t instrumentalise us). We want to pay less for space and logistics, and more for artists. It’s all about respect. 

We don’t need the city to make us more successful. We need to find out for ourselves what success means for us – for some it’s about pushing limits and breaking boundaries, for others it’s about building a strong community. Sometimes it’s even just about learning something.

And it’s not just an isolated “part-time artist” fantasy, some Munich hippie nostalgia. This is a widespread problem touching all artists, and it’s handled better by some cities than others. 

And.Ypsilon form Fanta 4 was visiting us for a Knobs&Wires concert and had this to say about artistic safe spaces like Favorit Bar: ”Der Laden ist ja viel zu klein, um damit Geld zu verdienen. Und für uns ist es eine willkommene Gelegenheit, uns vor interessiertem Publikum auszuprobieren. Das sind die Aktionen, wo ich als Musiker am meisten dazulerne. Das ist mein Lohn bei der Sache.”

In the next decade, stop trying to find solutions for us instead of with us. If you really want to help, give us space. For real. Just let us do our thing. We can’t stop doing it anyway.