P16.D4 - Box, Interview, Texte
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WAR ON STUPIDITY (Teil 2)
Ralf Wehowsky’s own childhood was musically uneventful. “My parents listened to the usual stuff on radio and records. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, James Last... They had one Supremes LP and the German version of the musical Hair. Maybe radio was my first instrument – that or my beloved Grundig cassette player.” Amusing himself by making primitive mixtapes of Donovan, German Schlager singers and his pet canary, Wehowsky discovered that “the best time to find interesting stuff on the radio is after bedtime”, and was soon spending his pocket money on cheap secondhand copies of “far out” music, amassing a collection that included Can’s Monster Movie, Brötzmann’s Machine Gun, Stockhausen’s Gesang Der Jünglinge, Amon Düül II’s Yeti, Xhol Caravan’s Electrip and Hans-Joachim Hespos’s Black Series LP, as well as “the children’s stuff – Pink Floyd, Yes, etcetera.” At 13, he “went through a reactionary phase” and decided he wanted to learn guitar, taking lessons with “a fan of Mr Clapton and Mr McLaughlin. Somewhere I have some tapes of me playing in 1974. Some guitars and lots of teapots as percussion. Horrible stuff. It sounded vaguely like Amon Düül I without the studio.” The guitar was soon consigned to the attic until the thrill of discovering Frankfurt’s punk scene in 1979 prompted him to pick it up again.
Wehowsky soon befriended local musician and promoter Joachim Stender, who’d just left the group Messehalle, and they “joined the punk zoo”, forming a group with another friend, guitarist Jochen Pense. His friend Ewald Weber tagged along on drums (“because he had a car – we were open to bribery”, Wehowsky recalls wryly), but was soon swapped for the Messehalle drum machine, which arrived with Achim Szepanski, the future boss of electronica labels Force Inc and Mille Plateaux, who sold his percussion and took up the Korg MS20 instead. Transporting gear remained a problem, and an appeal for musicians with their own means of transport led to Roger Schönauer (bass) and Gerd Poppe (drums) joining. Early recordings of Poppe, Schönauer, Szepanski and Wehowsky, the Grauer Oktober Tapes,are scheduled for release on Intransitive. The group adopted the name PD, which for Wehowsky was “a meta-sign, not an abbreviation, but it could be one: Progressive Disco, Police Department, Permanent Demolition, Prävalente Dipsomanie, Permutative Distorsion: all were used.” PD’s early work appeared briefly on Wahrnehmungen, the cassette label Wehowsky and Stender founded in 1980, and were later reissued on LP by Swill Radio as eaRLy W – One: In Search Of CR and eaRLy W – Two: Nur Die Tiere Blieben Ubrig. More recently, further archive material has surfaced on the Wahrnehmungen 1980/81 triple LP set on Vinyl-On-Demand, and on eaRLy W 4 – Ajatollah Carter and the reissue of the first official PD outing Inweglos, both on Absurd.
With the nihilistic binary thrash of “Alltag”, recorded in all its sludgy glory at PD’s first public appearance in Mainz in January 1980, and the brutal dismembering – deconstruction is too nice a word for it – of everything from stodgy German Ländler to Marvin Gaye and Sonny Rollins, eaRLy W4 and Inweglos reveal ample evidence of a multi-directional creativity quite distinct from the prevailing post-punk orthodoxy. There’s the characteristically chilly precision of the drum machine, and a cutting political edge (“Ajatollah Carter”), but the wild tape manipulations of tracks like “Kurzzug Nach Frankfurt” are the first steps along the path Wehowsky would follow in P16.D4 and beyond.
Wehowsky is scathing about the German rock scene he joined, describing the proliferation of commercial German New Wave – Neue Deutsche Welle – as “a disaster, the victory of unchained capitalism over taste and humanity. Many of bands made the mistake of taking the English/American art school rhetoric seriously – the dada quotations, constructivist covers, etcetera. For most of them it was just the PR hype of the day; listen to early NDW records like Der Plan’s first release, the so-called Fleisch EP, or some of the stuff on the Zickzack label, compare it to later releases by the same artists and it becomes clear how much they were just following trends. A bit of avant garde one day, some New Romanticism the next.The main difference between us and most other groups of the Neue Deutsche Welle was that we knew what we were doing.”
It didn’t prevent heated discussion within the group, though. Avoiding rock cliche meant mothballing not only guitars (upon joining PD, Pense was “condemned” to play bass) but also drums. Poppe’s arrival prompted a split with Stender, who was unwilling to abandon the drum machine. Things came to a head in Frankfurt in December 1980, where the audience was treated to two sets, one by The PD (Szepanski, Schönauer, Poppe and Wehowsky) and one by PiDi (Stender, Pense, and Wehowsky). The former became P16.D4 – P being the 16th and D the fourth letter of the alphabet; the latter called themselves Permutative Distorsion, releasing one EP and one cassette album in 1981. At this point Szepanski left and Poppe handed the drumsticks back to Ewald Weber. Until the group disbanded, P16.D4's floating membership also included pianist/Cage enthusiast Stefan Schmidt, Gerd Neumann and Peter Lambert. Achim Wollscheid, then a member of Non Toxique Lost (formerly Messehalle) joined Wehowsky at Selektion, though not as part of P16.D4. His own debut album, SBOTHI – Swimming Behaviour Of The Human Infant, was Selektion’s third release in 1985.
Selektion evolved organically from punk’s DIY attitude: “When we started PD we bought one guitar amp and a cheap little mixing desk and recorded the Alltag EP in my parents’ basement. We released it ourselves, and never even thought about another label. We wanted to stand on our own feet.” The run of 1000 sold out within nine months, but the group’s release schedule couldn’t keep pace with their prolific output. Wehowsky solved the problem by creating Wahrnehmungen, one of the first German cassette labels, in mid-1980. Editions varied between 200 and 500 copies, as tapes were copied on demand from individuals and distributors of the nascent cassette underground. For Wehowsky, the positive side of the cassette medium – independence from economic pressure – was offset by the lack of quality control. “There was too much crap, and we never liked crap. We never felt completely at home in the so-called underground scene and soon moved on to concentrate on vinyl releases, and later CDs. We released our last cassette in early 1982.” The label, renamed Selektion after Stender’s departure, soon established itself with releases by artists as diverse as Romanian avant garde composer Iancu Dumitrescu, sonic reductionist Bernhard Günter, and Swiss transgressive provocateurs Runzelstirn & Gurgelstock. The imprint is currently on ice, but Wehowsky is still in regular contact with Wollscheid, today active in the fields of sound and light installations, and insists there will be more collaborative projects in the future.
Michael We. für nonpop.de
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