Austrian duo Attwenger has been chivvying Alpine music for two decades and now, once and for all, is making a clean sweep of cheesy Alps clichés à la Saturday evening folk music shows.
Attwenger at Rudolstadt, Germany's biggest folk music festival
Is it Alps polka punk, Austrian rap or groove in dialect? Many have failed to aptly describe Austrian two-man band Attwenger's contradictory yet compelling, virtuoso music. Legendary BBC host John Peel hit the nail on the head a few years ago when he said during a radio show: "I have no idea what it's all about, but I like the general noise a great deal."
Attwenger couldn't care less how they are labeled - as long as no says they make folk music. "If you hear us doing that, you're at the wrong concert," quipped drummer Markus Binder.
The sly Austrian plucks away at the jaw harp and also plays drums, while band mate Hans-Peter Falkner plays button accordion. It's a true art to create such a distinctive sound with so few instruments, but the cocky duo from Linz are masters at it.
"As Attwenger, we can play anything," Binder said confidently. "We tap into virtually every musical genre to then make our own Attwenger recipe out of it all."
But please don't say they do folk music!
Attwenger used to love punk most of all, but over the past two decades, they have increasingly fished in other waters. Alpine dance floor, hip hop, groove, stomping polka, hypnotic rave, chanson - it's all in there. And what's up next?
"A new album is coming out this spring, loaded with blues and rock 'n' roll," Binder said. "We've always wanted to do that."
Who wudda thunk it? Rock 'n' roll is a perfect match for polka melodies, so Falkner can skillfully fill in the space usually reserved for a guitar solo with his own accordion.
For Attwenger, it's been two decades of baffling listeners with their unique musical blend and laconic attitude. Their beginnings were equally bewildering - their first concert was at three in the morning in April 1990 in Vienna. Since then, they've traveled the globe, from Siberia to Zimbabwe, Vietnam to Mexico.
Attwenger have been performing for over 20 years
Binder and Falkner took their Attwenger duo name from a Gstanzl - an Alpine, four-line rhyme, or stanza, made up spontaneously, and a stylistic device often used in folk music. Attwenger use Gstanzln at times, but naturally with their own punk or rock slant on it.
For them, it's about shaking up stuffy notions of sounds and dialects. "We've always been interested in mixing things together," said Binder. But whether listeners - even German ones - can understand their Austrian dialect is another matter. Some don't catch their potshot remarks about society and politics - about the growing right-wing political movement in their country, or about their president.
"People in our country or in Bavaria understand what we're saying, so our texts really serve a purpose," said Binder. But people elsewhere get their money's worth from Attwenger, too. Their Sprechgesang, or speech song, simply becomes another instrument of their unmistakable, wonderfully skewed music.
Author: Suzanne Cords / als
Editor: Greg Wiser