A sound engineer in Cologne is piecing together a colorful portrait of his city by compiling its entire music history in an archive. It goes well beyond the cheesy Carnival tunes that are usually associated with Cologne.
Cologne and music. For most people, the folk music played during Carnival comes to mind first. But the city of one million people on the Rhine River has more to offer than meets the ear.
From composer Karlheinz Stockhausen to the a cappella ensemble Wise Guys, Cologne has produced bands from all kinds of genres since the 1940s, many of which have made a name for themselves around the world. Music is intertwined with the identity of the city, which today is a center for electronic music and has one of the strongest jazz scenes in the country. Plus, experimental rock band CAN and funk rap crew Goldene Hausnummer are some of the more successful made-in-Cologne bands from other genres.
An ambitious hobby
Cologne resident Matthias Schumacher has a passion for music and dedicates every free second that he has to it. As a sound engineer, he has regular contact with bands, club owners, and others from every corner of the industry. He knows Cologne's music scene intimately and has seen first-hand that the city is full of talent and its music is constantly evolving.
However, he was disappointed to find that none of this music was being stored and all of these fragments of history and culture were being lost.
So, Schumacher decided to take matters into his own hands and create the Cologne Music Archive, where the city's entire music heritage could be compiled and accessed both now and in the years to come.
"Our goal, of course, is to have a permanent space which should be open to the public so that journalists and experts can come and do research, and so that musicians can come and find their own history again," said the sound engineer.
Still in the early stages, the archive does not yet have an official location, but is steadily growing in Schumacher's attic, for now.
Every now and then, people call him to say they may have something useful in their basements and then come by carrying boxes of records, old concert tickets, posters, or photos.
"We don't only collect records, but everything, really. Every box is like a birthday and Christmas on the same day," said Schumacher. "You have to be a little crazy about it."
The sound engineer turned archivist is driven by his goal to trace the city's history and learn how Cologne and the music that has come out of it have influenced each other over the years.
Music a mirror for Cologne
While it might sound like a hobby for graying music-lovers who can't let go of the past, the archive has also hit a nerve with young musicians as well, including the local folk rock band Lupo.
All five members of Lupo - lead singer Maximilian Speidel, guitarist Pedro Schädel, bass player Alexander Lemke, violinist/keyboardist Benni Landmann, and drummer Andreas Wandscheer-Genehr - were born in Cologne and are between the ages of 18 and 20.
They agree that music is fundamental to Cologne's identity and see their own music as an integral part of Cologne's musical tradition. While other aspiring musicians their age are into metal, electro pop or hip hop rap, Lupo puts a contemporary twist on Carnival tunes by working in rhythms from other genres.
"Our style is something unique that didn't exist before," explained guitarist Pedro Schädel. "And what makes us special is that the five of us come from different musical backgrounds. That makes for a great mix and it really comes out in our music that there's a bit of everything."
Even though all the band members are young, they are well aware of the value of the music made in their city and plan to submit their first album to the archive, once they record it later this year.
"Today we have recordings and CDs and MP3 files can't get lost that easily, but for 50-, 60- or 70-year old music, that's why the archive is good - to preserve the music that didn't get recorded with modern technology," Schädel added.
And those who use the archive to dig into the past might be surprised to find that some of the earliest electronic music was created in the city's studios and that its jazz scene is one of the best in Germany.
"Cologne is just really a unique city when it comes to diversity," said Schumacher, adding that music is not just central to Cologne's culture, it also gives the city's cool factor a boost.
The music archive is more than a pile of old vinyls. It's about discovering and defining the city - and uncovering the roots of today's made-in-Cologne music.