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Music

How Austria is carving out its own musical niche

Austrians have largely been listening to music from Germany. But music producer and composer Paul Gallister tells DW how Germany's small neighbor is finding its own musical voice - in part by rediscovering its dialect.

The last two years of Paul Gallister's life have been a crazy journey through various music genres, ranging from double platinum albums for Austria's most successful indie rock band Wanda to arrangements for TV shows, soundtracks for political documentaries and even a zombie film - basically everything that a producer, arranger and composer could possibly cover. And the busy Viennese musician is unlikely to get bored in 2017. 

DW: For a number of years now, the music scene in Vienna has become very active - although from a German perspective it's been pretty quiet for a long time since the Austropop era came to an end. Am I, as a German, seeing that correctly?

Paul Gallister: During my childhood in the late 1980s and early 90s, Austropop was still en vogue. Back then, Rainhard Fendrich performed for free to an audience of 50,000 at the Vienna town hall square. Five years later, when I developed an interest in music as a teenager, all that was gone. Maybe that had something to do with TV. When I was a child, there were only two TV channels in Austria. Later on, private channels and German channels became available.

Wanda in concert in Berlin (Imago/M. Müller)

Since 2014, the band Wanda has been successful in both Austria and Germany

Since we were permanently surrounded by the standard German language, we lost touch with the Viennese accent. In the 1990s, we came to know some pop stars, even US stars like the Backstreet Boys, who first became popular in Germany, and the Austrian music market was gradually bought up by German major labels.

We shouldn't pretend that Austria was an autonomous music market. That's only just beginning. 

Does that have something to do with the huge success of Wanda?

Until 2013, roughly one year before the first Wanda album was released, musicians from the Austropop era said over and over again, "In Austria, pop music is dead. Don't get involved in pop music; you can't make any money with it." There really was a vacuum for 15 years. But now, big music companies have started to develop a new interest in local acts. That wasn't the case before Wanda came along. Managers like Stefan Redelsteiner played a decisive role here.

He contributed a lot to Wanda's success, and saw to it that the artist Der Nino aus Wien was played on the radio. When a broadcaster like FM4 plays a particular song, that really helps make it known on a national level. FM4 is extremely important to Austria's alternative music scene, as they also play tracks that don't necessarily fit with format requirements or mainstream radio.

Nowadays, singers like Voodoo Jürgens, who sing in a dialect that has almost become extinct are successful.

Viennese, or East Austrian, which is the dialect in which Voodoo Jürgens sings, is perfectly suited for singing. Georg Danzer once claimed that this has to do with the fact that, in Viennese, many sounds resemble English sounds, like the "L" and the "A"... That's why, in his view, Viennese is more suited to singing than standard German - at least as far as pop music is concerned.

In Germany, Voodoo Jürgens has already performed in sold-out concert halls. Could he become as successful as Wanda?

He's a very original artist, with a recognizable sound. He has the potential to become extremely successful in Austria. But I can't really imagine him performing in, say, Hamburg. I do wish him success, but the most important criteria for success in Germany is the language. That's what unites us. That's why I can hardly imagine that he could become as successful in Germany as Wanda. On the other hand, Nino told me that some Berlin hipsters told him after a concert that they would speak Viennese at parties in order to impress women. And they were really able to speak Viennese quite well. That's funny - but also crazy.

Voodoo Jürgens (Imago/Viennareport)

In 2016, Voodoo Jürgens shot to the top of Austrian album charts with his album "Ansa Woar" 

The originality of artists like Voodoo Jürgens and Der Nino aus Wien is impressive. To outsiders, the Vienna scene looks like a collection of truly genuine characters.

The attitude that people like Nino, Voodoo or others of the current Vienna scene have in common, is like this: "Everything I do is my thing." That attitude goes back to an era when you couldn't make much money in Austria with music. That's why people couldn't care less, and that attitude produced such original characters.

Wanda and Der Nino have mention over and over again how much they were influenced by British bands like The Beatles and Oasis. Has German music ever been an influential factor in Austria? 

German influence on Austrian musicians was certainly less strong than that of British musicians, but nevertheless, it was also there. It's a different kind of influence - through deep cultural bonds. After all, we share the same language. In the 1990s, Tocotronic were really big in the Vienna scene. Later on, albums like "Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Soul" by Jan Delay, or "Stadtaffe" by Peter Fox were very popular. "Stadtaffe," in particular, was incredibly big and extremely popular in Vienna. That mixture of hip hop, reggae, pop and orchestra - that's good pop music, not just crossover. 

What in your view is your job as a producer?

I have always listened to music that moved me, and that's why I only work with musicians who have something to say. I see my task in helping them express their feelings. I don't make any suggestions about their music, but talk to them first. I ask the artist, "What do you want to say?" Before Marco (Eds.: singer of Wanda) and I record a song, he comes to me with an outline which he performs. Then we talk and have a coffee - the entire afternoon. After five hours of talking about international politics, we have our song.

You're also in high demand as a film music composer. What is a bigger challenge to you - music production or film music? 

I always wanted to be a film music composer. I just love making music and experimenting with new things and taking another step forward. When it comes to film music, taking the next step is easier than is the case of music production. Every film deserves to get another color. For the horror-comedy "Angriff der Lederhosenzombies" (Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies) directed by Dominik Hartl, I used old drum machines for the sound. For the film "Die Mitte der Welt" (The Center of the World) directed by Jakob Erwa, I pounded on my piano with hammers, and recently I bought a shamanistic drum for producing the music for a short film. These permanent changes are a real challenge for me. You need to be a very good musician if you want to be a good film music composer. My objective is simply to become a better musician forever.

 

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