Britpop’s Friendly Invasion Lives on in Germany

oasssi2From the post-war years to the present day, British music has enjoyed huge popularity in Germany despite the differences in history, cultural identity and mentality.

The bar’s atmosphere throbs with Britpop hits at top volume and accompanying voices raised in song. Only the menu and the slight accent to the singing suggest that this is not a pub somewhere in the heart of England. This is Düsseldorf, the crowd is predominantly German and everyone is pumped by the fact that Oasis is in town.

Shouting over another refrain, a number of the assembled choir of would-be vocalists try and explain what it is about the band that the Germans love.

“Liam Gallagher. All anyone could want in life,” said one girl.

“Shoes, haircuts and guitars,” said her male companion.

But what is it really about Oasis, a band brimming with traditional working class machismo and the potential for violence and mayhem made famous by the likes of The Who and Led Zeppelin, which appeals to the Germans?

Thomas Venker, editor-in-chief at German music monthly magazine Intro said he thinks it’s just that volatility that attracts German fans.

“Markus Kavka (MTV Germany presenter) once said that, for him, Oasis made him feel like it was okay to be both a man and an indie boy,” Venker said. “It was okay to listen to those student sounds and also drink beer and talk about football. Oasis brought that attitude to Germany and many people tuned into that.”

“Oasis brought us serious music about human emotions,” said one fan queuing for the band’s Phillipshalle gig. “They crashed the Bravo Hits party and trampled on all that commercial and fake rubbish Germans had been fed by music channels for so long.”

Oasis is just one of many British bands that continue to enjoy commercial and critical success in Germany despite the emergence of a strong German music scene over the last two years. But a tradition of well-received musical acts from the UK actually stretches back decades.

“A lot of British bands in the sixties had big followings in Germany,” Andy Bell, bass player with Oasis, told DW-WORLD. “Some were massive in Germany way before they were popular back home. Many even released stuff on German labels that didn’t come out in England.”

“The popularity of British bands in Germany has a lot to do with the Beatles, I think,” said Gem Archer, the band’s rhythm guitarist. “Everyone back in Britain thought they were German.”

The legacy of the Beatles’ time in Germany and the affection the Germans continue to have for the Fab Four can still be seen in the list of records the band still holds in the German charts including most number one singles and most number one albums.

But surely a Merseybeat four-piece with a talent for catchy pop songs cannot be solely credited for breaching cultural barriers and instilling a love of music from a country with such a different mentality and identity from that of the Germans.

“After the war, Germans were looking for a new start,” said cultural theorist Eckhard Schumacher from the University of Munich. “For German youth, music from Britain was foreign and new; something very different from the culture of their parents’ past which everyone wanted to move on from. It was also a way to connect with another country’s youth and undermine the idea of being enemies…and popular music has always been about connecting people.”

Popular culture author Anne Schönberg said the connection formed in the immediate post-war years is still strong. “Much is made of the differences between the British and the Germans but very little is said of their similarities. Culturally, they are both very expressive and creative societies. The Germans have a respect for that.”

However, she said, the exchange is almost a one-way street.

“The Germans have taken on more of Britain’s popular culture than the other way round, ” she said. “German youth see British music as a dominant and exciting force, presented in a language that most have an understanding of. The opposite can be said of British youth.”

This is reflected in the current music charts where five of the top 10 German singles and nine of the top 20 albums are from UK acts. No German artists appear in either chart in Britain. It seems that the Germans continue to welcome the friendly invasion with open arms.

This article first appeared on Deutsche Welle’s DW-World.de English news service

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