→ A german version of this article is available.
There is something that I have been witnessing for some time now that is nothing short of a farce. There is this brilliant Beat band (and I am not just saying that because their singer is a good friend of mine) that have made a name for themselves through various live concerts many of which were held in large venues. Contacts have been established, assurances have been acquired, and finally a number of tracks were recorded in order for the band to be able to emphasize their quality through their own arrangements and to represent themselves. What came of that may be considered as evidence for the incapacity of the German music and culture industry. However, what came of that proved that there is another way of doing it.
“The Beat goes on today!”
This is the title of the mission to which The Merrybeats have dedicated themselves. However, this is not about the phony conservation of a music genre or the artificial respiration of a comatose long term patient whose high points date back to 40 years ago, but about the arrival, reinterpretation and continuation of that genre in the 21st century. And this is what the sound of The Merrybeats is like: surprisingly fresh, but also loyal to the roots of the Beat! Furthermore, it is refreshing to notice how well the end-product fits in today’s music scene: in a time whose (pop) music is mostly blemished by uninspired mainstream material and catchy, but easily forgotten arrangements that are rattled off in the same scheme over and over again, a band has to stand out by actually dedicating themselves to the music itself and not following the trends created for and by the general listener.1 This means taking the time to harmonise the instrumentation, testing various arrangements of a song and not shying away from pulling the listeners out of their easy listening position by confronting them with sounds over which their hearing, being dulled by the mainstream, simply has to trip, thereby waking them up and animating them to reflect.
In the land of empty promises
It was apparent beforehand that it would not be easy to bring a reinterpretation of Beat music to market. Although there was an active German Beat scene with German clubs and bands – one of the most popular being The Lords – after the Beat had made the trip from Great Britain to Germany in the early and mid-Sixties, the following of this genre is mostly confined to the older generations today, whereas, as usual, the exception proves the rule. Most other people would only remember The Beatles who, in fact, only remained true to the original Beat sound during the early Sixties. However, why be intimidated by difficulties if one’s heart is truly dedicated to something?
It all started off with a couple of live concerts, some of them directed by German broadcasting station SR3 whose organisers encouraged the band to do further steps. Therefore, the band invested a lot of time and effort, along with sacrifices and devotion, in order to fully rearrange a couple of songs and finally record them in the studio. In the end the band had six tracks — two different arrangements for each of the three songs that were recorded. The results were more than respectable in every way and clearly worth all the effort.
Thus, the band had all the reason to hope for further support on the part of the broadcasting companies. Instead of indulging in a series of rants against the companies in question, I choose to simply state at this point that apparently many of the molochs of media who swallow our fees do not even consider it necessary to post letters of refusal – and be it only standardised, soulless printed forms (which would at least be in line with the broadcast programme).
This could have been the end of the story: The Merrybeats would continue to play occasional live concerts, distribute their CDs and be refused until the whole issue would finally fizzle out for lack of further success. However, sometimes it pays off to intensify one’s approaches and also to not shy away from a certain level of boldness. Furthermore, if these efforts are then accompanied by a little luck, one might just meet such wonderful and dedicated people as in this case. However, first things first…
In the land of unlimited opportunities…
It all begins with the transmittal of the studio recordings. In contrast to the German addressees who responded either with a letter of refusal or not at all, in the USA, the music of the band did not fall on deaf ears, but on such that appreciated the music and also the idea behind it. Moreover, if these ears belong to none other than the legendary DJ Rodney Bingenheimer at the world famous station KROQ in L.A., one is reminded of other celebrities of the music scene who became famous through the presentation of their music on Bingenheimer’s show Rodney on the ROQ.2
And so it came to pass that on 11th of February 2013, not only the US premiere, but the world premiere of This Diamond Ring sounded through the American airwaves. This broadcast was followed by many others, also of other songs from the band. Moreover, the fact that the people at KROQ realised the potential of the five musicians prompted them to recommend their music to other radio personalities, thereby allowing the band to establish contact with further potential supporters.
To the other end of the worldThat, or more precisely, Tokyo, was The Merrybeats’ destination after they had met Mike Rogers who, together with two colleagues, hosts the morning show WhatTheFriday on 76.1 InterFM Tokyo – a radio station which, by the way, promotes itself as being “Tokyo’s No. 1 Music Station”, a claim which eventually turned out to be more than justifiable. The music mix of the individual shows is simply beyond words, and the occasional craziness of the programme only contributes to the excitement and charm of the overall concept.
On 7th of June 2013 Wishin’ and Hopin’ was played on WhatTheFriday, which only marked the starting point for a whole series of shows that featured Merrybeats songs. If I remember correctly, the current record is three Merrybeats songs in one show. By now, the boys also have their own Jingle over there and Mike Rogers finally –- and certainly not wrongfully -– decided to call The Merrybeats “Germany’s finest Beat band”.
“Beat is coming Home”
From Japan the music of The Merrybeats now moved to the United Kingdom, the original home country of the Beat. Andy “Dukey” Duke had noticed the musicians and during one of his Dukey Radio Shows on Croydon RadioCroydon Radio (London) he described The Merrybeats as being “more British than anything coming out of this part of the world at the moment”. This Diamond Ring and Wishin’ and Hopin’ premiered on 27th of June 2013, and since then there was hardly a week during which The Merrybeats did not get international airplay. If you want to check for yourself, feel free to look through the playlists and listen to the podcasts of the shows in question.
The Spirit of Radio
If one pays attention to foreign radio stations such as the ones named here, it becomes quickly apparent what the German radio scene is lacking. Due to the synchronisation by the dictates from the music industry3 and the media corporations4 there is little room for one’s own musical profiling. Some (private) stations are even using entirely ready-made “rotations”, fed by statistics and, in most cases, interrupted only by the presentation of little game shows that threaten to reduce the job of a radio host to absurdity.
If you have not already made a name for yourself in the business that is either a self-seller or put on the market by a major record label standing behind you, if you have not been voted to the top of irrelevance in the course of a casting show as being the one-eyed among the blind, or if you have not, by sheer coincidence, been washed out of the rising tide of the Internet into the hearts of the mainstream, then you will hardly be able to get a foot in the door of any German broadcasting company, be it private or regulated by public law. German niche broadcasters and Internet radio stations are hardly to be considered as an alternative.
What this country is lacking are persons who take their job as a radio disc jockey seriously, who rely on their own taste when they are carefully compiling their playlists without trusting in charts or statistics, who take the time to actually listen to the material that they receive, who actively search for something new, who get involved with the actual music and stick up for it.
Is there really nobody left in this country who still believes in the “Spirit of Radio”? Do even the radio hosts consider the medium as a languishing patient that has no hope of healing? Is this why they constantly appear to actually contribute to the depletion of their own competence? Considering all the impressions that I have gathered by listening to foreign radio stations during the last couple of months, I was most shocked by realising just how much good music, how many hidden jewels are missed by someone who is constantly only presented with mainstream music that has been dished up a million times. I for myself would like to thank Rodney Bingenheimer, Andy “Dukey” Duke and Mike Rogers for giving me the opportunity to immerse myself in a wonderful world of classic and new musical treasures. How nice it would be if this could also be done by listening to our own local channels in the future…
(Translation by Eric Ehrhardt – Thank you very much!)
Ok, yes, I admit that I wronged a lot of musicians there and I have to apologise for that. However, considering the bulk of today’s music scene I could not resist that impression. ↩
For example: Nirvana, Joan Jett, The Ramones, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Bad Religion and numerous others. ↩
This may seem like a horrible word formation at first glance. However, it is quite fit to describe a reality in which creativity is industrialised in order to contribute to the marketing of a soulless mainstream product instead of supporting individual expressions of artistic creation. ↩
After all, once you’ve begun convincing the media to contribute to your fosterling’s rise to the “casting throne”, there’s no stopping anymore. The fact that such programmes, regardless of the usually short-lived success of the “winners”, are still able to attract audiences AND candidates does not exactly attest to the intellect of the target audience, but rather to the immense desire for recognition that so many egos are trying to assuage. ↩