Popular music played important roles in GDR daily life, cultural production, and state policy.  In fact, what kinds of music citizens consumed was a matter of great importance to East German officials, who debated these questions with surprising intensity and regularity – perhaps in part because VEB Schallplatten, the state record label, was one of the Eastern Bloc’s more successful state-owned businesses. GDR officials wanted East German artists to compete successfully with Western ones, which ironically led to reduced state control of the artistic sphere; they also considered the arts an important way in which to create an international socialist community and counter capitalist cultural influences, leading them to support numerous artistic and cultural exchanges with other socialist countries. Among the more successful of these efforts was Berlin's Festival des politischen Liedes, which for two decades brought together top protest music artists from around the world and which might even be considered the first world music festival. But East German citizens found ways yet other to interact with international sounds, for instance by learning chachachá, mambo, or breakdance or by playing metal, blues, or punk. By the time the Wall fell, East Germans had developed lively rock, pop, jazz, underground, and international music scenes. Meanwhile, East German music scholars played central roles in the development of the new field of popular music studies.

This class will examine the popular music landscape that once surrounded Humboldt University by reading existing literature on popular music scenes, policy, production, scholarship, and internationalism in East Germany, as well as considering how East German music culture affects current musical practice. If possible, given the pandemic situation, we will also gain a fuller and more complex view of this landscape by examining primary sources from official magazines to audio recordings and films, as well as by speaking with participants. Because this is a new research area for the professor as well, the focus will be on the research process over and above the subject content.

Semester: SuTerm 2020