- The task of reviewing an anthology of music so virulently steeped in socio-political context raises two problematic questions. First: should a fair appraisal of artistic merit ever draw upon historical reference in order to justify present relevance? Second: if it must, can one ever hope to do so accurately without first-hand experience of the juncture to which it is so inextricably linked? A conclusive answer to either is elusive. Fortunate, then, that Mandarinen Träume should present enough of an aurally visceral experience in itself to avoid getting bogged down by such post-structuralist digressions.
To disregard background circumstances in this particular case, however, would be to ignore a story of calamitous fascination. The police-state known ironically as the German Democratic Republic (GDR) held an iron-fisted grip over most, if not all, aspects of its society. Like all other artistic endeavour, music was subject to heavy regulation, with draconian rules governing its production, sale and reproduction throughout the country. There was but one record label—state-controlled of course—and only artists deemed "worthy" by the stiflingly oppressive government could obtain the licences required to release records and perform concerts legally. Radio stations and discotheques, though few and far between, were also strictly monitored, lest they fall short of their obligation by law to deliver at least 60% GDR music at all times. Original thought and creativity were at a premium.
The fall of the Wall—and with it, the GDR itself—was still another nine years away when the West German electronic band, Tangerine Dream, were invited across the border to perform a seminal concert at the Palace of the Republic, thus becoming the first pop group from the West in almost thirty years to do so. Such a rare opportunity to be exposed to sounds that were free of state shackles inevitably attracted considerable attention, and for those in attendance whose minds were still creatively astute enough, it proved to be the beginning of a brave new electronic era; an era all but forgotten by the annals of music history, yet one which thankfully provides the focus for this intriguing compilation from the increasingly multi-faceted Munich label, Permanent Vacation.
A quick glance over the track titles hints at the vast scope invested here: "Planetary Winds," "Time Machine," "Solar Rain," "Galaxy"—one can't help but imagine the boundless reaches of a cosmos where walls and checkpoints have no place, an ethereal flight of fancy which is embellished to grandiose effect by audacious composition. Take, for instance, Reinhard Lakomy's opening track, "Es wächst das Gras nicht über alles." As this sprawling ten minute journey through an arpeggiated psychedelia of locomotive beats and synthetic haywire moves seamlessly into an epic soundscape of Vangelis proportions, it is hard not to feel somehow "transported."
Wolfgang Paulke's "Zeitmaschine" ("Time Machine") pushes the mental engagement even further: the hurried tick and chime of a clock beset the eerie stand-off between bombastic bass and delicate guitar, giving an impression of the dystopia from which this Delorean is presumably fleeing.
It's not all far-fetched close encounters, though. While Lakomy and Paulke provide the compilation's more cosmic moments, it is left to artists Julius Krebs and Key to bring us back down to earth—or at least thereabouts—with more dance floor-oriented numbers that flit unashamedly from the melodramatic to the dynamic as all good disco music should. The pulsating Moroder-esque bass of Krebs' "Intro," for example, is punctuated by interludes of serenely hammy female vocals, and is as danceable as it is droll.
Special mention ought also to be reserved for Pond—the GDR's most commercially successful electronic band—whose three contributions here epitomise the rewarding naivety of Mandarinen Träume. Their track, "Planetenwind," which sold an astonishing 100,000 copies upon release, flaunts all the eccentric irreverence of escapism in a typically space-gothic nutshell. In a country of impenetrable borders, it is plain to see why this was so successful.
Complete with era-defining photos and engagingly extensive sleeve notes by Groove Magazine journalist Florian Sievers, Permanent Vacation have delivered a poignant package that is indispensable for any electronic music aficionado whose interest spreads beyond the confines of the club. This is not Kraftwerk. Nor is it Depeche Mode. There will be no place in the pantheon of influential achievement for the likes of Reinhard Lakomy or Julius Krebs. Rather, it is a music so blissfully unaware of anything bar its own mental transcendence that, in a day and age of shallow commercialism and trend-obsession, is as reaffirming as it is self-effacing.
01. Reinhard Lakomy - Es Wachst Das Gras Nicht Uber Alles
02. Pond - Planetenwind
03. Reinhard Lakomy - Das Unendliche Ratsel
04. Wolfgang Paulke - Zeitmaschine
05. Reinhard Lakomy & Rainer Oleak - Raumzeit
06. Julius Krebs - S E
07. Reinhard Lakomy - Der Traum Von Asgard
08. Hans-Hasso Stamer - Sonnenregen
09. Wolfgang Paulke - Frau In Blau
10. Key - Solaris
11. Key - Ketchup
12. Pond - Galaxis
13. Julius Krebs - Intro
14. Pond - Cassiopeia
15. Servi - Laistrygonen