Only in Deutschland: synth maestros Welle: Erdball score summer hit - in Latin!

By Subfringe staff
Wed, June 7, 2017

As I write this, the number one song on the German alternative chart is a vocal piece sung in impeccable Latin (it lasted one week, as I post). It's a 2:05 arrangement of the Gaudeamus Igitur, a song dating to the early 18th century, but with Medieval origins. Even considering it's traditionally sung at university graduations in Europe, and it's that time of year, this is still a pretty strange phenomenon, but the group responsible, Welle: Erdball, are up to the task.

Founded by Honey and Alf in 1993, and currently joined by Fraulein Venus and Lady Lila, the group are best known for a brooding Teutonic synth sound which builds on German New Wave.

The name, Welle: Erdball, comes from a 1920s radio play, and the songs are conceived as broadcasts to listeners. The group situate themselves in a shadowy 1950s milieu of black suits, stark dresses, and the VW Beetle. To all appearances, history as we think we understand it may have played out a little differently. It takes some effort to relate to the group's imagery and mythology.

As with Kraftwerk, this is a soundscape where Anglo-American blues-rock never took hold, and the dancehall underpinnings of Anglo New Wave and early techno are stripped away, leaving an almost seamless transition from the cabaret performances of Marlene Dietrich to the later post-War world of bassline machines, sequencers, and rhythm machines. Unlike Kraftwerk, Welle: Erdball stop just short of a transition to humanoid robots, and retain the human element. Or do they?

For some, the group's imagery may seem uncomfortably nearer to the 1940s than the 1950s. Or even Weimar of the 1930s. Or is it `70s Bonn? Or `90s Berlin? Anachronisms and references abound. There's even an air of neo-Classicism about the group, and in this respect, a Latin vocal arrangement doesn't seem so off the wall, particularly in a country where obsessions with the Renaissance once ran deep.

At the very least, Commodore computers, in this timeline, never went away. The `80s vintage C-64 figures heavily in the music, to the point of being cited in song titles.

"Deutsche liebe" ("...nicht im Detroit" - techno and electronica aficionados will get the joke), in particular, pushes the C-64 sound with surprising effect. A Commodore Amiga also figures prominently in the video for "Der Liebe der 3. Art". And in a case of life and art converging, the group's song "Commodore C=64" recently featured in a smartphone commercial, the latest attempt at relaunching the Commodore brand (the commercial is off youtube as of this writing).

Plays on the human intersection of media, production, and technology figure heavily in the group, and expand on the highly entertaining art house feel of their live performances. This reviewer has watched their 30 min M'era Luna festival, 2009, performance so many times I've lost count, and it's a good introduction to their music. The Hannover, 2006, performance, also highly recommended, is more polished and elaborate.

Concept centric projects can easily get lost in their own theorizing, but songs like "Schweben, Fliegen, Fallen" (1996), "Ich bin nicht von dieser Welt" (2000), or "Ich bin aus Plastik" (2014), in addition to those mentioned already, show that Welle: Erdball are equally adept at putting together a sound that stays in the head, even as they explore modes, concepts, and actions.

With the group's current album for 2017, from which "Gaudeamus Igitur" is the title track, one hears a more conventional offering, Latin aside, or at least as conventional as Welle: Erdball is likely to give.

"Vespa 50N Special", referring to the `60s Italian scooter, continues a theme of escape and freedom with a vintage technology. It pairs well with "Die letzte Chance zu leben", a retro-styled song for summer.

"20.000 Meilen unter dem Meer", with it's Jules Verne theme, stands out in both radio and club mixes, either of which is pretty danceable, and should be prime material for re-mixes. "1000 Engel" is a dreamy ballad, mixing brass synth sounds and evocative female vocals.

While the tracks for this release are available online, the group's cds and albums often come with bonus materials, and you're guaranteed to get better sound quality.

Listeners in search of the group's vintage sounds will want to check the albums "Tanzpalast 2000" (1996), "Die Wunderwelt der Technik" (2002), or "Tanzmusik fur Roboter" (2014).

Readers in the USA should have no trouble finding their cds online.

Welle: Erdball website:

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An interesting 2003 interview with Honey on Connexion Bizarre: