As you may know, we’re hosting a sold-out festival in Cologne at the end of the month with a lineup that includes diva Róisín Murphy, Howling, Django Django, David August’s Live Ensemble and Broken Luxury. In addition to being an exciting musical showcase, it’s a good excuse to compile a bunch of lists about Germany’s most breathtaking Domstadt. Today we’re focusing on the sound of Cologne and the artists who have shaped it over the last—err—50 years or so. And since we’ve had so much fun with these lists, rest assured that there are more to come.
Any proper listicle about Cologne’s musical contributions to the world begins with Stockhausen, the granddaddy and enfant terrible of Germany’s classical avant garde. He was the country’s most important post-World War II composer and, with a catalog of nearly 300 compositions, he was as prolific as he was revolutionary.
What do Kraftwerk, Neu!, Harmonia, Can, Cluster, DAF, Killing Joke, Ultravox and Brian Eno have in common? They’ve all been produced by Conny Plank. Even David Bowie was craving Plank’s sound and magic touch on the mixing console but as history has it, he wasn’t interested in working with the White Duke.
One of krautock’s most influential bands began in Cologne in the late 1960. The founders, Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt, Jaki Liebezeit and Michael Karoli, had backgrounds in avant garde and jazz music, which laid the foundation for them to develop into a legendary experimental rock outfit.
Mouse On Mars
Andi Toma and Jan St. Werner have continually redefined techno, IDM and pop in quirky experimental music for over 20 years. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of their iconic productions is that every sound seems to have a life of its own.
The German-Venezualan composer and vocalist Yvonne Cornelius played an instrumental role in shaping the output of labels like Tomlab or Mouse On Mars’ Sonig imprint under the alias Niobe. She also recorded for Karaoke Kalk, another internationally renowned electronica label from Cologne.
Through the course of compiling this list, we found that Kompakt is the first name to spring to most minds when “Cologne” and “music” are mentioned in the same sentence. The Kompakt omniverse and its stalwarts, a class that includes co-founders Wolfgang Voigt and Michael Mayer, has wrought a singular influence on Cologne’s post-acid house electronic music scene and beyond. Not too long ago, people in Germany referred to Kompakt as “the Bayern Munich of techno.”
Speaking of Kompakt: Jörg Burger. Producers from Cologne have always had a distinct sound that combines the slickness of minimal techno with pop references, and Burger is no exception. As Burger/Ink (his collaboration with Wolfgang “Mike Ink” Voigt), The Bionaut or Modernist, Jörg Burger did everything from acid assaults to ambient introspection.
The co-founder of the Magazine label has become Cologne’s hottest export to the techno community in the past couple of years. His output, which has also appeared on Hinge Finger and Cómeme, carries on the city’s tradition of combining techno with a visual-arts sensibility.
When Ada arrived on the scene her take on melodic minimalist techno with a distinct pop sensibility blended perfectly with the city’s predominant sound with a dash of intimate, quirky charm. Her debut album, 2004’s Blondie, is still one of the best long players from that era.
We’re rounding out our roundup with a true originator, because few embody the city better than Willy Millowitsch. Born in 1909, he was mostly known for his work in TV and theater, but he also wrote a couple of famous folk songs like “Wir sind alle kleine Sünderlein (‘s war immer so).”