Monthly Archives: October 2013
So it being Halloween and all, we were going to make some wacky costumed act our Weird Band of the Week. But then we were going through some old reader comments and a few different folks mentioned Nina Hagen and we said, “You know what? Other acts wear Halloween costumes. Nina Hagen is a Halloween costume.” People have been ripping off her unique style for decades, to the point where some of them (ahem, Lady Gaga) probably aren’t even aware of the original source. So for all you young’uns out there, let’s get acquainted with the so-called Mother of Punk, shall we?
Nina Hagen was born in 1955 in East Berlin, at the height of the Cold War. She was pegged very early in life as an opera prodigy, but she was more interested in pop music. After singing in a more traditional German pop band called Fritzens Dampferband (you can hear one of her early vocals here), she formed a “rock” band called Automobil in 1974. I put “rock” in quotation marks because this was one of their more rockin’ tracks:
The song title translates roughly to “You Forgot the Color Film” and the lyrics are basically all Nina Hagen berating her boyfriend on their vacation for, well, not bringing color film. Apparently it was interpreted at the time as a sly critique of the drabness of East Berlin. Yeah, life behind the Iron Curtain was not fun.
In 1976, she and her parents defected to West Germany, and that’s when the Nina Hagen we all know and love really began to blossom. Inspired by the nascent punk scene on a visit to London, Hagen formed the Nina Hagen Band and began playing a theatrical mix of punk, glam and progressive rock, all punctuated by her increasingly over-the-top, operatic vocals. The music was frankly not all that exciting, but Hagen was developing into an astonishing vocalist and live performer. Here, for example, is the Nina Hagen Band in 1979, performing a track called “Naturträne.” It’s basically one minute of song followed by three minutes of Nina wailing over a bunch of prog-rock noodling, but this woman could wail over a Yanni record and I’d still camp out for tickets.
By the end of ’79, the Nina Hagen Band had already broken up, as Hagen went off to explore wilder musical frontiers as a solo artist. Even in this 1980 clip of her covering “Ziggy Stardust” on Swedish television, the style and attitude she became famous for is pretty much all there: the crazy hair and eye makeup, crazier facial expressions, and positively batshit vocals.
In 1982, Hagen released her first solo album and first album sung entirely in English, NunSexMonkRock. Richard Metzger of Dangerous Minds recently called it the post-punk era’s greatest “unsung masterpiece” and it’s hard to argue with him. From beginning to end, the record sounds like it was flown in from another planet, not exactly punk or glam or New Wave but somehow channeling all those forces into a totally original sound. The best-known track is an anti-heroin anthem called “Smack Jack,” which isn’t the weirdest thing on the album but which features a music video that has to be seen to be believed. Yes, that’s Nina in male cop drag. And Nina singing backup. And another Nina singing the other backup. It’s a Nina-palooza.
Hagen’s done plenty of other weird shit in the years since: One of the most amazingly ’80s videos of all time, “New York New York” (her only real hit here in the U.S.). A Rammstein cover with the Finnish cello-rock band Apocalyptica, which is fitting since Till Lindemann stole many of his vocal affectations from Hagen. She released an album of Hindu devotional chants, with cover art featuring herself dressed up as the goddess Kali. She once told David Letterman about a UFO she saw over Malibu—actually, she told lots of people about UFOs. In more recent years, she’s recorded an album of big band standards, covered Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus,” and, sadly, lost much of her once-astonishing vocal range. She’s also become a devout Christian, which probably alienated some of her old punk fan base. But she remains as refreshingly kooky and totally original as ever.
We’ll leave you with one of Nina Hagen’s signature cover tunes. Sid Vicious may have punked up “My Way” first, but Nina’s version is untouchable, even after all these years.
P.S. Thanks to readers Singing Grass, Alex and Denny for reminding us to add Nina to the Weird List. Better late than never, right, guys?
Jolly good news, ladies and gents: Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer has announced the arrival date for his latest chap-hop opus, Can’t Stop, Shan’t Stop. It shall arrive in all antique and modern formats (save, alas, for wax cylinder) on November 5th. You can pre-order it here for a mere £10, which I believe is equivalent to five guineas, four sovereigns, a half crown, two shillings and sixpence. At least I hope that’s right, because that’s all the change I could find in the cushions of my chaise longue.
Can’t Stop is the fourth Mr. B long player, following up last year’s redoubtable Tweed Album. You can sample a little solo piano rendition of one of the album’s most titillating ditties after the full tracklist below.
1. Shelltoes Or Brogues
2. Ladies Have Friends Who They Hate
3. (I’ve No Wish To) Keep It Real
4. Hip-Hop Was To Blame After All
5. Pop Song
6. Grammar Song
7. In A Club
9. Rude Britannia
10. It Doesn’t Pay To Turn Up Late To An Orgy
11. Reasons To Be Unsuccessful (Part One)
12. The Corinthians
13. The Neglect Of My Duties
14. Brushed Tweed In The Hour Of Chaos
Is Mr. B touring in support of his latest masterwork? You bet your brass buttons he is. Here are the dates.
1st: Whitby, Steampunk Central, Whitby Rifle Club
8th: Southampton, Orange Rooms
9th: Brighton, Concorde 2
16th: Leeds, Wet Spot @ The Wardrobe
18th: New York, I Am Dandy book launch
27th: New York, The Slipper Room
29th: King Of Prussia, Pennsylvania USA, Gilded Festival
6th: Canterbury, Penny Theatre
7th: London, The Grand Anarcho Dandyist Ball, Bloomsbury Ballroom
12th: Doncaster, Cast
13th: Brighton, The Haunt
20th: London, Lost Theatre, Wandsworth
21st: Portsmouth, Beats And Swing @ The Wedgewood Rooms
It’s been awhile since we’ve heard anything from Twink, our favorite toy-based band. So we were delighted to learn a few days ago that, to celebrate the launch of his revamped website, Twink mastermind Mike Langlie is giving away a free, nine-track LP of new music. The collection is called Miniatures Volume 1 and it has the distinction of being the first album ever created entirely with the Yellofier iPhone/iPad app. Yellofier, for those of y’all not familiar, is a music-making sampler/sequencer app created by Boris Blank, one-half of the Swiss electronic duo Yello. Never heard of them? Oh yeah you have. Get it? Cuz the song is called “Oh Yeah”? Oh, we crack ourselves up.
Anyhoo, to download your copy of Miniatures Volume 1, scurry on over to Twink.net. You can also name your price if you feel like throwing Mike a little extra coin.
The Yellofier app is not free, but at $2.99, it’s still a steal. You can read more about it and watch a demo video here.
If you’re a try-before-you-buy type, feel free to preview the album below. It’s a veritable symphony of plinks, plunks and plastic beats.
We got a little present in our inbox yesterday, and for once it didn’t involve penis enlargement or Russian prostitution rings. Toronto weirdos and former Weird Band Poll winners Barbara have made a short film, and while it doesn’t technically involve any music, it’s too random not to share.
It’s a little story…sorry, a fuckin’ story…about a pair of dreamsters who escape from a sink and wind up exploring the “taupe catacombs” of a shopping mall. If you have no idea what any of that last sentence meant, don’t worry…neither do we.
Watch and be fuckin’ amazed.
If you like your avant-garde rock delivered with all the pomp and bombast of a full orchestra, and you happen to be in L.A. this coming week, we highly recommend scoring yourself a ticket to see the “world premiere” of 200 Motels, Frank Zappa‘s 1970 rock opera opus based on the early touring days of The Mothers of Invention. I put “world premiere” in quotation marks because, of course, there’s been a perfectly good film version of 200 Motels in circulation since 1971—and available in its entirety on YouTube since 2012, But according to the Los Angeles Philharmonic, which is mounting the one-night-only performance, this will be the “first complete realization of Zappa’s musical vision.” This version will be based on the first live performance of the complete 200 Motels score, which also featured the LA Phil. Zappa was not happy with conductor Zubin Mehta’s interpretation of his music, so 43 years later, the Phil is giving itself a do-over.
This time around, the LA Phil will be conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen, who in the classical world is a bit of a rock star in his own right. It will also feature former Mothers of Invention sax/keys player Ian Underwood and a cast of vocalists that includes Michael Des Barres, Rich Fulcher of The Mighty Boosh and Frank’s youngest and least weirdly named offspring, Diva Zappa. The program lists lighting, scenic and wig designers, so apparently there will be some production values, although we’re not sure if the whole thing will be fully staged.
Oh yeah, you might need to know the date, huh? It all goes down this coming Wednesday, Oct. 23rd at Walt Disney Concert Hall—which, amazingly, is not the first time the names Disney and Zappa have been associated with one another. Frank’s son Ahmet conceived and produced the Disney film The Odd Life of Timothy Green. Bet you didn’t see that random factoid coming, did you?
Tickets are $25-$83 and can be secured via the LA Phil website.
We’ll leave you with a fan favorite from the 200 Motels film soundtrack, “Magic Fingers.” Take it away, Ringo!
Good news for fans Eastern European electro-industrial performance art rock: Laibach have announced the impending arrival of Spectre, their first proper studio album since 2006’s Volk. And this week, you can download three songs off the forthcoming album for free from their website. It’s their gift to you, Laibach fans! Either that, or they’ve secretly been communists this whole time.
A press release from the band’s label, Mute Records, claims that Spectre will be their most overtly political album to date. But based on these three advance tracks, it’s not so much political as observational. On “Eurovision,” for example, Milas Fras growls, “Europe is falling apart”—which is obviously true to anyone who’s been watching the news, but it’s hard to tell whether Milas considers this a tragedy or an awesome excuse to break stuff.
The new EP, called simply S, also features a live cover of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Love on the Beat.” To hear that track, you gotta buy the whole package. If you just want the free shit, hit the Laibach website before Oct. 21st.
Here’s a trailer for Spectre, which is due out February 2014. Clearly, if Milas has to dance, he doesn’t want to be part of your revolution.