Histories of German popular music generally focus on examples of West German music which were commercially successful and/or are considered to be aesthetically and musically ground-breaking. Bands such as Kraftwerk, Can, Neu! or the Scorpions are the subject of many academic as well as non-academic publications, and they are considered as canonical as genres such as Krautrock or Neue Deutsche Welle. East German musicians or movements, on the other hand, tend to be overlooked, as do specific artistic forms of expression which were developed in response to authoritarian leadership in the socialist German Democratic Republic (GDR). The examination of a relationship between the GDR and the arts is almost altogether absent from a pan-German popular music history.
It is surprising to see how, for example, rock music in the GDR has not been considered as innovative with regard to its use of the German language, despite (or perhaps because of) its use being ideologically motivated. East German rock and pop musicians moved away from English as the language of popular music about half a decade before West German artists did. Also, certain styles, such as Art Rock or Classic Rock, had a greater relevance and longevity in East Germany, in part because professional musicians in the GDR studied at graduate level and were able to hone their skills.
Although pan-German popular music history tends to neglect East German conditions, experiences and heritage, since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been many publications that explore specific aspects of popular music in the GDR. These have been motivated by significant political interest in the reappraisal (‘Aufarbeitung’) of East Germany’s history and have often received generous funding. There are numerous publications on Rock, subcultures/youth cultures such as Punk, Heavy Metal and Hip Hop, or Jazz and singer/songwriters of and in the GDR. However, genres that do not stand out because of their subversive or exotic character, for example Musicals, Operettas or Schlager, find little attention.
The discussion of popular music in the GDR is dominated by the analysis of singular events and specific dates at the risk of losing sight of broader developments and processes. This is in part because previously inaccessible archives of political organisations, the GDR’s secret service and East German media have been opened up, giving unprecedented access to crucial information about state leadership and state control, including specific details about everyday routines and processes in the GDR. Consequently, there is a trend to favour the analysis of data at micro level and a fragmentation of the overall context in which East German popular music was created, performed and perceived.
A debate on theories and methods of pan-German popular music historiography is still missing and will be informed by the way in which East German popular music history is written. This special issue aims to address this gap. Therefore, it is not concerned with case studies of individual bands or artists that should be part of the canon of German popular music. Neither it is an attempt to compare popular music in both German states. Instead, contributors should aim to discuss aspects of source identification and retrieval, their critical interpretation, or varying research perspectives and methods of writing East German popular music history. Ultimately, by discussing the GDR’s popular music history, this special issue hopes to address general aspects, issues and debates around popular music historiography. As an interdisciplinary field, we are inviting contributions from scholars not only of popular music studies, but also researchers in history, sociology, politics and cultural studies. We are particularly interested in the discussion of potentially new sources, archives, methods and approaches to writing a history of German popular music.