German Pop Music in Literary and Transmedial Perspectives

by Uwe Schütte (Volume editor)
©2021 Edited Collection VI, 260 Pages


Pop music is a deeply transmedial art form, a hybrid of images, attitudes, performances and texts. This bilingual volume examines the diverse transmedial processes in which German-language pop music and other forms of art enrich each other. It aims to make an important contribution to the emerging field of German Pop Music Studies, which is currently enjoying an upsurge in interest. Consisting of chapters by a range of scholars from both the Anglophone world and Germany, it explores how German pop music interacts transnationally with political issues as well as art forms such as film, performance art and fine art. It has a particular focus on the manifold processes of mutual exchange and hybridization between German-language literature and German pop music. The artists examined include Kraftwerk, Einstürzende Neubauten, Tocotronic, Ja, Panik, Gerhard Richter and R. W. Fassbinder.
Dieser zweisprachige Band untersucht die vielfältigen transmedialen Prozesse, in denen sich deutschsprachige Pop-Musik und Kunstrichtungen wie Film, Kunst oder Performance gegenseitig befruchten. Er versteht sich damit als deutsch-britischer Brückenschlag, der die sich in der englischen Germanistik herausbildende German Pop Music Studies an die deutschen Vorarbeiten anzuschließen sucht. Ein besonderer Fokus des Bandes liegt auf den vielgestaltigen Interaktionen zwischen deutscher Pop-Musik und Literatur.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction: Why Do We Study German Pop Music in Its Literary and Transmedial Contexts? (Uwe Schütte)
  • Part I German Pop Music in Transmedial Perspectives
  • Blurring the Modern: Neu!, Kraftwerk, Richter and Motorik (David Pattie)
  • Mixtapes and Cultural Waste(lands): Kraftwerk’s ‘Radio-Activity’ in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Chinese Roulette and Berlin Alexanderplatz , Chris Petit’s Radio On and Michael Madsen’s Into Eternity (Martin Brady & Helen Hughes)
  • First World War Commemoration: Einstürzende Neubauten ‘Do It A Dada’ (Andy Spencer)
  • Politik – Provokation – Performance. K.I.Z, Antilopen Gang & Feine Sahne Fischfilet (Patricia Bollschweiler & Anna Lenz)
  • Whiteness and Nostalgia: Twenty-First-Century German Representations of Techno’s Beginnings in Berlin and Detroit (Tom Smith)
  • Part II German Pop Music in Literary Perspectives
  • Lyrics? Dichtung? Transmediale Gefüge als Horizont der Sinnproduktion im Pop (Florian Scherübl)
  • ‚Unsere Sprache – sie muß wieder Gesang werden.‘ Sprachliche und musikalische Romantik im deutschen Progressive Rock: Novalis (Michael Eggers)
  • ‘I sat down to write a simple story / Which maybe in the end became a song.’ Pop/Musiker als Pop/Literaten (Christoph Jürgensen & Antonius Weixler)
  • Neulandvermessung. Eine erste Kartografie der Musikalbum-Roman-Hybride als Innovationsversuch in der Gegenwartsliteratur (Uwe Schütte)
  • Electronic Music from East Switzerland (via Germany)? Intermediality in Peter Weber’s Novel Die melodielosen Jahre (2007) (Andrew wright Hurley)
  • Part III A Practitioner’s Perspective
  • Heute ist wieder ein Tag. Poetologische Reflexionen (Hendrik Otremba)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

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Uwe Schütte

Introduction: Why Do We Study German Pop Music in Its Literary and Transmedial Contexts?

Die relevanteste deutschsprachige Literatur der letzten 20 Jahre hat der Diskurspop geschrieben.

– Thomas Köck

Two decades into the twenty-first century, German Studies in the UK has gone a long way in modernizing itself as a discipline. Gone are the days when British Germanists conducted almost exclusively traditional literary criticism based on a hermeneutical approach. Though UK German Studies proved somewhat more resistant to the comings and goings of theoretical fashions than did Germanistik as practised in the ‘homeland’, British scholars of German culture and literature have enthusiastically adopted new approaches, such as the transnational turn or a focus on migrant literature in German.

However, UK ‘Auslandsgermanistik’ is still marked by one surprising blind spot, namely the academic study of German pop music.1 This fact is remarkable and telling for several reasons. Firstly, under the auspices of the cultural studies turn, ‘Inlandsgermanistik’ has been examining pop cultural phenomena from cinema to pop music, from graphic novels to computer games and from fashion to advertising for several years now. In the pages of the interdisciplinary journal POP. Kultur & Kritik, founded in 2012, a wide range of themes and topics related to popular culture are being analysed, with pop music functioning as a sort of primus inter pares, while recently published cornerstones of German pop cultural scholarship comprise two voluminous compendia, the Handbuch Popkultur, edited by ←1 | 2→Thomas Hecken and Marcus Kleiner2 and the Handbuch Pop & Literatur, edited by Moritz Baßler and Eckhard Schumacher.3

Secondly, the central theoretical reference points cited by the leading scholars in the field (normally professors of ‘Neue Deutsche Literatur’ who opened a sideline in pop cultural studies) are writings by British scholars who belonged to or were linked with the Centre of Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS), formerly based at the University of Birmingham.4 Even though the CCCS long ago fell victim to the neoliberalist attack on academic freedom in Great Britain, contemporary scholars continuing the tradition inaugurated by such leading lights as Stuart Hall or Dirk Hebdige are being widely read and received in Germany, that is to say names like Mark Fisher, Steve Goodman or Kodwo Eshun, whose key works often appear in German translation.5 A number of introductory volumes and readers, see Hecken (2009) or Jacke/ Ruchatz/ Zierold (2011), sought to ‘apply’ Anglophone theories of popular culture to the newly emerging German discipline of Poptheorie.

Thirdly, the lack of German pop music studies in Britain certainly does not reflect an aversion of the discipline to forms of popular culture. Unsurprisingly, film studies are a flourishing area of research, with several chairs across the country focusing on German cinema history and film. Its beginnings harken back to the mid-1970s when Thomas Elsaesser and Charles Barr founded probably the first film studies department in the UK at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. Paralleling developments in film studies more generally, in the 2010s there was a shift away from the study of the auteur cinema of the Neue Deutsche Film to popular genres, stardom and transnational developments in mainstream German film ←2 | 3→production.6 Over the last decade, the efforts of film scholars in German Studies have resulted in the publication not only of comprehensive edited textbooks,7 but also of authoritative overview studies8 and edited volumes dedicated to twenty-first-century German cinema.9

While the British public maintains a strong interest in German pop music – centred predominately on Krautrock, as various BBC programmes and a number of books by music journalists attest – German Studies in the UK has been largely quiet concerning pop music. For instance, the two major academic monographs on Krautrock were written by Germans living in the US,10 while the first academic edited volume on what is undoubtedly the most significant band to emerge from Germany, Kraftwerk, was edited by two British scholars from the fields of musicology and performance studies.11

Tellingly, most interest in German pop music in the UK has been shown by non-Germanists, though it is limited in scope and scattered across various disciplines such as musicology, cultural studies, drama studies and sociology, and often conducted by researchers with no command of German and hence only tangential access to German-language sources, both primary and secondary. Despite some flaws, the results often amounted to pioneering academic appreciation of major German pop music artists, such as Shryane’s monograph on Einstürzende Neubauten.12

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The initiation of any serious Anglophone research into German pop music can be pinpointed to the early 2010s when it emerged as an exclusively American affair. A special Krautrock issue of Popular Music and Society appeared in December 2009, containing five articles by US researchers.13 Four years later, a special issue of the US-based Journal of Popular Music on ‘German Popular Music in the Twenty-First Century: Politics, Trends, and Trajectories’ contained five articles, again solely by American scholars.14 In the same year, a volume on Rammstein that included contributions exclusively by US scholars15 and a doctoral dissertation on German Punk16 appeared in the US. Maybe unsurprisingly, US-based scholars were also the first to explore musical subgenres such as German rap and hip-hop as well as German techno music, frequently focusing on questions of identity formation through pop music.

It wasn’t until 2017 that the beginning of proper UK-based research into German pop music was marked by the publication of the foundational Companion to German Pop Music.17 Building on the success of the 2015 international Kraftwerk conference at Aston University, my own research and general publications have largely focused on the pioneers of electronic pop music. The Deutsche Akademische Austauschdienst (DAAD) has supported the further development of German pop music studies with a three-year project grant running from 2018 to 2021. Apart from a lecture series, various research articles and edited volumes, and a CPD workshop, a dedicated website forms the hub of the ‘German Pop Music Studies Network’ which aims to draw together both English- and ←4 | 5→German-speaking scholars based in Germany, the UK and Ireland, the US and beyond.

The international two-day conference that took place in June 2019 at Aston University formed a major pillar of the project. It provided a framework for both British and German scholars from various disciplines to enable exchange and discussion. Early career academics and senior scholars interacted in often penetrating encounters and exciting constellations. Entitled German Pop Music in Literary and Transmedial Perspectives, the aim of the conference was to bridge the gap between traditional literary research and newer theoretical approaches that use interdisciplinary methodologies to examine pop music with regard to questions of identity formation, transnational exchange and, in particular, the transmedial nature of pop music.

The latter, arguably, constitutes the very nature of pop music as defined in opposition to other areas of music, be they jazz, classical music or indeed the sort of commercial popular music, rightly scorned not just by Adorno. Diedrich Diederichsen’s key work, Über Pop-Musik, does not merely affirm the inherently transmedial nature of pop music but makes it its very distinguishing characteristic: ‘Pop-Musik ist der Zusammenhang aus Bildern, Performances, (meist populärer) Musik, Texten und an reale Personen geknüpfte Erzählungen.’18 Following Diederichsen, then, we should acknowledge that in pop music, aspects such as album cover design, stage outfits and haircuts, interview statements or promotional photographs are as important as the music and lyrics themselves. And it is for this very reason that Diederichsen spells the term with a dash, as it allows him to differentiate the transmedial form of musical art defined above from the vast field of popular music in general.

Treating German pop music as a multimedia phenomenon embracing both ‘natural’ analogue and ‘artificial’ electronic sources of sound, visual culture in its various forms, performance practice, as well as a particular use of language which oscillates between the literary quality of words (linking pop lyrics to Lyrik) and the sound quality of sung language (embedding ←5 | 6→the words into the music as part of the auditory experience of listening to music) marks a decisive methodological innovation.

This volume builds on the theoretical paradigm to look at all pop music as a multi-discursive, transmedial phenomenon that operates on various interlocked levels to create meaning. The sonic element of pop music itself, to repeat this important point, represents only one layer of meaning, supplemented by the various visual elements (videos, promotional photographs, album artwork, website design, etc.) and the performance elements both on-stage (stage persona and stagecraft) and off-stage (interviews, self-portrayal via social media, etc.). In other words, what pop music reflects and refers to is shaped by and itself co-determines a wide variety of media, societal and cultural phenomena.

Nevertheless, what Germanists in particular can contribute to the study of German pop music is their philological expertise, that is to say the focus on the lyrics. While the words, through their sonic quality, firmly belong to the transmedial mix that constitutes pop music, they may arguably also be seen as literary texts in their own right, as the controversial award of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan has shown. Over the last decade, there have been many interesting intersections between literature and pop music: apart from musicians taking up the writing of novels to compensate for diminishing income in their jobs proper, writers have adapted structural principles of electronic music in particular as experimental literary techniques. The most recent development in the interface of literature and pop music has been the genuinely original phenomenon of hybrid works pairing novels with albums.


VI, 260
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2021 (October)
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2021. VI, 260 pp., 5 fig. col., 1 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Uwe Schütte (Volume editor)

Uwe Schütte is currently Privatdozent at the University of Göttingen, having worked as a Reader in German in Britain until Brexit. He is the author or (co-)editor of more than 25 books, including a number of volumes on the work and life of W. G. Sebald, as well as on the band Kraftwerk. He is also a contributor to a wide range of German-language national newspapers and literary magazines. His latest publications include W. G. Sebald in Context (2023), The Cambridge Companion to Krautrock (2022), W. G. Sebald. Leben und literarisches Werk (2020) and Kraftwerk. Future Music from Germany (2020).


Title: German Pop Music in Literary and Transmedial Perspectives
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268 pages