The annual concert series Music & Politics was established in 1978. Conceived by Günter Mayer as a collaboration between the Music Biennale East Berlin and the Political Song Festival, each concert featured several works by different composers or groups and was followed by an open discussion between participating musicians and audience. Although originally focused on Contemporary Classical Music, the programme soon embraced experimental work from other genres, including Jazz and song forms. The series was initially curated by Günter Mayer, and later by Karin Wolf – with the assistance of broadcaster Petra Schwarz.
When I took over the curation in 1985, my main conceptual intent was to combine in a single evening experimental work from different genres. Therefore, I continued to invite indigenous New Music chamber ensembles, increased the presence of experimental Jazz and Rock groups from the West, and introduced acousmatic and Performance works.
With its unconventional aesthetic profile, Music & Politics was from the start an alien and controversial presence within the rather conventional and conformist fabric of the Political Song Festival, its pluralist cross-genre format, along with the complex experimental compositions it presented, sitting uneasily alongside popular political song groups, patriotic folklore and world music.
In the context of the official and conservative cultural politics of East Germany, however, we were offering an alternative and oppositional approach to music, with the inevitable concomitant potential for conflict. In the turbulent political climate of our country’s final years, keeping such a series running at all involved continuous battles with conservative and desperate functionaries and apparatchiks. Without the unwavering support of my fellow organizer Petra Schwarz, and the quiet backing of Günter Mayer and assorted professors from the Humboldt University, I could not have seen the series through.
The increasing popularity of the Music & Politics concerts with an expanding dissident public made the series potentially dangerous. And by this time our audience was commuting from all over the country, eventually in numbers greater than the concert hall could accommodate. A media ban was imposed on us in 1988 and the concert was moved from Brecht’s prestigious Berlin Ensemble, which had hosted the series since the early 1980s, to the House of Soviet Cultures. With the reforming Soviet politics of Glasnost and Perestroika by then becoming synonymous with a call for fundamental societal change, we felt this relocation rather apt.
Music & Politics ran its last programme in 1989. By then, however, I had terminated my very problematic connections with the Political Song Festival and the people running it. To continue to organise events in this conformist context had become altogether too compromising.
The title Music & Politics was hijacked by a faction of the old Song Festival after the wall came down presumably to use its oppositional credibility to carry on in their old ways.
In the 1980s, left-field groups from the West had become an important part of the East Berlin cultural scene. The Italian group Maccina Maccheronica/Stormy Six, West-German Duo Goebbels/Harth, German-English-American project Duck and Cover, American duo Skeleton Crew, British singer Dagmar Krause, South-African group Kalahari Surfers, German-English group Cassiber and English bands Music For Films and Oh Moscow had all played in East Berlin on various occasions. The introduction of these groups into our milieu was mostly the work of Günter Mayer and Peter Wicke – two East-German musicologists, able to travel West, who made contact with, amongst others, members of the Rock in Opposition network. The influence of the experimental spirit and aesthetics of these group could certainly be felt in the growing alternative music scene and inspired bands like the Berlin group Expander des Fortschritts.