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Tuesday 10 November 2015

Solent lecturer speaks at ELECTRI_CITY conference

Southampton Solent University’s Sean Albiez, a senior lecturer on our popular music programme, was recently invited to speak at the ELECTRI_CITY electronic music conference in Germany. With an extensive background in the academic study of German electronic music, Sean was an ideal fit to present on the unique relationship UK and German electronic bands shared during the late 70s.

What is the Electri_city Conference and who typically takes part?

The Electri_city conference was the first academic conference to take place in Germany that examined the electronic music legacy of Düsseldorf including artists such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, DAF and Propaganda.

There were 2 parts to the conference. The “academic symposium” was organized by Dr Uwe Schütte (Aston University, Birmingham) and Dr Enno Stahl (Heinrich-Heine-Institut, Düsseldorf), and the “cultural conference” was curated by the author and musician Rüdiger Eschm, who compiled the interview collection ‘ELECTRI_CITY’ that provided the theme for the event.

The venue for the ELECTRI_CITY Conference – images courtesy of Dr James Hodkinson, Warwick University.


I was invited to take part in the academic symposium that included primarily British and German academics and writers who have published studies on aspects the work of Kraftwerk and other German electronic musicians operating in West Germany in the 1970s and 80s – often known as ‘krautrock’.

The accompanying cultural conference included contributions from Peter Hook (Joy Division / New Order), Daniel Miller (Mute Records), Andy McCluskey (OMD), the influential DJ and musician Rusty Egan, Dr Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire) and Heaven 17.

It is important to note that popular music studies conferences in the German context are relatively rare as this area has a lower profile in German higher education than in the UK. This makes this conference all the more important in that it has helped in some way in heightening the status of popular music studies and the importance of German electronic music in its home country.

How did you first find out you’d been invited to speak at Electricity?

I was invited to take part by Dr Uwe Schütte who earlier in 2015 organised a very successful Kraftwerk conference at the University of Aston. Uwe was aware of my research in this area through the book ‘Kraftwerk: Music Non Stop’, which I co-edited with Professor David Pattie from the University of Chester, and in which I contributed studies on Kraftwerk and German identity, and on the interplay between West German and British electronic musicians in the late 1970s.

Sean’s book on Kraftwerk, written in collaboration with David Pattie.

 I also contributed one of the first academic studies in this field to a German book, ‘POP SOUNDS: Klangtexturen in der Pop- und Rockmusik’, in 2003 which probably contributed to some extent in raising awareness of this music in Germany where, apart from Kraftwerk, it had been largely forgotten.

What did your presentation cover?

My presentation dealt with the networks of contemporaneous influence and counter-influence between artists such as Kraftwerk, Neu!, Cluster, La Düsseldorf and Harmonia in West Germany and Ultravox!, John Foxx, Gary Numan and Simple Minds in Britain via the interventions of Brian Eno and David Bowie in the late 1970s.

Why is Germany so synonymous with electronic music?

Germany has become synonymous with electronic music in the popular musical imagination due to the international profile and undoubted innovations of Kraftwerk.

However, Kraftwerk are only part of a long and complex story taking in avant-garde antecedents such as Stockhausen; the Berlin scene of the late 60s (particularly Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze); the post-punk electronic music of DAF and Liaisons Dangereuses; Berlin Dub Techno in the 1990s; and the innovations in electronica made by German musicians on the periphery of electronic dance.

Beyond that, there are stereotypical cultural associations that arise due to German prowess with technology that seem to fit easily with the musical facts.

Academics and musicians speak at the ELECTRI_CITY cultural conference – image courtesy of Dr James Hodkinson, Warwick University.

Why is British electronic music so well regarded in Germany?

Perhaps, in the context of this conference, due to the fact many British electronic artists of the late 1970s were not shy in acknowledging the debt they owed to Kraftwerk and German electronic music more generally.

How will you be taking learnings from this conference and applying them to your teaching?

I already integrate my research on krautrock into my teaching, particularly in my unit ‘Noise Annoys: Experiments and Alternatives in Popular Music’. The conference and the contacts I’ve made with like-minded academics will undoubtedly enhance my research in the field further, and in turn enhance my teaching.

Dr Uwe Schütte showing attendees of the academic conference a copy of Sean’s book – image courtesy of Dr James Hodkinson, Warwick University.

How did you find giving a presentation over Skype?

This was a very strange experience as I was unable to see the audience I presented to, and presented from an empty lecture room in the SM building to escape the sound of ongoing building work in my office (though the drilling noise of the building work is appropriately reminiscent of the industrial music of the German band Einstürzende Neubauten!).

However, with the help of David Pattie, with whom I’d pre-prepared a ‘script’ for the event, I was able to present my ideas as a conversation with David rather than reading a traditional conference paper. This worked well and several conference attendees have given positive feedback.

Anything else to add?

As a result of my participation in the conference, and David Pattie’s too, we have undoubtedly opened up opportunities in the UK and Germany to enrich our upcoming book, ‘Kraftwerk and Germany’ (Reaktion Books). Work on this book will begin after the completion of  our edited collection on Brian Eno in the new year.

Another positive outcome of the events in the UK and Germany this year is the formation of a German popular music studies international research network. This is being developed by Dr Uwe Schütte (Aston University) and Dr James Hodkinson (Warwick University), and I am hoping to make a contribution in the future.

To find out more about studying popular music here at Southampton Solent University, please visit our music and performance homepage.