1980s Sound Lab: Ratinger Hof (2)

How Propaganda took over London with synth pop

Finding new music in the Ratinger Hof was a life-changing experience for many young people of the punk generation. Some of them used their musical roots to develop new, creative sound concepts, but only a few dared to actually realize their dream of becoming pop legends. Five musicians from Düsseldorf journeyed from the Rhine across London directly to the top of the international charts. The band Propaganda is still considered the blueprint for the synth sounds of the 1980s.

SYPH at the Wuppertal Stock Exchange by Richard Gleim / Heinrich-Heine-InstitutVisit Düsseldorf

The first musical experiences of Propaganda founder Ralf Dörper, born in 1960 in Düsseldorf, were with punk band S.Y.P.H., formed in 1977 in Solingen, a small city near Düsseldorf. Dörper joined the band two years after it was formed for a few concerts and was involved in their first EP Much Hatred, Much Honor (Viel Feind, Viel Ehr) in mid 1979 when he was currently 19.

Ralf Dörper left the band S.Y.P.H. after a final performance at the Lectures and Entertainment festival (Belehrung und Unterhaltung) in Berlin in November 1980 to focus on his first solo project. "The initial spark for me at the time were records by The Normal and Pere Ubu, Tuxedomoon, and Fad Gadget," stated Dörper in an interview for the book No Time to Breathe. Music from Düsseldorf (Keine Atempause. Musik aus Düsseldorf).

As a tribute to the films and soundtracks by directors David Lynch and John Carpenter, Dörper released the single Assault/Eraserhead in 1980 under Düsseldorf punk label Rondo. When John Peel presented the single to the BBC, Chris Bohn, director of the New Musical Express, selected the record as the Single of the Week.

Die Lemminge by Richard Gleim / Heinrich-Heine-InstitutVisit Düsseldorf

The single, of which 1,000 copies were released, achieved a respectable level of success. Ralf Dörper, together with Jürgen Engler who previously started the punk band Male, formed the short-lived studio project Lemmings (Lemminge) in Düsseldorf in 1980. Originally just a project for fun, the single The Lorelei (Die Lorelei) was also highly praised in the New Music Express and voted Single of the Week. A notable achievement marking an important step into the international music market, which continued with Ralf Dörper and Jürgen Engler's follow-on musical project.

Die Krupps Original Cast by Richard GleimVisit Düsseldorf

Dörper became a member of the band Die Krupps, also founded by Jürgen Engler, and recorded LP Steelwork Symphony (Stahlwerksynfonie) and track True Work—True Pay (Wahre Arbeit—Wahrer Lohn) with them in 1981. However, they split shortly before completing work on their second album Full Speed Ahead (Volle Kraft voraus). Dörper temporarily worked during this time as an editor of Düsseldorf magazine Überblick.


Together with Andreas Thein who talked to Dörper at an Alan Vega concert in 1982 at the Sartory-Saal in Cologne, they met artists Jiří Dokoupil and Walter Dahn at the Atelier Halle in the cathedral city to work on their first musical attempts. Here, the band could try out ideas undisturbed and loudly.
Ralf Dörper eventually formed the band Propaganda with Andreas Thein in 1982. Together with vocalist Susanne Freytag, the trio recorded their first tracks in a recording studio in Essen under their new band name in the summer of 1982.

Propaganda Original Cast by Wolfgang BuratVisit Düsseldorf

While singer Claudia Brücken who had previously sung with Freytag in the band Topolinos and musician Michael Mertens completed the band, Dörper also signed a contract with newly founded London label ZTT in 1983. Producer Trevor Horn, who was also working with bands The Art of Noise and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, gave Propaganda access to the latest instruments. The band moved their base to London.

The 1984 song Dr. Mabuse was already considered an excellently produced pop number shortly after release and scaled the ranks in international chart shows. The album A Secret Wish was released after Thein left in 1985, with hit European singles P-Machinery and Duel.

Propaganda Original Cast by Peter Brown (www.peterwesleybrown.com)Visit Düsseldorf

The band Propaganda most recently progressed to become one of the most successful German pop bands worldwide with their album A Secret Wish. Claudia Brücken leaves the project in 1986. The remaining musicians Ralf Dörper, Susanne Freytag and Michael Mertens are released from their contract with the label ZZT in 1988 and sign a contract with Virgin Records in the same year. The album "1234" is released there in 1990.

The success of the remake of Krupps classic True Work—True Pay (Wahre Arbeit—Wahre Lohn) produced by Dörper in 1989 eventually also led to a revival of Der Krupps, and consequently to Dörper leaving Propaganda. Propaganda's original line-up met up for a one-off performance as a tribute to Trevor Horns on November 11, 2004 at Wembley Arena.

Credits: Story

Curated by Sven-André Dreyer and Dr. Michael Wenzel, editorial assistance Thorsten Schaar (Visit Düsseldorf). Participating institutions: Cultural Office of the State Capital Düsseldorf, City Archive Düsseldorf, Heinrich Heine Institute, City Museum Düsseldorf, Tonhalle Düsseldorf gGmbH

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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