By Stephanie Altmann
Wanda, Bilderbuch and Ja, Panik! are just some of the bands associated with the term “neue Österreichische Welle” (new Austrian wave – NÖW). But what distinguishes these new Austrian pop bands from their predecessors in the 1970s and why are they becoming increasingly popular outside Austria?
Some may say that there is somewhat of a new seriousness about these bands and that making a regional statement of being distinguishingly Austrian is not important anymore. Political statements that would mainly concern the Austrian socio-economic problems seem to have vanished from a majority of lyrics and many bands would not necessarily sing in Austrian dialect anymore like their predecessors would have. “Hochdeutsch” (high German), a mix of German or English or just English seems to be preferred.
However, Wanda, founded by front man Michael Marco Fitzthum (aka Michael Marco Wanda in Vienna in 2012) with their bold and stroppy yet very successful indie pop still reflect a kind of Austrian–ness more than some of their fellow “NÖW-ers”. The band’s songs, mainly about love, frustration and drinking, are sung in Viennese dialect and there are references to some Austrian cultural specifics (such as drinking Schnapps – which would appear to play a major role in Wanda’s music). Watch the band’s most recent video for example – “Bussi Baby” – the song has a Schnapps reference in the first verse. Wanda’s latest album “Bussi” was on top of the charts in Austria when released and in the top 10 in Germany and Switzerland. The band won the Austrian alternative radio station FM4’s “act of the year 2015” (chosen by the audience) with the band “Bilderbuch” in the second place and if you are (still) looking for “the Austrian” in the music, Wanda will be the band for you. ‘Bussi Baby’ – Wanda https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E0TLZPxFM_o
By contrast “Bilderbuch” seem to aim for a slightly more international sound. The group centred around front man Maurice Ernst started out in 2005 at the tender age of 14 or 15 years old. Musically, one could say that Bilderbuch are technically more sophisticated, versatile and exciting, both in their songs as well as videos. You could almost imagine them being more successful on an international stage despite their German lyrics. Their latest album “Schick Schock”, released in 2015 brought the band their first international success with chart rankings in Germany and Switzerland. The band was on tour in Germany with their album in late 2015 with many shows sold out.‚OM‘ – Bilderbuch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Yo2WOJ4WMY
If you’re looking for a stronger indie sound, it’s worth checking out “Ja, Panik!”. Founded in 2005 around front man Andreas Spechtl. “Ja, Panik!” is probably the exception to the rule regarding the importance of political statements in songs. However, these are not limited to an Austrian context but of a more general nature. Their 2011 album “DMD KIU LIDT“(an abbreviation for „Die Manifestation des Kapitalismus in unserem Leben ist die Traurigkeit“– the manifestation of capitalism in our lives is the sadness) with the 14.05 minute long song that has the same title, is a strong critique on materialism and all other implications of capitalism on our lives. Songs have been recorded in German and English, which opens their music up to even a wider audience and one could imagine that they would be well accepted in the London indie scene. “Ja, Panik!” released their last album “Libertatia” in October 2014. Currently, Andreas Spechtl is pursuing his solo project Sleep and so is drummer Sebastian Janata with Worried Man, Worried Boy together with father Herbert (Austropop legend of the “Worried Man Skiffle Group”). Those solo projects would explain why it’s become a little quiet around the band lately. Both solo projects are definitely worth a closer look! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rt5wQd15qXQ&list=PLpi56idAR14F8W4mkyz5IQjzL1XmSYizU
Having performed in a total of 9 UK venues across the UK last year, Anglo-Austrian band “Those Goddamn Hippies” have managed to attract quite a lot of attention from an English speaking audience. Founded by British born front man Tom Marsh, the band mixes both acoustic as well as electronic elements in a very clever way to create a distinctive sound that may sometimes remind a little bit of Muse. They are musically very sophisticated which also reflects in their inventive videos. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i560ydd2yoQ
The growing popularity of emerging Austrian bands is down to many factors. Perhaps it is the “Viennese charm” (with Wanda leading the way) that makes the new Austrian sound so successful. German newspapers and magazines have been praising bands specifically for that lately and Vienna is considered a hip place to live these days. Another factor contributing to their success has been the movement of young musicians. They are actively organizing gigs in neighbouring countries and reaching out to the wider European market. Furthermore there’s increasing versatility in Austrian pop music – the electric scene has grown even bigger after the enormous success in the 1990s (Kruder&Dorfmeister). A somewhat problematic trend may be the revival of the Austropop genre. Labelling bands this way could reduce their international appeal but could also lead to even more success. We have yet to find out. There is certainly a lot to discover whether you seek “the Austrian” or not. Enjoy!
For further listening I recommend:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1nhi7fPP_5Y – Ghost Capsules