Down and Out in Düsseldorf

"Techno" is often funny, but it´s hardly a genre which could be mistaken for having a sense of humor. One would certainly not start looking for it in German Techno!
Yet, the "in-house"-compilation "Cityspace" from infamous, Düsseldorf-based label Ata Tak managed to mix house with tongue-in-cheekiness without being blunt.

From the late 70s, Ata Atk was either cutting edge (or between the chairs) of art-punk, jazz, synth-pop, Schlager and Exotica. Run by members of Der Plan, the spirit of Ata Tak was actually exploring themes that would become hip half a generation later.

In the early 1980s the label was a hothouse for young and fresh talent. Der Plan, Andreas Dorau, Pyrolator, Holger Hiller were mixing punk with the Residents, Martin Denny and Charles Wilp and dared to sing in German!

The naive retro-futuristic paintings of Moritz Rrr made up the sleeve design and provided Ata Tak with a corporate identity that other labels would later emulate.

The equally young label Mute Records would hire Moritz Rrr to do a sleeve for Depeche Mode ("See You") which resulted in a mutual, lasting relationship with some of the artists.

Andreas Dorau would become a sort of figurehead for the "Neue Deutsche Welle", a movement that young Germans could identify with for a short time. It was modern, clever, witty , futuristic, aloof and would only last for a short time before the old lecherous group of Schlager producers jumped on the bandwagon.

When Ata Tak decided to do a house-music compilation according to their standards, they soon found out that there was not much to compile. So they made up a bunch of hilarious names, and recorded a bunch of tracks that were closer to the british sound of William Orbit´s Guerilla-label and Warp Records, than to the dire Westbam and Sven Väth.

The Music on Cityspace was mostly done by Der Plan, Andreas Dorau and Tommy Eckhart, who would much later become incredibly successful with "2Raumwohnung (2 room apartment), a duo which he formed with his partner, the legendary Inga Humpe.

The mostly made-up bands had names such as "Kitschfinger", "Boogie Mobile", "Ready Made" and "Schreibmaschin" (sic!). The latter (or the whole project?)must have been a nod to Mike Myers and his "Dieter"-character. I remember one of the few sketches I was able to see, where Dieter was presenting a fake "hitparade" with "Schreibmaschin" as a new entry. (Where are those skits on Youtube, btw?)

Musically, most of the tracks are pretty dated now. Stand outs are of course "Der Plan with an abstract robo-dada poem: "Uin Uin Moon Kona Bob Uin", and Andreas Dorau with ragga-rip-off "Das ist das wirkliche Leben".

My favourites however are two tracks which are so off base that they were actually foreshadowing two entire sub-genres by a decade: Kraftwerk cover-songs and Hiphop Mash-ups.

Tiny Sexy People: Rhymes to Kill
"Rhymes to Kill" by Tiny Sexy People uses a fantastic rap by the one and only Sparky D. (who was always a bit overshadowed by Roxanne Shante) and packs it ontop a groovy beat. A cheesy soundtrack sample (I have still not figured it out) makes this a smile inducing, timeless piece of forgotten pop.

Kernkraftwerk: Autobahn
The lol-track on Cityspace is probably the best Kraftwerk cover ever: "Autobahn" by Kernkraftwerk (!!!). I still have to giggle about the brilliant silliness of it all.
Keep in mind that this came out around the time the real Kraftwerk were destroying their legacy with the sad "Mix"-album. Now listen to "Kernkraftwerk" and compare it with the Senor Coconut versions from 2000! It´s not that far off, is it?

Sadly, I don´t have a proper scan of the brilliant sleeve (there´s an ocean inbetween). It shows the public-transport plan of Hamburg, but the stops are exchanged with global cities, placing them in their equivalent position on the globe. And yes, since 2004 I do actually live in Brasilia (green and purple line)! Next stop Buenos Aires!

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