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Idealists and Eurosceptics: when Music deals with Europe

November 10, 2016

 

 

Davide Zilli,

Finished in November 2016

 

 

Many times I wondered about the existence of links between music and the ‘European theme’.

It’s true: it could sound weird at first, but following some hints from previous listenings, this research was worth the pain.

Exactly as for political factions, in the variegated music world there exist conflicting sides on the matter, all different among them and sometimes diametrically opposite.

And yes – after all – it has been a good exercise, which made me know some new artists. Many of these artists are unknown to the audience, but I hope this article may let the reader appreciate them.

 

To synthesize the various thoughts on European Theme in music, I decided to group them into two basic macro-groups of artist with respect to their overall position. My sources are both lyrics and interviews.

 

THE IDEALISTS

 

The first group - the Idealists - is formed by those artists who seem to like the idea of a more united Europe, even thought precise references are lacked. These artists are not classifiable as pro-European, because, although they show interest towards the "European theme", they do so with extreme and radical concepts - e.g. Europe as a a "succession of postcards" for Kraftwerk and, on the other side, Europe as a potential imperial power in the view of Killing Joke.

The lyrics – often not related to contemporary events – are accompanied by relaxing and enjoyable melodies which wants to profound optimism in the listener. Sense of membership to something greater is prevailing in the following - and unique - examples.

 

KRAFTWERK

(Germany, Idealists)

 

In your show, you played two new songs referring to Europe : "Europe Endless" and "TEE". Do you really believe in this European consciousness ? Aren't you German anymore ?

A: It's not a nationalist feeling... The culture of the Rhine area is our cultural background. What amazed us in the States, is that everyone shows his own background much more than in Europe, although we have museums and a very rich history. In the States however, there are only "blocks", then people are asked to show this background on a psychological and individual level...

...

What is the subject of "Europe Endless", this new composition that you sing on stage ?

A: We traveled all over Europe, and especially after a tour in the States, we realized that Europe is mostly parks and old hotels... "promenades and avenues"... "real life"... real life, but in a world of postcards. Europe, when back from the States, it's only a succession of postcards...

 

Source

 

Thematically, the record feels like parts of two different concept albums: one a meditation on the disparities between reality and image, and the other the glorification of Europe. There is an impressive composition paying homage to "Franz Schubert," but the real meat of this approach is contained in the opening love letter, "Europe Endless"

 

Europe Endless

Nearly ten minutes in length, it musically replicates the awe and wonder of discovering new land and visiting foreign countries almost perfectly. While large portions of this album are heavy, this sits at the opposite end of the spectrum; it's casual, upbeat, and catchy. The main themes are repeated several times, and reprized later in the album's closer, Endless Endless.

 

Franz Schubert

As part of their celebration of Europe, Kraftwerk present this tribute to one of the continent's finest composers. It's an impressive work that uses a completely electronic texture to imitate a string quartet.

 

Source

 

 

 

 

 

 

KILLING JOKE

(UK, Idealists)

 

 

European Super State

(from the album Absolute Dissent, 2010)

 

Question: The most straightforwardly commercial track on the album. From a trance-techno introduction this builds into a crisp and restrained song, Geordie dampening his guitar strings to a discreet chug while Jaz calmly intones a pro-European agenda – "it's a civilizing force that demands respect" - leading to an improbable sing-a-long chorus. Fans of the original line-up will naturally be put in mind, however distantly, of 'Follow The Leaders', but this is perhaps closer to the glacial apex of their early contemporaries Simple Minds circa Sister Feelings Call.

...

Answer: If you look at the song 'Europe' on our fifth album [Night Time 1985] – Geordie's a passionate admirer of Rifkind and the European Dream, and we're all supporters of the European Ideal, I know Big Paul is and Geordie is passionately, so it's just a continuation of our convictions. The origins of the European Union are Jan Huss from Prague in the 1600s. His original idea is worth studying because it's based on the arts, it's based on spirituality. At that time Prague was a bastion of hermeticism and Rosicrucianism and alchemy against the Roman Catholic church, so it's worth looking at our roots there, and that's what we did with this track. It's quite prophetic when you look at the second verse – "why are the proud descendents of Plato paying off more debts accommodating NATO?" It's what we call the triple-headed head-dress of the jester – the 'Shin', as we call it – which is a prophetic current that runs through Killing Joke lyrics when they are accurate transmissions.

 

Source

 

 

I'm a Judeo Christian morality
With a Greco Roman intellect
It's the way we're short-wired
It's a civilizing force that demands respect

From the Baltic to the Straits of Gibraltar
A blue flag gold star sparks a brand new empire
Ours to build, ours the choice

I'm in an European super state
Every citizen required to debate
I'm in an European super state
Every citizen required to debate

Why are the proud descendants of Plato
Paying off more debts accommodating NATO?
We the caretakers of democracy
No longer tolerate this hypocrisy

Baltic to the Straits Of Gibraltar
A blue flag gold star sparks a brand new empire
Ours to build, ours the choice

I'm in an European super state
Every citizen required to debate
I'm in an European super state

Every citizen required to debate

Old Europe

...

 

Europe

(from the album Night Time, 1985)


Europe take up your arms pick up your courage
a black sun is rising as the gods of europe sleep
come back into your strength awaken
catastrophes atrocities shall summon you my love

Glory glory how we wait in Europe

what have they done, what are they doing?
the place i love so butchered ravaged scarred and raped
the years have passed us still we're fighting
'til once again somewhere green lands shall be in sight

Glory glory how we wait in Europe
glory glory how we watch in Europe

the day humanity is over
let nations east and west tremble at the sight
'til standard bearers' eyes are hungry
and reason dead forever - God let it be soon

 


 

THE EUROSCEPTICS

 

 

The second group is the one of the sceptics, or better: the eurosceptics. Here the music changes – not only metaphorically. Melodies are more obscure and dramatic while the major chords become rarer. The themes are focused on current issues and on social discontent in our times.

 

They present the view of a Europe at war and in which divisions are becoming always stronger.

Among them, I recognized two types of Euroscepticism: the pessimistic artists - e.g. Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio and Sol Invictus - and the nationalist artists - one for all, Laibach (see image above). The first ones are those whose songs denounce the fall of Europe with sorrow; the last ones are instead those who act – or, maybe, pretend to be – in favor of a Europe of nations and condemn it to a future of divisions.

 

 

Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio

(Swedish, Eurosceptic - pessimists)

 

 

A World not so Beautiful [A Song 4 the Emperor] from Songs 4 Hate & Devotion

 

London is burning, ignited with love

Misunderstandings, descend from above

Paris has fallen; the flag has been raised

A nation in ruins, once pompous and great

Brothers are fighting, in pleasure and pain

There is no refuge, in the ladies of Spain

Brussels is drowning; the flood has commenced

The secrets of Europe, are waking again

Berlin is falling; it has been besieged

Europe is burning, for you and for me

Rome is collapsing, just like before

This is the future, its Europe at war

 

“Let me take your little hand, let me make you understand

That the world is not as beautiful and free, like you believe”

 

Belgrade is bleeding; the past was retrieved

Prague under siege, in tears we concede

The uproars in Munich, in crystals they march

Amsterdam trembles; there’s no light in the dark

Brothers are fighting, in pleasure and pain

There is no refuge, in the ladies of Spain

Vienna has perished, consumed by its past

Zurich is ruined; the gold did not last

Berlin is falling; it has been besieged

Europe is burning, for you and for me

Rome is collapsing, just like before

This is the future, its Europe at war

 

 

 

 

 

SOL INVICTUS 

 

(UK, Eurosceptic - pessimists)

 

 

LOOKING FOR EUROPE

 

He went looking for Europe, took love in his hand
With eyes of sunlight, like burning sand
Went to the west, rode to the east
Heard of life and honour, looked into the eyes of the beast
Stood in a city, in the gold house of whores
Said: ''I'm looking for Europe'', then you're looking for war
Sat on the throne of Arthur, held Boudica's sword
Kissed the flags of the great, beneath the towers so tall
Climbed up the hillside, where the eagle still flies
Said: ''I'm looking for Europe'', well be ready to cry
He walked to the forest, to the lair of the wolf
Said: ''I'm looking for Europe, I'll tell you truth.''
Some find it in a flag, some in the beat of a drum
Some with a book, and some with a gun
Some in a kiss, and some on the march
But if you're looking for Europe, best look in your heart

 

 

 

LAIBACH

(Slovenia, Eurosceptics - nationalists)

 

 

Among the eurosceptics 'nationalists', the icon of this movement is Laibach, a Slovenian industrial-metal band still active from the ‘80s. For those who do not know them, this short description may help understanding the artistic/cultural operation proposed by Laibach, with air of mystery, fascination and unsustainable ambiguity.

 

“Laibach's method is extremely simple, effective and horribly open to misinterpretation. First of all, they absorb the mannerisms of the enemy, adopting all the seductive trappings and symbols of state power, and then they exaggerate everything to the edge of parody.

Next they turn their focus to highly charged issues - the West's fear of immigrants from Eastern Europe, the power games of the EU, the analogies between Western democracy and totalitarianism.”

Source: Telegraph

 

 

Laibach -  Eurovision (2014)

 

There are crowds in the streets

They are crying to be heard

I hear echoes of voices

They are trying so hard

But the ears are kept shut

I see millions of hands

They are raised to the sky

I see visions of outrage

 

Europe is falling apart

Apart

 

In the absence of war

We are questioning peace

In the absence of god

We all pray to police

Oceans of people

Oceans of souls

 

 


 

The artists presented, and their relative songs, may be just a little part of those who have talked about Europe or – given the complexity of the subject –  be the only ones!

By the way, we discovered that a certain interests exists in talking about Europe in music, and, even if these artists may seem to be part of a specific niche, their existence is however relevant for this small research.

What emerges is that there is the need for some artists to talk about such issues as crisis, instability, and war.

 

For some extents, this division (Idealists and Eurosceptics) is just fictional, because – to be sincere – I doubt that some of the above-mentioned artists actually believe in nationalism. Their lyrics can be seen as a monition for politicians and for the establishment. They make the listener reflect on the fragility of peace and on the sudden variability of social and political conditions that brings to war.

 

In general, artists tend to ignore this topics. The most independent and avant-garde part of them is traditionally biased because considers the holders of power – as the EU is for some extents – as enemies of the people or, at least, guardians of privileges and insensible to real people’s problems.

 

In my opinion, all things considered, idealists and eurosceptics are much closer than what we believe,  the latter being surely subtler than the former:

 

“Amerikano Freunde

Und Deutscher Kamerad

Wir tanzen gut zusammen

Wir tanzen nach Bagdad"

 

Laibach - Tanz Mit Laibach, 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by Davide Zilli, all rights are reserved and belong to the respective artists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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