Academic journal article ARSC Journal

A Well-Oiled Machine: The Creation and Dissolution of East Germany's VEB Deutsche Schallplatten

Academic journal article ARSC Journal

A Well-Oiled Machine: The Creation and Dissolution of East Germany's VEB Deutsche Schallplatten

Article excerpt

Much has been written about popular music in the East Germany (the German Democratic Republic or GDR), most notably by Peter Wicke, Michael Rauhut, and Olaf Leitner. (1) VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (VEB DS), the country's official and only legal record label, was responsible for all musical output and faced challenges unique to a socialist organization. VEB DS was a nationally-owned enterprise (a volkseigene Betrieb), as were most East German businesses. VEB DS worked exclusively with professional bands--as of 1988 the official count of professional rock bands (not including dance bands) was 110. (2) As Durrani noted, "there are few other countries in which party conferences earnestly and repeatedly debated the question of what kind of music their citizens ought be listening to." (3) In addition, among the eastern bloc countries, Randlesome noted that the GDR was "economically the most successful ... its business institutions appeared to radiate success and stability." (4) VEB DS had six divisions, of which Amiga, the branch for popular music, stirred up the most controversy. This essay describes: the founding and origins of VEB DS throughout the GDR's tenure; production issues unique to a socialist record label (including a plagiarism lawsuit); and, what happened to VEB DS after Germany's reunification, including licensing agreements and integration with western labels.

Not surprisingly, reunification caused great changes for the record company, transforming the socialist business into a new, capitalist model. The whole history of VEB DS will be traced, including management changes made as recently as 2008. [See Figure 1 for a timeline of major events in GDR history, including the development and dissolution of VEB DS.]

GDR leader Walter Ulbricht (and later Erich Honecker) famously resisted 'beat' music and insisted that the GDR not use capitalistic terms like 'band', or 'disc jockey,' favouring instead 'combo' and 'Schallplattenunterhalter.' (5) The government tried to resist all western and particularly American influences on music but, of course, did not succeed. The Sozialistische Einheitspartei Deutschlands ('Socialist Unity Party') or SED became interested in acknowledging western artists like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones when the potential profits in 'The East' became apparent. They then allowed special licensing through the state's lone record company. As Patricia Simpson remarked, "the history of official reception alternates between efforts at resistance and cooptation." (6)

The concession by the government to allow some music in from the west was still limiting, as evidenced by the 60/40 regulation. This regulation meant that foreign music could only officially account for 40% of radio airplay and record productions. In later years, this directive was eased somewhat but the government generally supported playing as much East German music (in German) as possible. (7) Much of the so-called popular music was played on DT 64 (on Berliner Rundfunk), a radio program founded in 1964 and backed by the nation's official youth organization, the Freie Deutsche Jugend (FDJ). Roughly 40% of the GDR's youths were a part of the FDJ, making DT 64 an important way to reach this impressionable audience. (8) Although some western titles were released in the original languages, to meet the regulation, other titles were painstakingly translated into very literal German. One example is Mick Jagger's album She's the Boss, dubbed in German as Sie ist der Boss. The lyrics for Lonely at the Top (Oben ist es einsam) began: "Einsam, einsam. Weiss Gott, du bist ehrgeizig, gibst dir solche Miihe ..." based on the original lyrics: Lonely, lonely ... God knows you're ambitious, see you push so hard ..." (9) Even though most West German bands, with the exception of Udo Lindenberg, performed in English, "the GDR rocked to the sounds of the German language." (10)

VEB Deutsche Schallplatten

VEB Deutsche Schallplatten (originally called Lieder der Zeit Musikverlag) was founded in 1947 by socialist actor/singer Ernst Busch, inspired by his tour of duty with the Soviet army. …

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