Podcast

Music and Places – Berlin and Athens, GA

Berlin Wall and Athens, GA band Pylon


In this episode, I explore what it is about certain places, certain cities, and certain moments in time that tend to spawn a unique musical sound and the community that grows around that sound. In particular, I focus on Berlin in the mid- to late-1970s and Athens, GA in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Berlin

Berlin, in the mid-1970s was in the midst of the Cold War. This was a city that, before the Nazi’s gained power in 1933, had seen a vigorous, decadent, and libertine lifestyle producing a rich vein of anti-establishment art and philosophy. The ravages of war, reconstruction, and the Cold War resulted in making West Berlin a solitary speck in the middle of communist East Germany.

David Bowie and Iggy Pop

David Bowie and Iggy Pop

My entry point to thinking about the influence of Berlin on electronic and post-punk music was a deep-dive into David Bowie’s “Berlin Trilogy” – three albums recorded between 1976 and 1979: “Low,” “Heroes,” and “Lodger.” Bowie, influenced by his collaborator, Iggy Pop, and German bands such as Neu! and Kraftwerk, produced work that influenced emerging post-punk, new wave, and electronic acts that would have their heyday in the 1980s.


Athens, GA

Athens, Georgia experienced a surge in musical activity in the late 1970s with a number of bands who were all aware and influenced by a specific musical thread connecting the Garage Rock noise of the MC5 and The Stooges, the punk explosion of the Sex Pistols and The Ramones, and the post-punk explorations emerging at the time.

Pylon

Pylon at the original 40 Watt Club (photo: Michael Lachowski)

However, unlike New York City or London, the musical community in Athens was not as competitive, it was less showy, and there was a certain satisfaction with the lack of massive attention. Regardless of this low-key approach, the sounds emanating from Athens, GA became part of the DNA of the so-called “Alternative Rock” or “College Radio” movement throughout the 1980s and 1990s.

Music excerpts, in order of appearance:

Berlin

  • “Speed of Life” from Low (1977) – David Bowie
  • “Sister Midnight” from The Idiot (1977) – Iggy Pop
  • “Showroom Dummies” from Trans-Europe Express (1977) – Kraftwerk
  • “Nightclubbing” from The Idiot (1977) – Iggy Pop

Athens, GA

  • “Crazy” from Chomp (1983) – Pylon
  • “Wolves, Lower” from Chronic Town (1982) – R.E.M.
  • “Private Idaho” from Wild Planet (1980) – The B-52s
  • “Rock Lobster” from The B-52s (1979)- The B-52s
  • “Stop It” from Gyrate (1980) – Pylon
  • “Stumble” from Chronic Town (1982) – R.E.M.

Show Links

David Bowie’s Berlin – from Fotostrasse

David Bowie and Berlin: A decadent desolation that still resonates in nightlife” by August Brown, Los Angeles Times

The Invention of Ambient Music” by Alex Abramovich, The New Yorker

The B-52s performing “Rock Lobster” in 1978 – YouTube video

Paul Butchart’s Athens Music History Tour

America’s (Other) Best Band: Pylon’s Brilliant Punk Minimalism Lives On” by Brad Cohan, Observer


Credits
Podcast intro music: “Mister S” by Luc Marcotte