#IntoTheVaults and our writer Marco Mini takes the helm and steps into synth heavy expressionism with the 80’s group Propaganda. In this rather sterling feature Marco looks at the German based synth pop band and their one and only album. In his discussion he looks at the album’s impact on a young ostracised Italian full of dreams to expand his horizons.
There are several, unexpected benefits from being an ostracised teenager in rural Italy.
Firstly, you develop a thick skin which enables you deflect most of the shit thrown at you by society. Then, you learn to enjoy your own company, develop a healthy dose of egocentrism or learn essential life skills like reading tarot cards. Of course, the sense of alienation drives your brain towards exploring and appreciating unexpected cultural avenues.
Signed to Trevor Horn, Jill Sinclair and Paul Morley’s ZTT records, Propaganda’s German pedigree fitted perfectly with the label’s obsession with futurism and machinery; their 1985 debut and only album A Secret Wish, was an ode to Germany’s 1920s cultural renaissance. This high concept project left me fully mesmerised, being ghostly and dark, machine-driven and yet full of textures, harmonies and unexpected orchestrations.
While working at the label in London, the band became much more than a mere musical ensemble. With the grandiose production of Steven Lipson and the creative drive of Paul Morley, Propaganda morphed into an avant-garde exploration. They were a platform for electronic expressionism, encompassing music, art and literature.
The album opens with vocalist Suzanne Freytag reciting in a low and solemn voice Edgar Allen Poe’s words “All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream”, suddenly sounding like the perfect manifesto for the reality-as-an-illusion thesis and providing a strangely comforting resort to a boy engulfed in teen angst.
Similarly, the electro melodrama of Dr Mabuse, driven by Claudia Brucken’s arid-yet-compelling vocals and a sumptuous string arrangement, was accompanied by a video shot in black and white full of cryptic imagery in stark contrast with the shiny MTV pop era explosion. While part of me was seduced by the immediacy of a Stock, Aitken and Waterman production, there was another part who craved something more meaningful, a less palpable perhaps, but still concrete, cerebral kind of pleasure. Propaganda’s narrative seemed to perfectly fulfil this.
Famously, a Time Out review described them as ‘Abba from hell’, due to their ability to still deliver, in their own austere way, catchy pop brilliance, like the single Duel, which eventually propelled them to chart success across Europe and is still regarded as one of 80s best crafted songs.
It is this tension between light and dark that makes A Secret Wish so powerful among many 80s kids, a sort of cult classic, repackaged and reissued several times over the last thirty years, each of them welcomed with a spiritual devotion. In a recent interview Brucken explains, “It’s like a time capsule out in space, it’s transmitting like a satellite, music doesn’t die if it still resonates. You throw it out and it’s an echo still repeating thirty years later”.
Of course, there was never a follow up album. Several of the band members fell out with the record company and A Secret Wish remains as a standalone example of what real art pop should look and sound like. The teenage angst might have left me, but in my heart and mind the music is still echoing, still transmitting.