2009-09-30 // 17:44

New Sounds From the Old World

Dave Heckman is convinced: “If the music is good, the music is good.” The founder and owner of Metropolis Records must know. His Philadelphia-based label has been successfully specializing in rock and pop subgenres like EBM, industrial, future pop and darkwave, all highly influenced by German artists and bands.

Founded in 1994, Metropolis Records developed fast as the leading voice in the “post-industrial” underground. While searching abroad for music for his label, Heckman has brought together a roster of German bands including In Strict Confidence, Funker Vogt, Wumpscut, KMFDM, And One and De/Vision. Together, they are the crème de la crème of their styles.

Already, during his days as record store owner, Heckman recognized that a new sound was emerging in the musical world. While hip hop and Seattle grunge bands, such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Mudhoney dominated the charts, a growing subculture of industrial and electronic beats was evolving.

Before founding his label, Heckman imported many unknown European artists, with a substantive number coming from Germany. “I made connections with the German labels Hyperium, Zoth Ommog, machinery,” he recalled. “But finally, instead of licensing and importing the bands, I decided to start a label.”

His first official release was “Teignmouth” by the Leipzig-based band Love Is Colder Than Death. “I was getting tired of rock,” he said. “I liked the abrasive, harsh electronic sounds personally. And that was prominent in the German and Belgian industrial. In the U.S., it was more guitar driven.”

Soon after working with the neo-classical Love Is Colder Than Death, Heckman’s young label began to shape its roster. Pioneering bands such as Front Line Assembly (Canada) and Front 242 (Belgium) were most in demand by American audiences.

But Heckman also looked early on to Germany and found bands such as Project Pitchfork, Wumpscut and In Strict Confidence, artists that were right for Metropolis. Later on, he partnered with KMFDM, the now Hamburg-based band centered around Sascha Konietzko, whom he always wanted on his label. Heckman even acquired the works of the group already on the market and released all of their previous albums digitally remastered, out of his love and admiration for the musical output of the band.

KMFDM are considered a main influence for many American bands. Their approach of combining industrial elements with heavy guitars and some electronica has paid off.

Coming out of the Paris art scene of the early 1980s, founder Konietzko moved over to the U.S. to work on his musical ideas. His politicized lyrics and his creative work with language and art catapulted KMFDM to the frontline of their genre where they still remain after 25 years.

Despite the influence and success of German bands in the U.S., Heckman is cautious about their use of the German language in the music they release. It is still difficult for a foreign band to be successful in the U.S. with lyrics other than in English.

He mentions Rammstein as the only German band that has enjoyed huge success worldwide while singing in their native language. “But I won’t shy away from them singing in German,” he said.

For example, the Metropolis-released future pop trio Melotron, from the eastern German town of Neubrandenburg, sings entirely in German. They have toured extensively in the U.S. and their song, “Der Kosmonaut,” has been used several times in a recurring sketch on the comedy show “Saturday Night Live.”

Other bands also left their mark in the U.S., in spite of their German lyrics. The duo Wolfsheim released their music in America on Metropolis until singer Peter Heppner decided to go solo. On their last U.S. tour, they played to sold out concert halls across the country.

Recently, Heckman picked up the Munich-based band Eisbrecher, which had previously been released on Dancing Ferret Discs. “I wanted to do something different for us,” he said. “We were known for our electronic stuff but that sound got kind of a bit stale. I wanted to try something new.”

Eisbrecher is mainly a two-man project with Alex Wesselsky and Noel Pix, both former members of Megaherz. The two bands have had a core fan base in the U.S. and Canada for years. Their albums were in high demand in North America even before their official U.S. releases.

For singer Wesselsky, the decision to sign with Metropolis Records was a big step forward. Metropolis is the leading independent label for industrial-based music in the U.S. and offers possibilities that had not been available for the band previously, such as touring, an introduction to the huge club DJ scene and the promotion of their music in the college radio circle.

Heckman is probably the biggest fan of his bands but he is, foremost, a business man. Many other label owners, while recognizing the demand for these musical styles in the U.S., nevertheless had to shut down after only a few years in the business, the latest one being Dancing Ferret Discs.

Heckman likes what he signs and he knows his audience. For him, the decision to put out an album rests on two premises: He has to like the music and he has to have the feeling that it will sell.

On Metropolis Records, you can find such pioneering bands as well as the new hopes of the emerging subgenres. German bands will not put a dent into the American music market and most commercial radio listeners likely don’t know much about the German music scene.

However, when delving into independent genres, its development, its subcultures, its different voices, you are led to many artists and bands from Germany who are releasing and touring in the U.S. Metropolis Records is just one example of a label that believes in the sound from abroad.

Music is an international language and as Heckman puts it, “if the music is good, the music is good.”

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