News: Post Punk Pioneers Xmal Deutschland Release Album ‘Early Singles (1981-1982)’ And Front Woman Anja Huwe Releases Debut Solo Album ‘Codes’ Both Out 8th March Via Sacred Bones

“Gothics”—a time before the word goth had even taken shape—believed in the do-it-yourself punk ethos that anyone could pick up an instrument. This, alongside the bric-a-brac fashion of Adam Ant and the long-winded atmospheric malaise of Bauhaus’ 1979 single, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead,” gray clouds were starting to form. And in the unlikely city of Hamburg, a brazen and haunting gang of five women formed Xmal Deutschland.

Amidst the dark ruckus that coalesced at the turn of the 1980s, these similarly-styled incendiaries began practicing in a rehearsal room that belonged to some of their boyfriends’ bands. As any true punk would, Xmal Deutschland’s members Caro May, Rita Simon, Manuela Rickers, Fiona Sangster and Anja Huwe, started the band despite not having had any previous musical experience. When they bought studio time to record their first single, “Schwarze Welt,” Simon was originally slated to be the lead vocalist but failed to show on the day of recording. Huwe—who originally played bass—was thrust into the frontwoman position, and begrudgingly agreed: “The only condition from my side [was that] I will never perform onstage… Two months later, they made me without ever telling me upfront. I had no choice.”

The “Schwarze Welt” seven-inch was released on the local punk label, ZickZack, in 1981 and introduced the band as an unsettling swarm of intensity. There’s an urgency in its repetitive dirge, a swirling mania that persists on the b-side with “Die Wolken” and “Großstadtindianer” whose crude synthesizer noises escalate in tension. Most of all, Huwe’s uniquely venomous German vocals quickly became embedded in the unbridled and burgeoning scene of glamorous gloom.

Punk’s independence from the stiff grip of tradition allowed the band to find solace in anti-establishment art and music, far from the conventions of the past. “We as girls, especially being creative in many ways, ignored facts like: be nice, be polite, take good care about your looks. Of course, we wanted to look good but in a different and unconventional way. We were enough for ourselves.” However, some tropes were harder to overcome. The association of Xmal Deutschland as a girl band (later with the addition of Wolfgang Ellerbrock who, jokingly, became the token man of the group) gained traction within the media circuit because of their looks: “We were like paradise birds,” says Huwe in retaliation to the tired misogynistic tale. The band’s keyboardist, Fiona Sangster, adds: “To be an ‘all-girl band’ happened accidentally. To us, it was not the main reason to form a band.”

With their peacocked hair and thick kohl-lined eyes, Xmal Deutschland’s music retained both a restlessness and delicacy, transcending any confines of the “Neue Deutsche Welle” movement (much like their colleagues and friends DAF and Einstürzende Neubauten) with the release of the “Incubus Succubus” single in 1982. It instantly became a post-punk classic. The guitar’s buzz ransacks through the melody as the ghoulish primitiveness of Huwe’s voice teases that maybe, just maybe, she is the nightmarish creature of which to be aware. The b-sides, “Zu Jung Zu Alt” and “Blut Ist Liebe,” keep strict militaristic dance beats as they teem in agitation.

That same year, the band performed in London as support for the Cocteau Twins; it was the platform they needed to ricochet into the arms of the ripped fishnet masses. Early Singles (1981-1982), is a map of the foundational movements of Xmal Deutschland, just seconds before takeoff. Bonus tracks on the compilation, “Kaelbermarsch” and a gritty live version of “Allein,” further accentuate their fusion of toughness with the quixotic decadence of atmospheric synthesizers. The band’s pursuit of something greater is palpable with this release, a reflection of a time that introduced accessibility to new means of making music following the onset of punk.

Check out the official video for Allein, below:

Pre order the album here

After Xmal Deutschland’s success with four albums on cult labels such as 4AD, Huwe abandoned music to pursue her visual art career. But leaving her legacy in the past was not so easy: “Since the split in the early 1990s, I have been haunted by the ‘Legend of Xmal Deutschland’ and never-ending requests from all over the world, all of which I always turned down,” she says.

Invited by her long-time friend Mona Mur, Huwe reconsidered her decades-long hiatus from music and decided to join Mur in her studio in Berlin. Together, they worked for a year and a half, composing, performing and producing the tracks from scratch, which would eventually became the album ‘Codes’. Integral to the overall sound experience was the input of Manuela Rickers who added her famed signature guitar style.

The collaboration was relentless: “Mona and I have a similar artistic background since the 1980s. We hung out together, and we sport a similar attitude towards life and art. We don’t have to explain ourselves to one another,” says Huwe.

“I discovered the new possibilities of digital and analogue music creation,” she continues. “It was a very intensive work, without egocentricity and completely in the sign of the realization of what we wanted to achieve. The project was in the foreground and was characterized by intense encounters with words and sounds. For me, it was a completely new experience—or, like painting pictures.” Mur adds: “Anja’s voice is like a spear, her appearance a torch in the darkness.”

Initially inspired by the diary entries of Moshe Shnitzki, who, at the age of 17, left his home in 1942 to live in the cavernous White Russian forests as a partisan, CODES is about the human experience and what extremes can do to an individual. “The result is a poetic, musical cosmos that encompasses the following themes: forest, fear, pain, loss, violence, and loneliness but also beauty, longing, hope and the will to survive,” Huwe explains. These thematic extremities cause an erraticism to CODES—a passing thunderstorm, a cyclonic burst of nature’s force—but one that exudes anticipation amidst the chill. With elegant production by Mur and Huwe and mixing and mastering by Jon Caffery (Joy Division, Gary Numan, Einstürzende Neubauten) epic builds crash and disseminate, the sleek synthesized drones of sound even feel claustrophobic at times.

The introductory song, “Skuggornas,” is weighted by the past: “I don’t regret anything I’ve done,” Huwe sings, mirroring the hefty anguish of a death ballad. Quickly, she growls in her native tongue with “Rabenschwarz,” a frenzied song – unmistakably energetic and expressive. The sharp punctuation of Mur’s signature electronic elements throughout the album helps sterilize the hostility of Howe’s vocals—this is especially apparent in the bleak harmonic resonance of “Sleep With One Eye Open.”

The interchange between languages is intentional, as shown in “Pariah”: “Since I sing multilingually, and often work with metaphors, I hope that the listener can grasp the moods without understanding them literally. This is often the case with Xmal Deutschland—I believe that voice, expression, and sound can achieve an overall atmosphere. Sometimes melancholic and blue, but also uplifting, vibrant, or subliminally aggressive.”

And it is with the addition of former Xmal Deutschland’s guitarist, Manuela Rickers, that CODES hints at the post-punk atmospheres of yesteryear. “The way she plays is unique, magnificent, almost unpretentious,” says Huwe. “Her often unusual tones are sometimes quirky. There is nothing like it.” Rickers’ guitarwork swirls maniacally (“O Wald”) or howls in sorrowful blights of melancholy (“Zwischenwelt”). However, it shines most in “Living in the Forest,” a song that harkens back to the grit of Xmal Deutschland: both eerie and danceable, the guitar intertwines with Huwe’s vocals in a way that feels like destiny. Amusical cosmos, indeed.

Xmal Deutschland, now marked as forerunners of the post-punk movement, were never complacent but consistently ravenous in their attack throughout the 1980s. Huwe’s return is no different. Unexpected but long overdue, CODES is that missing page from post-punk’s history books, the freshly splayed paint across the decades-old canvas—it is the product of the tireless will to survive on her own terms.

Check out the track Rabenschwarz, below:

Pre order the album ‘Codes’ here

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