The German independent band F.S.K. ( originally named after the West German self censorship institution „Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle”) was founded in 1980 by four members of the underground magazine „Mode & Verzweiflung” ( Fashion & Despair ) in Munich. Today’s European Quintet and German-American Sextet/Septet/Octet still incorporates the original line up:
Justin Hoffmann, musician and art journalist, was born in the Bavarian Forest near the Czech border in 1955. Thomas Meinecke, author and radio deejay, was born in Hamburg in 1955 and came to Munich, like Hoffmann, in 1977. Artist Michaela Melián was born in Munich in 1956 as daughter of a Spanish father and a German mother. Wilfried Petzi, living as a photographer in Munich since the 1970’s, was born in rural Lower Bavaria Close to the Austrian border in 1948.
Michaela ( bass, guitar, fiddle, organ, vocals, etc. ) had been a student of classical violoncello, freelancing in Chamber Music ensembles and as occasional member of a Folk string band; Justin ( guitar, organ, piano, accordion, vocals, etc. ) has been playing in bands since the age of 12; Thomas ( 1ap steel guitar, guitar, cornet, drums, vocals, etc. ) had been into mutant Jug Band Music as a teenager in Hamburg; Wilfried ( mandolin, guitar, banjo, trombone, vocals, etc. ) was playing and singing in Lower Bavarian dance bands as early as 1970.
The first live appearance of F.S.K. was in Hamburg 1980, 6 months after the release of their 1st record. To be followed soon by periodical tours through West Germany, to West Berlin, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Austria.
The early records ( two EP’s, „Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle” 1980, and „Teilnehmende Beobachtung” 1981; 1st LP „Stürmer”, which entered San Franciscan indie charts in 1981; EP „Magic Moments” in 1982; like all their Continental releases from 1980 to 1989 on Hamburg’s ZickZack label; plus several compilation tracks ) gave the band the reputation of being West Germany’s most intelligent art school combo.
Living in a very americanized country meant to F.S.K. that they soon, in means of love and hate, started to work out structures of Euro-American heritage in their music. Not only did they so bring back the Texan Blue Yodel to its Bavarian source, they also started to add the occasional cover version of American standards and non-standards to their German repertoire. The first two LP’s reflecting this technique and flavour were recorded in 1983 („Ca C’est Le Blues”) and in 1984 („Goes Underground„).
In 1985 John Peel invited the combo to come to London for their 1st BBC Session, the same year to be released as an EP entitled „Last Orders”. The included drinking songs were also performed live at London’s Goethe Institute and the Max Headroom ICA Rock Week in Summer 1985. Enthusiastic reviews in NME, Melody Maker and The Observer.
The 2nd John Peel Session was held one year later, in August 1986. The included version of GI song „I Wish I Could ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch'” appeared in John Peel’s 1986 Festive Fifty listeners poll as the only not released recording.
In June 1987 the band visited the UK for a 3rd BBC John Peel Session (to record their versions of 4 Beatles songs), signed a contract with Red Rhino Records in York, had a studio date at Offbeat in Leeds ( to record 4 songs produced by Kevin Lycett of The Mekons for Red Rhino ) and another London live gig at the ICA. A compilation LP covering the recording years 1983 to 1985 ( Continental Breakfast ) was released in Summer 1987 in the UK ( with sleeve notes by John Peel ) through Red Rhino/Ediesta to be followed in fall by the release of „American Sector” EP (with Leeds takes, including a re-recording of „I Wish I Could ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch'” ) on the same label.
Immediately after their return to Germany the band recorded the 4th LP „In Dixieland”, produced by Detlef Diederichsen in Hamburg. Dealing with various aspects of trans-atlantic Folk Music the record contains no cover versions, only self-penned material. Scheduled for simultaneous release in West Germany ( ZickZack ) and the UK ( Red Rhino / Ediesta ) in Winter 1987/88. In November 1987 the band travelled to England for a second time within one year to play live gigs in London ( Sir George Robey ) and Winchester ( Art School ). Very good reviews of live shows and records in NME ( 8 1/2 points ), Melody Maker ( album of the week ), Sounds, Record Mirror. Frequent airplay of F.S.K.’s UK releases in England and Scotland.
In April 1988 F.S.K. recorded their 4th Peel Session ( with Yodel Songs ) in London which made the band the non-British group with the most John Peel Sessions ever. A recording date at London’s Falconer Studios ( intended to be released on Ediesta / Red Rhino, but Red Rhino made bankrupt instead ) was followed by a tour through the UK. Live performances in Leeds ( Polytechnic ), Hull ( Adelphi ), Southampton ( Joiners Arms ) and London ( ICA, Albany ).
In Summer 1988 re-release of F.S.K.’s 1st LP „Stürmer” on ZickZack with original 1981 sleeve and sound. Release of „In Dixieland” LP together with 1982 „Magic Moments” EP as ZickZack Compact Disc. Frequent F.S.K. airplay on East German Radio as well as American College Radio. 60-minute interview with F.S.K. on WTUL, New Orleans. Good review of „In Dixieland” in Option Magazine, Los Angeles.
F.S.K.’s 5th regular LP, „Original Gasman Band”, was recorded in January 1989 in Hamburg and produced by the band. It contains 12 songs in radical folk, some self-penned, some in trans-atlantic Polka and Yodel feed-back from the New World. The LP was released in Summer 1989. The CD version contains F.S.K.’s cover of The Saints plus 1987 „American Sector” EP.
F.S.K.’s 1982 song „Viel Zu Viel” is featured on London’s „Deutschland Strike-Back” Compilation, released in Spring 1989. In Summer 1989 the English Strange Fruit label, dedicated to publishing BBC Peel Sessions on records, released a Double Peel Sessions LP and CD by F.S.K. containing the complete F.S.K. Peel Sessions of 1986 ( „I Wish I Could ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch'” ) and 1987 ( „Beatles Songbook” ). German Tele 5 TV produced a video of F.S.K.’s „Pennsylfawnisch Schnitzelbank”. American clubs demand for F.S.K. live gigs in the US. Enthusiastic reviews of current album in American music papers ( Option, College Music Journal and others; F.S.K. on position 5 in Best Of 1989 US Indies Charts by New Orleans’ Wavelength Magazine ). In December 1989 first F.S.K. live gig in ( still GDR ) East Berlin.
In Summer 1990, „Budweiser Polka” and „Cannonball Yodel” ( both recorded in London 1988 ) were released as a limited edition single on Munich’s Sub-Up label ( European home of the band since then, distributed in the UK by Southern ). Extensive feature on F.S.K. in Option Magazine.
Son Of Kraut. In November and December 1990, invited and produced by GI son David Lowery ( Camper Van Beethoven ), F.S.K. recorded their first real trans-atlantic album in Richmond, Virginia, USA. Besides Lowery ( new F.S.K. member on acoustic guitar, voice, songwriting and arrangements, born in Texas, 1960 ), new in the band was also ex Tony Joe White drummer Carson Huggins, GI son with German mother, born in North Carolina, 1951. Guests and friends on the F.S.K. Richmond recordings at McCavitt Studios were Beatnik Folk legend Michael Hurley, Bakersfield picker and today’s Cracker virtuoso Johnny Hickman, Square Dance harmonica man Phil Woddail, Banjo picker Mark Linkous, Bluegrass fiddler Dave Van Deventer, and engineer John Morand on additional percussion. 1st American F.S.K. gig ( as German-American Sextet plus friends ) in Richmond’s Famous Franks.
The album was released in Spring 1991 by Sub-Up Records in Europe ( enthusiastic illustrated review in Folk Roots Magazine, London ). In the US it is available through North Carolina’s Moist Records Mail Order. David Lowery, Carson Huggins and Johnny Hickman ( GI son, born in Massachusetts, 1956 ) were in F.S.K. on their very successful GermanAmerican Septet Tour ( TV, radio, magazines ) of Germany and Austria in May and June 1991.
In Fall 1991 Carl Oesterhelt ( born 1968 in Upper Bavaria ) joined the band as their European drummer. Oesterhelt ( occasionally doubling on percussion, organ and trumpet in F.S.K. ) can also be heard playing the piano in Munich’s pop combo Merricks ( two records produced by Thomas Meinecke ). After a gig at Berlin’s BID Congress, F.S.K. were invited to play at 1992’s South By Southwest Music Congress ( SXSW ) in Austin, Texas. In December 1991 the Band flew to London for their 5th BBC Peel Session ( with 4 PostWar Songs from devided Germany, 1949-1991 ) and another gig at the Sir George Robey.
1992: Ed Ward lists the Richmond album as No.1 of his 1991’s charts in Rock & Roll Disc Magazine, Memphis. Greil Marcus places F.S.K.’s „Hitler Lives” ( from the same record ) in his February 1992 Top Ten in Art Forum, New York. In March 1992 three gigs as German-American Quintet/Sextet/Septet at SXSW, Austin, Texas ( Emo’s, Hyatt Regency, ThreeEleven) plus one show in Houston, Texas ( Black Forest ). Enthusiastic live reviews in Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazines. Single gigs and smaller European tours since 1991 mostly in German Quintet line-up: Hoffmann-Meinecke-Melián-Oesterhelt-Petzi. Young German bands start recording cover versions of historical F.S.K. material. First yodels can be heard on Lowery’s and Hickman’s Cracker debut album.
In Summer 1992 Walter Salas-Humara invited the Quintet to be his band for a Munich show and also went to a studio with them to record his song „Upside Down Instead” for the Love Is My Only Crime compilation on Munich’s IRS-distributed Veracity Label ( released in April 1993 ). F.S.K. was also invited to take part in this mostly American album and recorded its only German-language title „Das Hab Ich Falsch Gemacht” in Munich. During Octoberfest 1992 F.S.K. recorded their 6th BBC Session ( „Dear John” ) in Munich for John Peel’s English-German Euro Action program. F.S.K. now ranks ( behind The Fall ) as the band with second most Peel Sessions ever.
Later in October Carson Huggins ( now mostly on guitar and vocals ), Kentuckian trumpeter Paul Watson ( born 1951, ex Half Japanese, Orthotonics etc., today Sparklehorse ) and Rainer Ptacek ( born in Berlin 1951, moved to Chicago in the 50’s, lives in Tucson, Arizona as legendary Slide Guitar artist: Rainer & Das Combo, The Band Of Blacky Ranchette, Giant Sand etc. ) were brought to Munich by Austrian Festival „Steirischer Herbst”. In Graz, Austria F.S.K. as German-American Octet closed „The Immigrant Song”, a three days beer tent event with wild encores that included not only the line-up of Hoffmann, Huggins, Meinecke, Melián, Oesterhelt, Petzi, Ptacek and Watson, but also Cajun musicians from Louisiana and Tejano musicians from Texas. Live broadcast on Austrian Radio (ORF).
In early 1993 the Prague Goethe Institute invites F.S.K. for a show at the Bunkr Club ( plus live radio interview in German-English-Czech on Radio 1 ). Australian Singer/ Songwriter Robert Forster ( ex Go-Betweens ) quotes F.S.K.’s Richmond recordings as big influence on his own new album. German writer Alexander Kluge keeps repeating his German-American F.S.K. features on German TV stations SAT1, RTL and VOX ( as John Peel keeps repeating their sessions on BBC1 ).
In May 1993 the five German band members flew once more to Richmond, Virginia to record another outstanding album with their American friends, „The Sound Of Music”, again produced by David Lowery and engineered by John Morand at Turpentine Mill Recorders ( now owned by Lowery and named The Sound Of Music ). Lowery sings ( two Lowery originals and one song in German ) and plays on it extensively. Guests include Paul Watson on trumpet and alto horn, Mark Linkous ( meanwhile Susanna Hoffs’ bandleader, today: Sparklehorse ) on vocals, and young Hohner USA employee Joshua Camp on accordion. Wild shows in Richmond, Virgnia, ( Pyro’s ), Washington, D.C. ( 9:30 Club ), and Chapel Hill, North Carolina ( Local 506 ). Live radio appearances at WVGO, Richmond and WXYC, Chapel Hill.
The Country Rockers from Memphis, Tennessee start covering F.S.K. material in their live shows. Robert Forster, back in Brisbane, Australia, records an F.S.K. original in German ( released on Beggars Banquet ). Whereas F.S.K., invited by the Romanian Goethe Institute, plays a live show in Bucarest at the philharmonic of the Romanian State Radio in December 1993, broadcasted over Radiodifuziunea Romana. Interviews by Romanian TV, radio and press. The second Richmond album gets listed in many European polls of 1993.
1994. Normal Records of Bonn, Germany invite F.S.K. for a one-off CD on their Return To Sender mailorder label ( with 1992 recordings of German-American Octet). 1. Video production of „Flagge Verbrennen ( Regierung Ertränken )” broadcasted over German VIVA Television. Extensive Germany-Austria Tour in German Line-Up. Virgin Records, America puts F.S.K.’s „Red Sonja” on 9th Anniversary Sampler CD of American Alternative Press Magazine (AP). F.S.K.’s 1981 recording of „Liebe Tut Weh” re-released by Belgian label Antler on New Wave German Class-X compilation. F.S.K. as David Lowery’s Hot Pick in Special Summer Issue of American Rolling Stone Magazine. Extensive VIVA TV feature on F.S.K. after their powerful Popkomm performance in Cologne. F.S.K.’s „Unter Dem Doppeladler” appears on soundtrack of American movie „Love & A .45″, directed by C.M. Talkington, and on Immortal / Epic Soundtrax / Sony CD „Music From The Motion Picture Love & A .45″ ( on which F.S.K. are followed by The Butthole Surfers, Johnny Cash, and Courtney Love ).
1995 started with F.S.K.’s „Diesel Oktoberfest” on „Wo Ist Zuhause Mama” Compilation on Germany’s Trikont Label and an extensive F.S.K. live show on Bavarian and Hessian TV. F.S.K.’s „Liebe Tut Weh” re-released on Columbia / Sony German Pop & Wave Spezial compilation. F.S.K.’s „Unter Dem Rhein” re-released on worldwide distributed Big Cat compilation „Sturm & Twang”. The band plays live at the release party in Cologne ( broadcasted by VIVA TV ). F.S.K.’s „G.M. Tuxedo Plunger” on „Komm Schnell” Compilation on German Peace 95 label. Chicago based label Flying Fish signs F.S.K. for the USA. First release is an American edition of „The Sound Of Music” CD. Enthusiastic reviews ( CMJ Jackpot etc: ) in the US. ZickZack records releases a 2 CD set with 44 F.S.K. tracks from 1980 to 1989, titled „F.S.K. Bei Alfred”. In late Spring F.S.K. fly over to the US again to record another album with David Lowery in Richmond, Virginia, and to tour the States ( with David Lowery and Paul Watson in the band ): Charleston, West Virginia ( Mountain Stage, broadcasted over 120 public radio stations in the US, The Empty Glass ), Carrboro / Chapel Hill, North Carolina ( Cat’s Cradle ), Charleston, South Carolina ( Music Farm, invited by Pavement ), Athens, Georgia ( 40 Watt Club ), Atlanta, Georgia ( Mid City Music Fest ), Cincinnati, Ohio ( Bogart’s ), Chicago, Illinois ( Double Door, parts broadcasted on radio and cable TV in Chicago and Seattle ), Cleveland, Ohio ( Peabody’s ), Detroit, Michigan ( St. Andrew’s ), Richmond, Virginia ( Floodzone ), New York, New York ( Mercury Lounge, parts broadcasted over cable TV ), Washington, D.C. ( 9:30 Club ). German Arte TV films F.S.K. in Richmond, Athens, Atlanta, and New York City. Rolling Stone interviews F.S.K. in Atlanta. Roxy Munich multi-media installation and video about F.S.K. by Jörg Heiser being exhibited in Munich ( Kunstverein ) and Zürich ( Shedhalle ). 4 F.S.K. tracks ( Red Sonja, When It Rains In Texas, Dr. Bernice, and David’s Japanese Yodel Mix of Euro-Trash Girl ) appear in the USA on Cracker Fan Club CD „Bob’s Car” ( Cracker Soul ). In Spring 1996 European release of the 1995 Richmond sessions as CD / Double LP „International”. Enthusiastic reception of F.S.K.’s new ( gender and nation transcending ) musical camp manifestations. TV documentary Lost In Music on German TV 3sat about F.S.K. in the US. Video clip „Mark Twain In Heidelberg” being broadcasted on German VIVA TV and British MTV. Recording of four not song related band instrumentals in Weilheim, Bavaria. A British TV team with John Peel visits F.S.K. in Bavaria for TV documentary „Travels With My Camera: John Peel’s Autobahn Blues”, shooting Peel and the band for three days ( broadcasted by Channel 4, London, December 22nd, 1996, 8 pm ). Two more F.S.K. tracks appeared on compilations in 1996: Tel Aviv on „Absolutely Live 1996″ ( Almaviva ) and „Was Kostet Die Welt” on UntergruNDW ( Polymedia ). Plus „Cubano Song” ( = „Mein Kubano Girl” ) on Sound Of Music Studios Promo CD.
1997 saw the sensational release of F.S.K.’s „4 Instrumentals” on Sub-Up’s booming techno subsidiary Disko B. Tel Aviv on „Kraut 2000″ Compilation ( Polymedia ) with new, mostly electronic, music from Germany. „1+1=3″ on „Willkommen Zuhause” compilation ( Polymedia ). „Hippie Melody” on CD re-release of 1981 „Reifenwechsel leicht gemacht” compilation ( Schlecht & Schwindlig ).
In 1998 F.S.K. record their 6 songs / 6 instrumentals Album „Tel Aviv” in four days live at U-Phon Studios in Weilheim, Bavaria, released on Sub-Up / Disko B ( CD version includes the 4 Instrumentals of 1996 ). Great reviews, growing connections to the young techno / electronic / post rock scene. Munich Techno / Punk Girl Trio Chicks on Speed release a 7-inch single with two remixes with additional recording of F.S.K.’s „Euro Trash Girl” on Munich’s Go Records label. Extensive chapter about F.S.K. in Richie Unterberger’s book „Unknown Legends of Rock’n’Roll” ( San Francisco, 1998 ). John Peel invites the band among other favorite bands to play London’s Queen Elisabeth Hall in June ( John Peel’s Meltdown Festival ).
In early 1999 the band is touring with „Tel Aviv” ( presented by Spex Magazine ). Remake of Die Sterne track ( „Das bißchen besser F.S.K. Remodel” ) on L’age d’or / Epic / Sony Records. Techno DJ’s worldwide are spinning the 12-inch in their live sets. F.S.K.’s historic recording „I Wish I Could Sprechen Sie Deutsch” on CD compilation „Pop 2000″ ( EMI ). „Herz aus Stein” ( Version 1998 ) on Puch Fiction compilation ( Wild Orange Records ). Limited edition of 7-inch with F.S.K. playing „Did You See Davidopoulos Hit That Ball” ( private pressing ). Munich band Merricks open their new album with a cover of F.S.K.’s „Move Ahead”.
Summer, 2000: Recording of F.S.K.’s 10th studio album „X” at Weilheim’s U-Phon studios, nine abstract instrumentals with backing vocals put to hard disk in three days, mixed in another four days, produced by the band, recorded by Mario Thaler. Released in November, 2000 on Sub-Up Records as CD and on Vinyl, to be followed immediately by a rave review in De:Bug Magazine, Berlin. A new, again much younger audience ( crossing over from electronic music ) appears at F.S.K.’s European live shows. Political benefit concert Rage Against Abschiebung in October, in Munich ( together with Mouse on Mars ). At the same time Chicago’s The Catamount Company ( which started their catalogue with the legendary band Souled American ) releases F.S.K. CD „International” in the USA. Chicks On Speed’s version of „Euro Trash Girl” on their album „Will Save Us All” ( Chicks On Speed Records ). Hamburg band Die Braut haut ins Auge cover of „When It Rains In Texas ( It Snows On The Rhine )” on their live album „+ 1 auf der Gästeliste”. Fink ( also from Hamburg ) cover F.S.K.’s „Unter dem Rhein” on their EP „Er sieht sie an” ( L’age d’or).
In February 2003 they went to Uphon Studio/Weilheim with engineer Mario Thaler for the fourth time and recorded their new album with one half of the tracks being instrumentals and the other half (again) songs with lyrics. The roughmixes of these songs were sent to the Detroit-based afro-american techno/house legend Anthony “Shake” Shakir. F.S.K goes afro-germanic. In september Shakir flew to Munich with his sampler and one more week was spend together with the band in Weilheim producing “First Take Then Shake”. A band Photograph was shot in front of the legendary BMW building: motor cities united. The first praise of this unusual cooperation already appeared in the most important german music magazines months before the album’s release. “First Take Then Shake” was released in march 2004 and is the first full length album of F.S.K. on disko B. The artwork for the design of the album was realized by the german artist Olaf Nicolai. The portraits that were used for the cover are part of the series “The Blondes” (2003/2004). 2004 also saw F.S.K. doing their last Peel Session and the release of Michaela Melian’s highly praised first solo album “Baden Baden” (on Gudrun Gut’s Monika Enterprises label).