Xmal Deutschland, German post-punk pioneers, exhibited a voracious and unyielding approach throughout the 1980s. Their aesthetic, marked by flamboyant hairstyles and heavy, kohl-rimmed eyes, mirrored the dual nature of their music—imbued with both a relentless energy and a certain finesse. This duality enabled them to transcend the boundaries of the “Neue Deutsche Welle” movement, setting them apart from contemporaries such as DAF and Einstürzende Neubauten. Their emergence was crystallized with the release of the ‘Incubus Succubus’ single in 1982. That very year, a seminal performance in London, opening for the Cocteau Twins, catapulted them into the embrace of an eager, avant-garde audience, typified by torn fishnets and a thirst for the unconventional.
In punk’s audacious departure from traditional mores, Xmal Deutschland found a haven for their anti-establishment inclinations, a world remote from the rigid conventions of bygone eras. Emblematic of punk’s ethos, the band’s members—Caro May, Rita Simon, Manuela Rickers, Fiona Sangster, and Anja Huwe—ventured into music without the trappings of prior experience. Their initial foray into recording, with the single Schwarze Welt, was marked by an unexpected shift: Rita Simon, who was set to take the helm as lead vocalist, was absent on the day of recording. This twist of fate propelled Anja Huwe, originally the bass player, to the forefront as the lead singer, a role she accepted, albeit with reservations. “The only condition from my side [was that] I will never perform onstage,” she reflects. “Two months later, they made me without ever telling me up front. I had no choice.”
The characterization of Xmal Deutschland primarily as a female ensemble—a notion later playfully amended with the inclusion of Wolfgang Ellerbrock, who became the group’s lone male counterpart—gained momentum within the circles of media, a fascination propelled as much by their visual appeal as by their musical prowess. “We were like paradise birds,” Huwe wryly remembers. “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.”
Following Xmal Deutschland’s distinguished run, marked by four albums released under esteemed labels like 4AD, Anja Huwe shifted her creative focus, leaving the musical stage to delve into the realm of visual arts. However, this transition did not mean an effortless departure from her musical legacy; the echoes of her past endeavors lingered.
“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.
Finally, however, the persistent clamour for reissues has met a resonant response. Sacred Bones Records announces with palpable enthusiasm two simultaneous releases: a reissue of Xmal Deutschland’s ‘Early Singles,’ enriched with two bonus tracks, and the inaugural solo album from Anja Huwe, titled ‘Codes.’ These records are slated for a concurrent release on March 8th, 2024,
Early Singles (1981-1982) is a map of their foundational movements, just seconds before takeoff. 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. This reissue includes two bonus tracks; Kaelbermarsch (originally from the compilation Lieber Zuviel Als Zuwenig) and a gritty live version of Allein (originally from the compilation Nosferatu Festival), which is shared online today along with a video montage of footage from this era of the band’s career.
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 synthesiser 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.
Anja’s debut solo album Codes, a pleasant surprise, emerged following an invitation from her long-standing friend, Mona Mur. Huwe, reevaluating her extended sabbatical from the music scene, decided to collaborate with Mur in her Berlin studio. Over eighteen months, the duo meticulously crafted, performed, and produced the tracks that would culminate in ‘Codes.’ A critical element of the album’s distinctive sound came from the involvement of Manuela Rickers, who infused it with her renowned guitar style. This partnership was marked by a shared artistic vision and mutual understanding.
“Mona and I have a similar artistic background since the 1980s,” says Huwe. “We hung out together, and we sport a similar attitude towards life and art. We don’t have to explain ourselves to one another.”
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.
The 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 synthesised drones of sound even feel claustrophobic at times.
Along with the announcement today, she shares the frenzied Rabenschwarz, which, with Rickers’ hypnotic apocalyptic guitars, Mur’s agitated and distinctive electronic sounds and beats, forged together with Huwe’s unmistakably energetic and expressive vocals, hits you in the face
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