Too exceptional for Major Labels? The ambiguity of the musical style ‘Neue Deutsche Welle'”

When talking about the so called “Neue Deutsche Welle” today, the attention usually focuses on a successful period of German-language songs during the 1980s. But hat is only half the truth. The term “Neue Deutsche Welle” was firstly used in an advertisement of the former Zensor shop in the August’s issue of Sounds in 1979. Both the Zensor shop and the music newspaper Sounds were set up in the field of independent labels as well as independent music – a field in which there was not any commercial success in prospect. “Neue Deutsche Welle” originally stood for edgy, experimental, and innovative German music concepts, which were evolved during the 70s and which were inspired by the British New Wave. However the music was too exceptional for Major Labels for many years.

In my paper, I would like to present the difference between the non-commercial and the commercial “Neue Deutsche Welle”. Concerning this matter, listening habits and marketing strategies during the early 70s, the late 70s and not least the 80s should be compared. How was it possible to transform the avant-garde “Neue Deutsche Welle” into a music style, which was suitable for the mass? The analyses will be based on different German labels (and their artists) like Zensor, ZickZack, No Fun, Ata Tak or Monogam on the one hand, and EMI, Virgin, CBS or Mercury on the other hand.

Using this especially German musical style offers new results in the field of music marketing and emphasizes the discourse of listening to music.


Elisabeth Heil studied musicology and art history at Humboldt University, Berlin. During her studies, she worked as a student associate at the Chair for Popular Music History & Theory, as a tutor in the field of music theory, the concert promoter of the Berliner Hornquartett, and as Helmut Oehring’s assistant for his work GOYA I. After her exam in 2009, she did some editorial works for different publishers like positionen. Texte zur aktuellen Musik or Klett. Between 2011 and 2013 she was one of the research associates at Staatliches Institut für Musikforschung, Berlin. Ever since she has worked as an editor for Transcript as well as Olms and she was a lecturer at Humboldt University, Berlin in summer term 2015. Currently, she is writing her PhD-Thesis about different Peer-Gynt-settings. Elisabeth Heil is also an active violinist and a freelance piano teacher in Berlin.