The signs of Summer in Bonn: Sunshine glinting on the Rhine, beer glasses clattering in countless beergardens, concerts outdoors under a clear blue sky with Blümchenknicker. True, the band play all year round, but there is a decidedly Summery style about them – like Morris Dancers heralding warmer days.
It seems in fact like they have always been a part of the City’s music scene, so I was actually surprised that their already sold-out gig at the Harmonie on 4 April is actually celebrating a mere 5 years together. Mere? It’s been a lively half decade as my interview with head ‘Flowerbender’ the extravagantly named Bender Corleone Flowers reveals…
It’s hard to imagine the local music scene without Blümchenknicker so it was a surprise to discover that you are celebrating only your 5th Anniversary this year at the Harmonie (2 April). Tell me how the band came into existence.
Wow, thank you, what a compliment. You know, for us it was more like “Whoah, what? – 5 Years already?” … of course, it’s difficult to point out an exact moment, BK is part of a long collective process. I’d say there were two major moments of ignition: Originally, I started writing songs for a solo show while writing my Master thesis in 2010. And I met some of the guys at a jam session, organized by the local Couchsurfing community here in Bonn. We decided to practise and play some of my tunes in sessions outside on the banks of the Rhine. They liked it a lot, and some of these folks went on to form the original band.
One of our percussionists was part of a legendary house community called “KleinKanada”, who had us over for a big party in April 2010. The other important moment: We come up from the dancefloor and a funky violin cajon guitar jam has materialised in the living room. They too love playing spontaneous tunes at parties or in the park, want to make people dance with hand-made heartfelt music. So we got together for many great sessions and a day in the studio. From there, it still took one year until we made it onto a public stage, which we refer to as the ‘official’ start.
I always associate you all with students, and they make up a large part of your audience. Are you still all students in the band?
We are a big mix! Some of us finished university and have been working for years, some study, others just started studying in the last years after or while working. Some are doing a PhD, while others never went to university. I guess, diversity is one of the central ideas of the group, and that shows, also in terms of education…
For English speakers I can translate your name as ‘The Flowerbenders’ and they would ask “Say what?!” So what does ‘Blümchenknicker’ as a name actually mean and why did you choose it?
The name ‘Blümchenknicker’ is very open to interpretation, even in German, and its not easy to translate it literally. Whilst ‘Blümchen’ (little flower) sounds cute, ‘Blümchenknicker’ itself means a rude person who comes along and bends or breaks it. The word could also refer to ‘accidentally spoiling’ something. We enjoy wordplay, it’s an important original part of what shapes Blümchenknicker. Additionally, everyone liked it when they joined the group, so we kept it! You could say, the range of meanings goes from ‘It sounds funny and is open to lots of meanings’ to ‘Someone who spoils an overly naïve view of the world’…
The same goes for your ‘Künstlername’ of Bender Corleone Flowers. Why and what does it all mean?!
In the beginning, we decided to go on stage with nicknames, mostly to camouflage our stage activity from being traced all-too-easily on the internet. Some of us had jobs where we were unsure whether it’d be a good thing to be associated with a funny-but-somehow-eccentric music project like this – and to be honest: none of us ever expected it to become this big. So we took it with a tongue-in-cheek-attitude. Over the years, made a funny habit out of it, and now every new member gets a stage name.
Whilst I’m trying to explain the band to English-only speakers I can move on to the next ‘Sprach Problem’. You claim to be ‘Bonn’s most Mucke Truppe’. I’ve seen Mucke translated as everything from ‘Quirky’ to ‘temperamental’ to ‘concert/gig’. So are you Bonn’s most gigging band or it’s most temperamental?
Well, somehow both…I guess we are one of the Bonn-based bands who play the most concerts here, maybe except for our good friend Cynthia Nickschas. Of course we are the most lively & temperamental! What else could we say?… Actually, it was inspired by the taglines of some of our favourite German bands and idols, ‘Die Ärzte’ (“Die beste Band der Welt” – The best Band in the World) and ‘Knorkator’ (“Deutschlands meiste Band der Welt” – Germany’s Most Band of the World). A bit of self-mockery and cheeky self-promotion at the same time.
Even translating how you describe your music is a challenge. A mix of Gypsy-pop, Flamenco, Reggaeton, Ska, Polka und Folk worked into an easy listening mix . What have I missed out?
Well, I’d say rap vocals are also a strong influence – we just throw anything together that inspires us… if you listen closely you can even spot some hints of Heavy Metal. We are still struggling to find a catchy genre description that sums up all our influences, lately we’ve considered calling it ‘Weltdorfmusik’, World Village Music …
So who were your musical influences in all of that?
I’d be damned if I’d be able to name them all. Funnily enough, our songwriting has been compared to ‘Element of Crime’, who I personally hardly know. The point is that we have a very peculiar setup due to our mainly acoustic instruments. It gives our music a characteristic sound. ’17 Hippies’ inspired the idea to work as a a collaborative, partly open band. We love the global attitude of artists like ‘Manu Chao’, and at the same time we are shaped by the local singer-songwriter culture of Bonn legends like ‘Joint Venture’. There are always changing influences, depending on what we are listening too. For a while that was ‘Seeed’ and ‘Peter Fox’, or recently ‘Django Reinhardt’.
Was there ever a time when you tried to be a rock band or Blues or Reggae or a specific style?
No, never… from the beginning the idea was to have everyone bring an instrument to the party and then get together and make music on the fly. We never cared too much about the setup, everyone contributes what he or she has to offer.
Over the five years the band has become a ‘collective’ of musicians (almost ‘rent-a-band for any occasion’ and we’ll build it for you). Who writes your songs?
The songs are mostly written by me (Bender), and then we do a collective arrangement where ideas from the group and details are worked out together.
Describe the typical evolution of a Blümchenknicker song from first idea to first appearance on a stage.
Hehe…it’s happened several times that I’ve brought a song directly to the live stage that some of the group members had NEVER heard before. Due to the many different settings of musicians, instruments and types of gigs we play, we sometimes alter songs even after years… But the more typical process is that I have a number of work-in-progress songs, which I present to members of the band from time to time and get some feedback. When the song is ready, I bring it to a rehearsal and everyone adds their ideas around the basic song. Sometimes we end up switching things around, perhaps a change of dynamics and arrangement, and that gives the song some kind of ‘collective character’.
It’s quite a big band. How many people have played as a member of Blümchenknicker over the five years?
Whew…I’d say it must be around 25 people… some of them only for a short while, some from the very beginning till now…There are new faces even this year.
Your website says that the music is first for the legs and then for the head. I see a lot of people dancing to the very commercial rhythm of your numbers and certainly non-German speakers can enjoy the band immensely on that level alone. How important are the lyrics in a ‘Blümchenknicker’ song?
That would depends on the person listening. As you said, you can enjoy just the lively energy and catchiness of our sound and performance. Sometimes the technical setup at live gigs is not best suited for clearly audible lyrics. A lot of listeners may not be used to a lot of fast chains of phrases. I am told frequently by people who have visited concerts, that they suddenly later discover a new or hidden meaning to the lyrics when they get a chance to listen more closely. In the beginning, when it was a solo project and meant to work in smaller setups, I spent a lot of effort on the lyrics. Even the band members and I discover a new interpretation occasionally…
You are certainly right about there being something for the head as well as the legs. I love lines like “Nur ein leidender Hund bellt und beisst ohne Grund” – (Kaleidoskop) Or “Set yourself free – jump into the travelling current” (“Macht euch frei. Springt hinein, in den reissenden Strom!”) This seems like a call to anarchy when you sing it live and loud.. Are you a political band? And if so, what are your politics?
That’s complicated, like life itself. I tend to say that it’s impossible not to be political if a band goes on stage. And I can assure you that within the group we do not agree on every political topic. So you might say, the anarchic impression first of all goes for the group itself. While we sometimes appear to be a chaotic bunch just calling for having fun, we actually do share one common message every time: We want people to get together, dance, and be themselves – and along the way we would love to plant a little inspiration and empathy. When I write a song about a certain topic, I try to keep it in the style of a suggestion, a nudge to think about deadlocks and delusions, and that’s what the group usually can agree on.
There is great wordplay in ‘Wilkommen in der Wa(h)renwelt’, “wo jeder sich zuerst an Zahlen halt. Wo wenig mehr zählt als bares Geld”
In fact I think there is very often a lot of disillusionment behind behind your jolly tunes. To the point where you say in my favourite Blümchenknicker song ‘Glaubensfrage’ “All that counts is survival and propagation” (“Alles was zählt ist überleben und fortpflanzen”) Is there anything in life we can be happy about? The final lines of the chorus “What would Jesus do? Jesus would dance!” suggest we can only make the best out of a bad situation. Is that how you feel?
No no. It’s really a friendly mockery, and the only way I can make sense of religion… or any strict ideology for that matter. It’s not that I’d disencourage people from having an idealogical standpoint, but it should not stand between you and the joy of life or keep you from being open and tolerant to your fellow humans. Get off your asses and give ’em a good shake, together! You can take charge and shape your own life.
Which topics are good ones for you and which ones (if any) taboo?
Mostly Cats, Sex and sexy cats … There are no taboos for me, if you find a way to expose topics so that they are not too hmmm… obtrusive, pushy or presumptious I’d say.
Tell me about the new CD
Well, ‘Nachwürzen’ is our fourth album, and a very important landmark for us: We are predominantly a live band, but people kept asking us for some kind of ‘studio recording’. None of us is a professional studio musician, however. The usual Track-by-Track-recording didn’t suit the energy, the dancing, the spontaneous fun of our live performance…
So we decided to get together for a single session in the ‘Ermekeilkarree’ in the Bonner Südstadt (a great project by the way there, part of the worldwide Transition initiative!). We piled all of us into one room and got in the mood. We took two takes of each song, playing nearly all day. Strenuous, but a lot of fun, too! And that’s our priority most of the time.
How have your discs developed?
Looking back, first came the very rough ‘PROMO 2011’, then – almost by accident – we recorded the lively ‘LIVE 2012’ at one of our early concerts. The first real studio project ‘TREIBHOLZ’ contains ballads, the quieter side of Blümchenknicker. The new album is all about the lively danceable tunes. We feel it really represents what we have been up to on stage during the last two years.
“Nachwürzen” was available streamed via Bandcamp with the option of downloading as “pay what you want” What happens when you ask people to ‘Pay what they want’ for a CD?
It works out quite well. We regard it as an opportuniy for us get wider exposure on the one hand because everyone from student to bigger earner can listen to our tunes. We love that both come together at our concerts to have an awesome time and even sing along, because now they know all their favourite songs from the album. The other intention is to get people to reflect more about the worth of music as a shared experience in every way…
What has been the most memorable gig of your five years together and why?
Whew…that’s very difficult, because that is part of the magic of this group: Everyone keeps trying to make each gig a new ‘most memorable’ one. Some of course fall short of being ‘the’ new kicker, we still keep growing and experience it that way. Personally, my favourite one of the early gigs with 14 of us (!) on stage was at the ‘Wirklichkeitstest’ in 2011 (for Theater Bonn and Fringe Ensemble). Some of us had to sit on the side of the stage to even fit, and we played for almost 3 hours…
Also our first time at ‘Studis dreh’n am Rad’ festival at Alter Zoll in Bonn in 2012, that moment when you realise you play in front of almost 1500 people was amazing. And our first time playing a shorter set at Harmonie as support. Now we get our own concert there! We regard that as a great honour for the bunch of amateurs – or ‘Rumpeltruppe’ – that we still are….
Most of the group mention our two gigs at the “Tropen Tango”-Festival in 2011 an 2015. The first one because it was a totally chaotic, booze-soaked, hilarious madness, and the second because we played a seriously great show. We were 12 of us on stage, but actually we were a traveling group of 30 people….that gave us a new horizon.
And your future plans?
Yeah, that’s the thing….at the moment,we are trying to play more often outside of Bonn, which confronts us with a lot of logistic issues. The active core of the Band ranges between 8 and 13 people, and we don’t live off the music, we have to manage our jobs, studies and private lives … We try to focus on smaller festivals, which already have a resident crowd and can more easily host a band as numerous as we are – and also, it mostly means more fun to us. Blümchenknicker is more like a big lifestyle project, meant to bring people together and become part of the performance. Our spontaneous concerts on the train home or late at night at the bar have become well known, because these tend to resonate between us and the crowd… this resonance, that’s what we want …