Behind the Counter: A-Musik (Cologne, Germany)

Each Tuesday, Behind the Counter speaks to an independent record store to ask about its recent favorites, best sellers, and noteworthy trends.

A-Musik in Cologne, Germany is a multifaceted record store, label, and distributor. Established in 1995, the small but mighty electronic-music specialist has grown over the years to encompass a wide variety of genres and formats. Its involvement in the Cologne music scene is just as varied, from art exhibitions to deejaying around town. We spoke with Wolfgang Brauneis, one of four shop employees, and learned the basics of A-Musik.

What was your motivation for starting a music store? / What is your background in music?

The shop was founded by Georg Odijk in 1995. The motivation was, I think, pretty simple: to create a place for music and records for which other shops and mail-orders don’t really care. In the first place that was mainly experimental music (from historical artists’ records via industrial to contemporary noise heads) and electronic music, which around that time was really thrilling. Here it is also important to mention that Georg at the same time founded the A-Musik label, which was strongly connected to the shop, and released the debut albums by Microstoria (Jan Werner of Mouse on Mars and Marcus Popp of Oval), Marcus Schmickler, Schlammpeitziger, and F.X. Randomiz. The background of Odijk and his helping-hand, Frank Dommert, was in experimental music. They both played in the electro-acoustic combo Kontakta while Dommert was running the Entenpfuhl label (which actually released the fist Jim O’Rourke LP back in 1991!). Of course, things have changed in the last 15 years — the musical taste of the people involved in the whole thing, and also the fact that, for quite some time now, there are four people working at A-Musik. Now the background(s) also include guitar stuff from garage punk onwards, dub or hip hop to free jazz, dubstep and breakcore.

Georg Odijk holds Lithops' Formationen (A-Musik, 2010)
Georg Odijk holds Lithops' Formationen (A-Musik, 2010)

What is the musical community like in Cologne?

That is a very big question. A few years ago times became a bit harder, for quite some people left the city to Berlin, which, at a certain point, became a bit ridiculous. Since a few years it’s pretty good again, actually. There are various good communities — for techno, dubstep, improvised music, contemporary music, punk/garage/trash, experimental music/noise et al — and still quite some labels. I think right now there is a lot going on, even more like in the good old mid to late ’90s. There are a number of fine venues, and, compared to other German cities, still a lot of good record shops.

Does your store have a specialty? What draws people in?

Right now the shop has four big sections: the first is electronic music that includes electronica, techno, house, breakcore and dubstep. The second is what The Wire calls avant rock, and that includes both historical stuff like early blues, prog/krautrock and post punk/no wave, and all the things going on since the mid ’90s, like post rock, noise rock, drone rock, et al. Third, we got contemporary/new music, i.e. composers from John Cage onwards. Fourth, we got experimental music, which ranges from ambient via post industrial to white noise. And fifth, we have jazz/free jazz/improvised music. Besides that, we do have some special sections for non-European/North-American music, spoken word, funk/soul, exotica, soundtracks, and others. And, we got a huge secondhand section, too. So that implies that there are people in the shops from completely different contexts, from the 19-year-old James Blake fan to the 70-year-old Bernd Alois Zimmermann specialist — which is pretty exiting.

Frank Dommert holds DJ Elephant Power's Elepha in Da Flash (Sonig/A-Musik, 2010)
Frank Dommert holds DJ Elephant Power's Elepha in Da Flash (Sonig/A-Musik, 2010)

Give me three great albums that you’ve enjoyed lately.

Formationen, a record by Lithops, a.k.a. Jan Werner, that we just did on A-Musik; Historische Aufnahmen (“Historical Recordings” in English), a brilliant and weird compilation with strange archival recordings that Felix Kubin did on his own Gagarin label; finally, the new Marcus Schmickler album on Editions Mego.

Which albums has your store sold the most over the past month?

This is the top ten of the last few weeks:

Bvdub: Tribes at the Temple of Silence (Home Normal)

The Flying Lizards: The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards (Staubgold)

Harmonious Thelonious: Mokambo EP (Diskant)

C.C.Hennix: Electric Harpsichord (Die Stadt)

Lithops: Formationen (A-Musik)

Bill Orcutt: Way Down South (Palilalia)

Eliane Radigue: Jouet Electronique / Elemental I (Alga Marghen)

Ghedalia Tazartes: Ante-Mortem (Hinterzimmer)

V.A.: Historische Aufnahmen (Gagarin)

V.A.: Noise of Cologne (Mark E.V.)

Wolfgang Brauneis holds Tim Berresheim's Studies in Future Blues (Eventuell/A-Musik, 2010)
Wolfgang Brauneis holds Tim Berresheim's Studies in Future Blues (Eventuell/A-Musik, 2010)

Do you promote visual art or local artists?

Yes, one of the A-Musik-related labels (they are all, like Sonig, Tonschacht or Basspräsidium, located at the Kleiner Griechenmarkt, so in the mailorder and the distribution) called Eventuell is specialised in records by artists ranging from archival recordings (by Henning Christiansen) to musical experiments of contemporary artists such as Raymond Pettibon. The labels also did two records by the Cologne-based (now Aachen) artist Tim Berresheim. He’s an example of a fruitful collaboration. In March he will have a retrospective at the Kunstverein Leverkusen, where we will DJ at the opening and hold speeches both about his work as well as the history of artists’ records. At the same time he will be responsible for the design of the new A-Musik website.  We did organize exhibitions (by Andreas Heiszenberger, for example) or film evenings (the last one by Johanna Billing) at the shop, we do collaborate with various galleries and museums, and we also presented records by artists at various fairs, such as Art Cologne or the Bookfair in Frankfurt.

Michael Bollhöfer holds the Basspräsidium Compilation Vol.1 (Basspräsidium/A-Musik, 2010)
Michael Bollhöfer holds Basspräsidium Compilation Vol.1 (Basspräsidium/A-Musik, 2010)

Any big future plans for A-Musik?

The biggest plan is actually the new website, which hopefully will be done this spring.

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