They were a Düsseldorf band and in hindsight you can see them as the halfway point between the city’s most famous sons Kraftwerk and the common European language of techno-pop that flourished in Ralf and Florian’s wake. But Propaganda were pipe-banging confrontationalists before they became a waking pop dream. Ralf Dörper, a bank employee, music writer and member of Düsseldorf industrial-electronic band Die Krupps, founded Propaganda with part-time DJ Andreas Thein and jeweller-goldsmith Susanne Freytag. None was a musician in the conventional sense but they made a demo version of ‘Discipline’ by Throbbing Gristle which found its way to NME writer Paul Morley, then in the process of setting up ZTT with Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair, who wanted to sign them.
The band recruited Susanne’s 19 year old friend Claudia Brücken as their singer , and also Düsseldorf Symphony percussionist Michael Mertens, which expanded their palette even if it made them no more of a conventional pop/rock band. “Susanne and I came from an art school background,” says Claudia. “We weren’t afraid to be experimental or adventurous. We didn’t set out to make big pop records but we stumbled into it when we started working with Trevor, and when Michael joined and brought his very orchestral ideas. Propaganda was a very interesting combination of people.”
Propaganda’s golden period – 1984-86, from ‘Dr Mabuse’ to their Outside World tour – coincided with the last moments when pop would be about mystery instead of explanantion. On the sleeve of their debut single ‘Mabuse’ you could barely tell who was in the band. There were only faces in the darkness, and the music, a demonic cyclone of Shostakovich strings and foundry beats, provided scarcely more clues.
By ‘Duel’ in 1985 (followed shortly by their long-playing masterpiece A Secret Wish) the enigma had turned itself inside out and the dualistic notion of “Abba in hell” (a phrase coined, so it is thought in a review in Time Out magazine) became real: two girls and two boys (Andreas Thein had moved on), two sides to the music, light and darkness, the sublime pop A-side and ‘Jewel’, its evil twin on the flip. Propaganda were a band of ideas – their own, Morley’s and those of Trevor Horn’s ZTT studio teams – and the ideas became a self-magnifying hall of mirrors. You could get lost in there...
To listen to Claudia Brucken’s favourite songs on Spotify click on the link below: