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|Genres||Synthpop, new wave, electronic|
|Labels||ZTT, Virgin, Amontillado Music, Columbia Records|
|Associated acts||Die Krupps, Simple Minds, Act|
Propaganda are a German synthpop group, formed in 1982. They were one of the initial roster of acts signed to Trevor Horn's ZTT label, between 1984 and 1986, during which they released the critically acclaimed album A Secret Wish.
1982–84: Early history
Propaganda was formed in Düsseldorf, West Germany, in 1982, by Ralf Dörper (a member of the German industrial band Die Krupps). As a trio, with artist Andreas Thein and vocalist Susanne Freytag, the group made initial recordings in Germany which were destined for future release in the UK, where Ralf Dörper's early experimental recordings had received critical acclaim by radio DJ John Peel and journalist Chris Bohn aka Biba Kopf. With the inclusion of classically trained musician and composer Michael Mertens and singer Claudia Brücken (who had worked with Freytag in her previous band, The Topolinos) music journalist Paul Morley signed the band to Trevor Horn's newly formed ZTT Records label.
The group relocated to the United Kingdom and released the single "Dr. Mabuse", named after the fictional character made famous by filmmaker Fritz Lang. The single reached Top 30 in the UK Singles Chart, and Top 10 in Germany. The group appeared on various TV shows in the UK, including Channel 4's The Tube. Here, as well as performing "Dr. Mabuse", the group also gave one of its few performances of a cover version of Throbbing Gristle's song "Discipline".
Before the year was out, Thein was asked to leave the band due to musical differences. With Mertens now filling the gap left by his departure, the band forged ahead with recording its follow-up single and debut album. However both of these were to be delayed as a result of the unexpectedly huge success of ZTT's most famous signing, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. As the label was still in its infancy, ZTT was forced to spend all its limited resources on promoting and marketing Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and this also meant that Trevor Horn was not available to produce Propaganda's album. Stephen Lipson, one of Horn's established studio engineers, took his place along with Andy Richards playing keyboards, but the delay meant that Propaganda's second single, the more pop-oriented "Duel", didn't surface until April 1985. Perhaps the band's most recognisable release, it was also their highest-charting single in the UK, reaching number 21. The band made its single appearance on the flagship BBC music programme Top of the Pops in June of that year. The song was also used as the theme music for the World Rally Championship (WRC) in 2005, the alternate version "Jewel" having also been used as the theme music for the BBC's Top Gear RAC Rally Report programmes in the late 1980s.
In May 1985, with Frankie Goes to Hollywood becoming tax exiles in Ireland, the band effectively headlined "The Value of Entertainment", a series of showcase gigs of ZTT signings, held at the Ambassadors Theatre in London. The shows also featured Art of Noise, Anne Pigalle, Andrew Poppy and Instinct. Propaganda were joined on stage by former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes and ex-Japan drummer Steve Jansen.
1985: A Secret Wish
The first week of July 1985 finally saw the release of the band's debut album, A Secret Wish. After receiving considerable critical acclaim and some commercial success, it reached number 16 on the UK Album Chart. The album was followed by another single, "p:Machinery", in August 1985, which only reached number 50 in the UK, but becoming a bigger hit in Italy, France, the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland and even being used in the hit US TV Show "Miami Vice". The 12-inch version of this release caused controversy (even within the group) as Paul Morley thought it was a good idea to have the sleeve feature a quote by writer J. G. Ballard praising the activities of the German extremist group Red Army Faction. Ariola, who distributed ZTT's releases in Germany, refused to carry the 12" as a result, so the quote was changed on the German release to another by Ballard on the aesthetic perfection of German suburbs.
The group spent the rest of the year on their "Outside World" tour, taking in Europe and America. They were joined once again by Derek Forbes on bass, with his fellow ex-Simple Minds colleagues Brian McGee on drums, and Kevin Armstrong on guitar, with backing tapes used for most of the keyboard parts. In the meantime a remix album, Wishful Thinking, was released in November 1985. Originally intended for the American club market, the album was also released in Europe, but against the wishes of the group themselves. The album peaked at number 82 in the UK. A remixed version of "p:Machinery" was also re-released as a single, only four months after its original release. In the UK, it too failed to make an impact and peaked at no.83, but was, again, more successful in France and Germany.
After making a second appearance on The Tube in January 1986, things went quiet for Propaganda. In late 1985, its management had introduced the band to the London-based music lawyer Brian Carr of Compton Carr, who had helped to win the case between John Lydon (Sex Pistols/Public Image Ltd.) and his management. Carr explained to the group members that under their current contracts with ZTT, they could go on making records for the rest of their lives and never make any money from them. Based on this information the band asked ZTT to renegotiate the contracts, which the company declined. Soon afterwards Claudia Brücken left Propaganda to pursue a solo career, remaining signed to ZTT. After a protracted legal battle, which saw the remaining members of Propaganda under an injunction by ZTT for fourteen months, they were finally released from their contract to ZTT in a hurried out-of-court settlement in the summer of 1987. Claudia Brücken formed the duo Act with Thomas Leer in 1988, and in 1991 she released a solo album (Love: And a Million Other Things) for Island Records.
1988–97: New line-up
In 1988, the band (initially still including Ralf Dörper and Susanne Freytag) signed to Virgin Records, and began recording new material. Alongside Michael Mertens was the new line-up of American vocalist Betsi Miller, with bassist Derek Forbes and drummer Brian McGee (both ex-Simple Minds) who had both actually joined the band following their split with ZTT in 1986. The result was a new album, released in 1990 called 1234, produced by former Tears For Fears' associates Ian Stanley and Chris Hughes, Miller's future husband. Some of Dörper's lyrics were used and Freytag also made a guest appearance on the album. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd played guitar on what was to be the second single taken from the album, "Only One Word".
The first single from the album, "Heaven Give Me Words", reached the UK Top 40, and the album peaked at number 46 in the UK. Although the album was not as successful as A Secret Wish, it gave Propaganda its only real No.1 hit, with "Wound in My Heart" becoming a big success in South America and reaching No.1 in Argentina in 1990.
1998–2004: Reunion and second split
In 1998, Mertens, Brücken, and Freytag reunited, signed an options deal with East West Records, and began working on new material. Several tracks were completed, including one produced by Tim Simenon and featuring Depeche Mode's Martin Gore on guitar. A video for one song, "No Return", was produced in Morocco and directed by "Keyser Soze" in December 1998. Two minute clips of it, along with photos of the shoot, were released via the band's official website in early 2000. However, no album materialized and, in January 2002, Brücken announced, "The reunion was worth a try, but did not work out."
In 2002, an untitled nine-track CD was leaked via file-sharing networks on the Internet. Track titles were "Ignorance", "Who's the Fool", "Beast Within", "No Return", "To the Future", "Turn to the Sun", "Dream Within a Dream", "Cloud 9" and "Anonymous". "Cloud 9" was later recorded by Brücken and former OMD member Paul Humphreys for their act Onetwo. It first appeared on their 2004 5-track EP Item; then appeared again in 2007 on their album Instead, together with the song "Anonymous".
2005–present: Recent activity
In early 2005, Propaganda, now comprising Susanne Freytag and Michael Mertens, started to release new material on the German independent label Amontillado Music. The 12" vinyl release "Valley of the Machine Gods" was sold out within 2 weeks. In November 2004, the original Propaganda line-up with Brücken and Dörper, but without Thein, performed "Dr. Mabuse" at the Wembley Arena showcase of Trevor Horn's lifetime celebration.
In July 2010, a 2-disc Deluxe Edition of A Secret Wish, containing the varying tracks released on both the original vinyl album, cassette and CD versions, was released to mark the album's 25th anniversary. This edition also included unreleased 12-inch remixes and previously unheard demos. The booklet accompanying the release noted that "At the time of writing, spring 2010, Mertens, Brücken, Freytag and Dörper are back on terms and for the second time since 2000 they are considering working together."
On 2 March 2011, Claudia Brücken performed at Scala in London and was joined by Ralf Dörper and Susanne Freytag for some of the tracks. Thomas Leer was also expected to perform but was unable to do so because of a throat operation. The gig was recorded for later DVD release and also featured Glenn Gregory and Martyn Ware of Heaven 17 and Andy Bell of Erasure. However, in an interview around the same time, Brücken said that Mertens was unwilling to work with her any longer.
A number of their tracks have been resurfaced on Art of the 12" CDs.
|Year||Album details||Peak Chart Positions|
|1985||A Secret Wish (1st studio album)
|1985||Wishful Thinking (remix album)
|1990||1234 (studio album)
|2010||A Secret Wish (Deluxe Edition)
|2012||Wishful Thinking (Deluxe Edition) (remix album)
- Outside World (July 2002)
- Noise and Girls Come Out to Play (September 2012)
- The Best of Propaganda (September 2013)
|Release date||Song||UK Singles Chart||DEU
|27 February 1984||"Dr. Mabuse"||27||7||14|
|7 April 1985||"Duel"||21||30||5||2|
|29 July 1985||"p:Machinery"||50||26||12||10||29||5|
|25 November 1985||"p:Machinery (Reactivated)"||83||16||24|
|1990||"Heaven Give Me Words"||36||40|
|1990||"Only One Word"||71|
|1990||"How Much Love"|
|1991||"Wound in My Heart"||1|
|July 1995||"p:Machinery (anniversary reissue)"|
|2006||"Valley of the Machine Gods"|
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