Falco, Austria’s most successful musical export and the face of Vienna’s music scene in the 1980s, would have celebrated his 60th birthday this February. In memory of the new wave icon and Austrian rap pioneer, Red Bull Music Academy is hosting a special Bass Camp in Falco’s hometown, Vienna. Under the banner of Junge Roemer (the title of Falco’s second album), his work will be illuminated, animated, remixed and – above all – celebrated live on stage. (To find out more about the events, click here.)
In this interview, another well-known Austrian musician – Peter Kruder – discusses the importance of Falco.
When Falco was at the peak of his career with his hit “Rock Me Amadeus” you were a teenager and had just started your first band, The Moreaus. Did you think Falco was cool at the time?
By that point he was already beyond cool or uncool. He was a global star. I had complete respect for that. My band actually appeared in his music video “Wiener Blut” – wearing outfits made of plastic bags from Billa [an Austrian supermarket].
So did you meet Falco for the first time in 1988?
Unfortunately the video shoot happened without me. I was working as a hairdresser at the time and I couldn’t get the day off.
How was Falco able to break America with a German-language song? That’s a feat that no one had managed before, and no one has since.
He was a very good at copying. That was his great strength.
You’ll have to elaborate.
Falco studied the first wave of hip-hop in the US very closely. He borrowed a lot from the style of the early rappers. Just like he did from.
He stood for this typical Viennese way of being: oscillating between depression and megalomania.
But simply copying others is hardly a strategy for a global career, is it?
What set him apart was the way he transferred elements from the wider world of pop into his own world. He took the New York pimp and created the Vienna Strizzi. He did it with such intelligence and humor that everyone bought into it. For those in the know, it was because they understood the references. For those who weren’t, it was because he was the first guy who brought hip-hop into their world.
Falco once said: “I’m a non-conformist in a conformist business.” Do you know that feeling?
Yes, absolutely. I mean, we never signed to a major label during our most successful period, despite numerous offers. We hardly gave any interviews back then either...
... And you even turned down the chance to remix David Bowie.
We simply didn’t like the song. Looking back on it, this default mode of turning things down was very important for our career. Many of our underground peers were seduced by the industry – and they soon discovered that compromising would only bring them short-term success. We always had an aversion to how the whole industry worked. Just like Falco did. When MTV wanted to do an interview with him, apparently he said: “Fine, they can come to me.” I thought that was extremely cool. He stood for this typical Viennese way of being: oscillating between depression and megalomania.
Does saying “no” get you places outside of the music industry?
In every field it’s important to not always follow the advice of the self-appointed experts. Because they always advise you to take the safe route. If you want success in the long term, you have to take risks. If there weren’t any lunatics breaking all the rules, there’d be no progress. With us this was clear right from the start. Lots of people told us we should work with singers, because supposedly there was no big market for instrumental music.
Have you ever met Falco in person?
Yes. Around a year before his accident he invited me and Richard [Dorfmeister] to his house in Gars am Kamp. To talk about collaborating on a project.
Did anything come of it?
Unfortunately not. But we spent five hours talking with him. He was funny, he made fun of himself: “Guys, if we’d been sitting here three years ago, by now we’d have snorted a line that stretches from Vienna to Salzburg.” He gave us some career tips, too.
Like this one: “Fellas, once you’ve made your first million, get straight out of Austria!” For tax purposes, of course. I think this turned out to be a costly strategy for him.
But you didn’t take his advice.
No, I like living in Austria, and I feel obligated to pay my dues. Even though the tax rate is very high here in Austria.
Wouldn’t it have been a better overall career decision to go abroad?
No. Lots of people go abroad because their career isn’t taking off. But if you’re going to have an international career, it’s extremely important to develop your own style – before you leave your home behind. Falco’s stage presence was unique from the start. When he was on stage with Drahdiwaberl [anarcho-punk band in which Falco played bass around 1980] he wore a suit – with the plastic cover from the dry cleaners left on to protect it from the blood spatter on stage. By the time his international career really took off, he knew exactly who he was. He’d been working on his artist persona for years.
For the RBMA Falco-themed Bass Camp “Junge Roemer” you’ll be reworking some Falco songs. How did you decide which ones to work on?
I’d like to tackle his weakest songs. As much as I love Falco, a few of his releases don’t quite sound perfect, most likely because he was under time pressure from the record label. So I want to see if these songs can be made to shine in a new light. Of course you could also choose to revisit his greatest hits, but then you really need to pull off something special – otherwise you’re not doing anybody any favors.