Introduction Figure 1: Protest against The Beatles visiting Salzburg in 1965 for shooting their film Help! (photograph by Christian Skrein, March 13, 1965); by courtesy of Salzburg Museum, Skrein Photo Collection
In the last decade, Austrian popular music artists have provided a fresh boost to the country’s musical-cultural landscape. New acts in different genres have emerged and have become remarkably successful within and outside of Austria’s borders. The bands Wanda and Bilderbuch, both of which began as indie/alternative rock acts, have achieved number one hits on the Austrian singles and/or albums charts since the mid-2010s. They play concerts to thousands of people in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland and sell out Austria’s biggest venues (e.g., the Wiener Stadthalle or the outdoor concert area of Schönbrunn Palace). Moreover, their music is broadcasted by mass-oriented format radio as well as by FM4, Austria’s far-reaching alternative (public) radio station. Also highly successful in the German-speaking area, particularly with younger audiences and on streaming platforms, are the dancehall/rap artist and producer RAF Camora, the mumble rapper Yung Hurn, and the pop singer Mathea. Another popular artist with a large audience spanning multiple generations is the self-proclaimed “Volks Rock’n’Roller” Andreas Gabalier, whose music and image uniquely combine the worlds of Alpine folklore and modern pop music.
Beyond the commercial sector, some artists from Austria have attained a prominent international artistic reputation throughout the last decade, such as the electro duo HVOB and the queer singer Mavi Phoenix, who were both featured at the renowned South By Southwest festival in the US. Ultimately, Conchita Wurst’s win at the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest notably intensified the international spotlight on popular music from Austria.
These contemporary acts, all of whom are in their twenties or thirties, have slowly begun to overshadow the canonized figures of Austrian popular music’s past who succeeded in earlier decades: in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, the phenomenon of so-called Austropop emerged, most prominently with Falco and his US Billboard number one single “Rock Me Amadeus” in 1986; in the 1990s, “Vienna Electronica” producers such as Kruder & Dorfmeister gained international popularity; in the early 2000s, the entertainer DJ Ötzi reached the peak of his career, topping the UK and Australian singles charts in 2001 with “Hey Baby (Uhh, Ahh)”; and around the early 2010s, Parov Stelar became internationally renowned with the genre of electro swing.
The musicians mentioned here must certainly be considered only as the most visible representatives of the entangled practices and sounds of Austria’s recent popular music history. Fundamentally, this raises the question of the extent to which Austrian music research has already examined how the globally circulating aesthetics of pop, rock, hip-hop, or electronic dance music have been adapted by artists and listeners in Austria against the background of local and regional conditions, structures, conceptions, and styles.
In this article, I discuss, with a musicological focus in the broadest sense, how popular music in the context of Austria of the last sixty years has been addressed in university teaching and literature and, when it seems appropriate, beyond academia. I elaborate on the main topics, perspectives, and concepts regarding both Austrian popular music production contexts and the reception of (national and international) popular music in Austria and reflect on the role, responsibilities, objects, and aims of the (not yet conceptualized) field of Austrian popular music studies in connection with the historical narrators of popular music in Austria, structural questions, and musical as well as methodological practices.
The discussion starts with an analysis of university teaching about popular music in Austria. The analysis is conducted on the basis of online course catalogues and the particular time frames they cover. In focus are the University of Vienna (time frame: 2001–20), the University of Innsbruck, Tyrol (1997–2020), and the University of Graz, Styria (1970/71–2020), all of which have a musicology department, as well as the University of Salzburg (2016/17–20), which has a musicology and dance studies department.
The first step of the analytical process was to enter the search strings “populäre musik,” “popular music,” “popmusik,” and “popularmusik” as well as specific genre terms into the search fields of the universities’ complete online course catalogues. As a second step, I manually reviewed the search results for Austria-related topics. Generally, the search was not limited to music departments, with the exception of the University of Salzburg. Here, the search had to be conducted without search strings and only on the musicology and dance studies department’s course offerings website, because no search function was available on the university’s general course database website.
Moreover, the analysis includes course offerings from the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW; time frame: 1984–2020) and the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz (KUG; 2003–20).
Here, the above-mentioned search strings were applied both with and, except for “popularmusik,” without the supplementary terms “Österreich,” “Austria,” “Wien,” and the eight other states of Austria as a means of obtaining a better overview of the results, which included many courses in pedagogical and instrumental studies. Additionally, I used the course archive of the German Society for Popular Music Studies (GfPM), which lists popular music courses that were given in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland between 2006–17/18, and I browsed through the course offerings of long-serving professors in Austria who have revealed a certain interest in the area of popular music.
Another focal point of the discussion concerns whether the topic of popular music in Austria has been given a platform in relevant academic associations. I examine symposium and workshop programs (2002–18) of the Austrian Society for Musicology (ÖGMw) as well as conference programs of the GfPM (2005–19) and the German-speaking branch of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM D-A-CH; 2014–18). Moreover, I analyze the journal of the ÖGMw,
Musicologica Austriaca (1977–2019), the conference proceedings series of the GfPM, Beiträge zur Popularmusikforschung (1986–2019), and the journal of the Austrian Studies Associations , Journal of Austrian Studies (2012–19), in search of contributions about popular music in Austria. I subsequently widen the scope of the literature review, first including relevant edited volumes since the mid-2010s and, then, scholarly and non-scholarly work about popular music in Austria and its histories across the country’s nine provinces. The extended, qualitative review of academic literature considers research in the fields of popular music studies, music theory, music psychology and sociology, ethnomusicology, and media and communication studies.
First and foremost, these analyses aim to map the status quo of music-oriented research about popular music in Austria and, hence, do not claim to be exhaustive. On the one hand, it is possible that I have missed individual courses, papers, writings, or documentations. On the other hand, the content of some courses and conference papers, particularly older ones, is only indicated by their respective titles and the modules or sessions to which they were ascribed. Thus, I cannot guarantee with complete certainty whether a special emphasis on popular music in Austria was applied.
Regarding my approach to the kinds of music to include in the context of this article, I orient myself, essentially, towards Austria-related topics in connection with popular music since the 1960s, which gravitates around—or, as in the genre of “Volkstümlicher Schlager,” incorporates influences of—internationally disseminated genres in the realm of pop, rock, hip-hop, electronic dance music, soul, funk, and reggae.
I selected this way of categorizing popular music in full awareness of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of clearly defining popular music, which has been discussed many times in the relevant literature. Popular Music in Austria in University Teaching
Popular music in general is nowadays an integral part of musicological as well as artistic pedagogical curricula at Austrian universities. Although there is no master’s degree in Austria with an explicit emphasis on popular music research, as there is in certain German areas, such as Berlin, Gießen, and Weimar, students in Austria can choose from a variety of courses, seminars, and lectures that deal with popular music from historical, music-analytical, cultural, sociological, economic, and other perspectives, and they are able to focus on popular music modules and write final papers in this field of research. Currently, there are two professorships at Austrian music universities with an emphasis on popular music: one for “jazz and popular music research” at the department of the same name at the KUG and one for the “theory and history of popular music” at the Institute of Popular Music (ipop) of the MDW.
Since the scope of this article is intended to cover popular music studies about Austria, rather than popular music studies in Austria, the following analysis merely concentrates on Austria-related perspectives in local popular music teaching. For instance, from the subjective viewpoint of my own time as a student in the early 2000s, as a Vienna-born citizen who studied musicology at Austria’s largest musicology department in Vienna, I did not necessarily have much opportunity to learn about the popular music practices and sounds of my immediate surroundings.
As to the University of Vienna’s general “u:find” database, my analysis shows that only three courses since 2001 reveal a clear focus on popular music from or in Austria since the 1960s (out of, for example, a total of 210 courses found with the search string “populäre musik” applied to course titles and descriptions).
One course was about Andreas Gabalier, one about journalism on contemporary Austrian popular music, and the third, given by the author of this article, dealt with the past and present of popular music in Austria generally (all three of the courses took place at the Department of Musicology). The lack of interest in Austria-related popular music topics does not mean, though, that courses about local popular musics, beyond the Anglo-American realm, are not being given generally at the University of Vienna. One can find, for example, musicological courses providing an overview of popular music in Africa, African popular music, East Asian popular music, regional and popular music in Brazil, Korean popular music, and, at the Department of East Asian Studies, popular music in Japan and Taiwan. At least some attention to popular music in Austria is indicated by six further courses at the Department of Musicology focusing on “German Schlager” since the mid-twentieth century, that is, a specific form of popular music sung in German which has been commercially highly successful in Germany and Austria. Another musicological course was concerned, among others things, with the reception and presentation of popular music, such as rock, of the Balkan countries in Austria. Moreover, one course at the Department of Slavonic Studies addressed the music culture, including pop and rock, among Croats in the state of Burgenland.
Regularly recurring courses dealing with popular music in Austria from a research perspective are offered at the MDW, at the ipop Institute for Popular Music. Recently, students at ipop could attend a course dealing explicitly with Austropop as well as two courses about the development of pop and rock music in Vienna. The latter courses ran under the module “Ausgewählte Kapitel aus Theorie und Geschichte der Popularmusik” (Selected chapters from the theory and history of popular music), which has been offered nineteen times since 2003. One integral aim of the courses in this module is, according to their descriptions, to gain knowledge about popular music in Austria since 1945. In six of these courses, Austrian musicians were actively involved in teaching, in that they were invited to discuss their view on “legendäre Tonträger” (legendary recordings) of popular music of the twentieth century. Another popular music module, which has been offered five times, incorporates a focus on Austrian music already in its title: “Stilfelder und Stilbrüche: Erkundungen zur musikalischen Vielfalt in Österreich” (Style fields and style changes: explorations of musical diversity in Austria). At the MDW’s Department of Music Sociology, an explicit focus on Austria can be found in an introductory course to popular music. Moreover, in four courses about qualitative research on youth-cultural music scenes, the description points to scenes in Vienna as particular objects of study. Further courses indicate a certain focus on popular music in Austria, like the four courses “Kulturerfahrung Wien” (Cultural experience of Vienna), which include excursions to cultural organizations, or four courses about “Straßenmusik” (street music), although they do not make explicit mention of popular music in their descriptions.
Compared to the University of Vienna, the topic of popular music in Austria is addressed even less in the courses offered by the examined universities in Innsbruck, Salzburg, and Graz. At the Department of Music at Innsbruck University, I gave a course similar to the one in Vienna about popular music in Austria from a historical and contemporary perspective. Two further musicological courses, about Tyrolean music history in the global context of the twentieth century and about the Eurovision Song Contest, which included “the observation of the ESC 2015 in Austria in terms of a a self-chosen issue,” at least indicate some focus on popular music in Austria.
Regarding the University of Salzburg, the University of Graz, and the KUG, the latter two of which jointly offer the degree program “Musicology,” I was not able to find research courses with a strong Austria-related emphasis on popular music. A slight interest is implied by a lecture series recently held at the KUG, entitled “Bitte liebt Österreich! Kunst und Rechtspopulismus” (Please love Austria! Art and right-wing populism) which, among other things, aimed to enhance familiarity with right-wing populism in music and popular culture.
My analysis of courses listed in the GfPM archive, which was conducted with the intention of both backing up the findings derived from Austrian universities’ course offerings and finding courses offered outside Austria, revealed no additional results as regards courses at Austrian universities. At German universities, individual courses were offered in Oldenburg, about, among other things, “Wiener Electronica” (Vienna Electronica), in Paderborn, with the title “Schauplatz Wien: Die Musikstadt gestern und heute, zwischen Mozart und Austria-Pop, Wiener Walzer und Club-Kultur“ (The Vienna scene: The music town yesterday and today, between Mozart and Austria pop, Viennese waltz, and club culture), and in Mannheim, entitled “Von Alt-Wien nach New York: Musik in Metropolen” (From old Vienna to New York: Music in metropolises). It is worth mentioning, though, that the GfPM archive also lists courses about jazz and folk music, including two courses focusing particularly on jazz in Austria and folk music in Austria. Although these fields of research were not within the scope of this article, further discussion about the relationship of popular music studies, jazz studies, and folk music studies in Austria seems to be required in general
Overall, it is likely that students with an interest in researching popular music from and in Austria mostly have had to pursue their projects outside of the universities’ course offerings. A similar observation was made by Martin Pfleiderer, who conducted, on the basis of the GfPM archive, an analysis of course offerings between 2007 and 2010/11 in the German-speaking area. He remarks that, “astonishingly, an interest in issues specific to popular music in Germany, Austria or Switzerland in the past and present seems not as large as may be expected.”
However, the fact that several master’s theses as well as doctoral dissertations about popular music in Austria have emerged since the 1990s indicates that students have a significant scholarly interest in this area. Throughout my literature review, and by scanning through thesis databases of the Department of Musicology of the University of Vienna and the MDW, I encountered a broad thematic range of topics. Students have examined both regionally specific phenomena, such as Viennese hip-hop, the skater scene in Upper Austria, dialect groove music in Tyrol, and blues, rock, and jazz in the northern Waldviertel of Lower Austria, and Austria-wide research in connection with Austropop, Austrian hip-hop, Austrian dialect pop, Austrian pop and jazz vocalist graduates, and all-female indie rock and punk bands. Some theses focus on particular artists, such as Rainhard Fendrich, Georg Danzer, Harri Stojka, Ludwig Hirsch, or the band Bilderbuch.
In regard to current research projects at an institutional level, I only found one project with a main focus on popular music in Austria on the websites of the MDW, KUG, the above-mentioned musicological departments, and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF):
“Popular Music and the Rise of Populism in Europe,” an international interdisciplinary project “discussing popular music as a means of mainstreaming populist ideologies in Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Sweden.” Platforms for Scholarship on Popular Music in Austria
Academic associations provide an essential platform for students, graduates, and established scholars to present and discuss their current fields of research and, of course, strengthen their scholarly network. This section first discusses to what extent scholarship on popular music in Austria has been represented in the work and activities of two Austria-focused associations, the ÖGMw and the North American Austrian Studies Association, and the two largest associations for popular music studies in the German-speaking area, the GfPM and IASPM D-A-CH.
In the field of music research in Austria, the ÖGMw
, which was founded in 1973 and currently has around 250 members, is the largest and most important group. It organizes annual conferences, including a young scholars’ symposium, and briefly conducted young scholars’ workshops as well. My analysis of the association’s archive reveals that between 2002 and 2018, only one scholar has presented research that addressed popular music in Austria since the middle of the twentieth century at these events (specifically, at the young scholar’s symposium), touching on this topic in the context of music casting shows. The 2011 edition of the conference, which carried the title “‘Synthese Österreich’: Die Bundesländer und die musikalische Identität der ‘Alpenrepublik’” (“Synthesis Austria”: The states and the musical identity of the “Alpine republic”), contained no contributions about popular music in Austria, although its program folder announces, among other things, the examination of “Phänomene der Unterhaltungsmusik (Austro-Pop, volkstümlicher Schlager etc.)” (Phenomena of entertainment music …). In 2019, the conference about “Austrian Music Studies” included an earlier version of this paper and a presentation about the aforementioned populism project.
The association’s journal
Musicologica Austriaca ( MusAu) has, according to its stated scope, a particular focus on “Austrian music studies.” But does this also incorporate Austria’s popular music? Since its first publication in 1977, popular music from Austria, specifically in the field of folkloristic music, has been addressed in a 1998 article by Michael Weber and colleagues, who examined a concert of the Nockalm Quintett. Popular music research in Austria is also briefly mentioned in articles by Ursula Hemetek and Ulrich Morgenstern in connection with the history of Austrian folk music studies and ethnomusicology. Otherwise, I could not find any other MusAu contribution that particularly discusses popular music in Austria. Popular music in general has been addressed in one article by Franz Fördermayr from 1985, where he theorizes popular music as an object of musicological-hermeneutical research.
A broader, not merely music-focused perspective on Austria is pursued by the Austrian Studies Association, which is, according to its website, “devoted to scholarship on all aspects of Austrian, Austro-Hungarian, and Habsburg territory cultural life and history from the eighteenth century until today.”
Popular culture and music of the last sixty years has hitherto rarely been in the association’s focus, though. In its quarterly Journal of Austrian Studies, which published its first issue under this name in 2012, there is just one article that considers popular music, namely Ted Dawson’s study of Austrian rap music in connection with the web platform genius.com.
In regard to conferences of the GfPM, which is the longest-existing association (since 1984) for popular music studies in the German-speaking area of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, there have been, according to my analysis, eleven Austria-related contributions since 2005.
Papers were presented about the bands Ja, Panik, Bilderbuch, Bauchklang, and Klitclique, as well as about folkloristic music, popular Balkan music, and hip-hop in Austria, about performance rituals of Austrian artists and music reception of young Austrian listeners, about Austropop, and about traditional Alpine music elements in contemporary popular music in Austria. However, only four of these papers have been published in the proceedings of the GfPM conferences since 2005, the Beiträge zur Popularmusikforschung.
At the three conferences held so far by IASPM D-A-CH, which was founded in 2013, one can find one presentation, about Andreas Gabalier, in the respective programs. A written paper of the presentation was published in the association’s proceedings of the 2016 conference in Graz.
The Graz conference also incorporated a panel about current research projects in Austria entitled “Überschreitungen in den österreichischen Szenen / Forschungen der populären Musik” (Transgressions in Austrian scenes / Research on popular music).
As a preliminary conclusion, what can be noted is that university teaching as well as the conferences and publications of associations have not focused on specific phenomena of popular music in Austria but rather only shed light on certain aspects, although there is a minor tendency among scholars to focus particularly on folkloristic music and Schlager when working on Austrian popular music. Yet before turning to a broader literature review, I want to briefly discuss the focal points of three relevant edited volumes published in recent years which might also be considered as platforms for research on popular music in Austria. Regarding the MDW’s 2016 yearbook of musicology, which carries the title
Studien zur österreichischen Popularmusik im 20. Jahrhundert (Studies about Austrian popular music in the twentieth century), the main focus of the volume’s articles is music from the first half of the twentieth century in the form of musical, cabaret, jazz, and political songs. Pop and rock music from the 1950s onwards, as well as related styles, are only mentioned in a bibliographic chapter also including master’s theses and doctoral dissertations. In 2017, two extensive companions on popular music in the German-speaking area were published. In Uwe Schütte’s German Pop Music: A Companion, however, Austrian musicians are hardly mentioned at all, with the exception of two brief remarks about Falco and the indie band Ja, Panik. In Perspectives on German Popular Music, which pursues the idea of achieving greater visibility of scholarship on “pop music produced in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany,” there is a chapter entitled “Popular Music from Austria.” In four pages, Rosa Reitsamer describes the history of Austropop, a musical field that is often presented (particularly by local media) as the most representative embodiment of Austrian popular music. It has also been an often-examined object of research in Austrian popular music scholarship, particularly in its early days. National and Regional Perspectives on Popular Music in Austria
Essentially, the term “Austropop” simply refers to Austrian pop music, and it may thus include all kinds of styles. However, in Austria, Austropop is strongly related to a specific kind of dialect singer-songwriter pop rock from the 1970s and 1980s.
Its commercial success in these years seemingly served as a spark to ignite the emergence of Austrian popular music research. In the early 1990s, when Austropop’s initial boom was already over, there was a notable increase in relevant scholarship dealing with just that phenomenon. The first comprehensive study on the subject was presented by Edward Larkey in his 1993 monograph Pungent Sounds, followed by publications by authors like Werner Jauk, Alfred Smudits, Heide Pfeiler, Robert Harauer, Christian Karner, Ulrike Aldrian and Maria Mileder, Michael Huber, and Magdalena Fürnkranz, in addition to several diploma theses and one doctoral dissertation. A pivotal aspect of many scholarly perspectives on Austropop has to do with the significant attention they devote to questions of music-related national identity constructions. Austropop, which “may be understood of [recte: as] Austria’s democratic identity after World War II,” represents, as Larkey puts it,
what Trondman terms a “selective tradition,” i.e. one that filters those components of “popular culture” towards “legitimate culture,” or “good taste,” which is “close to” or “points to” legitimate culture. The elaborate system of filter mechanisms from the small, avant-garde clubs to the mid-size Metropol establishment featuring nationally-renowned performers and the Stadthalle are all segments in the hierarchy for establishing, representing and quantifying symbolic value and its accumulation in Austria.
National processes of identity formation in relation to popular music in Austria have also been brought up for discussion in broader contexts, for instance in connection with its artistic deconstruction or with questions of musical cultural heritage.
While the concept of Austropop stimulated the scholarly discourse on Austrian popular music in the 1990s and early 2000s, questions about the local adaptation of globally circulating popular musics were raised in recent years particularly with regard to hip-hop. Hip-hop in Austria has been examined, for example, from the perspective of its history together with aspects of glocalization, the deployment of recirculation aesthetics, politics, and the construction of authenticity through the incorporation of local languages and local identity issues.
For the most part, these studies about identity formation, Austropop, and hip-hop provide insight into popular music in Austria within the context of national, rather than particular regional, developments and discourses. In the following, I examine whether there have also been approaches focusing on certain regions of Austria. The overview is structured according to Austria’s nine provinces. To widen the scope, it also includes non-academic sources.
Out of the nine provinces of Austria, the history of popular music has clearly been most examined in regard to the province (and capital city) of Vienna. There are books providing, for example, a historical examination of the “Wienerlied” from the middle of the nineteenth century until today,
a sociocultural view on the history of popular music and subcultures in Vienna between 1955 and 1976, an oral history entitled Wienpop (Vienna Pop) spanning five decades from the 1950s to the 2000s, and, recently, a monograph on the development of Vienna’s electronic music scene. The so-called Vienna Electronica of the 1990s, which gravitated around popular artists such as Kruder & Dorfmeister and Patrick Pulsinger, has also been addressed in the book Wienpop as well as in shorter overviews and reports.
Outside the scope of Vienna, pop-cultural scenes have seldom been examined from a scholarly perspective guided by an interpretational question. There are, however, some considerable attempts from outside academia to document and re-narrate regional developments and thus provide valuable groundwork for further analysis by collecting material and maintaining musical archives. Regarding the most western state of Vorarlberg, the city archive of Dornbirn, together with the Jazzseminar Dornbirn and Radio Vorarlberg, published an anthology about popular music history in Vorarlberg entitled
50 Jahre Rock: Die Popularmusik in Vorarlberg (50 years of rock: Popular music in Vorarlberg) in 2007, with a focus on artists from Vorarlberg such as The Gamblers and Reinhold Bilgeri. The early history of punk in Vorarlberg has also been examined in a short essay by Martin Varano, Albrecht Dornauer, and Philipp Lampert entitled “West Punks.”
Similar to the
50 Jahre Rock book about Vorarlberg, local artists are also the focus of the book We Rocked Salzburg. Author Hannes Stiegler describes, with examples from more than 500 musicians, the history of rock music in Salzburg from the mid-1950s to the 1980s. In the conference proceedings “ Those Were The Days” ..., which address Salzburg’s popular music culture in the 1950s and 1960s, Stiegler provides an overview of places (taverns, bars, halls, and meeting points) where popular music was played at that time in the city and province of Salzburg. In the same edited volume, one can also find articles concerning popular music and dance culture in a specific region in the countryside and examining popular music in the context of technological, pedagogical, and media conditions.
Regional particularities concerning live music and media reception practices were also briefly pointed out in an article in the anthology of the state of Tyrol’s music history, edited by Kurt Drexel and Monika Fink.
Another article in this book critically addresses developments in the realm of subcultural electronic music from the 1980s onwards in Tyrol’s capital Innsbruck, putting them in context with cultural-political stances towards alternative cultures and independent cultural initiatives. In the appendix of the anthology (published in 2008), Drexel notes that rock and pop music in Tyrol has not yet been examined in any musicological study, and he presents a quick outlook on possible starting points for more extensive examinations. The initiative subkulturarchiv innsbruck (Subculture archive Innsbruck), an open, private project which was founded in 2014 and strives to document events and figures of alternative culture, subcultures, and counterculture in Innsbruck, in order to enable “another history” of the city, can be considered an important step in this direction of research.
Another earlier-established archive is the free online platform Rockarchiv Steiermark (Rock archive Styria), which was founded in 2007. The archive’s goal is to highlight Styria as a sphere of action for musicians, regardless of whether they have Styrian origins, and to address national and international relationships, movements, and influences as well as social and political circumstances since the 1950s.
In its 2010 publication Rockmusik in der Steiermark bis 1975 (Rock music of Styria until 1975), the focus is on short biographies of (around 140) local bands. The fact that Styrian artists, such as STS, Opus, or Stefanie Werger, played an important role in the emergence of Austropop and still maintain a certain media presence might have contributed to the initiation of the platform by facilitating museum cooperation and state funding. Significant institutional support, however, is rarely found in similar projects.
A vital rock scene also emerged in Upper Austria’s capital city Linz in the late 1970s, particularly with a small circle of underground and punk acts. The evolution and empowerment of the local subculture to the mid-1990s, which has produced locally prominent bands such as Stand to Fall, Fuckhead, Attwenger, and hip-hop pioneers Texta, has been widely documented in the oral history anthology
Es muss was geben (There must be something). A similar but even more specific anecdotal narration of alternative music history in the Upper Austria area, which also lets selected figures recount their memories, is dedicated to the small town of Ottensheim and the twenty-year history (1993–2013) of the independent music festival Open Air Ottensheim.
Whereas the history of popular music in Vorarlberg, Salzburg, Tyrol, Styria, and Upper Austria has been highlighted at least to some extent, there is, to my knowledge, no extensive research or documentation on the last sixty years of popular music in Lower Austria, Carinthia, and Burgenland. In regard to Lower Austria, Austria’s largest province, the findings only consisted of one 2014 exhibition entitled “Vom Fünf-Uhr Tee zum Frequency,” which provided a “multimedia retrospective” on six decades of popular music in the capital city of St. Pölten.
Regarding Carinthia, one exhibition in the state museum of Klagenfurt (2011) was dedicated to the youth magazine Bravo without a particular focus on regional contexts. A short glimpse of how international rock music was perceived in Carinthia in the early 1970s is provided by a video report on a Pink Floyd concert in 1971; the concert was curated by classical pianist Friedrich Gulda in the small town of Ossiach. The only information I was able to find about the easternmost state of Austria, Burgenland, was in connection with the Cselley Mühle in Oslip, a pivotal music-cultural center for Burgenland’s popular music scene to this day. In 2006, an anthology about its history was published. Also worth mentioning regarding the Cselley Mühle is a quote from former minister of education and then-chancellor Fred Sinowatz: in 1976, he inaugurated it with the words “Ich weiß nicht, was ich eröffne, aber ich eröffne es” (“I don’t know what I’m opening up, but I’m doing it anyway”). Figure 2: Politician Fred Sinowatz inaugurating the Cselley Mühle, May 18, 1976; by courtesy of Cselley Mühle; after re-launching their website, the image can be accessed via archive.org Reflecting on Narrators, Structures, and Practices of Popular Music in Austria
What becomes apparent from the overview presented above is that the historiographies of popular music across Austria have mostly been created through the private initiatives of fans, scene figures, and contemporary witnesses outside of academia or governmental structures. The lack of institutional affiliations and stable funding has already become an issue on a fundamental level in that many of the above-mentioned publications are hardly available anymore (such as the books about rock music in Vorarlberg, Styria, and Salzburg). This is also true of the publication
Schnitzelbeat: Handbuch zu Rock-N-Roll, Beat, Folk, Pop und Proto-Punk in Österreich, 1956–1976 (Schnitzelbeat: A comprehensive guide to Austrian rock-n-roll, beat, folk, pop and proto-punk, 1956–76) by the do-it-yourself cultural initiative Trash Rock Archives. It documents lesser-known protagonists and forgotten or lost recordings from Austrian subcultural history with a specific focus on small regional scenes across Austria.
The fact that most of the outlined historical re-narrations are anecdotal and without scholarly intent raises questions as to the role, connection points, responsibilities, and possible objectives of Austrian popular music studies. There are three main, interwoven aspects that are vital for a more extensive understanding of the past and present popular music culture in Austria and its developments, narratives, and mythologizations: First, it is important to critically reflect on established historiographical threads to understand who is telling which story of Austrian popular music and where, in what way, and for what reason they are telling it. Second, it is necessary to more strongly interrogate structural conditions and their impact on musical practices in and across regional and national borders. Finally, a more systematic, theoretically grounded, and methodologically enhanced approach to music production, distribution, and reception is required to ensure comparability, transparency, and equivalence.
Starting with the main historical narrators, it is remarkable that particularly in TV documentaries about Austrian popular music aired in recent years, there is a strong tendency to consistently give a rather small selection of protagonists a platform to recount their specific views and stories—usually within the frame of Austropop. As in the twenty-six-episode documentary series
Austropop-Legenden (Legends of Austropop), it is a particular circle of persons, many of whom already had a prominent presence within and/or influence on the Austrian media and cultural industries back in the 1980s and 1990s. This includes not only specific musicians but also a certain canon of predominantly male directors, label managers, producers, hosts, promoters, and journalists.
Reitsamer, in her analysis of the documentary projects
Weltberühmt in Österreich (World famous in Austria) and Es muss was geben, notes that the discourse on local popular music history is strongly bound to notions of, according to Andy Bennett, “rock as heritage.” Reitsamer finds that the discourse is dominated by middle-aged, influential men of the baby boomer generation who strive to re-classify and valorize rock music by promoting “heritage projects” in the form of reissues, compilations, documentaries, and archives:
The ageing of the musicians and producers in the Austrian rock music scenes, their wish to consecrate the music of their youth as well as their involvement in the cultural industries and the state cultural bureaucracy seem to have a profound impact on the national, regional and local cultural policy, including (rock) heritage policy.
It is worth noting that women do rather have a subordinate place in these media narratives. This becomes most evident in Austropop documentaries such as
Austropop-Legenden, where, according to IMDb’s cast summary, only one woman, Marianne Mendt, is to be found among the first 59 protagonists, ranked by number of appearances. But women hardly appear at all in short documentaries portraying the Viennese electronic music scene of the 1990s or the history of hip-hop in Austria either. In the few cases when female protagonists come into (male) focus, they are often ascribed a stereotypical and passive role, at times with a strong chauvinistic undertone. Episode three of the Weltberühmt in Österreich documentary, which deals with the question of “Gibt es weibliche Popmusik?” (Is there female pop music?) contains statements (from men) such as:
Jazz Gitti was fortunate in that the audience of [Stefanie] Werger, meaning all those fat, frustrated, and abandoned ladies in this country, had enough at some point of the pessimism of Werger’s songs and thus turned to another singer who had the same problems but dealt with them in a funnier way.
There is always an idol, a symbol of femininity. Nowadays, this doesn’t necessarily mean having a dolled-up style with high heels and a miniskirt, but it is more like some muffed boys … having some tomboyish appeal to them but still expressing something very cute.
Another narrative which appears in those documentaries, although mostly reduced to short statements without further scrutiny, is that of strong female individuals who managed to find success “against all odds” within male-dominated scenes. A rare exception in this regard, by means of a more differentiated account, is a 2012 “female musicians film” with the title
Oh Yeah, She Performs! in which director Mirjam Unger documents the everyday musical lives of three Austrian female indie musicians. VIDEO Video 1: Film trailer for Oh Yeah, She Performs!; by courtesy of NK projects
An alternative to common narratives is also pursued by the Trash Rock Archives. Al Bird Sputnik, the founder of the archive, particularly strives to raise awareness for the fact that women already played an active, self-determined part in the Austrian music scene in the 1960s and 1970s, for example with all-female bands like the Rosée Sisters, The Topsy Girls, and A-Gen 53.
The Rosée Sisters are also addressed in a short essay by Kristina Pia Hofer, “‘Frauenvokalisten’ und ‘Damenkapellen’” (‘Women vocalists’ and ‘ladies’ ensembles’).
A critical assessment of media coverage on popular music in Austria seems necessary, moreover, in connection with the situation in Austria prior to and contemporaneously with the rise of Austropop and its established narrators. There have only been a few attempts to systematically examine media content’s influence on regional reception and the circulation of popular music in Austria—besides the often stressed, but not very extensively examined, importance of international media such as Radio Luxemburg in the post-World War II years or, later, of the alternative music selection played by the Musicbox of public radio station Ö3.
Rudi Renger’s content analysis of popular music journalism in Salzburg, examining non-music-focused daily press in the postwar period until the late 1960s, can be considered a first step in this regard. Renger, following Marcus Kleiner, understands journalistic writing on live music as documents of the vivification of practiced and/or consumed pop culture history, and he shows through a handful of concert reports and reviews the sparse and at times derogatory nature of the regional media’s reporting on popular music events, such as the Beatles’ only visit to Austria in 1965.
In regard to nationwide media formats that were well disposed to popular music, additional perspectives about the early pop-cultural discourse in Austria could be gained by systematically analyzing—potentially with the help of methods from digital humanities—how and which kinds of popular music have been presented, staged, discussed, and evaluated on widely popular TV and radio formats in public broadcasting, such as
Spotlight (1968–78, TV), Disc Parade (1968–71, radio), or Die Großen 10 (1971–75, radio; 1982–90, TV), as well as in the Austrian youth magazines Hit (1971–81) and Rennbahn Express (1969–2000). An attempt to analyze the content of the latter as a factor in youth-cultural socialization by employing categories such as scenes, music, and reception can be found in an article by Moser and Schrutka-Rechtenstamm. VIDEO Video 2: Excerpts of the introduction to episode 100 of the TV show Die Großen 10; by courtesy of 4711doink
One potentially valuable source for gaining historical insight into media discourse within subcultural scenes in Austria is DIY print fanzines, which aimed to produce a counter-public sphere in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s in cities such as Innsbruck (
Choke Fanzine), Linz ( Kanaldeckel, Verfolger), St. Pölten ( Vampyroteutis Infernalis), and Vienna ( Start, Chelsea Chronicle, Arschloch Glücklich, Flex Digest). However, due to their mostly very short runs and the small numbers of copies printed, it is difficult to access original material. Thus, historiography is methodologically restricted to interviewing and once more tends to rely on the perceptions of certain active (male) scene protagonists. Structures
The disregard for female protagonists in historical narratives about Austrian popular music and the strongly unequal gender representation in relevant media coverage point to fundamental structural issues that require intense academic discussion. They raise broader questions as to how notions of gender, regional origin, and social status affect working, producing, and participating in the Austrian popular music landscape; thus, it is necessary to systematically scrutinize power structures, discriminatory practices, and (hetero)normative stances.
A critical reflection on (male, white, middle-class) hegemony is not only necessary in connection with widely popular fields such as Austropop or
Volkstümlicher Schlager but also in the consideration of smaller subcultural scenes that are allegedly more open and liberal. Reitsamer’s observations in her monograph about the DIY careers of Austrian electronic music DJs are exemplary in this regard; empirical research conducted in master’s theses in recent years has also opened up important perspectives on gender imbalances and underrepresentation due to economic, social, psychological, or pedagogical conditions in Austria that require further consideration. Criticism about patriarchal patterns of thinking, role clichés, and secret male-societal circles have also been raised in regard to the scene in Innsbruck starting in 1990, as well as from inside the Linz alternative scene.
A sharpened focus on structural peculiarities might also be useful for examining Austrian regional cultural policy and its historical and present stance towards popular music. Questions regarding the degree of governmental support, toleration, or renunciation of pop-cultural places and initiatives, as well as related questions of arts, press, and media subsidies over the last sixty years, should be issues for critical and transparency-generating reflection. Besides almost mythicizing narrations about the history of very specific Viennese music venues, such as The Arena, Flex, Blue Box, WUK, or Fluc, which have been regularly stressed in oral histories, documentaries, or graduate theses,
there has to my knowledge been little analysis of the interrelationships between popular music culture and the idiosyncrasies of regional cultural policy in Austria. Also, the role of other institutionalized and often very influential local organizations, such as brass music clubs, youth associations, or the church, has not been examined very extensively in connection with popular music.
Studies in this area would support understanding of imbalances between the states concerning popular music infrastructure, scenes, and the development of musical styles, among other things.
Markus Grießer’s already mentioned essay about Innsbruck, which is titled “Provinz ist keine Gegend, sondern ein Zustand” (Out in the sticks is not a region but a condition) indicates how oppressive attitudes towards popular music-related initiatives—or even mere ignorance (see the above quote from Fred Sinowatz)—can have a significant impact on a region’s (alternative) cultural landscape. Grießer also stimulates further discussion about regional popular music practices and neoliberal tendencies in connection with so-called creative industries. Practices
Generally, it is important to underline that most of the above-mentioned perspectives on popular music in Austria place their emphasis on the question of who has made and distributed the music rather than who has listened to it, that is, on musicians, organizers, managers, et cetera, rather than on audiences. Praxeological research, which focuses on situative changes and media “dispositifs” along with bodily and material aspects of music and thus examines how the interrelationship between society and music has been articulated in concrete events and practices, might help shape an alternative historiography of popular music in Austria—one that also more extensively tells the histories of its reception practices as well as its sounds.
For example, a stronger focus on places of popular music practice beyond certain hotspots could open up broader perspectives on how younger and older listeners in Austria, both within and outside specific scenes, have created their everyday (pop-)musical life since the middle of the twentieth century. Wolfgang Dreier-Andres has shed some light on this topic with his research on the Lammertal region in 1960s-to-1970s Salzburg.
Regarding German popular music studies in the last couple of years, scholars have increasingly addressed rural popular music practices. Michael Fischer, in his 2020 book about discotheques in southwest Germany from 1970 to 1995, notes that popular culture research has mainly focused on urban, avant-garde, and subcultural phenomena, whereas entertainment culture in rural regions, leisure activities of local youth, and the interplay between ruralism and modernism have not garnered much scholarly interest.
Fischer’s study, the work of Holger Schwetter and Dominik Schrage, who examine rural rock discotheques in northwest Germany from the 1960s to 1980 from a chronotopic perspective, and Peter Klose’s elaborations on the “invention of the rock concert” in the rural regions of western Germany offer suitable orientation points for similar empirical studies in Austria.
In this context, more attention should also be paid to the fact that popular music in Austria has not only been played at music-oriented locations such as clubs, concert halls, and discotheques but also, for example, at taverns, schools, retirement homes, regional fairs, and political events. Moreover, the role of tourism, commuting, and other transnational and -regional flows, particularly in border-zone areas, could be more deliberately considered with regard to their influence on local music-cultural life.
The existing literature’s comparatively strong perspective on Austrian production contexts also ignores that over the last sixty years, popular music listeners in Austria presumably did not only enjoy Austropop or specific styles of (Austrian) rock, punk, hip-hop, and electronic music but also music from international artists, including those who succeeded on the Austrian charts. Austria-related examinations of the songs, artists, and sounds of the international music that has been, at least according to sales, download, or stream figures, the most popular in the last decades in Austria are rare or nonexistent in the reviewed literature.
This exclusion of mainstream musics is certainly a significant blind spot in Austrian music research, not least because charts data from the late 1960s onwards are already on hand in a legible database. Figure 3: All-time Top 10 Austrian charts since May 1964 (ranking points calculated by appearance in the Top 75; position 1: 75 points, position 2: 74 points, etc.); see austriancharts.at, accessed July 18, 2022
A systematic, music-focused corpus analysis could reveal stylistic traits and trends and offer insight into how cultural, political, and societal changes are reflected in the music on the charts at particular periods of time. Thus, context-sensitive analysis of this kind would enable a critical re-narration of Austrian popular music history from a musicological perspective, complementing the aforementioned potential examinations of relevant media formats. Within this research frame, one particular focus could concern questions about the formation of sonic memory in Austria.
Overall, methodological practices aiming to interpret the cultural object of popular music from the perspective of music analysis, in connection with past or present Austria-specific details, are the exception rather than the rule in Austrian popular music studies. A distinctive aesthetic approach that puts into focus the sounding elements and incorporates interwoven analysis of music and lyrics, is found particularly in the doctoral dissertations about hip-hop of Frederik Dörfler and Edward Dawson, as well as, albeit rather briefly, in articles such as those by Michael Weber and Harald Huber.
Contemporary Austrian sounds in the realm of electronic dance music have been addressed in two articles by Josef Schaubruch on tracks from the bands Bauchklang and Elektro Guzzi, and a close reading of Austrian rap lyrics, specifically of mumble rapper Yung Hurn’s 2017 hit “Ok, cool,” is conducted in an article by Gaetano Blando. However, Schaubruch and Blando are not interested in Austria-related contextualizations of the findings.
Here, music research must accept responsibility for fostering aesthetic and humanities-oriented discussion in order to also complement quantitative approaches, which are themselves few and far between. Music sociologist Michael Huber’s comprehensive empirical survey of the musical attitudes and behaviors of Austrian music recipients provides some statistical starting points for further qualitative research into the “why questions” of popular music listening practices.
The fact that the analysis of popular music has internationally increased in prominence in recent years, providing more and more suitable tools for examinations of popular music’s sounds, should be seen as a fruitful basis to build on with a local focus.
To strengthen such a local focus and gain deeper insight into people living, listening, talking about, thinking about, experiencing, and making popular music in Austria, popular music researchers will ultimately need to go into the field more extensively and conduct ethnographic—“face-to-face” as well as “faceless” or virtual
—analysis of contemporary musical practices. The spectrum of contemporary practices to be examined is manifold, of course, and can extend from an ethnographic study of American country music in Vienna and K-pop reception in Austria to the study of musical evaluation practices of young people in Vienna. In regard to music-analytical perspectives in this area, Julio Mendívil, professor of ethnomusicology at the University of Vienna, generally stresses the importance of a culturally relativistic stance in order to empirically ground music-related interpretations and interrogate one’s own concepts, values, and ideology. Conclusion—Framing the Field of Austrian Popular Music Studies
If one wished to frame Austrian popular music studies according to the fundamental cornerstones of popular music studies in general, one would consider it an interdisciplinary field of research.
Its unifying factor is the nonjudgmental study of popular music in and from Austria, as well as “a concern with questions about the relationship between music meaning, social power and cultural value.” Its perspective on how the globally circulating aesthetics of popular music is and has been processed in Austria is holistically cultural; that is, music-analytical and historical examinations are complemented by and interwoven with pedagogical, sociological, psychological, economic, technological, and media research.
With regard to the topics, perspectives, and concepts outlined above in relation to the study of popular music in Austria, there are already quite a few approaches that would fit very well into the frame of Austrian popular music studies. Basically, I was able to find much more material than I initially expected, and there is doubtless a considerable amount of research that I was not able to access within the music-oriented scope of this article. Therefore, this text must also be understood as a work in progress, stimulating the discourse by revealing what has already been done. This, however, leads me to one fundamental aspect in regard to future efforts in the realm of Austrian popular music studies.
There have hardly been any collective endeavors to bring together scholars with an interest in popular music in Austria. The research field lacks established, institutionalized concepts for pooling scholarly interests, ideas, concerns, methods, concepts, and materials specific to popular music in Austria in the form of networks, research centers, or publication platforms. The initiative
, founded by the ipop institute of the MDW in 2015, strived to build up a network of popular music scholars in Austria (independent of a specific focus on popular music in Austria). Since its second symposium in 2016, though, there has seemed to be little activity. PopNet Austria Furthermore, it would likely be beneficial to integrate the work of Austrian popular music archives, such as the Skug Research Archiv österreichischer Popularmusik (SRA) and its female musician archive fem.pop, the Rockarchiv Steiermark, the subkulturarchiv innsbruck, or the Trash Rock Archives, more tightly into scholarly discourse to foster exchange and to provide a more visible international platform.
Systematically transferring the already existing knowledge of private collectors, archivists, and enthusiasts of Austrian popular music into academic contexts would generally support a more holistic understanding of popular music history across Austria. With the exception of Vienna, the literature regarding the popular music history of Austria’s provinces is currently somewhat patchy, lacking a comparable overview of music-related developments, conditions, and practices. A broader picture that incorporates similar methodologies and objectives (see below) would also help to illustrate both regional and transnational flows of bands, scenes, industries, et cetera in Austria.
A cross-border perspective might also be productive for creating synergies with popular music studies in European countries with similar populations. In Serbia, for example, a Center for Popular Music Research was founded in 2013 on the initiative of members of the Department of Musicology at the University of Arts in Belgrade.
The Routledge Global Popular Music Series has already published edited volumes on popular music studies in Hungary, Sweden, the Low Countries, Ireland, Finland, Germany, and other countries. Notably, the last-named book was initially announced with the title Made in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Additional studies treat topics like the transformations of popular music studies in the Czech Republic and popular music education in Norway. A brief overview of Slovenian popular music studies is provided by Natalija Majsova, who remarks that “studies of Slovenian popular music have hitherto been unsystematic, sporadic, and largely dependent on the enthusiasm and ‘goodwill’ of scholars and experts in the field (as argued by Zevnik).”
Although I would not consider the situation of Austrian popular music studies to be as drastic as this quote on Slovenia implies, there are in fact some recurring criticisms in relevant texts about local popular music studies that can also be applied, to some extent, to the Austrian context. These include the lack of (formal) institutionalized affiliations, of audience and mainstream pop research, and of industry, media, and educational presence. However, there is likely a strong potential in the Austrian academic landscape for pushing Austrian popular music studies forward, particularly among young scholars. In order to nurture this potential, it is time to more strongly channel ideas, interests, and knowledge by initiating, for example, edited volumes, special issues of journals, conferences, and projects across different universities, disciplines, and states. The creation of an interdisciplinary professorship in popular music studies at one of Austria’s leading universities would be a strong signal in this regard, taking up the lead in directing disciplinarily integrated master’s theses and doctoral dissertations, chairing relevant research associations, and helping to establish long-term research emphases, for example at the Austrian Academy of Science
As a result, the visibility and relevance of Austrian popular music studies in national and international discourse might increase, as might its attractiveness to potential sponsors. Moreover, university and high school teaching would strongly benefit from a broader repertoire of research contributing to a better understanding of music-cultural interrelationships in the immediate surroundings of the students. Ultimately, popular music scholars would be empowered to take a stronger, substantiated stand. Further discussion is called for when authors affiliated with the Austrian Institute for Youth Culture Research state that adolescents of today have a “Allerweltsgeschmack” (“run-of-the-mill taste”) without a “Hörkultur” (“listening culture”) or an interest in sensual or cultural experience because of the “McDonaldisierung” (“McDonald’s-ization”) of the popular, which is musically nothing more than “akustische Umweltverschmutzung” (“acoustic environmental pollution”).
As to a theoretical foundation of the research field, I suggest fostering an integrated, praxeological perspective to be able to more cohesively and inclusively examine the popular musical actions and omissions of people in Austria, both younger and older, music-creating and music-perceiving, rural and urban living, et cetera. To frame this perspective more distinctly, I want to draw upon Christopher Jost and Gregor Herzfeld’s approach to the idea of analyzing musical action as social action and paraphrase their thoughts in relation to the Austrian popular music landscape.
In the last sixty years of popular music history, a multiplicity of musical objects produced by Austrian or international artists has entered into Austria-specific contexts of perception. In these contexts, some of the musical objects were capable of bringing about both an individual and a collectively shared reality of meaningful experience. Shaped as media-induced materializations of musical concepts,
they opened up, at particular moments in time, particular aesthetic and social dynamics in the Austrian microcosm, against the backdrop of locally, regionally, nationally, and transnationally configured social, economic, political, and cultural conditions. Understanding these processes and the underlying logics clearly requires an interdisciplinary approach that considers the sounds, the images, and "the social constellations that derive from perceiving them.”
For example, a critical discourse analysis focusing on evaluative, ethical-aesthetic schemata
in media and the narratives of musicians or others might reveal how matters of production, reception, and way of living have been negotiated in connection with particular genres or artists in Austria. Subsequently, context-sensitive and multimodal music analysis can provide a solid empirical basis, thus affording systematic insight into interrelationships with the circulating sonic and other aesthetics. A similar, methodologically entangled approach might also be productive in the attempt to reconstruct the experiential knowledge that has been constitutive for the doings and sayings related to popular music within particular audience taste communities (of different generations) in Austria, in that it could be examined how the audio(-visual) characteristics of preferred or rejected musics fit into collective patterns of orientation.
Regarding the concrete processes of music production in Austria, a contextualized approach that additionally considers the music’s aesthetics might be applied through analysis of the effect of (political) economic or educational conditions on practices of making, performing, and distributing music in Austria and, eventually, on the resulting sounds. From the standpoint of music analysis, the growing scholarly field of record production- and technology-oriented “phonomusicology”
would offer some suitable methods for the examination of these aspects, adding to international research based on or led by creation practices of popular music.
Altogether, a common effort of the research field should be focused on the ways in which popular musics in and from Austria act both as aural-cultural mirror and agent, reproducer and reworker of prevalent discourses, narratives, conceptions, and ideologies in society. Existing research about national, regional, gender-related, neoliberal, migrant, and post-migrant identity constructions has already made important contributions in this regard. Future studies, however, might widen the scope by following the example of international popular musicology currents and asking more extensively how Austrian popular music personae “convey, stage and contest”
these multiple constructions of identity, not least in a musical sense, in combination with their lyrics, visual appearances, performances, behaviors, and attitudes. References