Henning Lahmann is an international music enthusiast based out of Berlin. During the day he works at Potsdam University’s public international law department, but in his “free time” he writes for four esteemed intercontinental music publications. He’s a slick writer with a sense of humor and impecable English. In today’s international, web-based society, Lahmann is a young German music journalist kicking the Internet’s butt. THE BOMBER JACKET spoke with Lahmann about music journalism, German culture, and his favorite jams.
TBJ: So Henning. Nice name, Henning. What’s the origin of your name?
HL: Thanks! Well yeah actually I really like my name, though in fact it’s not even all that special. It’s the Scandinavian and North German version of the German name Heinrich, which is the same as Henry in English, Henri in French, Enrique in Spanish, you get the idea. It’s pretty common where I come from and further north in Denmark and Norway, but I realize that the further south you get, the more weird the name sounds. I’ve had people in Bavaria laugh about my name.
You live in Berlin, but you’re from Hamburg, right? Which city do you like more? How are the music scenes in the cities different from each other?
Born and raised in Hamburg, yes. Or rather, as my friends in Hamburg would like to add now: “Henning, maybe you were born in Hamburg, but you grew up in the stupid suburbs. Deal with it.” To ask which city I prefer is actually a loaded question. You would think Germany’s two biggest cities must have a lot in common but in fact they don’t. Berlin is a true world city, Hamburg is not. Berlin is a metropolis, Hamburg at best struggles to be one. Berlin is culturally exciting, vibrant, alive. On the other hand, what I miss here is that certain feeling of space, freedom, and longing that is inherent in every city that is close to the sea. You just don’t have that in Berlin. And also, I still find Hamburg much more pretty. Let me put it this way: Hamburg has a couple of places that make you think, “This right here, this is perfectly beautiful. I could just stand here forever.” In Berlin, even if the city had such places (it doesn’t), before finishing that thought someone would already have shouted at you for standing in the way.
In regards to the music scenes, I’d say what Berlin is known for worldwide is of course electronic music, primarily techno, though I’m never sure if I want to call it an actual “scene.” Hamburg has a very distinct “sound” as well, which is more leaning towards guitar pop, sung in German, which might be the main reason why it’s not too famous beyond the borders of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.
It basically started two years ago when I started No Fear Of Pop on a whim. I had wanted to write about music for a very long time but for whatever reason I never really did until that day. Since then and because of my work with the blog, I subsequently managed to gather the other engagements and assignments. It wasn’t really planned I guess–it somehow just happened. Which is nice though.
What are your goals journalistically?
Right at this moment, I’d love if things more or less continued to be as they are. I like writing my columns, and a longer music-related piece from every so often would be fine, and NFOP may continue to grow modestly. But considering my other commitments, I don’t really have the time to expand my activities in this field. That might change next year, we’ll see.
What do you like writing more, reviews or interviews?
Hm. I like doing interviews, though artists can be a frustrating type of people to talk to. But if the situation is right, having a conversation about music with someone who is really devoted to it is among the most inspiring things you can do. Generally speaking though, I guess I’m more the reviews guy.
Do you have any favorite journalists?
Not a single one, but there are a lot whose writing I admire. But to drop a few names, music-related I’d like to mention Lisa Blanning and Adam Harper (both The Wire). Aside from music, Sabine Rückert (criminal justice journalist, Die Zeit), and Colum Lynch (UN reporter, Washington Post).
Which bands did you grow up listening to when you were younger?
During high school you mean? Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Blur, Portishead, Radiohead, Massive Attack, Nine Inch Nails, Tricky, Smashing Pumpkins, Tocotronic and Blumfeld (the last two are German). Fairly average I guess.
Who are your current favorite musical acts?
Seriously impossible to answer, so I let my incorrupt Last.fm statistics speak here (which started counting 2 June 2007): Grizzly Bear and Girls. Which is not even true in regards to the question. All-time favorites would be, if any, probably Tocotronic and Portishead. Anyway, at this very moment: Julia Holter, Grimes, LHF.
Sometimes it seems like Germans glorify American indie music. Why is that? Do you do that too? [Laughs]
Tricky question! First to me, music has to be good. Where it comes from absolutely doesn’t matter. Aside from myself, I wouldn’t necessarily agree with you. I guess you could fill books writing about this matter. First of all, of course, English-speaking artists dominate the German charts, indie or not, but that also (and equally) includes British, Irish, Canadian, Australian artists, and I bet most people couldn’t tell where a band is from exactly. But despite our differences, we’re all part of the same Western culture, which is fine for what it’s worth. And if there are more American groups on the radio, chances are that more people will become fans of them. Of course you could say that Anglo-American culture is pretty dominant these days, not only in Germany. But if you look at it without resentment, this is something which is neither good nor bad, it just is. One way to tackle this issue would be to introduce some kind of fixed quota of music from domestic artists that radio stations etc. would be obliged to obey, like the French have been doing since 1994 (40 %), something quite a few German conservative politicians would love to do, but I think that’s just stupid. There is enough German indie music, in my view the problem clearly is quality, not availability.
Which German musicians are currently on your iPod? Or do you have an iPod?
I do, and after checking, exactly one [German artist]. It’s “S ND Y P RL RS,” the fine solo project by Berlin artist Malte C. Jantzen. Though he sings in English, ha. In recent years and apart from electronic genres, popular German music has for the most part lacked imagination, creativity, and most crucially boldness, which is why I’d consider most of it insignificant (which by the way has nothing to do with American dominance, as there’s a lot of amazing stuff coming from virtually every other country on the European continent). The two exceptions I’d like to mention are Tocotronic and Anja Plaschg aka Soap&Skin, though she’s Austrian and only partly sings in German.
Records or MP3s?
Both. I love vinyl and that won’t change, but it’s expensive, so most music I have is on my hard drive. Which is of course also just convenient as I’m usually not at home during the day.
You know so many American bands! Have you been to the US before?
I’ve been to America a couple of times–mostly NYC–but I know most of the US bands through that placeless universe that is the Internet. I read a lot of music publications from the U.K. and North America. And most of the music people send to us at NFOP is from the US I guess, cause by far most of our readers live there.
What do you think about the state of the current music industry?
Huh. Well, the industry is in real trouble that’s for sure. I mean, it’s not their fault that technology has ruined their business model, but since then they’ve almost exclusively made the wrong decisions on almost every possible level, it makes it hard for me to continue to feel sympathetic. Or to put it in the words of journalist Rabea Weihser who nailed it recently (roughly translated): Every now and then, the music industry proves itself to be so pathetic that the observer’s compassion turns into disgust.
What do you think about blogs? Do you read a lot of music blogs?
I’m a blogger. I love blogs. Thanks to affordable music production software, there’s so much music out there these days that I even think that music blogs provide a necessary filter for the rest of the music community. We listen to stuff no one else would ever listen to.
I’ve just counted, and there are 32 music blogs subscribed in my RSS reader, plus a couple of publications that I wouldn’t consider blogs in the strict sense but rather web-based magazines. Of course that doesn’t mean that I really “read” them all, all the time, but I admire them all and I just like to know what they’re up to. The blogs that I avidly check out would be 20 Jazz Funk Greats, Rose Quartz, Friendship Bracelet, No Modest Bear, Stadiums & Shrines, and Decoder I guess.
You’re also a DJ. How did that happen?
Oh, I sometimes feel that job title should be protected somehow so real DJs get the right to sue amateurs like me when pretentiously using it. Let’s say, I like to put on music for other people, and it also started after launching NFOP, mostly when we organize a concert or showcase, or for smaller events organized by friends. And sometimes with a couple of friends in shitty bars in Neukölln. It’s fun.
Can you tell me about the booking you do in Berlin?
Like the DJing, another thing that accidentally happened after starting to blog. A lot of artists from abroad come to visit Berlin and want to play while they’re here, and rather incidentally I became the person in Berlin they knew because of NFOP, so people started asking me if I could organize something. It wasn’t planned at all, and to be honest I’m still looking for the fun in writing a bunch of mails to venue managers, trying to convince them that this particular artist who they’ve most likely never heard of is awesome enough to let her or him play. What I do is not professional at all. As soon as you are in a team with more experienced people though, as I am at the moment regarding our next show, everything’s works out fine.
What is your main day-time job?
I work at Potsdam University, at the public international law department. I’m a research fellow and I write my PhD thesis, and I teach constitutional law.
Do you think you will stay in Berlin, or can you imagine moving somewhere else eventually?
You never know what’s gonna happen, but right now I’m very happy where I am. And as long as I’m in Germany, I can’t really imagine myself living somewhere else than Berlin or Hamburg. But it really doesn’t have to be this country forever, there are so many exciting cities on this planet. So we’ll see.