Popular Viennese Electronic Music, 1990-2015: A Cultural History

Popular Viennese Electronic Music, 1990-2015: A Cultural History
by Ewa Mazierska

Routledge Press, Abingdon, England, 2019
248 pp., illus. 26 b/w. Trade, $55.00
ISBN: 978-1138713918.

Reviewed by
Peter Beate
October 2019

Ewa Mazierska presents her new book, Popular Viennese Electronic Music, 1990-2015: A Cultural History, as a case study for music made on the periphery. Applying Regev’s (2013) concept of aesthetic cosmopolitanism to Viennese electronic music, she argues that the cultural exchange between nations or scenes leads to the sharing of aesthetics with regard to the production and consumption of music. Mazierska sets out to treat Viennese electronic music between 1990 and 2015 as both a local phenomenon but also as one that reflects broader cultural developments. The time frame broadly reflects the technological changes that affected both music consumption and production, and Mazierska shows how those changes led to the rise of a music scene, but also its demise.

The book is divided into three parts. In the first section, Vienna’s history as capital of music is told, from Viennese Classicism to Conchita Wurst winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 2014. Mazierska sets the groundwork for her book as a cultural (rather than technological) history by focussing on the cultural work of scenes. She uses this part of the book to discuss two very interesting points. First, a national identity (or its absence) is elaborated on with regard to the musician’s self-image and the marketing of their music. Linked to the discussion on identity is the second point: how musicians today fully embrace or reject local culture. Both points help to understand Mazierska’s adaptation of aesthetic cosmopolitanism and are further elaborated on in the second section of the book.

Here, the dialectic of global/local is discussed through factors that facilitated and/or hindered the establishment of a Viennese electronic music scene such as the networking of previous music scenes, changes in technology, or the scene’s size. Mazierska tells the story of the scene on the backdrop of seismic political shifts in Europe and the rise of neoliberalism, evidencing that the development of Viennese electronic music is a result of both global developments and local conditions.

The third and most exhaustive part of the book consists of profiles of some of the most important protagonists of the scene, dedicating a chapter to each of them. Mazierska uses every profile to introduce current discussions in popular music studies, but also points out in what way the artists are exemplary of the scene. Similar themes surface in the portrayal of the artists and their collaborations. For example, the first three chapters feature Richard Dorfmeister, most famously known to be one half of Kruder & Dorfmeister. Comparing the collaborations, it is interesting to see how different aesthetics lead to different levels of commercial success. Also, it seems that the artists that chose to live abroad for a certain period of their careers have managed to translate their experiences into commercial sustainability more than artists who remained in Vienna/Austria. The last chapter of this section is the most interesting. It is dedicated to two female artists in the scene: Electric Inigo and Sweet Suzie. Mazierska considers it “unfair to group artists together for reasons other than artistic” (p. 195) and bemoans that this is often the case with women. Yet, she falls prey to exactly the same practice. Both women have an impressive oeuvre. However, it might be harder to compare it against their male counterparts, as their output includes collaborations that are not related to their musical careers. As Mazierska states, [I]t “consist of a deeper engagement in problems not directly affecting their careers, the ability to locate their own music in a wider, social, political and event religious, context” (p.214). One wonders if this kind of engagement is an opportunity for rather than a distraction from the development of sustainable careers.

Given that half the book describes musical outputs, a playlist would have been a great addition. It could help to better understand some of the descriptions. This book is a labour of love and rightly dedicated to the electronic musicians that defined the electronica Vienna. It is a great advocate for engaging with Viennese electronic music. At the same time, it makes one curious to see how music scenes in general and the Viennese electronic music scene in particular develop in times of a return to the nation state and localization.