The Garage, London -  23 March 2018

"Joy and pleasure - an emotional burst beating in my heart"

Looking back on new wave music and its legacy of the 1980's - ask yourself what band made a debut and shaped the sound of the future. Which one could possibly marry industrial noise and elegance of classical music, creating something both heavy and lightweight, experimental and yet melodious? Then on top of it combine the poetry of Edgar Allan Poe and cinematography of Fritz Lang. Seems impossible to find one considering how the mainstream music was at the time. However, Propaganda from Dusseldorf have done all of it and earned themselves an unique place in pop history.

Before reviewing the event let me travel back in time to 1987. Being a teenager in a small town of my native country Japan, the impact of the album was unlike anything else at the time. Out loud from my brother's stereo, its distinctive and melancholic sound struck like lightning from above, invading my nervous system totally. Along with Depeche Mode they became my obsession.

Sadly, the life of Propaganda was short. No sooner had you thought you'd found your favourite, it was already gone. Listening to the album after they disbanded felt like chasing a ghost from the past. Left incomplete, you were wishing for something that would never happen again. It was devastating.

Well, they did come back in 1990 as they released a second album 1234 featuring Michael Mertens, a bit of Susanne Freytag, and lyrics written by Ralf Dorper. However, the style and line-up had changed. Claudia was no longer in the band. Ralf was not an permanent member anymore. It was not a German only band, but was made of Germany (Michael Mertens), USA (Betsi Miller), and Scotland (Derek Forbes & Brian McGee). Even though I thought it was great, it was far from being the band I used to know.

xPropaganda The Garage London
     xPropaganda The Garage London
   xPropaganda The Garage London

Since then, the debut album A Secret Wish has always been on my playlist. It has become a little secret of mine as no one else was listening to that sort of music in school at the time (scary how quickly you earn an 'outsider' status when 99% of your mates listen to the mainstream). It was played to death. Luckily enough it was on compact disc. (The only one that broke down was the CD player.) Time passed, and I learned that the world is your oyster.

Fast forward to early 2018 - 32 years since the split and I now live in Sweden. Whilst scrolling Facebook updates, suddenly an announcement shows up. With no lengthy intro, it read "Claudia Brucken and Susanne Freytag perform A Secret Wish at The Garage, London on Saturday 24 March 2018". 


Without slightest hesitation, I pressed "buy" on the booking site. Then, to my great pleasure, another show was added due to popular demand. Another ticket secured. Shortly afterward flight and hotel tickets. The countdown has started. I explained the plan to my wife and understood what it meant for me to see them live after 32 years. She nodded and said "OK, if that’s so important for you then you should go".

23rd March. Arriving in the mid afternoon from Stockholm, I quickly headed to my hotel in Kings Cross. With an intention of "documenting" the entire show I decided to bring in my good old Lumix along with audio recorders. Rushing off at Highbury & Islington tube station I quickly joined the queue. It was around 18:00, an hour before the doors opened. A sizeable number of people standing at the entrance. A man wearing a "mesh" cap at the very front, then another one with a t-shirt saying "Power, force, motion, drive". On venue's blackboard it said "DHP Family Presents xPropaganda - Sold Out". Expectation was building, slowly but surely.

Shortly after 19:00 the doors opened. All rushed in. Stupidly enough I went to the cloak room to leave my jacket. By the time it was done the front row was almost full. However, luckily on the left end there was still a bit of space left. As it was close to the bathroom, it was understandable why it was empty. However, the front row is still a front row, I decided to position myself there.

Support act Ekkoes came on. With a good mix of 80's pop and 00's indie, it was a good choice to warm up for the evening. Dynamic and energetic, they played good tunes of disco and techno. Again a nice mention of the main act as the singer Jon Beck told us how he had enjoyed seeing them soundcheck prior to the show. Another confirmation that it was really happening!  So their show ended.

xPropaganda The Garage London
   xPropaganda The Garage London    xPropaganda The Garage London

Quickly came the staff on stage and started to set up for the moment of truth. 32 years of expectation was about to reach its max limit and you could feel the tension among the audience.

One fan started clapping hands screaming for the band to come. Just a few minutes after the due time, the lights went down and the backing members walked up the stage. The audience went wild! Then as if responding to them Claudia and Susanne stayed off the stage for a few more minutes, effectively keeping us waiting and building up even more tension!

With our patience tried to the limit, they finally showed up. More wild screaming - only this time was it much louder than the first. Looking happy and healthy, Susanne welcomed 600+ fans saying "So many people, great to see you!". It certainly was great to see YOU too!

As the main theme of the evening went they opened with Dream Within A Dream the first track on A Secret Wish. How amazing to hear it live. Much like the original it featured the trumpet, giving it an organic and human feel, nicely enhancing Susanne and her reciting of Edgar Allan Poe's poem.

As soon as it ended they kicked in with The Murder Of Love. Backed by as murderously heavy bass-line as the name itself, it brought the show to its next climax. Featuring jazzy solo by Steve Lipson and his guitar in the middle, the audience sang along loudly. However, a louder one was yet to come as Claudia screamed in the microphone "1, 2, 3, 4"! Jewel - another Propaganda anthem featuring heavy percussion and multi-layers of synth sounds - but more so than on the album. Epic!

The setlist was predictable. At this point it was clear that they were going to perform it in the same running order as on the album. However, that was not the point. The point was to hear the album in its entirety LIVE. Two of the primary members singing those songs together and playing live. So in that term every song was fresh and new. The focus was about HOW rather than what.

Singalong-wise Duel drew most attention. No wonder, it was their most successful single in the UK and it was performed in the heart of the country. Claudia sang it like a diva, allowing us to sing every word of it as if it was our own. How mesmerising!

xPropaganda The Garage London
     xPropaganda The Garage London
   xPropaganda The Garage London

After an experimental yet suggestive Frozen Faces it was time for P-Machinery, the one I personally looked forward to hearing most. Along with Dr. Mabuse it was my favourite due to its haunting melody and its machine like soundscape. To me it's Propaganda at its best, symbolic of their experimental side. Hearing it brought right back to all the remixes and alternate versions I have grown up with. It almost brought tears in my eyes.

Then it was followed by Sorry for Laughing. Poppy yet heavy, it was sung by Claudia with passion. I have to say the lighting on this song was brilliant. Lighting up Claudia from the stage floor it cast a huge silhouette on the wall. Very cinematic, reminding me of Dr. Mabuse himself in the The Testament of Dr. Mabuse movie. Intentional or not, the same theme carried on as the back drape showed the black & white hand with the letter M on it. Susanne whispered "Mabuuuse". The audience went ecstatic.

She went on singing: "Why does it hurt when my heart misses the beat". I asked myself 'Why does it hurt when my heart catches the beat'. It was hurting of joy and pleasure. An emotional burst beating my heart. Then it was quickly followed by her big simile, as if she was responding to us with so much love and understanding. It was performed quite faithful to the album version.

Only toward the end it was a bit different as Steve Lipson brought in extra guitar riffs. Some may argue if it was necessary or not. The song may have sounded perfect without any additional riff in the refrain. However, to me it fueled further emotion into the song. And I would not argue with Steve deciding to do so. All in all, he was the producer of A Secret Wish.

Two more numbers followed. The Chase, a solid pop song featuring a drum pad 'duel' by the girls and The Last Word (Strength to Dream). How fitting to end the set with this song. Beautiful synth riff backed by Paul Jones' drums and Susanne's last line "Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?". Just how perfect is that to end the show with a line that started the show itself.

In terms of consistency A Secret Wish live served everything that we wanted to hear, except for one tiny detail (I will come back to it shortly).

xPropaganda The Garage London
     xPropaganda The Garage London
   xPropaganda The Garage London

At this point the show was phenomenal. Ten gorgeous songs sung by two voices that represent Propaganda. I dare say that no one was left untouched. As soon as they stepped off the stage the crowd asked for more, chanting and screaming for an encore. Without further delay they came back.

From this point on, all they would play was a bonus of the unknown. High in expectation again. Susanne introduced the next number by dedicating to Andreas Thein, the founding member of Propaganda who unfortunately passed away in 2013. There was a fan that knew what it was and screamed "Disziplin"! as soon as the intro started. Susanne smiled back well acknowledging the guess. Surprising yet perfect fit as it was this song that Thein and the co. demoed as Propaganda for the first time. In a way it was like Depeche Mode playing Photographic on their 2006 tour.

It was followed by Femme Fatale, another classic by Lou Reed and Nico. Introduced as by "My musical heroes", Claudia sat down on a chair and sang it ever gently. If Nico had been there she would've loved it for sure.

Claudia carried on saying they would sing Duel again. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed. If there was one more number to perform out of their expansive catalogue I would've loved to hear a 12 inch version of either Dr. Mabuse or P-Machinery. All in all remixes and alternate versions are very important part of their sound. That would've made a perfect end to what was already an epic set of the evening. Anyway… I guess the choice was obvious because of the popularity of the song. Nonetheless, it was well received by the crowd, allowing a great singalong once again.

Looking back at the show a week later, it was literally like a dream within a dream.

As Claudia asked at the end of the set, yes our secret wish has finally come true and there they were, two key figures of the band stood side by side playing your favourite album in its entirety. Then add 32 years of waiting to it. I for one cannot thank the band enough for making it happen. As much as A Secret Wish has earned a place in history, I will happily sign it off on my bucket list and cherish the memory for many years to come. 9/10

Setlist: Dream Within A Dream, The Murder Of Love, Jewel, Duel, Frozen Faces, p:Machinery, Sorry for Laughing, Dr Mabuse, The Chase,
The Last Word (Strength to Dream), Disziplin, Femme Fatale, Duel

Review: Mototaka Fujii
Photos: Rob Dyer, Mark Smith, Mototaka Fujii