Gone but not forgotten – The Rakes

We’ll be talking about bands that graced us with their wonderful music but are sadly no more in this series.

One man, A leotard and Freddie Mercury. Austrofred captures the imagination of a nation

One man, A leotard and Freddie Mercury.

Austrofred captures the imagination of a nation

Queen backing tracks, a fake moustache and tight leotards. This is Austrofred. The name reveals the nature of his game. He is the Austrian Freddie Mercury, the Champion. A one man tour de force who karaokes his way through the Queen back-catalogue, without singing one original lyric.

Fire, Light and Austrofred
He is so good he can even shoot rainbows out of his eye! © Klaus Mitter / Austrofred Productions

Sounds like something you would like to see? Probably not, and that is exactly what I thought when I first heard about him some years ago. A man pretending to be Freddie Mercury singing in German? Say what now?

While this may well sound like a joke and a recipe for disaster it somehow works. Austrofred has taken the old saying “don’t take yourself too seriously” to another level, and turned himself into a cult figure at the same time.

Austrofred, real name Franz Adrian Wenzl, has created a fictional “artist” of the highest order and performs the role so perfectly, that he manages to make the ridiculous seem utterly normal. He somehow convinces us that it is must be just a coincidence that “Austrofred” and “Anglofred” appear to be very very similar. The scale with which Austrofred has made us believe he is the one true “Champion” of the world became clear to me a few years ago upon hearing a story which has since become almost part of Austrian folklore amongst the people I meet.

The story goes something like this: While at a party with the rest of his friends a man (whose name will not be named) was watching the music channels on TV. While enjoying these musical videos he saw something which took him very much by surprise. He instantly caught the attention of the rest of the guests, “Wow” he shouted, “Look at that guy, he looks exactly like Austrofred!!”. Yes, the man in question firmly believed that Freddie Mercury from Queen had copied his beloved Austrofred, even to the point of dressing and dancing the same way. Any “copy cat” artist that can achieve this kind of belief deserves to get respect.

On Thursday evening in Vienna’s Arena the Champion made his return to the stage after a time out which saw him partake in theatre and writing, releasing another “best seller” in his own words with the book “You can stick your magic flute up your arse. My correspondences with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”.

The teaser for the new tour (video in German) 

The room was full and the atmosphere tense as the crowd stared at the huge “Austrofred” light fixture on stage in digital-retro font, reminding me somehow of those dodgy 80’s game shows you see on American TV. Chants of “Austrofred” could be heard up front from a man who actually turned out to be dressed exactly the same as the man himself, studded arm band included. Such is Austrofred’s popularity in these parts.

Finger on buzzers. Let's play......Austrofred is the Champion!

Finally the time came and Austrofred took to the stage adorned in his usual wife beater, tights and leather jacket. A can of beer in one hand, mic in the other. What followed was theatre, music and show at its best. Every song was followed by a short excursion into the life of “Austrofred”, almost turning it into stand-up comedy. Numerous costume changes then transpired where the crowd were treated to oddities such as “Glow in the dark” Austrofred and skiing Austrofred (snow included).

Eich Dodln gib i Gas

As far as the actual music is concerned there isn’t much to say. Firstly because I couldn’t understand what he was saying (he sings in Austrian dialect which is very difficult to understand) and secondly because it isn’t that important. The music itself is just one element in a bigger picture. The fans know this, and it is this appreciation which makes him successful. Wenzl has created a character with an aura and personality which captivates his audience, where every saying and gesture is so absurd that it becomes realistic again.

Glow in the dark Austrofred, includes glow in the dark moustache. Soon to be released as its very own action figure.

In an era where artists seem to take themselves a little too seriously, Wenzl has proven once again that humour and self-irony can go a long way in the music business.

Long live the Champion! Long live Austrofred!


Get Educated: Attwenger

The Who: Attwenger

The What: Austro-electro-polka-dance craziness

The Where: Porgy and Bess

The When: 27.02.2012

Attwenger, ever heard of them? Probably not, and that is not surprising either. Not many people outside of Austria have. Perhaps a little background info is therefore neccesary before stage-diving into the details of their recent appearance and the reasons why they even merit discussion.

The two-man band have been around the block, since 1990/91 to be exact and are pretty much an institution in the Austrian indie scene.  They are considered one of the most innovative bands to come out of the country in the last few decades and awarded the Amadeus music award in 2004 (the equivalent to the Mercury music award).

Drummer Markus Binder and accordianist Hans-Peter Falkner’s 8 albums and 2! Films delightfully fuse elements of folk with punk, rock, hip hop and electro beats to form a experimental mish-mash of musical madness for the ears which any music enthusiast will appreciate.

So why are they worth a listen? Exactly for the reasons above.They produce music which transcends linguistic barriers and can make even the most stiffend hip sway to the groove. One look across the crowded room in Vienna’s most famous jazz club was enough to know that this band has reached a stage in its career to be worthily deemed “genre-breaking”.

From Indie-teens to office suits and arty minimilists through to the balding average joe and even a few over 60’s who may well have shaken out a false hip or two were along for the ride in an energetic and vibrant set which focussed on their new album “flux”. A heavy mixture of accordian driven polka-style dance music which sent the crowd into regular fits of cowboy squarking “yee-haws” and “woo-hoos”.

Watching the two of them on stage making more music with a drum set, an accordian and the occassional  jaw harp than the average 5-piece guitar band really is a feat worth paying for and it is no surprise the band has built up a loyal fan base who effortlessly shaked and bobbed their way through the gig.

A truly innovative bands around at the moment in a sea of mediocrity and “play it safe” music, well deserved of a little more prominence than they have been given. As John Peel once said about the band, you may not understand what they are saying, but they make damn good music.