Europe tops pop as the beat goes on
By Peter Hayes
For years, British was the only real powerhouse on the European pop music scene, the only country in the European Union (EU) that could hold its own against the massive wave of popular culture coming from the United States.
While the British Phonographic Industry long boasted that about half the records sold in Britain were made by its own artists, in some European countries, such as Denmark and Holland, local performers sometimes had to settle for less than 10 per cent share of the music market.
But the 1990s have seen an upturn in home-produced music across Europe. Not only European pop at an all-time high, but thanks to the fashion for home-produced electronic dance music, it is still on the increase.
In the first half of 1996, overall sales turnover from compact discs and cassettes either fell or barely kept pace with inflation in some of the world's largest markets, including the US, France, Germany and Japan.
But the good news for European artists is that more of their music is selling at home. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry predicts that this year, Europe will produce a higher percentage of the music sold in its own countries than at any time since the 1960s.
“The records that our customers really want to hear right now are electronic dance tracks, and the best of these are coming from local sources,” says Wolf-Dieter Gramatke of Polygram Records (Germany). “America is simple being left behind.”
The music industry is big business - $12.2 billion worth of recorded music was sold in EU countries last year: 160.8 million singles, 6.5 million vinyl LPs, 160.6 million cassettes and 607.8 million compact discs.
In France, local rap and rock acts are big news. Three local artists - Rocker, MC Solaar and Trio Les Innocents - are responsible for more than half of all compact discs sold so far in 1996.
Britain has spent the past two-and-a-half years in the midst of the so-called Brit Pop revolution, with bands such as Blur, Oasis and Pulp topping the charts and playing to sell-out crowds at home and abroad.
In Spain, the rock group Heroes Del Silencio have been outselling all foreign bands for several years.
Another interesting trend is for non-English rock and pop performers to attract a large audience outside their homelands.
Musicians such as Eros Ramazotti, a romantic pop balladeer from Italy, and German rock band Der Toten Hosen have topped the bills at musical festivals from Munich to Paris.
The Number One trend of 1996 is definitely “techno” - music with at last 150 beats per minute of repetitive computer rhythms, nearly all which is electronically produced.
Despite its chart success, techno is squarely aimed at the modern dance scene.
The big names of techno are usually the record producers and nightclub disc jockeys rather than the performers. However, nearly all of this year's top sellers, including Captain Jack and Culture Beat, are European-based.
Like rave music, which spawned the techno craze, it was first shaped in the small back-street clubs of London, Amsterdam and Berlin, with DJs themselves often mixing the tracks on the spot.
From its earliest days, the rave and techno scene has been synonymous with the use of drugs, most commonly Ecstasy and other amphetamines.
This has given the techno and rave scene a sense of youthful rebellion that the noisy but otherwise bland and nondescript music could not have provided alone.
The rising trend for native European music has also been paralleled by the growth of specialist radio stations and music television programming, much of it made possible by the fast growth of satellite and cable broadcasting.
Spain, Holland and German are among the countries that now have their own dedicated, native language, music-television channels. Viacom, founders of MTV (Music Television), are planning even more - slowly breaking Europe down in language, musical styles and age groups.
In the case of Telehit, a Mexican channel that broadcasts to Spain via the Astra satellite, any song not performed in Spanish is simple disqualified.
A recent French law stated that half the records played on the radio should be in French. German political figures, including the ecology-based Green Party, are promoting a voluntary working code that would mean language split between English music (60 percent) and German (40 percent) on local radio stations.
The rise of Euro-pop is supported by no less a body than European Parliament Media Committee. It says: “If Europe could produce half its own music and then half its own television programmes, it would create at least 600,000 new jobs.” - Gemini News.
About the Author: Peter Hayes is a York-based freelance journalist.
(C) Peter Hayes 2003