Are we all puppets on a string?

Bangkok Post - Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Germany's 'queen of techno' on the role of music-industry moguls and the media in shaping young people's attitudes and tastes

Popular music has long secured its position as a most powerful tool in influencing attitudes. Whether it's the historic mega-success of Band Aid's Do They Know It's Christmas? single in 1984 or We Are the World (1985) or the sold-out tsunami-benefit concerts all over the planet, pop artists and the music industry have proven their cultural impact on the world's population _ whether music consumers or not.

Here in Bangkok for the 'Bridges: Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace' series hosted by the International Peace Foundation, popular Berlin-based deejay Marusha had exchanges with students and the media about the need to free oneself from global trends manipulated by those who would dictate consumption behaviour.

Born in Nurenberg, Marusha's career in music began in 1991 as a DJ on radio from where she gradually branched out into television and the recording studio. Her mix of electronic dance music, tinged with hip-hop and playful New Wave elements, is eagerly lapped up by clubbers and for the past five years the so-called 'queen of techno' has been globe-trotting, performing for delighted crowds of trendies in many countries.

Here, Marusha shares her views on media culture and the music industry.

What ideas have you been raising in discussions with people during your visit?

I've talked about general topics like peace, culture and nations. I try to give my own opinions away to young students which, hopefully, will make them think about certain things that happen in their everyday lives. What I mean is, I've tried to make them aware what's happening to them. For example, advertisements can be so very manipulative and can push people into [bad] situations such as selfishness, greed and jealousy, [to a point where] there's nothing worse than not wearing the [latest] Gucci or Prada. All this commercialisation, this view of money, isn't very good. You shouldn't focus on the materialistic side of life. Of course, we have to look at it because we're part of the system. I was telling people that it's important to be yourself and to not follow what somebody tells you to be _ because you're already special.

Would you say, then, that there's some power that controls young people's consumption behaviour and pushes them in a materialistic direction?

There are some people on this planet who know exactly what they want and know how to get it _ which is, to use the media. Wherever you look, you'll find there's somebody out there trying to direct your ideas, telling you to do this or that.

As long as people are not informed about what's actually happening, they will be manipulated. It's thus important to sharpen your mind and not to become a puppet of the [music, fashion] industry. Everybody can have taste; it's not that your tastes are inferior to other people's. It's the media that makes the [distinction] between brand wearers and non-brand wearers. Young people, in particular, are in the process of forming their own identities and when they're [malleable] they can easily become victims of the system. But as long as you [tell] kids that they're already special in their own right, they won't be easily led.

Would you say that it is in fact the capitalist economic system, in which purchasing of goods and services is encouraged to sustain the manufacturing and investment sectors, that forces the state to exploit the power of the media and advertising to boost spending?

On the economic side, it's good to have people spending and have money circulating within the system. If you have a manufacturing sector in Thailand and money has been [invested in] it, purchasing activity is necessary. If no one spends their money, then the people in the factories will lose their jobs.

However, what I'm criticising is the way the seed of buying madness is planted in people ... the manipulation of the media to drive people into brand-name madness.

Given your experience in the industry, do you think the tastes and listening choices of people who buy music are also manipulated?

Of course! America does it all the time! I represent techno music and it's very popular in Europe but it's never been really popular in America. This is not because people don't like it but because the music media over there are dictating that America not be interested in selling foreign music. There are so many artists in America and so many people in the industry who want to get rich selling only their own home-made products. Think [who it is] who gets the support in America: Rap! Hip-hop! R&B and guitar music!

There are certain types of foreign music and bands which will never get a look-in here due to the high risk of commercial failure. Would you say the profit-minded business approach is gradually destroying variety in music?

You know, there are so many people doing good music but they have no lobby. If we want to introduce a new band, we have to invest money and more often than not the problem is that the bands themselves aren't brave enough.

I think all types of music have equal potential but bands from America have like, well, 1,000 television interviews. Anyone [who has] the media in their hands can become a mega-star! I've found, after my decades in music, that the greatest s**t can become a greatest hit. People's tastes are not to blame; it's the media that make the hit, not people.

So is the media controlling the music industry?

The music industry controls the media, which is like a [speakers'] corner for the industry. They work together. In Germany, you can't even listen to programmes on public radio any more. You can't have the things you want to hear. They [DJs] don't play what you love, but what they want you to love. If young people listen to Justin Timberlake every time they turn on the radio, it's not surprising if they eventually go out and buy the album. You find that you have all the words of songs you really hate in your head just because you happen to hear them everywhere you go.

How do you view the involvement of people in the music industry in humanitarian activities? In some cases, most recently Band Aid 20 [different performers recorded a new rendition of 'Do They Know It's Christmas?' to again raise funds for famine relief], it was suggested that artists had joined the project just for the free publicity?

It's contradictory. The same situation applies to the tsunami disaster. There's so much pain and so much need and, of course, making donations is the easiest way [to help]. Everybody is donating and all the top figures have come out to encourage donations. On one side, you have people like David Bowie, Bono and Sting who do it really selflessly. But some people, like those in the record companies, see the opportunity to promote artists by placing them in these video promos knowing they'll get a wide circulation. Things like this receive lots of airplay because they need to reach as many people as possible. You see, it's half good cause, half abuse. But, at the end of the day, do you want to have raised no money at all, or to have raised at least some?

How do you think music can bridge the gaps between different people and contribute to peace-building efforts?

What I have come to realise ... is that techno music is popular all over the world _ even in countries where people do not communicate in the language in which the lyrics were written. But they can understand the music. This is because the genre emerged without words so it has the capacity to communicate directly with your body. Your skin reacts to the rhythm. Also, it's the type of music mostly played at parties, occasions to which people go to enjoy life. For me, that's a very peaceful thing. I've been deejaying for 15 years and I've never ever had a riot on my hands; not one single night. It's really fascinating. We're building bridges already.

Concept CM2, in conjunction with the International Peace Foundation, presents 'Marusha: The Queen of Techno _ Live in Bangkok' today at CM2, Novotel Bangkok, Siam Square, from 10pm onwards. The 650 baht tickets, which include two standard drinks, are available at the door or by calling 02-255-6888. The proceeds will go to Ban Khru Noi, a home for abandoned and underprivileged children.
Visit for more information.

Samila Suttisiltum