Reportage

The Klaus Renft Combo

The banned boys of East German rock and roll..

klausOnly in the former GDR can one imagine a group calling themselves The Klaus Renft Combo be banned for lyrics which ‘had nothing to do with the Socialist reality of the GDR’.

At first glance it isn’t a name which would conjure images of The Sex Pistols or The Exploited, let alone early Bob Dylan but the band which formed in 1958 would attain cult status across Eastern and Western Europe and enjoy a renaissance after the fall of the Berlin Wall thanks largely and truly inadvertently to the dictatorship which orchestrated its demise.

Formed by, rather unsurprisingly, Klaus Renft who had changed his name from Jentzch, they began by playing the rock and roll hits of the day. Their set list evolved as the pop and rock scene in the West changed through the sixties and seventies, moving away from ‘bubble gum’ and into more experimental groups such as Pink Floyd whom they could only listen to in secret via banned West German radio stations.

As their audiences increased they began to write their own music and soon became one of the country’s most important and influential groups with mildly subversive lyrics which offered hope to the disaffected youth. Renft would become the Jagger/Daltrey and Plant of East German rock until 1975 when the Stasi decided the country could live without the six piece.

Any performer in the GDR required a permit to play and record music and so the group were summoned to Leipzig to play in front of the committee for the Ministry of Culture, a scene of truly Orwellian proportions if ever there was one. Such was the distaste for Klaus Renft in particular that the leader of the GDR himself, Erich Honecker instructed the head of the Stasi, Erich Milke to personally attend to the case. The committee read out a report from a venue the band had recently played at which alleged distasteful music, behaviour and drunkenness. Renft, surely realising his was a lost cause had smuggled in a tape recorder on which he recorded the female Chairperson of the committee inform them that ‘they no longer exist’.

Following the hearing, Renft had the tape smuggled out to the West for ‘insurance purposes’ whilst the State set about wiping the groups existence and history from the public. Virtually overnight their catalogue of music vanished from their record label and shops were stopped from stocking their records. Years later, their main lyricist from 1969 onwards, Gerulf Pannach died of cancer which was attributed to his time spent in the Stasi prison cells in which radiation was used with carefree abandon as a method of tracing suspects movements. It was Pannach who would be the driving force behind the move away from Stones and Zeppelin covers to song writing with a social conscience and the circumstances behind his death were closely related to those of other important dissident writers and poets of the period.

The band lay dormant until reunification and by the mid-nineties they had released an album which contained parts of the interview from 1975. Renft died in 2006.

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