A FEW DAYS LATE, BUT THIS WEEK’S POST IS FINALLY HERE!
Something about brass band music just grabs me. It makes me squint my face up in that odd way that looks like I’m cringing- but it’s because of something I like. This reaction is also multiplied if the band playing it also delivers rap-like lyrics over intricate harmonies on the horns. LaBrassBanda definitely does that.
I discovered LaBrassBanda’s music in 2009 while researching for an all-brass band installment of a show I was hosting on WIUX in Bloomington at the time. A German group that played upbeat and uptempo funk tunes and literally had the words “brass” and “band” in their name seemed like an obvious choice. LaBrassBanda immediately stood out to me because their music had a different quality to it- it was brass band music but seemed highly influenced by funk, dance, disco, reggae, ska, and hip-hop. That the song I had chosen for my radio program also featured some impressive rap verses only added to my excitement.
LaBrassBanda formed in 2007 in Übersee, a Bavarian town near Chiemsee. From their early days, the band’s off-the-wall personality mirrored their musical style, which teetered between serious horn playing and rollicking silliness. In 2008 the band embarked on their first national tour, at times riding mopeds or playing live from the back of a farm tractor, with the goal of ending the run in Vienna at the final match of the UEFA Championship. The group has since played everywhere from Siberia to Zimbabwe, spreading with them the sound of a very German brass group. With two full studio albums released (2008’s Habediehre and 2009’s Übersee) and a live CD/DVD package, LaBrassBanda show no signs of slowing down.
LaBrassBanda is a five-piece group composed of drummer Manu da Coll, bassist Olli Wrage, trombonist Manu Winbeck, trumpeter and vocalist Stefan Dettl, and tubaist Andreas Hofmeir (technically he plays a helicon). The band itself would define their music as “Bavarian Brass Punk”, which does well to reference the local roots of many of the group’s melodies, the obvious association with brass bands (both American and Balkan), and a certain punk sensibility with which LaBrassBanda approaches its music and live shows. Songs are driven by generally simple drumset and bass guitar lines, while the horn section and Dettl’s vocals swirl through virtuosic passages and dynamic runs. While the music itself is really a confusing blend of reggae, dance, folk, rock, ska, and disco (and maybe others), the fact that all of the melodies are played on horns somehow levels each disparate tune and melody; the songs all sound like they fit perfectly into the genre and style LaBrassBanda plays, even if no one could ever hope to put a name on that genre. Dettl’s vocals may help in that sense, in that his rapid-fire delivery and almost anti-melodic rapping add another element that makes the band’s music unique and recognizable. It seems “Bavarian Brass Punk” may be the best moniker for this music, as LaBrassBanda have effectively managed to make a Tuba, a Trombone, and a Trumpet into melodic instruments that rock harder than an electric guitar.
Across both of their studio albums, the group has presented a pretty unified body of work, albeit one that spans that wide range of stylistic influences. Songs such as “Bauersbua” (see link above) and “Natalie” have a jazz-like quality to them that puts a great deal of focus on tight harmonies over straight-ahead pulsation from the rhythm section, while “Zehnerlfuxa” and “Des Konnst Glamm” are essentially rockers where brass has replaced the more expected guitars. This idea that songs of various genres can be interpreted by a brass group isn’t new, but something about the way LaBrassBanda takes over funk (“Ringlbleame” and “Bierzelt”), European folk tunes (“Autobahn“), and reggae (“VW-Jetta” and “Da Dub”) seems more overt. LaBrassBanda doesn’t arrange songs where horns fill the holes made by the lack of guitar, it inserts brass into that role with completely novel ideas. The great number of lightening-quick brass runs and hard grooving instrumental breaks don’t dominate the group’s music, however: both of LaBrassBanda’s albums feature softer, slower pieces that spotlight the high level of musicianship that the band members possess. While it’s true that Dettl can make his trumpet scream and Hofmeir can play incredibly fast on his tuba, the inclusion of songs like “Deyda” and “Paby” show that these players know how to blend and contour their music. LaBrassBanda’s songs are wildly varied, but without fail each shows another aspect of each musician’s art that he has mastered.
LaBrassBanda appears to be fairly quiet at the moment, but do have tour dates set for August throughout Europe. For the time being, the group can be found online at their official website (available in both German and English) and on twitter at @La_Brass_Banda. In any event, this is definitely a band worth following. With their fun and highly impressive performance of intense brass band music, LaBrassBanda undeniably presents music that makes the listener move. Nobody is listening to LaBrassBanda right now, but every time those five Germans walk onstage barefoot and wearing short shorts to play some white-hot brass runs and jumping grooves they are making their mark on the global music scene. And that deserves your listen.