Dagmar Krause (born 4 June 1950) is a German singer, best known for her work with avant-garde rock groups like Slapp Happy, Henry Cow and Art Bears. She is also noted for her coverage of songs by Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. Her unusual singing style makes her voice instantly recognisable and has defined the sound of many of the bands she has worked with.
Dagmar Krause was born in Hamburg, Germany on 4 June 1950. She began her professional career at the age of 14 as a singer in Hamburg clubs on the Reeperbahn. In 1968 she was invited to join The City Preachers, a contemporary folk/protest group formed in 1964. Half-jokingly, Krause described them as a German version of The Mamas & the Papas. She contributed vocals to their 1968 album Der Kürbis, das Transportproblem und die Traumtänzer (The Pumpkin, the Problem of Transport and the Dream-dancers), a spin-off from a German TV show. The City Preachers broke up in 1969, but their lead singer Inga Rumpf and Krause reunited in 1970 to record I.D. Company, the name of a studio project where each vocalist sung lead on and determined the direction of one side of the LP (Krause's side indicated her future direction with its avant-garde slant).
Hamburg had a thriving avant-garde scene that attracted numerous European musicians interested in pursuing aesthetic freedom and experimental music. It was here that Krause met Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad, and in 1972 they formed Slapp Happy, a self-described "naive rock" group which mixed simple pop structures with obfuscatory lyrics drawing equally from semiotic and symbolist traditions. Slapp Happy was the beginning of Krause's international musical career. They recorded two albums in Germany for Polydor with Faust as their backing band, Sort Of (1972) and what subsequently became known as Acnalbasac Noom (not released at the time). Then they moved to London where they recorded a new arrangement of Acnalbasac Noom for Virgin Records, released as Slapp Happy, also known as Casablanca Moon (1974). The original Acnalbasac Noom only saw the light of day in 1980 when it was released by Recommended Records.
In 1974 Slapp Happy merged with Virgin label-mates Henry Cow, a politically-orientated avant-garde rock group, and they made two albums, Desperate Straights (1974) and In Praise of Learning (1975). But differences in approach caused Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad to withdraw Slapp Happy from the merger. Krause, however, elected to remain with Henry Cow and that spelt the end of Slapp Happy.
Krause's singing added a new dimension to Henry Cow's repertoire and their tricky time signatures enhanced her vocal powers. Henry Cow toured Europe for two years, during which time they released a live album Henry Cow Concerts (1976) which included Krause singing duos with Robert Wyatt. But in May 1976 she was forced to withdraw from Henry Cow's hectic tour schedule due to ill health and returned to Hamburg. In October 1977, still unable to tour she left Henry Cow, but agreed to sing on their next studio album Hopes and Fears.
Hopes and Fears began in 1978 as a Henry Cow album but differences of opinion in the group about its content resulted in it being credited to Art Bears, a new band consisting of Krause, Chris Cutler and Fred Frith. Art Bears went on to make two more albums of songs, Winter Songs (1979) and The World as It Is Today (1981).
In 1983 Krause joined a new band News from Babel, featuring core members Krause, Chris Cutler, Lindsay Cooper and Zeena Parkins. They recorded two albums Work Resumed on the Tower (1984) and Letters Home (1985). After News from Babel, Krause was involved in a number of projects and collaborations. She performed on the Michael Nyman/Paul Richards art song, "The Kiss" with Omar Ebrahim on the Michael Nyman Band album The Kiss and Other Movements (1985). She also featured on Music for Other Occasions (1986) with Lindsay Cooper, Domestic Stories (1992) with Chris Cutler and Lutz Glandien, Each in Our Own Thoughts (1994) with Tim Hodgkinson, and A Scientific Dream and a French Kiss (1998) with Marie Goyette.
In 1991, Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad reunited to work on a "Camera" (Italian for "Room") a specially written television opera, made by the UK production company After Image and commissioned by Channel 4 Television. It was based on an original idea by Krause, with words by Peter Blegvad and music by Anthony Moore. Krause played the lead character "Melusina" and the opera was broadcast two years later on Channel 4. Slapp Happy reformed briefly in 1997 to record Ça Va and they toured Japan in 2000.
Dagmar Krause’s fascination of the cabaret of Germany's Weimar Republic and her love for the work of playwright Bertolt Brecht and his musical collaborators Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler produced some of her most satisfying work. In 1978 she starred in a London art-theatre production of the Bertolt Brecht/Kurt Weill play The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and in 1985 she sang Brecht/Weill's "Surabaya Johnny" on the Hal Willner-produced Lost in the Stars.
In 1986 Krause made two solo albums: Supply and Demand: Songs by Brecht/Weill and Eisler and Tank Battles: The Songs of Hanns Eisler. These albums were also sung in German and released as Angebot und Nachfrage and Panzerschlacht: Die Lieder von Hanns Eisler. Krause's grandiose alto voice was perfectly suited to the emotionally and politically charged music of these German songs. Lyrically they continued the trend of earlier songs of social conscience Krause had performed, for example on Henry Cow's Living In The Heart Of The Beast.
Supply and Demand and Tank Battles are seen by many as Krause's best work, while Tank Battles is considered to be one of the finest interpretations of Eisler's work. She performed selections from these albums live at various venues, most notably the Edinburgh Festival, which was documented on Voiceprint Radio Sessions (1993).
As a vocalist, Dagmar Krause is something of an acquired taste. Her singing style is highly original and idiosyncratic. Her husky, vibrato-laden alto voice can range from a sweet melodious croon to the love-it-or-hate-it Armageddon style typified on albums like Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning. Part of the intrigue of Krause's singing are her German-inflected vocals, "... but whether she sings in German or English (which she often does on the same record), she retains her impeccable phrasing and ability to inject the most oft-heard lyric with almost palpable emotion."
This is a selection of albums Dagmar Krause has performed on, showing the year they were recorded.
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