Print the legend, they say, so here it is: Spreepark was the biggest band in East Germany in 1984, the year ominously pinpointed by George Orwell as the pinnacle of an era of fascist thought police. East Berliners had come close—one in seven people had been Stasi informants at the height of state power—but the winds of change were blowing, thawing the Cold War. The four core members of Spreepark—three boys and a girl, so they wouldn’t be compared with gender-symmetrical decadent capitalists ABBA—grew up idealistic in a culture of cultivated paranoia, but with a deep love for Western pop culture. The quartet would hoard delicacies like peanut butter to trade on the black market for videocassettes and records like Ghostbusters and the extended version of the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” Entering the Eurovision song contest for the everlasting glory of its country (or possibly to defect), Spreepark went into the state-sponsored studio to record its debut record in two days. A mash-up of Teutonic electro, epic orchestral swells, French sleaze-rock, American television jingles and spooky kraut-rock, We’re Reinventing Music reflected the breadth of the musicians’ influences and an optimism about perhaps not spending the remainder of their youth working in a munitions factory. They performed “Spreepark Jetz (030-533-350)” brilliantly in Luxembourg at the Eurovision, with all judges awarding them top score. But when it came time to receive the award, they had vanished, along with the master copy of We’re Reinventing Music. No one saw the group for 23 years, until recently, when the lost classic was featured in a VW ad. The quartet resurfaced with a double album consisting of its long lost debut and a freshly created new disc, Gaysian Invasion, which picks up where the first record left off and pushes it to extremes, weaving baroque fugues with backporch singalong blues with bombastic operatic instrumental juggernauts, funky Detroit disco, and pretty-pretty pop. That’s the legend, a fancy fiction Calgarian Spreepark co-founder Mark Hamilton toys with lurking behind. But it’s too elaborate an obfuscation to pick up all the needed accoutrements at this late date, only days away from the band’s official “coming out party,” as other co-founder Marshall Watson terms the event. Besides, German accents are hell to master and they’ve already had press in Hamilton’s hometown that already reveals the boring truth. “I went down to visit a friend in Calgary and she introduced me to Mark,” Watson recalls. He and Hamilton are queer, and their mutual friend was hoping they’d hit it off. And they did, just not romantically. “I’m leaving to come back home to Edmonton, and Mark says, ‘Well, if were not going to run away to Paris and get married, we should start a band.’” In early spring almost two years ago, Hamilton drove up from Calgary with Annalea Sordi, one of his bandmates in his more serious pop outfit, Woodpigeon, to Eric Cheng’s nifty little Edmonton studio (Cheng is a fixture on the city’s music scene and labelhead for Champion City Records). Watson joined them. Hamilton recalls, “I’d never met Eric; Annalea had never met Marshall or Eric. I barely knew Marshall. We were recording 20 minutes later.” Absolute truth here: “Spreepark is this abandoned amusement part in Berlin. When we met, we found out that on top of the other things we have in common—liking boys and music and art and writing—Mark and I both broke into it within months of each other,” Watson states. “The numbers we sing in the first song? We needed a chorus, and I googled Spreepark and found their old phone number!” There was a grain of truth in the original Spreepark legend—the names and descriptions of the double album are accurate and completely valid, and the overarching scenario also serves as a chiaroscuro of the Spreepark experience—the band is to sugar-sweet cardigan pop what The Go! Team is to skitter-beat urban cheers. And the part about making the albums in a couple days is also true—they were each written and recorded over a weekend, one tear apart. We’re Reinventing Music really does sound like a John Hughes teen movie soundtrack made behind the Iron Curtain, and Gaysian Invasion is just beyond the reach of all descriptors—a winsome, crazy-pants freakout of styles, fresh and impish. And yes, Spreepark actually is as eccentric as they are eclectic: the double CD is being released for free, available for download in its totality on the band’s website. At the CD release show, they are selling lavish cover art—bird-headed folk from Europe’s gilded age—and two blank discs, labeled with the album names, ready to receive the downloads. Once you unleash such a madcap entity, anything could happen. Hamilton is simultaneously fretful and optimistic about the future of Spreepark. “It’s out there now—and that’s awesome—whether I’m ready for it or not.”
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