Interview Peter Bömmels


After the conversation Christoph Pracht comes the second one in the series of interviews with the foundation members of legendary German music and pop-culture magazine SPEX founded in the early 1980s in Cologne.

Originally conducted in German this conversation with artist Peter Bömmels was first published in a project I did back in 2009. Now translated I still find the insides pretty interesting and worth sharing so here we go:



Peter, what’s the story behind the foundation of SPEX?

It began in 1979. Me and Gerald Hündgen (whom I knew from university where we studied “social sciences” together in the beginning of the 70s) were so fascinated by this new exuberant wave of punk and new wave music with all its experimental, self-referential facets and quirks that we decided to turn our enthusiasm into a form.

Encouraged from this musical dilettantism (german “dilletieren” = to feel happy about sth.) we wanted to create some sort of publishing platform for all the countless new bands that emerged in the rhineland at that time.

We wanted to make a magazine just to write about music, which was new land to us. Fanzines were an inspiration. But we never wanted to idolize certain bands, but were rather driven by the enthusiasm for unrestrained, fearless music, no matter in which form or style it manifested itself.

I assume that this exciting times reanimated the “heartthrobing story of confinement” of our early youth in the end of the 60s. Back then with 28-years, having just finished studies (and no idea which profession would satisfy oneself) this gave us the needed easing and purpose.

To earn a living with it was unthinkable. All friends, who were activated who were music enthusiasts and open enough. Wilfried Rütten (with whom I shared an apartment for a long time), my friend and musician Sigi Syniuga from Düsseldorf (where around 1979/80 was going on the most), Wolfgang Burat and Bernhard Schaub, who in return knew Wilfried. Gerald Hündgen brought his girlfriend Clara Drechsler along who — then 18 — was the youngest of our group. I met Christoph Pracht accidentally on a concert in Neuss. Later the fanzine makers Dirk Scheuring and Ralf Niemczik joined us as the young blood’s from the scene (we got to know each other in the “Blue Shell”). The famous Diedrichsen joined permanently after the first crisis in 1985.

How was the process designing a SPEX issue back in those days?

Obviously a lot was literally made by hand and there was a lot of improvisation. When we couldn’t get a photo I did a drawing. Christoph (Pracht) can tell you more on this topic. [→ Interview with Christoph]

And how did a typical workday look like?

Gerald (Hündgen) was the frontman and editor-in-chief. We had regular meetings with everyone involved. Christoph Pracht was responsible for the layout, which was often intensly discussed together in the beginning. There was always great debates about the cover. The first issues in 1980 we sold personally in the clubs and bars in Cologne and sometimes even had to put up with physical critique …

Are you looking back happily on the 80s?

For me personally the most exciting time of my life. I started simultaneously two projects: SPEX and my own art (together with the group “Mülheimer Freiheit” — W. Dahn, J. Dokoupil, H.P. Adamski, …). Everything began 1980. This was the foundation that influences my life to that day. The 80s opened up many careers that were driven by the atmosphere of a general unideologic joy for experimentation. It was the bloom of the “subjective draft”.

In the 80s Cologne apparently became the mecca of the contemporary art, design and music scene. How was the energy in the city? How was it really?

There were a lot of clubs and possibilities for musician and the first DJ-events (e.g. Soulful Shack in the Stadtgarten, Roseclub, Blue Shell, Whirlpool with, among others, Hans Nieswandt, partly in relation to the artists of Galerie Daniel Buchholz etc.) that sprung to life out of the environment of the SPEX and others.

Many galeries and artists moved to Cologne (I just mention a few representative; Galerie Hetzler mit Martin Kippenberger, Galerie Nagel, … there were galeries founded that have internationally famous today like e.g. Galerie Monika Sprüth, Galerie D. Buchholz, Galerie Jablonka, Galerie G. Capitain, …) and therefore an international art scene emerged here which was decomposed not till Berlin’s rise as capital and metropolis.

The atmosphere was sparkling. The volcano was dancing and we on top …

How was it like — also in regard to today — to publish your own magazine? The positive and the negative aspects? And how did you manage it financially?

The budget for SPEX was modest. Every founder brought 2000 Mark (≈ 1000 Euro) to the table. The fight for advertising clients was long hart. It helped us having “idealistic” friends in the music industry (partly former SPEX writers).

The absolute will of everybody involved to work hard was essential.
The first years were self-exploitation at its finest. Later moderate fees could be paid. We all believed in the cultural necessity of the magazine. Motivation was (is) everything.

How old have you been the SPEX was founded? And how did you came to do it? What did you do before that?

I was 28 years old and had studied social economy (“Staatsexamen”). From 1977 to 1980 I made the obligatory civil service (in a kindergarten) where I continued to work afterwards. From the beginnings of my studies (where I also met Gerald Hündgen and Wilfried Rütten) I aimed to participate on forms of “Gegenöffentlichkeit” (the local newspaper for example) all in regard to the big idol Alexander Kluge.

What are your favourite musicians and LP’s from back in the days?

Only rough and quickly: XTC with Nigel, surely Clash with London Calling and Let me stay or let me go respectively Rock the Kasbah, everything from the band Suicide (Alan Vega, Martin Rev), everything from Elvis Costello, DAF und Palais Schaumburg …

Thank you, Peter!