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Quirkabilly and Turbopolka:
Attwenger Kicks Out the Alpine Austrian Jams

The Austrian duo Attwenger turn Upper Austrian folk music and wry local wisdom into madcap backbeats and funky, flaring accordion. It’s The Cramps parachuting into a mountain village street fest for a punk spree, or The Pogues punning in Alpine slang to dancefloor-friendly samples. It’s folk trip-hop, psychedelic and feral polka.

Part of a cross-genre outbreak of creativity in Austria—where rappers sit in with neo-trad bands and DJs deconstruct roots music with unabashed glee—Attwenger hear bass lines and funky beats in salty expressions and rural Alpine wisecracks. They hear defiance and political critique in traditional dance songs and ballad. They know how Saul Williams and Hank Williams, techno and Chuck Berry, can find a perfect, unexpected place in the spirited folk flow.

The indie-gone-Alpine party comes to SXSW for the band’s U.S. debut March, 2012. The band will also travel to New Orleans and New York.

“This is the amazing thing: All these traditional tunes, polkas, and Alpine country sounds fit with punk or rock or hip hop drums,” marvels Attwenger drummer Markus Binder. “It works really well, but it was a surprise. Then we saw that this is the future.”

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“We didn’t plan this thing at all,” Binder exclaims. “This combo of punk and hip hop and rock beats with traditional sounds was unheard of. One evening we had drum set on stage for a show with our traditional band. I wasn’t really a drummer; I just played for fun. I sat behind the kit and the others played traditional stuff, and it worked.”

Binder and accordionist Hans-Peter Falkner were both fixtures on the Linz alternative scene in the 1990s, a wild, highly creative mix of DJ culture, indie rock, and Alpine roots bands. Falkner had grown up in a musical and roots-minded family, hearing his parents jam on accordion and guitar. Binder had long been fascinated by traditional songs, with their intriguing habit of speaking truth to power and finding compelling turns of phrase.

But they both loved punk and rock and American roots music. “I had listened to a lot Cajun and zydeco music, and realized that we could do the same thing with our traditions,” Binder notes. And influences from all have stumbled merrily into Attwenger’s eccentric world: Hints of Chuck Berry (“Shakin My Brain”) two-step with hard-hitting polka and a wry irony that takes everything with a grain of folksy salt. Straight-up waltzing ballads go electro, as Binder winks at old-school rap MCs.

After that crazy night when Binder leaped on the drums and found the rocking heart of Alpine roots music, the duo started playing together regularly. They took their name from a folk song featuring a goofy character called Attwenger they heard on the radio. They toured Zimbabwe and Siberia. They played around with cool-sounding sayings in Upper Austrian dialect, crafting catchy lines and tangled cross-language puns (“Dog,” which translates as “day” but gives Attwenger a chance to break down a slang phrase that means, roughly, “today was a real bitch.”)

“‘Hintn Umi’ is Upper Austrian slang for ‘don’t go behind my back, tell me what’s really going on,’” says Binder “I had this little expression in my head, spinning around, and I realized it was a bass line. The song went from there.”

These little things turn into big, bold sounds. Sometimes ironic and silly, sometimes critical of Austrian society, Attwenger capture a vibrant, defiant sense of everyday life and its linguist and sonic pleasures, a savory sense of local culture and its joys.

“It’s all really natural,” Binder muses. “Whether it’s an old folk song or some new tune, it’s all about reflecting the world and making it into music and lyrics. It works all together. It’s an organic way of bringing together the things you see outside and things you feel inside.”

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