Rock 'n' roll: The Bonn-Stomp

Bonn may be able to boast itself as the birthplace of Beethoven and home to ample summer open-air concerts, but what about that good old rock and roll music?

Are there people stomping, sweating, and swinging their weekend nights away in tiny, underground German rock 'n' roll clubs? Or has rock 'n' roll gone the way of the pompadour and the saddle shoe? Five years ago the answer for Bonn inhabitants might have been a resounding negative.  But since 2005, Bonn-Stomp has been filling that gap in Bonn’s live music scene at a pub that bills itself as “The right place for the wrong people.”

Col. Dirk Geil was tired of having to leave Bonn to see live music. There were concerts in Bonn, but what he was after were independent surf, garage-rock, vintage-beat, and modern rock and roll bands. When he wanted to hear his favorites live, he usually had to travel to Cologne.   

So in March, 2005 he took matters into his own hands and organized the first of what was intended as a five-show concert series. Five years and 25 concerts later, Bonn-Stomp has become a fixture in Bonn’s underground music scene. Though he gets help on flyers (from Bonn designer Eyepop) and ticket sales, Col. D. Geil has been single-handedly responsible for bringing a lot of big underground names to the Bla stage: King Khan & BBQ, Bloodshot Bill, Delaney Davidson, Hoodoo Girl, The Watzloves, Hipbone Slim & The Kneetremblers, King Louie One Man Band, Thee Vicars, The Royal Pendletons, King Automatic, Jack Oblivian, Harlan T. Bobo, and Dead Elvis, to name more than a few.

I got in touch with the Col. himself to find out more about Bla, Bonn-Stomp, and German R'n'R.

So Colonel, tell us a little about Bonn-Stomp’s home base: Café Bla. 

Bla has been around since 1984, and in the 80s and early 90s it was home to Bonn’s punks and misfits.  The place still has that punk charm, despite the lack of punks among their current regulars. Today Bla is a pub with cult status and a high party factor that, strangely, is also open during the day. No one expects a pub like that in Bonn—it’s got something of that bleak big city underground charm.

During the Rhineland Mardi Gras (Karnival), Bla is the best place to celebrate. You won’t find such a successful mix of traditional Mardi Gras and wild underground rock anywhere else.

The mostly female wait staff are heavily tattooed and incredibly cool. The bar is comfortable and jam-packed at about 100 people.  At one end of the narrow room is a platform with tables and chairs that is used as a stage during the concerts that take place there about five times a month. I do Bonn-Stomp about six times a year, which is probably part of the reason why it has been successful.

I see that every Bonn-Stomp is followed by a DJ set.   Who graces the Bonn-Stomp turn tables?

After weekend shows people from Bonn DJ. Usually I invite someone whose music will live up to visitors’ expectations. DJ Capone and DJ Jonah from the Bonn 60s club Blow Up (the best club for DJs in Bonn!) offer jazz, soul, funk, Latin, rhythm and blues, reggae, rock steady, ska, easy listening, and lounge.  DJ Dirty Slim—Oddballs Band member, Bonn native, and long-time Bla fixture—plays good vintage dance music.  When rock and roll, country, or garage is in order, then I DJ myself. Once Bloodshot Bill DJed after his own show. He had a pile of singles in his car, and he enjoyed it so much that he DJed at Bla the next afternoon as well.

What is the live music scene like in Bonn? 

Live music in Bonn is a little sad when compared to what’s going on in other cities.  If you like classics (Bonn is Beethoven’s birthplace) or jazz, then you won’t have a problem finding something. Those who like mainstream music have all the Bonn summer open-air spectacles: Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, die Ärzte…all of the big names. Then there’s a free outdoor festival called “Rheinkultur” that brings 100,000 people into the city, but that doesn’t really do it for me.  For the really interesting bands—and that usually means small, independent bands—you have to go to Cologne (Sonic Ballroom) or Münster (Gleis 22). Thanks to Bonn-Stomp a hole has been filled.

There are only a few small venues with live music licenses (Kult 41Mausefalle 33 1/3, and Jazz Club Session) because there are so many noise complaints from venue neighbors. For rock ’n’ roll in Bonn there is a small live event called “K-Man’s Jamborre” in the Jazz Club Session where classic rockabilly bands play for a pompadour-toting audience. There are a lot of Teds and Rockabillies in Bonn, and a lot of them come to Bonn-Stomp and are surprised to find out that rock ’n’ roll doesn’t always have to be retro. 

In Bonn there are a ton of cover bands and a handful of good bands like X-Ray HarpoonsJonah Gold & His Silver Apples, and Juke Joint Pimps.

What about this genre of music in Germany in general? Are many German bands making rock'n'roll? Or are most of your performers from other countries?

The area of garage, rock 'n' roll, and other independent music is a bit difficult in Germany. Most German bands sound too much like American bands, but without possessing their musical talent. German bands are afraid to accept their own musical roots and tend to concentrate on American basics like blues, rock'n'roll, and soul, and that’s too bad.

I place a lot of worth on international scope, so, alongside the American bands that make up a large portion of Bonn-Stomp, I present musicians from France, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Australia, and Canada. When I come across a German band that I like, then I usually try to get them to play Bonn-Stomp!

When most people think of German music, they tend to think of mainstream acts like Rammstein and Nena or, on the other end of the spectrum, classics like Wagner, Beethoven, and Bach. It seems that a lot of people–both in and out of Germany—are missing out on a huge amount of talented independent German acts. What, in your opinion, is the best music being made here today?

Current bands from Germany that I like are The Watzloves (Hamburg), Dad Horse Experience (Bremen), Chuckamuck (Berlin), Hoodoo Girl (Hamburg), G. Rag und die Landlergeschwister (München), Juke Joint Pimps (Köln/Bonn), Elvis Pummel (Dortmund), and Dieselknecht (Ruhrgebiet).

They are all small, independent bands who like to play live and have fun doing it. You can get their records in small record shops (Köln Underdog Records, for example) or through mail orders like Trash Records, Gutfeeling Records, Flight 13, and Soundflat.  

Do you make music yourself?

I’ve played in a few local bands, but it never was quite enough to be really good. These days I occasionally sing in a few projects, for example The Johnny and June Show which will be opening for Michael Hurtt & His Haunted Hearts at the next Bonn-Stomp on December 22nd.

Thanks for your time, Dirk.

For more information about Bonn-Stomp’s future and past, visit the Bonn-Stomp myspace page or take a look at the Café Bla schedule.