Station 17 may be a little-known music band worldwide, but they have been a rocking sensation in Germany for the past 25 years. What makes the small group of improv musicians from Hamburg really special is the fact that almost all the members of the band are either physically or mentally disabled. But that doesn’t stop them from belting out some truly amazing tunes.
The band’s origins can be traced back to 1989, when Kai Boysen, lead singer of a punk rock group called The Painless Dirties, decided to quit and settle down as a social worker. He worked on therapy sessions for the disabled and during these sessions, he realized that music had a wonderful effect on the people he was helping. So he invited a group of them to his studio and formed a band. He then took some of the recordings to his manager, who was very impressed with the sound.
With a little guidance from Kai and a few other professional musicians, Station 17 recorded their debut album, Mercury. Their sound was very different from the techno that was popular in Germany at the time. “The audience was very happy, they were like, ‘Wow, what’s that?’ It’s like a new kind of sound on the stage,” said Kai. But despite the popularity of the album, the band was forgotten after a year.
Interestingly, history had a huge role to play in Station 17’s revival. After the fall of the Berlin wall, they suddenly found an audience in the eastern bloc of the nation. “In Eastern Germany, the people were very, very interested,” said Kai. The response was so good that the band was booked by a major record company. There was no looking back after that.
Station 17 quickly rose in popularity, and they were soon booked for events all over Europe, including local festivals and weird cooking shows. They even performed at a stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream once. Over the years, Station 17 has collaborated with some of Germany’s most respected artists, like punk rock band Robocop Kraus and music composer Thomas Fehlmann.
Since the late 1990s, Station 17 has managed to completely transform its image. They’ve significantly changed their sound to electronic dance and have collaborated with some of Germany’s top pop musicians. New blood has found its way in while some of the old members have moved on. Kai has moved on as well, passing on the reigns of the band to Peter Tiedeken, another punk rocker turned social worker. Peter joined the band in 2006 and said that it has been nothing but fun to play for them. And Kai hasn’t truly left the band; he continues to serve it in a managerial capacity within the charities that run it.
Over the years, there’s one thing about Station 17 that hasn’t changed – the democratic songwriting process. According to Peter, there is no boss. He said that the creativity emerges out of conflict, out of the chaos. Earlier, he used to want to control his band, but now sounds emerge spontaneously. “I could never create this on my own,” said Peter. Sebastian Stuber, who plays keyboard and sings for the band, said: “On the one hand, it’s stories about our lives, but on the other hand, it always has a message.”
I think the whole idea of the band is phenomenal – turning what many see as a weakness into a tremendous strength. In a world where bands and musicians need to maintain a hip and stylish image, Station 17 comes across as warm and real. They’re all about the music.