William Röttger – An Obituary


William was one of those people who have a mind of their own and harbour no fear of rubbing people the wrong way with it. He grew up in the Westphalian town of Lippborg and soon started to be at odds with local authorities, the priest, his teachers, the football coach, and general small town narrow-mindedness. He started to become active in politics in the late 60s, continuing on to fight for a cooler and freer world during the hippie era. In the 70s, his work as a guest writer for the Frankfurt “Informationsdienst zur Verbreitung unterbliebener Nachrichten” (Information Service for the Distribution of Omitted News), for the Munich “Blatt” newspaper, and later for the “TAZ”, established him as one of the people who gave birth to the alternative press in Germany. A real representative of alternative culture. But even in this context—like anywhere else—the pressure to conform got on his nerves. Individual freedom was very important to him. His biggest passion was music, especially new music. He placed a high value on developing his own excellent and forward-thinking musical taste. In the 60s he was listening to The Doors and The Stooges but also to James Brown and The Temptations. In the 70s he favoured quite a strange mixture of Disco, Punk, and Reggae. In the early 80s he became a promoter of the newly emerging Neue Deutsche Welle movement and took photos during concerts of upcoming bands like Abwärts, Der Plan, Charge, Spizz Energie, Pere Ubu, Tuxedomoon, or Lydia Lunch. Still living in Münster, Will organized concerts for DAF, Fad Gadget, and Hans A Plast. He was also responsible for Einstürzende Neubauten’s first concert outside of Berlin.


Because of his non-conventional perspective on music, Will was also one of the first who realized the distinct quality of a DJ mix. I recall a discussion between Will and a bunch of hippies, which I happened to overhear as a kid in the mid-70s. Will and his hippie friends wanted to set up a party together. The hippies were thinking about which band they wanted to invite, while Will was advocating for a DJ. The hippies criticized this as just canned music. “Yes, that’s true”, said William. “But I just love this canned music.” William thus may have instilled in me the idea of becoming a DJ early on, DJ Westbam surely wouldn’t exist without him. Will’s passion for music infected me at an early age. In 1980 he gave me a Korg MS 10 synthesizer and played me the tapes of John Peel’s shows and the music of DAF and Fad Gadget when I was just 15 years old. In 1983 he got me my first DJ gig at the Odeon in Münster, launched the first reports about me in Berlin’s city journal “Tip” and got me into the Berlin club “Metropol”. He tried to distribute my demos and as he realized the lack of infrastructure for our strange “DJ music” we founded Low Spirit together, the first label in Germany for this new school. “Earning money” was always unimportant for William and so it was mainly by chance that he came to a fortune with our pop success in the mid 90s. Still, he continued to focus on new and partially obscure acts, and the more successful they got, the harder it was for him to still feel the same excitement for them. He was already looking to a new direction. How avant-garde William really was can be seen by the only record he ever released as an artist, titled Mr. President, Sir! – My Baby (Low Spirit, 1989). 25 years later it could still fit a top-notch label like Kompakt. I always made jokes about it and said, “William, you are way ahead of your time. Your next single shouldn’t be released until 2015.” I think I really did say 2015, or maybe even 2025. His main field of operation, however, was working behind the scenes, doing organisational work for Low Spirit, for Maday, which he co-founded, as well as for the Love Parade, whose notorious early editions on Ku`damm were organized out of William’s living room. By the time one million people where parading on Straße des 17. Juni for this huge musical demonstration, a lot of William’s old fellow hippie campaigners were probably displeased about the “apolitical” character of today’s youth. But Will was very excited.

In the middle of the 00s William’s passion for techno had decreased; the whole music business was boring him. The DJ business, whose visionary proponent he once was, became cheap and decrepit in his eyes. His love for music had already shifted somewhere else. If he was playing something to me, it was mostly obscure black music, underground hip-hop, or sometimes a cool hit from 50 Cent.


After the end of Low Spirit in 2006, he frequently went to Mexico and tried to help a native tribe he met there to establish a decent infrastructure for living. He discovered a native artist in Chiapas, about whom he wanted to write a book. He also met a group of Mennonites that were settling in the jungle, and who he planned to resettle in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. William’s endless projects! Finally, he opened the “Eclectic Window Gallery” for new and strange art in the basement of the house in which the Low Spirit office used to be. William was one of those decision-makers and managers who established foundations, people like Malcom McLaren, Alfred Hilsberg, Larry Sherman. Such people often face mistrust; sometimes they even get insulted. William never cared. He was never really upset, mad, or vengeful toward any hostilities. I know very few people like him, people who accomplish so much and never aim for applause. He probably would have regarded this obituary as completely redundant. He who did things just because he believed in them and because it gave him pleasure.

I raise my hat to William Röttger.




Comments are closed.