There is something instantly likable about Tomte. The group is part of the ’80s and ’90s indie rock movement in northern Germany. As a result, they have had an important impact on the German language music scene. Their indie-pop music has a sound that would probably win over your mother. But they are still underground enough that you likely will need to offer the introduction.
For more than two decades, the group has created its trademark sound with thoughtful melodies and carefully crafted songs. For German language learners, their understated sound and clear vocals are extremely appealing.
So this month, practice German with music and get to know German indie rockers Tomte!
Get to Know Tomte
The roots of Tomte go back to the late 1980s. At the time, the group was based in the city of Hemmoor and known by the name Warpigs. The founding members are singer, guitarist, and bassist Thees Uhlmann, guitarist and bassist Christian Stemmann, bassist Hanspeter Köster, and drummer Peter Heinßen.
A few years later, the band’s name changed to Tomte Tummetott, inspired by a children’s book. Eventually, they shortened the name to Tomte and relocated to Hamburg. The group also parted ways with Köster and Heinßen around this time.
Over the years the lineup changed a bit more. Today’s lineup sees Uhlmann as the only original member. He is joined by guitarist Dennis Becker, bassist Nikolai Potthoff, keyboardist/drummer Max Schröder, and keyboardist Simon Frontzek.
Since about 2010 the band has been on hiatus with the members pursuing their own projects. They are a prolific bunch of musicians. Uhlmann has released several solo albums, Schröder plays in Die Höchste Eisenbahn as well as in Olli Schulz und der Hund Marie with Becker.
The Music of Tomte
Where most bands arguably come out swinging and brimming with confidence on their debut record, Tomte took a bit of a different approach. 1998’s Du weißt, was ich meine is confident, but not in the way you might expect. With mild hints of punk influence, it feels more like the band is trying to please themselves as opposed to the listeners. While not lo-fi, it is straightforward, unembellished jangly indie rock with Uhlmann’s raspy vocals.
By 2000’s Eine sonnige Nacht, the band feels more like they’re performing for an audience. The songs are poppy, well-rounded, and more polished. The melodies sing out in unexpected ways while still maintaining some grunge interludes, like on “Gorillas im Küstennebel.” But there are big ballads, like the haunting and compelling “Die Nacht in der ich starb” and the delicate but insistent title track. Not to be outdone, there are still moments of indulgence, such as the dynamic “Mit dem Mofa nach England.”
With each album, Tomte delivers a fuller sound that is more accessible. The instrumentation is richer and well-matched to Uhlmann’s vocals. 2003’s Hinter all diesen Festern serves as a bit of a turning point. They grab your attention with tracks like the swooning melody of “Die Bastarde, die dich jetzt nach Hause bringen.”
By this point in their musical journey, Tomte was transitioning from strictly being an underground indie rock band. 2006’s Buchstaben über der Stadt landed at number four on the album charts. Their fullest sound to date, the album is not as upbeat as some of its predecessors but it is their most successful to date. On “New York,” an insistent twinkling melody weaves itself through the song, quickly increasing the pace while “Auf meinen Schultern” offers a beautiful moment that is stripped-down.
Two years later they returned with Heureka. The album picks up where the band left off but takes a bright and upbeat approach. Where once Tomte had a rawness to their sound, they are now more focused and intentional. The track “Voran, voran” reminds of Oasis with its smooth and memorable melody.
Looking for another Ohrwurm to help you learn German? Check out previously featured musicians and bands!
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