Wizo: The German Word for Fun and Freedom
May 22, 2017 | by James Greene, Jr.
When our nation was trapped under the pop punk mushroom cloud of the mid-‘90s, I — a lowly high school slug who owned Dookie on cassette — had awareness of Wizo. I knew Wizo were a band from Germany who used a cool logo — big, thick letters crammed together tightly as if just slashed out with high-quality permanent marker. Their logo appeared in patch form on the book bags of punks more dedicated than myself, by which I mean punks who would regularly make passage to the nearest Barnes & Noble (40-plus minutes away) so they could scoop up every newsprinty issue of Maximumrocknroll. Although I absorbed and cherished a great deal of that era’s punk, I favored the mustier stuff that was just starting to be chronicled in actual books. X, the Voidoids, the Dead Boys, the Germs, etc. I possessed not a car, I possessed not a friend with car, so I remained home lurking around internet message boards, desperately hoping to excavate nuggets of information about long out-of-print Joey Ramone side projects.
Wizo didn’t soak my lobes until the late 2000s when I picked up a very used copy of Fat Wreck Chords’ 1999 gimmick compilation Short Music for Short People. SMFSP contains a staggering 101 cuts from 101 bands, all performing songs that clock in at or around 30 seconds. Wizo gets the final track and probably the best joke of the whole thing with “The Count.” A slaphappy riff bounces along as the singer cheerily counts from one to 30, capping it all off with a triumphant, toddlerish chant: “Thir-ty se-cond SO-ONG!” Hard to believe no one else thought of that. Maybe someone else did and there was a huge behind-the-comp fracas. Someone should put together an oral history of SMFSP; I’m sure it would prove a reasonably compelling read.
By the time of Short Music for Short People’s release, Wizo had already spit out four albums in their native Germany — four playful, melodic, snot-soaked albums that fail to suggest any serious controversy. And yet, “Kein Gerede” (“No Talking”), a song from Wizo’s 1991 debut Für’n Arsch (For the Ass), was banned by German authorities in 1995 for stuffing anti-federal rhetoric into its otherwise chipper presentation (sample lyrics: “stop the unscrupulous government…plant bombs, now and then assassinate”). “Kein” was edited from future pressings of Für’n Arsch, but the verboten tune continued to be a headache for Wizo. A film crew taping the band during their set at 1996’s Bizarre Festival refused to stop recording as the group got ready to perform “Kein Gerende”; bassist Jörn Genserowski and singer/guitarist Axel Kurth ended up attacking the crew, smashing their equipment.
A less contentious cornerstone of Für’n Arsch is “I Want You to Be My Girl,” a sweet and peppy puppy love yearn that deserves its spot in the pantheon of Rocket to Russia-inspired aw-shucks punk. You could also argue all day about the definitive version of “I Want You to be My Girl” — is it the Wizo original or the extra bratty (and extra fun) rendition that U.S. band Snap-Her turned in on their 1996 effort It Smells, It Burns, It Stings…? Hard to question the sincerity of either.
Speaking of cover songs and the unabashedly frank, Wizo might be best known here, there, and everywhere for their rock-solid ska-punk interpretation of the 1992 Ace of Base hit “All That She Wants” (which the German trio tackled and released just a year after the original). Wizo’s version of the omnipresent dance-pop classic underscores not only the writing prowess of AoB members Jonas “Joker” Berggren and Ulf “Buddha” Ekberg but Wizo’s own deft sensibilities. Turning “All That She Wants” into a joke is too easy; twisting it into a rock gem is beautiful.
Punks is punks, though: Wizo’s video clip for “All That She Wants” is a nothing more than a montage of the band fucking around in a parking lot, sitting on toilets, and trying to ride horses.
Wizo threw in the towel in 2005 after their fifth offering, Anderster (Differenter; the grammar is purposely incorrect), but a reunion came just four years later — a reunion continuing to this day. Their most recent release, 2016’s DER, carries on their legacy of sing-songy circle pit mucous in a wonderfully smashing way. Those carefree days of dial up modems and chain wallets are never far away, if you dare to venture beyond this German band’s cool ass logo.