The leader of Germany's house and techno scene since his beginning early in the 1980s, Westbam recorded several house/rave crossover hits during the late '80s and early '90s but is renowned for his founding of the Mayday Festival and the Love Parade, the latter of which routinely drew hundreds of thousands of club-goers into the streets of Berlin on an annual basis.
Born in Münster, Maximilian Lenz began DJing in 1983 and became known as Westbam as a shortened version of his original nickname, which he received in honor of his place of birth (Westphalia) and his biggest musical influence (Afrika Bambaataa). He moved to Berlin in 1984, sticking to early industrial dance and hip-hop until American house music began crossing the Atlantic midway through the '80s. He had begun producing as well in 1985, and like many German dance figures, gradually moved from Chicago house to embrace the harder, more Teutonic sounds of Detroit techno during the late '80s. After founding his own Low Spirit Recordings in 1988, Westbam hit the German charts with his first single on the label, "Monkey Say Monkey Do."
He made a surprise appearance at the 1988 Olympic Games in South Korea (representing his country as a cultural contribution) and charted during 1989 as well with the hits "And Party" and "The Roof Is on Fire." Also in 1989, Westbam released his debut album The Roof Is on Fire. To celebrate his surprising success, Westbam decided to organize an outdoor event which could, he hoped, bring the new dance music out of nightclubs and into the mainstream. Called the Love Parade, it debuted that year with under 500 people. Less than a decade later, the Love Parade would count more than 250,000 participants.
Low Spirit Records had several hits during the early '90s, by acts Mark Oh and Marusha. Westbam released his second album, A Practising Maniac at Work, in 1991, and founded the Mayday Festival later that year. By the mid-'90s, long after most rave cash-ins had spun themselves out, Westbam was going back into straight-ahead techno and trance, with singles like 1994's "Celebration Generation" and "Bam Bam Bam" (the title track from his fourth album, which hit the German Top 20). For the tenth anniversary of Low Spirit Recordings, he released The Age of the DJ Mixer: 10 Years of Low Spirit, a compilation including several Westbam productions. Two 1997 singles, "Sonic Empire" and "Sunshine" hit the German singles charts (both were official anthems, for Mayday and Love Parade respectively) and prompted a new Westbam album, We'll Never Stop Living This Way, which entered the Top 40 of the German charts. ~ John Bush