Neu! – ‘Neu!’

 

 

 

Background:

Perhaps Dusseldorf’s second most exalted export, Neu! loom large over the annals of music history. With a legacy that most bands would sign a Faustus pact for, the humble dynamic duo managed to pre-empt and sculpt a Germanic envisioned future; influencing, quite possibly, the most reverend list of musicians ever collated – which includes such notable brethren as Bowie, Eno, Ian Curtis and Thurston Moore, just to mention a few off the drop of a hat. Only their German compatriots CAN and Kraftwerk – that other Dusseldorf giant – receive such glowing and gushingly apodictic accepted plaudits of respect.

Assiduous and meticulous in approach, messers Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother’s often repetitive brand of both motoring and indolent building peregrinated musical panoramas need a certain investment of time on the part of the listener. High modern, a prelude to punk, Neu! stenciled their moniker across three legendary tomes – though this minimal fuss approach could have also been painted on with a house-sized or poster brush – in a show of defiance to both consumerism and tradition. New, a washing powder clean break away from the highly charged history of their native lands, they appropriated the very same advertising methods they so detested, to announce a soft revolution in sound – to many this was seen as just a stylistic change in rock music, not so much a political manifesto.

Invigorated by the conceptual developments of pop art, and the commercialism fetish of Warhol, Dinger envisaged creating, alongside his commune friends – a faux-ad agency, which would likewise hold a mirror up to society and reflect back at it the miasma stinking gluttony of capitalism. Later on, Dinger’s second bite at shaping the musical landscape – the visionary Euro-synth triumph of La Düsseldorf’- spray-painted their sloganeering on to the bleak concrete settings in an even rawer and ad-hoc manner. Dinger at the time alluded to protest, not just towards the state, but also towards his colleagues on the Krautrock scene. Why such a clash, I’m uncertain, as there was a common cause to rebel against authority and a wish to create a new German aesthetic. Idealism’s may have varied, even political doctrine, yet there were no real arguments that the establishment and status quo needed to be removed.

Rother the affable long-haired conscientious objector, often clashed with his sparring partner Dinger. A thoroughly modern sound to Rother didn’t always necessarily mean, a quite so clear, break from the past, or herald a quest to stripe away all remainents of humanism from their music; he favored an organic evolution, objecting, even, to Dinger’s choice of band name.

Both musicians seperatly served out their apprentices in obligatory Anglophile influenced groups during the 60s. It was inevitable that both Dusseldorf’s patrons would come into contact with each other, and find a musical comradely. An intrinsically linked destiny with many of the eventual members of Kraftwerk saw paths cross after Rolf Hutter and Florian Schneider’s, earlier, original 5-piece incarnation, Tonefloat, was reduced down to a duo by the onset of the 70s. As the adoption of the Kraftwerk name first came into play, Schneider asked his friends Dinger and Rother to join this new enterprise. Hutter’s nose was temporarily put out of joint, as he briefly lost control of his pronnouced and enunciated ideals; the new boys wilder sound and rhythmic flourishes didn’t quite do it for him. Perhaps it was one of those clashes in style and taste that Dinger later referred to, but the quartet once again stripped-down, now to a trio, as Hutter sulked off, exiting stage right. A succinct sojourn saw this outfit perform on the German institution, The Beat Club, to a silent attentive audience of teens, who soaked up the melodic psych-jam with cursory head-nods and right-on appreciative facial expressions. Rather then the inaugural Kaftwerk with Dinger and Rother, it would be more appropriate and apt to describe this group as the first official coming-out for Neu!, but with Florian sitting in. Inevitably the chemistry didn’t stay at the right consistency; Florian sloping off to join his absent partner, Hutter, and embarking on Kraftwerk II, recruiting Wolfgang Flur to the line-up along the way whilst waving fond farewells to Dinger and Rother – coincidentally Rother had played lead guitar in the enigmatic late 60s group, Spirits of Sound, with Flur.

Finding themselves now in a partnership, both men hastily borrowed enough loot to pay for four nights of recording time at Hamburgs Windrose studios – where Guru Guru had also laid down a few albums. Sessions were overseen by the gifted patriarch of Germany’s burgeoning experimental scene, Conny Plank: they’d briefly met Plank whilst holding up the interim Kraftwerk. Plank’s role would extend beyond merely engineering and producing;  he would also be called upon to administer mediation duties, and play devils advocate – disagreements and differences of opinion often raged between both the brooding drummer Dinger and cosmic star-child guitarist Rother. It seemed that a thirst for the brand Neu! had left them struggling for that initial spark.

Though without a doubt, they constructed something fresh, sparse and proto-futuristic, their music wasn’t composed entirely within a bubble; showing an affinity with the minimalism and spiritually of Ash Ra Tempel and Popol Vuh; the organ forlorn and pulchritude gospels of Cluster, and the mystical soundtracks of Don Cherry. Those synonymous pulsing, hypnotic and late night driving on the Autobahn paced rhythms would appear after an unproductive 48 hours, when Dinger’s trademark “Lange Gerede” (long straight), or “Endlose Gerede” (endless straight) drumming beat clicked into place: better known as the famous “Motorik” style, though Dinger claims he neither came up with this infamous phrase or used it. A 4/4 signature, this Apache like beating, anchored down all of Neu! cannon of tracks so that Rother could soar and escape on dilatory flights of delicate precise fancy. Either played as a constant double time chugg or at a pronounced, almost painfully, difficult melodic pace, Dinger’s congruous unwavering toms and cymbal clashes, were hardly ever troubled by unrehearsed solos.

A flash of inspiration came form the totem drummer, when he brought in his Japanese Banjo to show and tell. Now the music of Neu! somehow sprung forth out of the inclusion of this esoteric sounding instrument. ‘Negativland’, the inaugural two-speed, squalling bird-of-prey calling, lean and mean vista soundtrack, was the catalyst. From now on Neu! had their sound: a prowl through the neo-afterglow of tomorrows envisioned Deutschland.

Kick-starting what would be their debut game-changing, self-titled, eponymous album; ‘Negativland’ was recorded for posterity on that third day, followed in a quick succession by ‘Hallogallo’ and the rest of the, eventual, ensemble of tracks. Rother in very much the same role as Michael Karoli of CAN, played drifting, bending riffs and lead over the backbeat and ethereal wall of atmospheric sound. His second choice of weapon, the double-bass, weeps and frowns, as its lowly-bowed strains bring a tense eeriness and beauty to the music.

In only a matter of days, the duo, under the stewardship of Plank, had managed to finish a masterpiece. Signed with immediate effect to Bruno Wendel and Gunter Korber’s, relatively new label Brain, the exclamation proud sporting, and surface gloss ‘Neu!’ album was mixed three days later, and then released within weeks, at the start of 1972. Titular track ‘Hallogallo’, a play on words and pun on the German slang for “halligalli”, which means “wild-partying” – though hallo is also used for “hello” – instantly roused the underground, becoming a regular favorite choice pick on John Peels Drive Time show. It seemed that England once again, became an early adopter of another Krautrock group, though sales weren’t exactly high: ‘Neu!’ sold around 30,000 copies on release internationally. We even had our own color variation of the original cover: a white Neu! on a fetching day-glo faux-punk pink background.

Herr Dinger and Rother errected a succinct criterion of an album, with only brief exiguous changes in pattern and with a concentrated herculean effort to stay rigidly to the plan. Now they had to do it all over again, as a follow-up was hungered after.

 

Review:

 

Brain Records 1972

Recorded at Windrose-Durmont-Time Studios, Hamburg, December 1971

Mixed at Star-Musik Studios, Hamburg, December 1971

Side 1.

1. Hallogallo  (10:07)

2. Sanderangebot  (4:50)

3. Weissensee  (6:42)

Side 2.

1. Im Gluck  (6:52)

2. Negativeland  (9:46)

3. Lieber Honig  (7:15)

Personnel –

Klaus Dinger – Guitar, Japanese Banjo, percussion and vocals.

Michael Rother – Bass, deliguitar, double-bass and guitar.

Konrad ‘Conny’ Plank – Producer.

Artwork – Klaus Dinger.

Photos – Thomas Dinger.

 

Sostenuto over-bleeding from behind a secluded bunker door escapes slowly, building towards the appearance of Rother’s signature whacker-whacker choppy guitar licks, and Dinger’s prolonged smoke-signal Apache hollering beat. It feels like we’re merely interlopers, as the Neu! battle-cry is broadcast. Gracious sweeping seraph sounds and bird like prayers ascend, absorbed in the unrelenting momentum of ‘Hallogallo’. Quasi-delta industrial Teutonic blues riffs are shaped around a curved hypnotic cyclonic rhythm, as Rother shares the stage with Michael Karoli and Manuel Gottsching. Waves of iridescent gilded synth and peregrinated vistas, are punctuated by the occasional drum roll and crashing sustained cymbal: Neu! have arrived my friends. And just as the introduction to Düsseldorf’s proto-visionary new wavers feels at home, they fade-out into the German night in the ether.

As one track wafts away, up high, another begins. The segue-way exert ‘Sonderangebot’ – that’s “special offer” to us – starts with a hidden conversation and roaming sustained throbbing cymbal shimmer, which swells with reverb heavy effect. Soaring ambient peaks, where oscillating U.F.O’s whiz by and Thermin quivering specters float across the horizon, meet vibrating percussive and evanescent mystique, before dispersing into side ones closing spiritual journey ride, ‘Weissensee’.  ‘White Sea’ launches, or rather, sloops into the placid waters with a slow incipient drum eulogy and Don Cherry ‘Holy Mountain’ esoteric eastern-tinged mysticism, kept at an achingly delineated pace, only ever interrupted by the occasional exiguous show of meandering. This empyreal hymn majestically hums with laconic minimalistic emotion: if the Velvet Underground had any soul, this is how it would sound. Dingers drums sound utterly sparsely translucent and beguiling; the tightened delay and evaporating shimmy trebbly cymbals cause ripples for Rother to bend or arch the most serenely atmospheric moody riffs over. Effortlessly performed, erring towards the elegiac, this waltzing sleeping beast fades out, absorbed into the studios insulated cavities.

 

Side two opens with ‘Im Gluck’ – “lucky” – the soundscape to a boat ride across Arnold ‘Island of the Dead’ painted mythology. Hints of the lapping tide, giggling atavistic girls, and rowing ease in the distant pulsing, and yet again, ‘Holy Mountain’ like, deliguitar and moaning cello sounding double-bass. This is a reprise, in some ways, of the last track: a further exploration and continuation of the very same themes and mood. In a similar ethereal cathedral vein and imbued with the qualities found on Clusters first albums; Neu! compose a Gothic psalm to the new age.

Frightening road-drills and alarmed searing guitars cast the vanishing tide away, as the two-speed gear change ‘Negativland’ opus is brought in screaming. Bowie would plunder and rape the backing duing his own Teutonic cultural exchange trip years later, but now in 1972, this harrowing caustic building anthem would cause all the competition sleepless nights.  A patted out methodical beat maps out a prowling attitude strutting tone; Rother tries out a range of industrial heavy jutting effects.  Standing beneath a flightpath, the searing, striding sirens of blowing winds and cruising abrasive missiles of growling synth are unleashed as the pace is knocked into a frenzy. Dinger puts his foot to the pedal, and launches into a double rapid sprint of pounding incessant marching. Rother meanwhile fires off a sequence of tracer-fire rounds and squealing contorted shapes into the dark abyss. The brakes are pulled up quite violently as the music suddenly dies down to make room for the pained sonnet of ‘Lieber Haning’ (“Dear honey”).

Dinger rasps a fragile yearning ode, that is insufferably indecipherable. Ambient textures made from low bowed gestures performed on the double-bass and stark guitar, enrich the saddened and highly emotive scenery. Intense melancholy and Popol Vuh allusions make for an ethereal – yes that word again – yet disturbing piece of music. Each fretted gulp and tinge of vulnerable guilt is pushed out to the front in an almost childish or naive manner. As with all of the Neu! cannon, every sound and instrument is given room, as they integrate or perform in singular isolation. Finally our hosts row us back to the far banks of an unidentified river, as the pleading soliloquy draws to an agreed conclusion.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: