Neu .....und alt!
Posted by Bo Ellegaard on November 23, 2020 0 Comments
On Kosmische Muzik, Krautrock, Motorik and other strange phenomenons...also called German Music!
To really appreciate the music that came out of the West German towns in the late 60´s and beginning of the 70´s you´ll have to look back to the history of Germany.
A country that was known for its high level of culture until Hitler came along and destroyed it all with his megalomanic view on how Germany should evolve and expand.
Luckily the Germans saw a new beginning in 1945 for their disliked Vaterland when England, France, the US and the Sovjet Union both liberated and occupied the country at the same time. Unfortunately the Sovjets took their role as occupants very seriously and felt the need to create the ideal state in their section of eastern Germany to be known for the next 30 years as DDR.
"The free world" had a different name for it: Eastern Germany or even Communist Germany...
The "other" Germany was from now on called West Germany and even claimed the island inside the DDR that was West Berlin!!
So far so good...or bad depending on which side of the iron curtain you by chance lived.
The US Marshall Plan (no, it had nothing to do with the excellent guitar amp or RecordPusher´s famous fridge for that matter!!) litterally pumped billions of Dollars into West Germany thus creating a "Wirtschaftwunder" (="industry wonder") for the 60´s you had never seen before.
This heavy American influence provoked and repelled some of the more liberal and conscious of the West German youth. Alternative ways of life style and living together started to emerge all around the country. This was the case especially in the university towns and cities of Germany including of course West Berlin where Kommune 1 was formed!
Communes were now established all over West Germany and out of these communes came new art forms: music, arts, theater, films, books and.....terrorism!
Some of the musicians, artistes, actors, directors or writers were old enough to remember the war. But they all felt the shame and guilt that was difficult to deal with in a West Germany growing more and more wealthy up through the 60´s.
Some also felt that citizens with former nazi sympathies or those who had been directly involved in the war and its atrocities were being too easily rehabilitated.
(If you are interested in the story of West Germany of the 60-70´s go and see the movie "The Bader-Meinhof Complex")
I could make a long list here of German towns and cities and for each town and city name the bands that emerged in this burgeoning artistical and musical movement the latter often mocked with the term "Krautrock" but I´d like to focus on just one town here: Düsseldorf!
(I refer to my blog "Concert at Tivoli Gardens" with a little more on the subject "Krautrock"!)
Almost at the centre of the Ruhr area- close to the heart of where the Wirtschaftswunder happened Düsseldorf was a town known for its artistes and other creative people. From the sculptor Joseph Beuys, electronic music composer Karlheinz Stockhausen to the architect Paul Schneider-Esleben (father of....you guessed it?.... or else: Google it!....) to name but a few Düsseldorfers....
In this heartland of West Germany a new music occured in the 60´s as Karlheinz Stockhausen with his Musique Concrête and Serial Music searched for alternative ways of creating music. With the aid of tape recorders and other electronic devices he found a brand new expression for post-war German contemporary music in the 1950-60´s.
It was among other things his teachings at the University of Bonn that spurred young German musicians and composers to seek for new ways of making music- only they got derailed by......rock and roll!!
As it turned out it was not the American way of Rock ´n´ Roll they wanted to play. The music they created was a far cry from the 12-bar blues-based three-chord basic Rock ´n´ Roll of, say Chuck Berry.
Instead the German bands often used different time signatures or found alternative ways of composing their "songs" resulting in breaks and time changes- often lasting for a whole side on an album. The music was apparently unstructured and likely to be played on unorthodox instruments or it would contain monotonic rhythms (often referred to as "Motorik" which became a German specialty).
As a young classical trained flautist and student at an improvisation class at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düssendorf Florian Schneider-Esleben met another young student Ralf Hütter. Both a bit bored with the classical- and even the contemporary music of their studies they began to fiddle around with different electric and electronic gadgets (not at all the advanced ones known today!).
Ring modulators, microphones, keyboards and other simple stuff made it up for the equipment as Organisation was formed!
This was 1969!
They even recorded an album "Tone Float" for RCA, England. The album was produced by another very important person in the making of German Rock History namely Konrad ("Conny") Plank!!
"Tone Float" was a kind of a contemporary score very un-rock ´n´ roll in fact. The title song itself expanded to a whole side of the album. An album of mostly acoustic music electrically treated and/or amplified. Added to this was assorted rhythm instruments.
Helped by Klaus Dinger on drums Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter continued to develop what they had started in Organisation this time, however, the music was augmented with electronic instruments as well as the oblique flute and keyboards and soon after the name Kraftwerk and an orange traffic cone (decades before PSB, I´m sorry to say!!) occured on their debut album as well as on the next album the cone now in green and then the wonderfully nerdy cover of "Ralf und Florian" followed but it was "Autobahn" that made it for them!
Making these three first albums of experimentations elaborating on the "Tone Float" sound they gradually turned towards a synthesizer sound, and they finally found what they had been searching for in 1974. The "Autobahn" album with the 20-odd minutes title song and a 7" single radio-edit of the song became an instant hit. Kraftwerk had finally found their formula for the future!
Devise an idea...any idea and take it from there:..."nuclear power"..... "trains", (well you´d already covered "car", haven´t you?!)..."robots" as man´s best friend...a new "machine" for the modern home in 1981, "sports" why not about some bicycle race?... and "technopop"...just pop! then, let´s see......"fitness", yes good idea...."I like to ride my bike", you could hear Ralf Hütter say, "Let´s make songs about that and what it does to the human body"....
The recipe above for how to get ideas for making records is my own, of course...but think about it: here you have a couple of very intelligent and well educated Germans. They do have the ability to think up a clever concept for "the next album" ....and the next.....but also with the stamina to carry on honing their thematic concepts to the limit over the next 40 years.
Finally to top it all by giving your good friend and graphic artist Emil Schult carte blanche to make the visuals. Video films for each of your songs when played live at concerts around the world.....in glorious 3-D of course!!!(-As well as making all the fantastic album covers along the way and, I believe, also their tasteful homepage: www.kraftwerk.com)
The last couple of years have seen Kraftwerk move from concert halls and rock festivals to.....art galleries and Museums for modern art!!
Yes, technopop has finally become ART!!
I also love the story about Kraftwerk being commissioned to compose a tune for the Hannover World Fair.
Kraftwerk laughed all the way to the (Deutsche) Bank: "Did they really pay us the equvalent of 200.000 Euros for one song, the "EXPO 2000" - and was it ever used for that purpose?", they asked themselves in awe!!):
-read all about it here:
-watch the result here:
All of the above has been achieved by Kraftwerk for the last 45 years or so. With one album after the other filled with beautiful melodies and with themes and concepts either serious or funny but Kraftwerk always set their own high standards especially regarding sound. The sound of the electronic instruments themselves but also the overall sound of the albums.
The singing is in a league of its own and done either in deadpan English with a distinct German accent or rather in their mother tongue!!
As helpers early on was a couple of other Düsseldorfers Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger.
As they had ideas of their own, they left Kraftwerk and formed the band Neu! where they would develop their musical ideas. Michael Rother sometimes played with other musicians this leading to another interesting offshot Harmonia.
Neu!´s music developed with long electronic sounding tunes often using a drone as carrier of the song itself, incorporating the "human element" of both electric(-ally treated) guitars and bass guitar as well as real drums played both distinct and tight by Klaus Dinger. The "Motorik" element becomes obvious when applied to the tunes. Speed changes are also put to good use. Singing is sporadic and interestingly added as just another instrument. Neu! also use Musique Concrete in some of their songs for added effect. Even speeded up and down versions of their own songs "Super 16" and "Super 78" used as... fillers(?)...was it an act of genious or merely lack of material?
It is obvious that Neu! created a more experimental musical style than Kraftwerk ever did. Also in the way Neu! use noise as an element in their tunes made either with "normal" instruments or derived from sampled and taped sounds of everyday surroundings.
Unfortunately internal personal differences caused Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger to part ways in fact several times in the 70´s this resulting in the Neu! album "Neu!´75" which was in fact two half solo albums on each side in one album!
Michael Rother recorded some solo albums in the second half of the 70´s but didn´t find success until he formed La Düsseldorf with his brother and Hans Lampe. La Düsseldorf was the band that linked krautrock to Neue Deutsche Welle (=new wave of German music) with its more structured songs now played on "normal" synthesizers...
In recent years there has been some reunion and especially re-issuing of original albums as well as outtakes and some live material but with Klaus Dinger´s untimely death in 2008 only Michael Rother still performs the music of Neu! which sounds as fresh today as it was intended in the early 70´s!
I had the pleasure to see Michael Rother performing newer and old stuff (again i refer to the blog Concert At Tivoli Gardens!) making a nice warm up for Tangerine Dream. He seemed very happy and proud of being on stage at the Tivoli Concert Hall playing the pure magic of a 45 minutes´ set......in other words: it was "krautrock" at its best!!
Sometimes when you have grown tired of listening to rock or pop or whatever you listen to, it can be a blessing to find something completely different to listen to should you still feel the urge for music....I certainly have done so when listening to some of these German bands.
Now it´s up to you wheather you like the more meditative "kosmische muzik" of Ash Ra Temple or Popol Vuh, the "Motorik" of Can or Neu!, the different synth sounds of either symphonic Tangerine Dream or technopop of Kraftwerk or the (Kraut)rock of Amon Düül II or Birth Control......
Further recommended listening:
Kraftwerk, from "Autobahn" and on....(but feel free to try "Tone Float" and "Kraftwerk", "Kraftwerk II" and
"Ralf Und Florian" if you lust for more, but beware if it turns sour on you!)
Neu!, "Neu!" and "Neu!2"
-but also Harmonia, Kluster/Cluster, Can, Amon Düül II, Popol Vuh and.........