Monday, April 23, 2007

It's The NEU! Thing

At around, roughly, the same time some of the long-haired loons I've featured in recent posts were, um, getting down here in Blighty, over on the Continent a number of equally hirsute troublemakers were helping to stoke up their very own musical insurrection ... in the main, these were German. I mean, I ask you, the Bosch rocking out?
What has become known as Krautrock was a very broad church indeed - the music of Can tempering their early Velvet Undergroundisms with something akin to the Canterbury Scene sound, whereas Kraftwerk were busy creating forms that would, in retrospect, be seen as providing the language of electronica and techno; Faust started out in a vaguely Zappaesque direction before bringing in more drone and noise, whereas the extended Amon Duul family were heavier, more psychedelic.
Most significant, for my money, were NEU!, formed when multi-instrumentalists Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger left the early incarnation of Kraftwerk they had both briefly graced (and left an indelible impression on), taking with them the germ of a radical new sound (so radical, indeed, that Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, the main architects of Kraftwerk, milked it for all it was worth - if 'Autobahn' isn't directly influenced by/ripped off from NEU!'s patented motorik sound, I'll eat my hat, I'll eat my head, fuck it, I'll eat my NEU! albums) - a hypnotic, perpetual-motion beat, courtesy of Herr Dinger coupled with Rother's drone/ambient guitar noises and the most beautiful melodies filtering through from the haze of electronics. Dinger is, with Moe Tucker, my favourite drummer .... the constant, autistic beat - it could go on, trancelike, forever and never get monotonous. I love NEU! more than almost any music I can think of.

NEU! - Rother and Dinger together (seconds after this photo was taken, Dinger probably threw a punch and shouted a lot).

NEU! only made three albums proper in their lifetime, recorded between 1971 and 1975, every one a monumental achievement - 'Hallogallo', from the first album, is so perfect, so sublime, you want it never to stop; it is NEU!'s default sound, the motorik beat, the virtual absence of conventional song structure, Rother's wonderful guitar and treatments. Not that NEU! didn't have other strings to their bow, the raw experimental noise of 'Negativland', for instance, or the proto-punk (the buzz guitars, Dinger's sneered vocals, his spiky hair in the inner sleeve photo - it's The Sex Pistols to a T, a year or so early) of 'Hero' and 'After Eight' from NEU! '75.

Michael Rother - the nice one

Of course, something this perfect, this wonderful, couldn't last forever - there had already been a kind of interregnum (Rother off to Krautrock supergroup Harmonia) in NEU! after the second album, due to basic personality differences between Dinger and Rother; Dinger being rather an acerbic individual, Rother a bit of a peace'n'lovenik. It was a wonder they stuck together long enough to make three pristine albums. But in their beginning was their end - NEU! '75 is an album pulling so obviously in two (at least!) different directions that it could only spell the terminal road for the entity that was NEU! ... but endings are rarely so brilliantly achieved as this.
They were gone, then, both - off to pastures new, their recorded legacy exerting a bigger and bigger influence the more it recedes in time. I won't bore you with a list of everyone who has copped an idea or ten from the dynamic duo - it would be too long, and anyway, you know the names.

Klaus Dinger - the nasty one

It makes perfect sense that United Artists asked Dave Brock to write sleeve notes for NEU! when they released it here - listen to parts of Space Ritual ... if it doesn't sound like some great lost Krautrock experiment, I don't know what does. Both shared a fondness for those electronic seagull noises, which is always nice, and isn't 'Opa-Loka' (from Warrior On The Edge Of Time) supposed to be a NEU! homage? The great double bill that never was - Hawkwind and NEU! - could one's nervous system have taken it?

A fly in every ointment ... the two stunted brothers of the Ubermenschen that are the three albums proper - NEU! '72 Live! (it's not live, it's an ok but hardly essential rehearsal tape) and NEU! 4, a shoddy collection of outtakes and substandard songs recorded between 1985 and 1986 and not released until 1995 ... it's so bad that the best track on it is 'Nazionale', a take on 'Deutschland Uber Alles' played backwards. Elsewhere, 'Crazy' could be The Knack, for Chrissake.

The second album, NEU! 2; having recorded about one side, they promptly learnt the budget had run out - what do they do? Simple, cobble together the rest of the album by pissing around with the tapes, including sticking fingers into the tape mechanism while rerecording. Did NEU! inadvertently invent the remix? Felix culpa - it's brilliant and totally in keeping with NEU!'s aesthetic, both pop and avant garde.

NEU! '75, of course, also boasts the contributions of Thomas Dinger and Hans Lampe on percussion, both of whom would follow Klaus, post-NEU!, into La Dusseldorf - a band that could give NEU! and Harmonia a run for their money.

Rother and Dinger's fraught relationship - for years, they weren't even on speaking terms, indeed the albums couldn't get an official CD release until the pair buried the hatchet a few years ago. One can, now, hear the albums as they were meant to be heard. Of course, therein lies the genius of NEU!, the differing temperaments of Rother and Dinger combining to make this beautiful thing. And witness the end of NEU! '72 Live!, which appears to terminate with the sound of smashing glass and Dinger (I assume it's Dinger ... it's got to be Dinger) losing his temper. It says it all, it's great.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

And They All Fit Together In The Same Machine

Equipe Out, Paris 1984

What a line-up ... L to R: Sophia Domancich, Pip Pyle, Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper and Didier Malherbe.

Just the presence of a couple of Soft Machiners and a Gonghead or two would make this a marvellous photo - and Domancich too? Cor! Of course, the Canterbury Sceners (yes, I know, an inexact and very loose term for a huge and proliferating approach to making music ... not so much a sound as a frame of mind) interacted with each other on such a grand scale that one could pick an infinite number of photos of an infinite number of groups that featured one or another combination of these reprobates, but I like this photo a lot; they all look happy (apart from a slightly pensive looking Mr Pyle) and it's always nice to see Dean and Hopper together. Didn't they grow to resemble each other?

Sad to say, very sad actually, Elton Dean and Pip Pyle are no longer around and making music - both passed on last year.

Nice picture, though.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


David Jackson ... known to aficionados as Jaxon - another extraordinary saxophonist, flautist, composer and performer - one of the great driving forces in the history of Van Der Graaf Generator, as well as a solo performer. A singular man, playing alto, tenor and baritone sax as well as flutes - often simultaneously. He has pioneered the use of electronically-treated sax sounds, developing his own equipment to get the range of sounds he was after.
Live, Jaxon was one of the great focal points of Van Der Graaf ... blasting away on two or three saxes at once, great walls of sound alternating with beautiful and delicate passages - usually in black and sporting an odd looking German train-driver's hat. Even Peter Hammill had to be on his mettle to stop Jaxon stealing the show.

Over the last few decades, he has also worked both as a maths and a music teacher, and has done a lot of work developing new technologies allowing people from a wide range of musical prowess and widely differing physical abilities to make music and take the stage ... the Soundbeam, for instance. He does this, I should point out, without a great deal of fanfare, just quietly getting on with the job - very different from the archetypal ego stroking associated with rock musicians doing charity work.

I understand the reformed Van Der Graaf will be continuing without Jackson ... no! Can it be the Generator without Jaxon? Is this wise? Your classic VDGG line-up is Peter Hammill, David Jackson, Hugh Banton and Guy Evans ... so sad to see that wonderful unit broken. But nothing good lasts forever, I suppose.

Friday, April 13, 2007

He's The Mighty Thunder Rider

Catweazle, say I? Lemmy reckoned Turner always looked so great that it was like being on stage with a Viking beserker ... whether getting down with some prime space rock, communicating with the folks on Venus via the Great Pyramid, busking in Wales or just generally exuding good vibrations and peace and love, he's The Mighty Thunder Rider, yes he is.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Gilbert and George, Tate Modern 11.04.07

I was lucky enough to attend a private tour around the Gilbert and George exhibition at Tate Modern yesterday, hosted by the artists themselves. Excellent stuff ... as always they were extremely polite, courteous and engaging.
Part of the frisson I get from G&G, I'm sure, is the incongruity between their appearance, their personal deportment on the one hand and the ripe old content of their art on the other. There was a similarly hilarious disjunction involved with William S. Burroughs - the well dressed, well brought up elderly gentleman who happened to write and say all those rude things.
There they were, calmly and politely showing us around all those huge pictures showing them full frontal or bending over showing their arseholes, or full of various bodily secretions. Bravery and honesty ... rare these days.

With the Time Out arts editor, G & G lead us around the show and talked about their work and their history ... very illuminating, very funny; in person, they embody some of the most interesting aspects of their work - a nice dry wit allied with a determination to look at the world and to engage with it, including all those bits some may find shocking, ugly or obscene, but which are (of course) vital parts of life.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Sun In A Bottle

Catweazle, an 11th Century wizard lost in the 1970s, believer in magic and electrickery, off with the fairies.

Nik Turner, saxophonist, flautist, composer, ex-member of Hawkwind and Inner City Unit, believer in magic and electrickery, off with the fairies.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Universe Is Something Like A Spider Or A Blob Of Spit

There's a lot of kerfuffle about Surrealism in the media presently ... a big show at the V&A, for example, lots of double page spreads in the 'quality' press. In the way of these things, all the cliches are rehearsed ... Dali's lobster phone, the soft watches, the usual suspects. (How quickly it was all co opted by advertising ... now you can buy a rubber Dali lobster for £3 in the V&A shop ... a tea towel featuring Man Ray's Cadeau Audace will set you back £5).
Much of what gets passed off as Surrealist could be more profitably seen as the art of the fantastic ... what attracts me is a far darker take on Surrealism, a strain typified more by Georges Bataille than Dali. Bataille (the enemy within, according to Breton), in the essays he wrote for Documents, and the photographs they accompanied mined a far more interesting area - found objects and images, chance operation, elements ripped and magnified radically out of context.

Jacques-Andre Boiffard. Untitled. 1929

For Bataille, Surrealism always contained a strong element of realism, however distorted. The ethnographic, the scientific .... how disquieting when placed in other contexts. The photographs of Boiffard, for example, investigate a materialism highly uncomfortable for Breton ... the big toes, magnified and isolated, an attack, according to Bataille, on "idealist deceptions of human activity."

Eli Lotar. Abattoir. 1929

Real life is totally Surrealistic, the photos above are examples, on one level, of hard social realism, but are, on another, shockingly, deliriously Surrealist. Lotar's photographs of the slaughterhouse are beautiful examples - linked, in Bataille's accompanying essay, to religion, to the temple. Furthermore, Bataille slyly suggests, such sites are subject to a quarantine .... but the victims of this quarantine are not the butchers or even the animals, but the people who cannot stand the sight of their own ugliness.
Lotar and Boiffard were true geniuses, true Surrealists - may there come a time when their images replace the tired lobster phone as the quintessential Surrealist icon.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Just Say Yes, Kids

This is Nik Turner ... after a lifetime of playing with Hawkwind and sundry other nutcases and no doubt enough hallucinogens to send his brain into permanent orbit around Jupiter, this is not a costume - this is what he actually looks like now.