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.


Blogger murmurists said...

Nice piece, Anthony.

Have to say, my knowledge of Neu! is patchy; as is my knowledge of Krautrock in general. I've missed out, I know. I have discovered some via various myspaces lately. What I've heard, I like.

9:50 AM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Love a lot of Krautrock - an interesting bunch of musicians, different to the usual Anglo-American rock thing.
A lot of widely differing sounds but NEU!, for me, really cuts the mustard. I've got huge respect for Dinger and Rother, so different to each other but when they came together, something magical happened - shamanistic, even.
So influental - Bowie and Eno, for a start.

11:36 AM  
Blogger cocaine jesus said...

try fujiya and miyagi. not jap dou but trio from brighton. neu influenced. more poppy though.

2:42 PM  
Blogger St. Anthony said...

Totally new to me, I shall have to check them out.

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