D>Elektro 2.1 - |> Material |> Press | Interviews
|> Article: NEU! | Harmonia | Cluster | La Düsseldorf | Kraftwerk
THE STORY OF NEU! - LA DÜSSELDORF - CLUSTER - HARMONIA
- by Stewart Ord | Aktivitaet #8
An article on the personal + musical links between NEU!, Harmonia, Cluster, La Düsseldorf and the early Kraftwerk line-up's
THE ROAD TO THE BEATCLUB
During the recording of 'Kraftwerk' 1, Andreas Hohmann decided to up
sticks and vacate the drum stool, never to be heard of again. The position was quickly filled by a young up and coming drummer by the name of Klaus Dinger who was well known around the Duesseldorf area. The trio
completed the album and the Kraftwerk name was finally placed on a
record sleeve. Dinger's drumming must have been what Schneider and
Huetter were looking for, he has a persistent 4/4 pattern which once heard is easily remembered, it is almost machine like in its simplicity.
The trio continued but needed to augment their sound, especially for live
work, Michael Rother (guitar) and Eberhardt Krahnemann (bass) were
drafted in, but unfortunately this line-up only lasted for one session,
Krahnemann departing swiftly. The quartet of Schneider, Huetter, Dinger
and Rother continued working but the sound, heading in a totally different direction than previously, led to a surprising turn of events, with Huetter leaving the band. There was then a six month period when Kraftwerk consisted of Schneider, Dinger and Rother. For live concerts the trio relied heavily on their musical knowledge and abilities to improvise and ad-lib so that there is not much left of the original track but always returning back to the main theme to finish off, 'Ruckzuck' is a prime example, lasting over twice the usual length with only the flute refrain being recognisable from the recorded track. One of these concerts was recorded (albeit in lo-fi sound quality) and is readily available on a number of bootleg releases - both CD and LP - and was recorded in Cologne in 1971. The other famous example of this particular Kraftwerk line-up is the T.V. appearance on the German show 'The Beatclub', performing the otherwise unreleased 'Rueckstoss Gondoliere'.
They teamed up with Conny Plank once again and started to get some
material together, 35 minutes of which is reputed to have been recorded but which has never seen the light of day and highly unlikely to, even if the master tapes still exist. The only material from the trio that was made available for public consumption was that of 'Rueckstoss Gondolero' (its correct title) when they appeared on 'The Beatclub' in late '71, whether this track was part of the recordings made with Plank is unknown. Amidst a large collection of orange traffic cones sat Schneider with his flutes, violin and electronics, Rother and his echoed, wah-wah guitar and Dinger, sat behind his minimal drum kit. The music had very little in common with Kraftwerk, Dinger and Rother's unique musical style was stamped all over it leaving Schneider's input out on the sidelines. In retrospect, the appearance could easily have been marketed as NEU! featuring Florian Schneider...
A "NEW !" GROUP, A "NEU!" ALBUM
Some time after the 'Beatclub' appearance Huetter met up with Schneider
and the duo started work on 'Kraftwerk 2', taking the group from strength
to strength. Now out of the picture, this left Rother and Dinger to pool their resources together and continue their partnership under the name of NEU!. Along with Conny Plank, they recorded their debut album in just four nights at Windrose Studio in Hamburg. The eponymous album first
appeared in Germany on Bruno Wendel and Gunter Korber's Brain label in
1972 (Brain 1004) and later in the U.K. on United Artists. Similarities?
The cover was fairly similar to Kraftwerk's first two albums, plain white
sleeve with NEU! scrawled over in red from bottom left to top right, but - the same brand of minimalism as KW's graphics - but that is where the
similarities end. The music inside was nothing that Huetter or Schneider
could have ever done or even desired to do, it required the individual styles of Dinger and Rother to create this kind of music. Dinger supplemented his drumming with guitar, Japanese banjo and vocals while Rother added bass, double bass and 'deliguitar' to his guitar work. The opening track, 'Hallogallo', set the style for the rest of the album , Dinger's light mechanik 4/4 drumming and Rother's almost trance like guitar work took the listener to another world where there is no sense of time, you didn't notice if the track was 3 or 10 minutes long. The only track on the L.P. that was different was the opening track of side 2. 'Negativland' had a ferocity all of its own, filled with machines, guitar feedback and Dinger's drumming, if it was cut down to 3 minutes and had vocals, it would have passed for anything off of the Jesus And Mary Chain's first album! It was 'Hallogallo' and 'Negativland' amongst others that defined the NEU! sound.
THE DEMISE OF NEU!
After the success of the first album, over 35,000 sales in Germany alone,
they had to concentrate on live work, but needed to find a bass player. First up was Eberhard Krahnemann, a refugee from the earlier Kraftwerk story.
Next along was Uli Trepte, better known for his work in Guru Guru. But
the sound was not quite right, so the plans for live concerts were scrapped. Instead the duo went back to the studio to record the double A side single, 'Neuschnee'/Super', for release in Germany again on the Brain label, but failed to produce a big hit. Meanwhile, Krautrock was at its peak with hit albums from Can and Amon Duul II, the public seemingly shouting out for more German music, the weirder the better if you please. With Rother playing guitar, bass, piano, fiddle, zither, percussion and electronics, Dinger playing Japanese banjo, 11 string guitar, percussion, Farfisa piano, bandonion, speaking, electronics and record player, these were the fabrics from which 'NEU! 2' would be fashioned. Tragedy struck though when half way through the record they were told that their recording budget was almost gone. They had enough material recorded for one side of the record but no money to write and record the remainder. In a flash of inspiration it was decided to do an art-pop-cut-up using the tracks from the 'Neuschnee' single played at different speeds. The result was rather strange, 'Neuschnee' was played at normal speed and at 78rpm while 'Super' was played at 78 and 16 rpm as well as its normal speed, also audible in the resulting track was Rother and Plank having a conversation in the control room and Dinger manually controlling the speed of the record with his finger, pre-empting the scratching technique used by hip hop and rap artists some ten years later perhaps!
'NEU! 2' was released in late '72 on the Brain label and later in the U.K. on United Artists, apart from the cut up second side the rest of the music was a continuation of the first album. The sleeve was also a continuation in the same sense that 'Kraftwerk 2' was a continuation of 'Kraftwerk', a plain white sleeve with NEU! going from bottom left to top right again but in grey this time and a pink 2 sprayed over the top of it. The NEU! and Kraftwerk sleeves were made to look like every day products, as though they were a tin of peas rather than the over dressed art of Roger Dean's Yes sleeves and other albums of the time but, ironically, these plain, boring sleeves created their own bold statement in the end like a two fingered punk salute to the establishment.
The experience of recording 'NEU! 2' had put a lot of pressure on them
though and at the end of it Dinger and Rother went their separate ways.
EXIT DINGER, ENTER CLUSTER, ENTER HARMONIA
The pop world has always been filled with great duos, Eurythmics, Yello,
Erasure, Robson And Jerome, even Kraftwerk is essentially the duo of
Huetter and Schneider, and Cluster are no exception. Hans-Joachim
Roedelius and Dieter Moebius started their recording career along with
Connie Schnitzler as Kluster, Schnitzler having previously been in one of
the many line ups of Tangerine Dream and with them for their first L.P.
'Electronic Meditation' along with Edgar Froese and Klaus Schulze.
Kluster recorded two albums ('Zwei Osterei' and 'Klopfzeichen') before
Schnitzler left to pursue an erratic solo career. Roedelius and Moebius
changed the K to a C and released 'Cluster' on the Philips label closely
followed by 'Cluster 2' on the Brain label. It was at this point that Rother met up with Cluster, both sharing the same label and producer.
Combining forces, the trio of Rother, Roedelius and Moebius started work
in June '73 at Cluster's home studio, completing their work in November of the same year. This new group called themselves Harmonia and the result of this work was the L.P. 'Music Von Harmonia', released in Germany in 1974 on the Brain label (BRAIN 1044). All three musicians are credited with playing guitar and electronic percussion, Rother and Roedelius also played organ and piano while Moebius played synthesiser. With the group consisting of all of Cluster and only a half of NEU! it was inevitable that the results sounded more like the former band than NEU! but Rother's guitar work remains prominent on the L.P. particularly on 'Dino'. The artwork meanwhile took the idea of marketing the record as a product to its natural extreme. Looking more like an Andy Warhol painting to advertise the latest domestic cleaner (with added brand x) than the latest release from three of Germany's foremost musicians. The label of the bottle announces that Harmonia is M. ROTHER (NEU!), D. MOEBIUS (CLUSTER), J. ROEDELIUS (CLUSTER) as though it was Krautrock's
very first super group and the music inside confirmed it.
THE RESURRECTION OF NEU!
While Rother was busy with Harmonia, Dinger had not been idle, he had
joined forces with his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe, the tape operator
from Conny Plank's studio. The three of them started writing together but
never actually got to record any of it before Rother re-entered the picture.
Rother met up with Klaus soon after completing 'Music Von Harmonia'
and the two of them started to talk about old times and where things had
gone wrong during the recording of 'NEU! 2'. Seeing that they were both
after the same goal the duo resurrected NEU! and booked themselves into
Conny Plank's studio for December '74 and January '75. 'NEU! '75' was
released in Germany on the Brain label (BRAIN 1062) and again later in
the U.K. on United Artists. It featured Rother on guitar, piano,
synthorchestra, electronics and voice, and Dinger on voice, percussion,
guitar, klavier and organ, both Thomas and Hans appeared playing drums
but only on side 2 which gives a different feel to either sides. Side 1 is Rother's side, beautiful images of landscapes appear with the simple
melodic lines from his guitar and piano, Rother bringing his experience
with Cluster to the full. Side 2 kicks off with 'Hero', unquestionably British punk before it happened, 'Hero' must have been one of the few European songs that the likes of the Sex Pistols were listening to. Then its back to true NEU!, taking us back in time to the first NEU! album and the same feeling that tracks like 'Negativland' gave us even similar sonic pummeling a la 'Ruckzuck' with 'E-Musik'. The sleeve also took us back to the first album being almost a negative of it, it was now an all black sleeve having the now familiar NEU! scrawl on it but in white.
After 42 minutes of recorded music the resurrection was over. Rother went
back to the Cluster camp leaving the Dinger brothers and Lampe to
continue with what they were doing before. NEU! was no more.
Stewart Ord | Aktivitaet #8