97. FAUST – THE FAUST TAPES (1973) (Guest Contributor: Rolo McGinty)

Art Rock, Avant-Garde, Krautrock

Rolo McGinty is frontman with the wonderful Woodentops and has making brilliant music since the early 1980s. We invited him along one more time to write about one of his favourite albums.

There were a few low price records out there when I was just getting beyond T.Rex, Black Sabbath and Deep Purple. Roxy Music’s ‘Virginia Plain’ was a marvel. I was stuck between my fathers jazz and crooner stock and my own taste which was growing fast. Pocket money was for LPs, 45s. Therefore, any interesting looking record that didn’t use up the meagre budget was going to make it home. Relics by Pink Floyd was one of those – still an amazing collection and way into UK jamming. Camembert Electrique another full of ideas Virgin cheapy, the Virgin Sampler a double LP with White Noise and Captain Beefheart, again one pound for two LPs. The Faust Tapes was just under 50p, had a dazzling modern art cover by Bridgit Riley – I had no idea who she was – and hours worth of reading on the back, possibly with a magnifying glass. I know now that the collection was off cuts, bits and bobs left over from other projects and small experimental segments, which is exactly what I loved about it instantly. It is packed with extremes. Circular saws, bizarre voices, different languages, irresponsibility in music, then again some beautiful musical moments, lots of tape slowing , stereo malarky , echo, pianos and sax, in and out of time drums and effects that fall into beat, just because they are there. Pioneering production for the time, integrating some of the naive and memorable songs with the atmospheric, all brutally edited into one another. Put it on and leave it on! 

Track One is a good pointer to the journey ahead, piano slowed right down, chopping into a mad loop of voice drums and effects that is only there for a short time before you get the first ‘song’. This opens out into a haunting piano and primitive synth sound which almost sounds like a Pink Floyd Rick Wright composition with an almost Isley Brothers’ lead guitar sitting back in the mix, Swiftly you are into the mad. What is apparently a vocal exercise takes you to some kind of Sadhu mayhem, bang from there to proto-punk, almost Pere Ubu sounding, vocals distorted and repeating with a monologue over the top, disconnected aggressive sounds blended in. Then a brace of fake endings! Back into the song it goes. More sax, this time X-Ray Spex comes to mind. Its over and you find yourself in what it sounds like when somebody’s mobile goes off in their pocket and you can hear them going upstairs. Soon we are into the funky which sounds quite Pop Group 78-79, Bristol sound. With the chainsaw super loud in the mix. It doesn’t last long before we are back into the strange. Reversed slowed tapes almost Bela Bartok, vocals through the echo annoying and funny and speed altered like a nightmare in a monastery. The machines come back, drums ominously rolling away and it doesn’t sound a million miles away from the kind of thing you might hear in Cafe Otto nowadays. The Squeaky Bonk army. Thing is if you were brought up on this album, much experimental electronic music is not as impressive as the grinning nodding artists think it is. You heard it here first. Like now we are in a disconnected singular handclap to the left of fragile silence. Not for long. The saxophones are now sounding like a wolf pack calling across the ravine under the moon. With a deep double bass giving the piece a large dimension, sub bass!
Let’s take a break; two funnies. Two really untalented clueless people who I have met and been friendly with, have something in common. They are quite wealthy, one very much so. Super wealthy. Went and bought himself an amp and a Fender Strat. He had never played before. He asked if I could record him. Not knowing this was all rather new for him I agreed. I ran the tape and he just stroked the strings with no chord shape and neither was it tuned up. A bit like someone wondering if its in tune before, tuning it up. I asked him if he wanted to borrow my tuner but no, he was happy. So I recorded twenty minutes of what must be the most incoherent and lacking in anything guitar I’ve ever heard. Obviously as a musician I thought that was cool. Everybody tries so hard in my world. This had no concept of ‘try’. Later, years later, I was looking for something odd for a track and I used a small amount of that guitar the clown prince had played. It took a while to pinpoint what I was hearing. UH? The snip I used added a Faust Tape element to the piece, ‘Singularity’. I thought “Oh! that really reminds me of Faust I’ll leave it in then!”
Again a good friend with no musical talent and a few beans bought herself a Selmer 6 gorgeous sax, to learn on!! The man in the shop didn’t want to sell it to her. He knew it would be returning soon. It did too. For a few months though the owner wore it most of the day, repeatedly playing the only two notes (plus accidental harmonics) she ever got out of it. A very classy Dexys Midnight Runners sax player and mutual friend tried to teach her a bit, but most of the time would be giving me that ‘ no hope!’ look that is to be inner giggle only. The request came, “could you record me?” I was waiting for it ha ha! So I got my 8 track ready. Yep. the same two mournful notes went onto tape. I had a brainwave. I asked her to just keep going to overdub and overdub and overdub and track and track till we had something, a wall of sax. I had changed tape speeds, all of that, reversed the tape, all of it. Again I had forgotten about Faust but I was thinking, something about this reminds me of…. couldn’t think. The sax went back to the shop. Years after I was looking for ideas for something, I found this cacophony of saxes. This time though, i didn’t think oh i know what that is, I thought it sounded like traffic congestion in New York. Slammed some actual car and lorry horns in and there it was. I also thought “ah! sounds like Faust.” This must have been how they did some of that. Probably on 4 track too. I love those two pieces now. That they are up there with Faust for avant garde, makes me pleased. Plus I know people have used them in their productions.

Ok back to the treasure trove. More ‘untitled’ pieces that have you wondering what did that? I’m listening to something that is not far from the modern, electro-acoustic people. They have college courses to learn how to do stuff like this noise now. Birmingham University, Beast sound system all of that. We are on the deep drone voice that sounds like Heinkels overhead. See how quickly this is moving? That was about 25 seconds before more old school piano, acoustic and well recorded, yet sounding like you and your friend sitting beside each other having a jam. The piece that’s on right after that is awesome. It could almost be Cabaret Voltaire or Einsturzende Neubaten. A flanging electronic loop going round with what sounds like cars going by. It doubles, collapses and fades and a really strong jazz flugelhorn plays over pure chill out. It’s gorgeous. Distorting and clean at the same time, the drums minimal and it used to sound so great at night. Sounds good now. Then comes another of those riffs that fit because they are there. Plop! back into all the saucepans in the kitchen and echo.Tape is being hand manipulated into the echo. So lots of dubby rewinds and reverb shots. Scratchy guitar leads into another of their simplistic almost pop hit numbers. The lyrics are odd and the voices earnest singing them. Its inviting and nothing goes on too long. We get Der Baum next. I have never forgotten this one. Sounds like everybody is singing a different song at once. It’s pure Pere Ubu. It begins to build and some of the German voices begin to get uppity. Just one riff going round. Who needs verse chorus right? All the voices sound cool and German. The effects are Dr Who proper. Which leaves us with one last work of art. Track 26! 50p!! A perfect fall asleep last track. I say that because in the late night I could listen without parental disturbance. I would drop off. A voice would come in loud wake me slightly but I know the arm will rest I have no need to move. Drift..into pretty acoustic guitar and French conversation.

So, The Faust Tapes, an introduction to the European alternative and the German experimental scene that had so much to offer. As a Dr. Who kid it had a direct connection to the techniques of reversing and science fiction echo. it also had rock and roll, electronic sound and an atmosphere so strong you would only listen when the time was right. Listening through to write, even though I’ve not got the vinyl out its on youtube, it sounds fresh and unscratched. Ok, mp3 I know, but I used to listen to this on a dusty needle on a mono Fergusson player as a kid so it sounds pretty new! Mind you music sounded great on that box. There was plenty of bass with the lid down. I didn’t see it as hippy either. I had no idea what they looked like. Kraftwerk perhaps?
I admit I’ve always wanted to do a kind of cut up like The Faust Tapes myself. However, believe it or not, I had a job for a few years as a ‘think tank’ for a music company Boosey and Hawkes, I had to come up with the odd. Sadly a new manager came in who didn’t get odd at all. So after about 5 years of releases it ended. In a way though the job was my chance to avant grade and i definitely leapt into the pool. I made tracks of all descriptions. Dripping water in a drain I found in a wood, that when finished sounded like polar ice cracking, I used environmental sounds and made them unrecognisable and worked to give a distinct visual image, or unplayed playable instruments. I can safely say Faust opened the door for me, made it possible for me to think the unthinkable and steer creativity into the dark and find shape. Search for the timeless.
I went to see Faust not that long ago. 3 or 4 years ago. It was really good, they did play a song from the Faust tapes.

So there you go, 49p of brilliance that sounds more experimental and rough than most of what you get today. One man’s psychedelia is another mans poison right? The Faust (party) Tapes gets away with it. Some moments you will go ‘oh bloody hell’ then something really captivating will happen just as you reach for the door handle.This album has no constraints, having to be radio worthy or commercial. Virgin probably paid little to put it out. The recording was already done. They must of made their money back tenfold. I have two copies as I say. Just in case! (Rolo McGinty)

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88. NEU! – NEU! ’75 (1975)

Greatest Records, Krautrock, Rock Music
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If music is often a portrait of the life of the artist, then it may sometimes bear the wounds and scars of the complex nature of human relationships; even at times, of the differences musicians experience working together. If that can lead to albums being abandoned mid-recording, it can also occasionally result in the creation of transcendent pieces of art. Think of ‘The Beatles’ or Spacemen 3’s ‘Recurring'(featured in TNPC #51). But rarely has any album borne witness to this possibility more transparently than ‘Neu! ’75’.
In late 1974, when he entered the studio to record Neu!’s third album, Michael Rother was 23 years old. It is no exaggeration to say that by that stage in his short career, he and Klaus Dinger had already rewritten the future of popular music. They might not have known it, and Rother may even feel faintly embarrassed by the suggestion, but it is virtually impossible to talk about the music Neu! produced in the early 1970s without introducing to the discussion references to the profusion of artists and musicians who have borne their influence directly or indirectly. From contemporaries such as Hawkwind, Eno and of course Bowie, through PiL and Joy Division, to 80s synth bands such as Ultravox (who worked with Neu!’s producer Conny Plank) and The Human League, through to the post-rock landscapes of Stereolab, Tortoise, Mogwai and The Sea & Cake, they can boast legions of admirers.
At its root this was music without a past, and as a consequence, it constructed the future. But buried in its grooves, ‘Neu! ’75’  bore the DNA of the divergent paths Rother and Dinger had taken in the intervening three years since they had last collaborated (on ‘Neu! 2’). Rother had fully immersed himself in his latest project Harmonia (with Cluster’s Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius). It was a project from which Dinger possibly felt excluded. If ultimately Harmonia was a failure on a commercial level, nevertheless it was artistically a tremendously rewarding one for Rother, and something with which he was aesthetically very satisfied. The time with Moebius and Roedelius had not been wasted, nurturing in a period of creative growth, during which his musical horizons expanded immeasurably.
By contrast, during the same period in question, Dinger had travelled to London in order to seek more media exposure for Neu!. With the exception of some additional air play from John Peel, his efforts were largely fruitless. Likewise, his own project, the fledgling Dingerland record label, had collapsed leaving him bankrupt. At the same time his girlfriend Anita (the ‘love of his life’) left him. Disillusioned and filled with rage, Dinger re-entered the studio with Rother to complete together their third LP for Brain, the dreaded contractual obligation album.
It is a schizophrenic creation. Unlike say Bowie’s ‘Low’, where the two sides of the album simply differ stylistically, here we have the two protagonists moving in completely opposite directions, so much so that they compromised on composing one side of music each. Despite this, Rother and Dinger were possessors of sufficient fingerspitzengefühl, alongside a virtually telepathic understanding, enabling them to contribute selflessly to the other’s compositions. For example, Rother plays guitar on Dinger’s ‘Hero’ and Dinger plays keys on ‘Leb Wohl’ perhaps the two songs which capture best their sonic polarisation. Neu! as an entity, could probably not have lasted any longer than it did at the time. The differences, musical and personal were too great to bridge. Dinger was aided in his efforts by Thomas Dinger and Hans Lampe who played drums on his side of the album allowing him to focus on guitar. That the album was as brilliant as it was is truly remarkable given the circumstances.
The Music:

‘Isi’ / Rother – Michael, enthused by his experiments with Harmonia, procures a crisper and more joyous sound – this possesses a lightness of touch – the simple  recurring piano motif – and features a trebly keyboard line which points forward to the electro pop of Depeche Mode and OMD. Musically, clearly a descendant ‘Hallogallo’, but simultaneously dancing into the future.

‘Seeland’/ Rother: there’s a greater emphasis on synths and keys on the album; at times Michael’s guitar creeps back into the shadows. Here however, his brooding, patient playing creates a solemn ghostly sound. Listen to this and then play ‘The Overload’ from ‘Remain In Light’ – Eno was clearly smitten. There’s a (subconscious) Eastern influence too. The track has been criticised for ‘not going anywhere’ but the patient, hypnotic groove is mesmerising as is the inventiveness of the atmospheric wash of guitars.

‘Leb’ Wohl’ / Rother: Rother and Dinger shared a mutual love of natural sounds, but if  Dinger was more likely to cultivate an aggressive confrontational noise, some may say proto-punk, then Michael was by the same token proto-ambient. Here the music anticipates the experiments of Eno, Harold Budd and David Toop  with a chilled out concoction of ocean sounds and minimalist piano (possibly by Dinger), the whole thing breathing and groaning  like the great Aum of existence. And with a title such as Leb’ Wohl’ (‘Farewell’) who knows if it was possibly Rother’s goodbye hymn to Klaus.

‘Hero’ / Dinger: Klaus, raging at providence unleashes a tirade against Anita, the press, the record company and Lord knows who else. “Your only friend is music until your dying day/Your only friend is music/And you’re just another hero riding through the night/Riding through the city, trying to lose your fight…Fuck the press/Fuck your progress, fuck the press/Fuck the company, fuck the company/Your only friend is money.” If it had been released in 1977, it would have made more sense. And more money perhaps. Some say it was the inspiration for Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ but listen to ‘Red Sails’ off Lodger for an even closer comparison. Oh, and listen to Johnny Rotten too, I’m sure his ears must have been seduced by Dinger’s histrionics.
‘E-Musik’ / Dinger: Klaus utilises all that destructive energy, channelling it into the creation of an ‘Autobahn’/ ‘Sister Ray’ hybrid for the 1970s (and possibly the 80s/90s for good measure). The ‘E’ in question does not stand for ecstasy, but for Ernste (so this reads ‘serious music’) – perhaps symptomatic of Klaus’ frustrations at Neu!’s relatively modest critical and commercial standing at the time? [Trainspotter alert: Deerhunter sampled the little keyboard riff at 5:42 for ‘He Would Have Laughed’]. But what really stands out here is the brilliant use of phasing in the percussion – a new and significant development in the Neu! Sound, and the way the rhythm dies off into nothingness at the end, blown away by the wind; providing temporary respite before…
‘After Eight’ / Dinger: Almost their most conventional rock’n’roll moment with Dinger’s guitar revv-ing it up like Manzanera kicking off on ‘In Every Dream Home A Heartache’. Not perhaps entirely representative of Neu!’s sound but a psychotic discharge which provides an aural snapshot of Dinger’s state of mind at the time. (JJ)

Special Feature: TNPC interviews MICHAEL ROTHER

INTERVIEW WITH MICHAEL ROTHER
Rother on Dinger, Kraftwerk, Harmonia and the Bowie Project that never was. (With thanks to Tim Sommer for helping guide some of the Qs)

TNPC: Your influence on modern music has undoubtedly been far-reaching. Did you and Klaus ever envisage that you would have such a pioneering role in the development of rock music?

MR: The truth is that I never really bothered with thinking about the future or thinking about what influence the music could have. I worked from day-to-day. Now, looking back, maybe I thought about these things, but on the other hand I knew it could have distracted me from what I wanted to do. It was really the joy of experimentation – the ambition was really to create music that was our own. Klaus was certainly as ambitious as I was. We never spoke about it really; we just went into the studio and did it.

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TNPC: I am particularly interested in how you would assess your influence upon Kraftwerk, the most celebrated German band of all. It seems clear that after you and Klaus were invited to join them in 1971, they never sounded the same after that collaboration…

MR: I joined Kraftwerk in  1971, February or March. Klaus and I formed Neuafter we were in Kraftwerk. I didn’t know the band Kraftwerk. I was working in a mental hospital but by chance ended up in the Kraftwerk studio with another guitar player who had been invited, and I joined with Ralf Hutter – it was a revelation for me to notice that I wasn’t alone in this approach to ‘music without roots’, which instead focused on a tradition of central European music in the melody and the harmony. That was very surprising for me. I think Ralf and I over the years probably watched what the other was doing with some respect. I know from talking with my friend Karl Bartos, who was in Kraftwerk for 14 years, that Ralf Hutter and he jammed to my track’ Karussell’ [from ‘Flammende Herzen’, Rother’s first solo studio album] in the Kraftwerk studio, so I think they enjoyed my approach to music. Of course they had amazing success when they released ‘Autobahn’, which was quite a step forward – although I really love the first three Kraftwerk albums and don’t really understand why people don’t see these as realKraftwerk albums. I think the influence must have been equally in both directions, not one way. It is clear that Ralf Hutter, if you look at the melodies he created, and mine, we would always be able to just play along without talking. I was very strict about what was possible and not possible as a melody/note. 

You can’t imagine how difficult it was to find people who were on the same path in the late 1960s, early 1970s. Nearly everyone I knew was still so influenced by only British and American music of the time and still stuck to that system. Florian [Schneider] was also a huge influence on me when I played with him and Klaus Dinger in Kraftwerk, although maybe not musically that much, but I was very impressed by the great flute treatments he did and the amazing permutations he produced when we performed live. It is a fact that is not noticed by the sound recording engineers on The Beat Club performance – my guitar is way too loud; they didn’t understand how important the crazy stuff was to the sound. I would have mixed it in a different way.

There was a great connection with Ralf Hutter on a musical level. Based on working with Conny Plank, it’s clear to see the influence of Neuon UK & US bands of later years. Also, when I met Eno in 1974, he mentioned how much he liked our music and how he and Bowie enthusiastically exchanged their ideas and views about our music back then

TNPC: It’s interesting to hear you talk about the impetus to create music ‘without roots’, although I think I read somewhere of your admiration for the 1960s guitar heroes and so on. Neverthelessthere is an absence of traditional western music (blues etc). Might there have been other more avant-garde influences, such as John Cage, LaMonteYoung, Tony Conrad or The Velvet Underground – or did you not hear these people until much later?

MR: I think this is not really true for me. I was the youngest of that whole group of people. My situation was that I really threw away everything as much as I could. Of course you cannot erase your memory, but I did my best intellectually to avoid picking up any ideas, clichés of music that I’d heard until then. Of course, the guitar heroes, The Beatles, Kinks, Stones, Jeff Beck, Hendrix, Clapton and Cream and so on – I still have much respect for those people, and from time to time, when I hear a song by them I am still blown away, like a few years ago when I was in Dublin and I stumbled along the road and ‘You Really Got Me’ was blasting out, I just got goosebumps again…

My girlfriend at the time already listened to The Velvet Underground. She was more into listening to music. I stopped. In the path I was on it was important to ‘stop listening’ and to try to avoid this. I know the minimalists you talk of were an influence on a lot of the people I worked with, so their influence reached me through other musicians but not directly. I remember once seeing Terry Riley and I remember seeing a German film from the late 1960s – there was a track by The Velvet Underground, ‘Waiting For The Man’ I think was the title, and I remember being moved by the flow of that music, Mo Tucker obviously, that kind of…duh-doh-da-do-do-do-do-do…[imitates rhythm] –  is very close to my heart. But I wouldn’t call it an influence, more a similarity, this idea of forward reaching music that looks out to the horizon, not just the next few yards.

TNPC: In your quest to create something ‘new’ you clearly wilfully avoided listening to too much music, and the Neualbums are certainly exemplars of a new approach to music. Was there a ‘eureka’ moment when you realised one chord was enough?

MR: I don’t think there was this kind of moment. It grew. It started when we played live with Kraftwerk. There was no harmonic change when we played live, it was just on one level and the details happened with the dynamics – starting slowly, relax, building up tension, going through the ceiling at the end, just going wild, and when we recorded the first Neualbum, if you look at tracks like ‘Hallogallo’ which is such a puzzle really – I don’t know how that came together – but it was spontaneous music. Klaus and I had a vision which we had together; this idea of music just running forward and then some of my elec-lines just flying on top – but how that really turned out was the result of very spontaneous decisions and some fortunate things happening, like the wonderful feedback I had on my guitar in the studio which enabled those long long notes, and of course Conny Plank’s amazing skill at catching the most important parts. He was great at that. He had nothing – a reverb plate, a limiter, a tape machine for short delay – that was it, so the whole organisation of the music was of course the result of what we played in the studio, but the way he constructed the final sounds was so impressive.

TNPC: Can I ask you about the first three Neu! albums, in terms of the progression in the music? Sometimes when I listen to ‘Hallogallo’ and ‘Für Immer’ and ‘Isi’ from ’75, you can note the similarity there, but often when I hear ‘Neu! 2’ it almost sounds too adventurous, in the way the tempo of the music changes, speeding up, slowing down – there are lots of ideas floating around. By the time you get to the third album it sounds like you have really hit your stride. There is space for long silences, you can press the noise button at times, there is great variation. Were you and Klaus moving in different directions and really becoming different artists, or had you just reached a point where you were connecting very well?

MR: Well, after ‘Neu! 2’ I started the project Harmonia which took me into completely new fields. I cannot imagine composing or recording tracks like ‘Isi’ and ‘Seeland’ without working first with Moebius and Roedelius [of Cluster] in between. I was able to learn more about music going back and forward with Neu! and Harmonia.

On ‘Neu! 2’ the two sides of the album are quite different. What we wanted to do, well Klaus isn’t around anymore and he may have some other points to stress about this; we certainly didn’t agree on many things. I am actually quite convinced that what we wanted to do was something like ‘Für Immer’. We would have done something like ‘Für Immer’ on both sides, but it took us too long to record all those items. Neu! 2’ was recorded on 16-track as opposed to 8-track on the first album. I got carried away, adding backwards guitars, forwards guitars, backwards pianos, sideways, all those colours which are fun and are hung up are important for the picture – particularly for something like ‘Für Immer’, but at the end we didn’t have the time for all that because we didn’t have enough money. We paid the studio out of our own pockets. And so, we sort of realised we had only one night shift left and we still needed to finish the whole second side! So those experiments were the result of very spontaneous decisions around ‘what can we do to end up with a complete album here?’ Of course the critics hated it. The fans thought we were making fun of them. People did not really accept it. The perception of the second side has changed dramatically over the last 30-40 years. I am not sure if all people want to hear the needle jump and scratch! It certainly turned my stomach around when Klaus kicked the turntable. I thought these experiments, slowed down music, backwards music – I was quite sure that people would stop following us – they were not ready for this at the time. The two tracks ‘Super’ and ‘Neuschnee’, the original tracks, they stand out – that’s what we really wanted to do. We really wanted those on the album, because the record company hadn’t cared about promoting the single. They didn’t. We pressed the single on them. They didn’t want to have one. So that’s the explanation for the second side of ‘Neu! 2’

TNPC: You say that people ‘hated’ the second side of ‘Neu! 2’. More generally, how successful were you in Germany at the time – in terms of sales and so on? The albums were long unavailable in the UK and were the kind of thing you had to pay good money for if you were fortunate enough to find them at record fairs. They were treasure items but success would have been limited here in the UK, at least until the renewal of interest in your music more recently. But in Germany, were you quite successful from the beginning?

MR: Well that always depends on the scale I suppose. There were many many musicians in Germany making pop music and selling hundreds of times the numbers, but in my view the first Neualbum was a real success and we made really nice money. I mean I wasn’t interested in buying stuff. I was happy simply with the freedom some money in the pocket could give me. But the money from Neumade it possible for me to help the project Harmonia, which was a commercial disaster! Compared to Neu!, Harmonia was nothing. People did not enjoy our music. It was terrible at the time, so difficult to survive, not only economically but also emotionally. I mean I loved the music from Harmonia. I didn’t understand and couldn’t make sense of why one was loved and one ignored. Of course, I’m so happy to see in recent years the recognition Harmonia is getting. It’s so sad that Dieter Moebius passed away last year. He was involved in all the decisions until the very end. Only two weeks before he died he thanked me for my work because I was the one who did all the work, because he was too weak by then, and Roedelius was busy with his own projects. But Harmonia was always something that came from my heart. I owe them I don’t know how much. I couldn’t have done Flammende  Herzen and my solo work and also ‘Neu‘75’ without having spent those three years working with Moebius and Roedelius.

TNPC: Often Klaus is portrayed as the angrier of you. He is seen to have had the more punk temperament, and that perhaps musically you are seen to be the one creating landscapes around the metronomic/motorik rhythms he created. At least that is the way people often perceive Neu!, but I was wondering if your musical relationship was more fluid than that. Did your contributions cross over and overlap more than some imagine?

MR: It’s not black and white for sure, much more complex. Klaus once said, maybe ten years ago “Michael and I had a blind understanding in music” – a bit romantic I think but it comes close to the truth. We never had to discuss music, but both admired and respected each other’s contributions. I loved his drumming style, his artistic inspirations. I did not really enjoy his personality to be honest. He could not be my friend. I could not have people like that as friends, but as soon as we made music it was great. He was such an impressive, strong drummer. Obviously I can’t say what Klaus would say now, but I think he felt the same positive way about my contributions, and we met in the middle. He had a heart for melody; maybe not…as…’talented’ [laughs]- but the same is true for me with the rhythms – I also played rhythm guitar – it’s not only Klaus doing the rhythms, it’s also me, but he was in that respect more ‘talented’ than I am.

TNPC: And did he therefore, when punk came along embrace that more fully than you?

MR: Oh yes, Klaus always had a very different way – to do with his personality, his upbringing, with the things that did not go his way. If something goes wrong for me, I’m sad but I try to make sense of it and work around it, but with Klaus, he became furious, angry, would blame other people for things which he was also responsible for. Yeah, Klaus was the punk. I never was a punk. Klaus would often say: “I was never a punk. They copied me!” 

TNPC: I can hear your influence Michael in a lot of the post-punk music. ‘Seeland’ for instance from ‘75’ – you can hear Eno lifting the idea for ‘The Overload’ on ‘Remain In Light’ but more generally that patient, building, brooding sound in Joy Division and other bands. But I also hear an Eastern influence on ‘Seeland’. I wonder if that was to do with your time in Pakistan – did you accommodate those influences as well?

MR: Not purposely, but I can remember being blown away by the music – I have a soft spot in my heart for Indian hypnotic music, like The Ali Brothers –  I have a wonderful CD of recordings of classical Indian raga – actually two Pakistani men and an orchestra. Intellectually, I would think my heart for music must be a mixture of Chopin (from my mother), Bach maybe also, Little Richard and Indian music; then mix in a little Jimi Hendrix and Beatles.

TNPC: There are a lot of organic, natural or found sounds (wind, tidal waves etc). Was that aspect your idea?

MR: Well, maybe it’s a cheap trick – to add drama! Both Klaus and I agreed on that. I love water, the sound of heavy rain, thunderstorms, and of the wind blowing the music away. I don’t want to say and I don’t want to lie about who took what sound or proposed which at a certain point. ‘Hero’ of course was a track that Klaus brought in – I brought in ‘Seeland’ and  ’Isi’ –  and a wonderful example of the amazing energy he could create with his music – and a good example also of the frustrations he felt. We did not talk about this, but I knew that he was very unhappy about the situation – so many things were wrong in his life: the record company, the label that he started going bankrupt; his girlfriend going away. You can hear it in the lyrics. It was the first take, spontaneous. We did the backing tracks together, we recorded the guitars and the drums, and then he went to the microphone and sang the lyrics and belted them away. He tried to improve upon this in the second recording, but that was more organised, but less powerful, so Conny Plank and I were sure about the first take being the right one. It is one of the most impressive expressions I know and one of my favourite Neutracks.

TNPC: Often people say Bowie stole it for ‘Heroes’ of course but I think there is a song on ‘Lodger’ (’Red Sails’) which is more like ‘Hero’ than ‘Heroes’. But obviously Bowie and Eno were borrowing heavily from you during that time…

MR: Well you know that David wanted me to play along on what on what became ‘Heroes’. Somebody prevented that from happening. I did not turn him down.

TNPC: It’s often reported that you declined the invitation, but you can set the record straight…

MR: We were both very enthusiastic and then his manager called and something had gone wrong on his side, not mine.

TNPC: Perhaps you regret this, or do you believe things turn out the way they are supposed to turn out? Even still, might there be a sadness that the opportunity to work with him did not arise?

MR: I don’t know. It was a thrilling time. It was between ‘Flammende Herzen’ and ‘Sterntaler’. My career was taking off. I was having so much success and recognition suddenly. I earned enough money to enable me to buy my own professional recording studio here. I felt like a small child getting a train set. But I was still surprised to get this last phone call from someone from his staff saying ‘You don’t have to come, David doesn’t need you anymore.’ I thought ‘that’s strange’ – we had been so enthusiastic, looking forward to the collaboration, but then I just went into the studio and recorded ‘Sterntaler’ and if I listen to ‘Heroes’ now, it is obvious that Robert Fripp did a great job. So no regrets but still a mystery. You know it took something like 25 years for me to realise there was something wrong, because he started saying in interviews that “Unfortunately, Michael turned me down”. But maybe he was fooled. Maybe someone took liberty in making decisions for him (“We don’t want this crazy German”) You know that his sales were dropping dramatically back then. These experimentations were not popular with David’s fans. “These crazy Germans guys won’t help us make money.”

TNPC: You are going out on tour, Japan in July – back to Glasgow in September – what can the fans expect when you are performing?

rother

MR: The billing says it – it will be a mixture of tracks by Neu!, Harmonia and from my solo work. I  guess I am still enjoying playing this fast forward kind of music, just rushing down the road and running to the horizon. This is something I love doing live now. In recent years I have done some film scoresmelodic and abstract music, but playing live, I like to feel the energy. When I played in China 18 months ago, I was totally fascinated to experience the crowd. I didn’t know what to expect but they went wild, jumping around inside the venue, they were so excited. The joy and the positive energy was something to behold, and that is what I intend to bring to Glasgow.

72. MANUEL GÖTTSCHING – E2-E4 (1984)

Electronic, Experimental, Krautrock

The Game Changer

The world’s most enduring game of strategy can evoke contradictory reactions. For some, playing chess is so mind numbingly dull, be as well painting a wall with water. Strange then that others – like the Saudi mufti who recently declared it ‘haram‘ – recognise in it something potentially more harmful. Perhaps his was an extreme reaction, one expressed by an individual who would have us return to a medieval world of theocratic absolutism. As much as he might disagree, there are always two ways of looking at things, not least a chessboard, particularly if you are sitting, clocks set, opposite your opponent, planning the first few moves. The first move, in algebraic chess notation, is usually e2-e4. It is only after that inconsequential beginning, that the mind games begin in earnest.

If by mind games one means consciousness expanding ‘head music’, then Manuel Göttsching has always enjoyed mind games. It also seems fitting that the sleeve of his inspirational ‘E2-E4’ album, features a chessboard. His musical career has featured some of the strangest moves in the history of popular music, it’s unique trajectory surprising many. Who, least of all Göttsching himself, would have anticipated that the journey which began with the kosmische explorations of Ash Ra Tempel, included sonic interludes with acid guru Timothy Leary and continued with his own experiments on electric guitar, would somehow eventually find its way on to Larry Levan’s turntable at the legendary NYC discotheque, Paradise Garage? From there the influence of ‘E2-E4’ would ripple outwards into new and alien territory – a dance culture with which Manuel was quite unfamiliar, and at times palpably uncomfortable.

For many, the discovery of ‘E2-E4’ is a revelation. If you like me frequented the dance clubs of the early 1990s, often the pinnacle of those evenings – perhaps three quarters of the way through the DJ’s set – was a lengthy building hypnotic groove of house or techno. This could have been a slice of Strictly Rhythm style ‘Wild Pitch’ or possibly the sumptuous minimalism of ‘Acid Eiffel’ by Laurent Garnier. Best of all though had to be Derrick May’s remix of an Italian house track ‘Sueno Latino’: eleven goosebump-arasing minutes of aural bliss. It was the tune – the one where there was a coalescent transcendent moment of sheer joy and uninhibited love of the music. I soon discovered that this ‘balearic’ classic had been reworked from an original composition by a Krautrock stalwart, the former guitarist of Ash Ra Tempel, and this rather deliciously, made it sound even more remarkable.

By the late 1970s, Göttsching had moved well beyond the undisciplined Grateful Dead-inspired psychedelic space rock of Ash Ra Tempel. He had discovered within the classical minimalism of Steve Reich and Philip Glass, a new way to distil new concepts of his own which he felt he could apply using his electric guitar. Along the way he had also become acquainted with synthesisers, experimented with a range of sounds and instruments and recognised the advantages of programming music using sequencers. Shortly before he hopped aboard a flight from Berlin to Hamburg in December 1981, he dropped by at Studio Roma, ostensibly to record some rough ideas floating around in his head, so that he could listen to them on his Walkman during the flight. He tuned his guitar from E2 to E4 (lending the album it’s title in the process), settled down for an hour and recorded one of the most influential albums of all time. Influential. That term gets bandied about all too often, but in this case it is truly deserved. As influential albums go this is close to being untouchable.

Göttsching recalls making several recordings around this time but with ‘E2-E4’ he experienced “a moment where everything was perfect, the technique was perfect, everything was floating…” He didn’t release it until 1984, but it still sounds like a beautiful unrepeatable accident. The patient deliberation of each movement, the concentration on method, wonderfully mirrors the wide angle perspective of a chess grandmaster who contemplates his game plan slowly unfolding to fruition. The music comprises one lengthy fluid hypnotic repetitive rhythm. Each part or movement is given a title, by turns descriptive (‘Moderate Start’) or chess wordplay (‘Queen A Pawn; ‘HRH Retreats’) but in truth these are meaningless – it is really one continuous suite, incorporating a series of inconspicuous little shifts in instrumentation – minor surges and ebbs, nothing dramatic but something constantly evolving, moving forward.

Some will feel more comfortable with the first half which is more synthesiser-led. This part in particular is the prototype for much of the electronic music produced during the following 20 years; while the second half is more guitar-led: a nod to Robert Fripp here, Mark Knopfler there, perhaps even Wes Montgomery. A bit jazz muso for some but of a piece with the rest of the music. And it is best listened to as a whole, having the capacity to induce in the listener a virtual trance like state – no doubt the reason Larry Levan would play the album in its entirety at the end of the night.

‘E2-E4′ was a real game changer, it’s legacy far reaching – everything from Basic Channel to LCD Soundsystems (check out ’45:33’) contains in its DNA, Göttsching’s handiwork. It’s one of those albums which has cultivated a kind of gnostic mystique and so often misses out on lists of Greatest Albums. In reality, while there is some complexity in the method, part of its enduring allure is that it sounds so simple. And isn’t that the mark of genius – making something complex sound very simple? Having said that, it is music that does require some patience and concentration from the listener too. Five minutes in and you’re either hooked or have given up. For me – and many others – I was sold instantly – checkmate in two moves. (JJ)

60. CLUSTER – ZUCKERZEIT (1974)

Electronic, Krautrock

clusterThe subconscious mind is a powerful entity. When I listen to ‘Hollywood’ the opening track on Cluster’s ‘Zuckerzeit’ LP, I can envisage it serving as a fitting theme tune for the BBC TV series ‘Tomorrow’s World’, studio presenter Raymond Baxter enthusiastically leaning over Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, to point out the latest technical features of their electronic equipment with his trusty Parker pen. I am then reminded that this ‘vision’ was actualised by Kraftwerk on TW in 1975. I have little recollection of their appearance on the programme. I suspect it must be a vague memory buried deep inside my subconscious since childhood. Nevertheless, one can only imagine how far ahead of its time ‘Hollywood’, might have sounded in 1974. While it’s synthetic drum patterns deliver an irregular asthmatic beat (like Mylar punctured with a razor), those synth lines begin discretely, buried low in the mix, suddenly springing to life in darting oscillating arcs of sound – like aliens weeping. If it is one of Krautrock’s most perfectly realised moments, ‘Zuckerzeit’ as a whole is one of the genre’s least typical albums. Perhaps rather, it is the sound of aliens laughing.

There was often a gravitas about German rock music in the early 1970s. There were many reasons for this (for a greater insight, I would recommend David Stubbs’ brilliant ‘Future Days’ book). The ‘songs’ said nothing, their wordlessness articulated everything that needed to be said, or perhaps left unsaid. ‘Krautrock’ bands were reaching into the future to escape an unspeakable past. If 1968 was German rock’s Year Zero, it set in motion a revolutionary explosion of music which in the UK and US, at least initially, was often misunderstood, even lumped in with the progressive rock bands of the era. One of the distinguishing musical features of Krautrock, what set it apart from the UK/US rock tradition was the lack of conventional storytelling in the lyrics (if there were lyrics at all). Characterised by a patient repetitive minimalism, most bands eschewed any trace of blues and traditional rock’n’roll, far less the climactic guitar solo. While often rhythmic and sometimes danceable, there was nothing to resemble the ‘drop’ used today by contemporary DJs to ignite a club audience. A new Germany required a new musical language, and not through imitating American and British archetypes. As regards Moebius and Roedelius, the only concession to things ‘Western’ was the anglicisation of their name (Kluster became Cluster). But on ‘Zuckerzeit’, sandwiched between the two albums they made with Neu!’s Michael Rother [as Harmonia], they broke the mould completely.

There’s a clue in the title of course. ‘Zuckerzeit’ translated from German means ‘Sugar Time’. The sleeve too, with the title emblazoned in garish bubblegum neon, hints at a prankish spirit. The late Dieter Moebius in particular seemed to embrace this newfound playfulness. There is an air of mischievousness to his compositions. ‘Caramel’ has an effervescent circular bounce and frolicsome theremin-style synth noodling, while on ‘Rote Riki’ we could be hearing some other BBC TV characters (this time The Clangers) hard at work in an iron foundry or some wheezing radioactive industrial plant. ‘Caramba’ has the sort of twang and clang that could be construed as Moebius’ electronic reproduction of the sound of Duane Eddy tuning his broken Gretsch, while ‘Rotor’ sounds like his attempt to create music for primitive computer arcade games.

It is interesting to note that despite what sounds like an almost telepathic musical binary on the album, Moebius and Roedelius actually recorded their tracks in separate rooms in the recording studio. Roedelius’ tracks have a deftness and lightness of touch that suggest he was rather more accommodating of Rother’s influence – but this yielded some extraordinary results. ‘Marzipan’ is the antithesis of ‘Hollywood’ – we could be in a tropical garden or an aviary – while he carves out similar territory on ‘Rosa’ and ‘Fotschi Tong’ which, while more conventional, are incredibly evocative of time and place. ‘Rosa’ in particular reminds me of Boards of Canada (possibly something like Zoetrope) demonstrating that Roedelius has been as much an influence on the music of the Sandison brothers as anyone else. Eno too, would lift some of these sounds for the following year’s ‘Another Green World’. Rother’s influence is clearest on the irresistibly elastic closer ‘Heiße Lippen’ (Hot Lips). Clocking in at a mere 2:22, it’s wonderfully infectious Motorik rhythm and breezy minimalist keyboard line, has one reaching immediately to return the needle to the beginning.

‘Zuckerzeit’ represented a change of direction for Cluster. It sounds as if the doors to a nursery crammed full of toys had been thrown open to 5-year old boys. Until then, their music had been like much of Krautrock, a disorientating kosmische exploration, spacious, proto-ambient, experimental. ‘Zuckerzeit’ trims the fat: while as pioneering as their earlier work, it finds Moebius, Roedelius and producer Conny Plank mastering a new electronic language, and with this little packet of sonic Spangles, having lots of fun along the way. (JJ)

42. MONSTER MOVIE – CAN (1969)

Experimental, Garage Punk, Greatest Records, Krautrock, Psychedelia

MONSTER MOVIE – CAN (1969)

“Birth of a new line,” assert the sleevenotes of Monster Movie. Ay – you could say that. There had been little, if anything, like this before and it’s a record which simply could not have been made at the start of the decade it appeared in, or even three years earlier. Astonishment at how far ahead of its time it is increases, not recedes, with time and it still sounds utterly fresh.
Only a few others – Beatles, Velvets, Hendrix, Floyd, Beefheart – rival Can for sheer originality but they dragged things even further forward and outward than any of them. They never made any secret of their early debt to the Velvets, in particular, but just as Shakespeare influenced Joyce, another completely new language was created,  complete with (very) tenses and (extremely) irregular verbs.
The band’s German majority had disparate backgrounds in rock, jazz and avant-garde classical, the last element in particular setting them apart from the British-American axis which had hitherto dominated popular music. Even so, equally distinctive was the contribution of American singer Malcolm Mooney, whose schooling was in art and who found himself in Europe to keep away from the very real prospect of the draft.
If Mooney was battllng an all too present threat, so were his colleagues, although theirs was one shaped by the immediate past. The generation gap in the UK was at least partly a product of perceived ingratitude of youth towards the parents and grandparents who had fought and won for their freedom; Germany had lost, had to deal with a horrifying legacy and, despite a vast economic regeneration and a genuine will to atone, many of those who were children in the war or were born afterwards were unconvinced. Whatever they did or thought at the time, or afterwards, West Germany was still being run by a generation directly involved in the war and many of the youth wanted only a clean break. This, and a more prosaic distaste for the prevalent schlager music (crudely, caricatured Eurovision knees-ups blended with old-style north European oompah) gave much of the impetus to the extraordinary torrent of innovation from Germany from 1968 onwards.
Can weren’t as politically radical as Amon Duul II, as consistently on the edge as Faust (though they were easily a match at their most extreme) or as sonically advanced as Kraftwerk ( but, at first, neither were Kraftwerk). What gave them the edge was a staggering versatility and a mastery of the most elusive alchemy – the ability to be experimental, groundbreaking and accessible at the same time. All of which made them an irresistible, unfathomable force of nature.
I first heard Can in 1980, as the summer of Closer, Crocodiles and Seventeen Seconds gave way to the autumn of More Specials and Remain In Light. Their name was being bandied around as post-punk precursors but I had little idea what to expect from Cannibalism, the compilation borrowed from Bishopbriggs Library which housed three of Monster Movie’s four tracks.
They shared an opening track, Father Cannot Yell, a title which to my 11-year-old mind seemed the result of a combination of prog pomposity and English as a second language (not quite grasping yet that the singer at this stage was a native English speaker). My initial response was irritation – what’s with the two-minute repetition of “uh-uh-uh-uh?” Is this him driving home the point that father indeed cannot yell? Or is he just vocalising worldlessly? The irritation soon turned to mesmerism and I came to realise the wisdom of Pete Shelley’s sleevenotes, in which he admitted to hating some Can songs at first but was forced to concede first hearings can be misleading. Now, I’m hard put to think of a mightier, more compelling or simply greater opening track – Wire’s Reuters and Robert Wyatt’s Sea Song are up there – which wrong-foots you immediately on its era, with Irmin Schmidt producing a crazed Morse code from some form of keyboard, which or may not be a primitive synth, while drummmer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holger Czukay dominate the song, demolishing any preconceptions you might have of what a rhythm section is and setting up a wind–tunnel barrage punctuated sparingly but scorchingly by the late Michael Karoli’s guitar tirades (solos really doesn’t cover it). Julian Cope described his first band, the appropriately Germanically-named Softgraundt, as “pure Can, all bass and drums” – presumably, Father Cannot Yell was the touchstone, as it was for. to name just a handful of others, Joy Division, Public Image Ltd, Siouxsie and the Banshees The Fall, Wire and Pere Ubu.
Mary, Mary So Contrary is the one Monster Movie song not to appear on Cannibalism and so I first heard it years after the rest. The lyric is, largely, made up of the near-eponymous nursery rhyme, a sign that even ultra-modern Can weren’t completely immune to the otherwise ubiquitous hippy whimsy. In keeping with the lyrical theme, it’s partly medieval-sounding, albeit in a manner similar to Venus In Furs, and also points a way forward, sharing some ground with Deadlock, which would be recorded a year later with Mooney’s replacement, Damo Suzuki. It’s also Mooney’s most restrained performance on the album, although these things are relative, just as Al Pacino is more restrained in Serpico than in Scarface.
One word has always encapsulated Outside My Door for me – exhilirating. It has a fuller band sound than anywhere else on the album, with unexpected colour from a harmonica and, in the coda, what is either a hammering piano or a tolling bell. Liebezeit’s scatergun drumming parallels Keith  Moon at his most freeform and opens the door to Buzzcocks’ John Maher, while Karoli’s suitably buzzsaw solo is an object lesson for the same band’s Shelley and Diggle. Mooney, meanwhile, invites James Brown and Otis Redding along and succeeds in drowning them out.
The former side two is occupied in its entirety by the 20-minute Yoo Doo Right, for many the crowning glory not just of Monster Movie but of Can’s entire repertoire. It is, of course, fantastic but – here comes the heresy – it does go on just a little.When we taped it (it never did kill music) from Cannibalism, the album shared a C90 with side two of Talking Heads ’77, meaning that Yoo Doo Right ended after nine minutes (at “Gotcha, gotcha, doo wa”) and I’ve always felt that most of the highlights come before this cut-off point: the first shift of the bass from riff to melody at 0:25 (Czukay once likened his instrument’s role to the king in chess – moving little but changing everything when doing so); the single-note organ figure at 1:56; the most metalically chiming guitar you’ll ever hear at 4:16; a single, possibly accidental, cymbal crash at 6:27; a guitar turning into a raygun at 6:44 and the final collapse at 8:05, leaving nothing but Mooney exhaustedly contemplating “a drumbeat 21 hours a day” and every second of those hours being ticked off. But there still remains plenty of tension and drama in the second half, with Mooney’s very real isolation unresolved – at the end, as at the beginning, “I’m in love with my girl, she’s away/Man, you gotta move on.”
Can would take on many more influences – funk, Eastern European folk, traditional African music – and would shed many more skins to become ever more magical. If ever there’s been music that takes you places, that music belongs to Can – they stand up to repeated listens more than just about any other band and the disparate strands of their sound prompted me to seek out as much about the world as I ever learned in geography.Monster Movie was one of their first steps, and some dismiss it in favour of the admittedly brilliant Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi, but it captures them at their most viscerally thrilling (PG).

Kraftwerk- Autobahn

4. KRAFTWERK – AUTOBAHN (1974)

Electronic, Krautrock

kraftwerk

Bournemouth, July 1982. A church fete during a holiday. Amid the ketchup bottles and the jettisoned Hammond Innes paperbacks, this seemed to be the only record on sale. But it couldn’t be for sale- why was a Kraftwerk album being so blithely discarded not even six months after they’d been at number one? “Is it being sold?” I demanded incredulously with an edge of panic, clutching it covetously in its Highway Code-themed sleeve. “50p please” was the wonderful reply. Only much later did I figure out the likely chain of events – somebody had been seduced by The Model’s future-now charms and was eager to discover more but, confronted with a 22-and-a-half minute distillation of a gruelling drive which sounds like it’s being undertaken out of necessity, thought: naah. Whoever you were, es ist deine Sache and this is where I came in. To everyone else: never let yourself be fobbed off with the single version of the title track; it would be like passing off the Q volume of Encylopaedia Britannica as the whole thing. From the sun-dappled valley to the frustration of swelling traffic to the closing lullaby for the passengers asleep in the back  every one of its 1350 seconds is essential. And don’t overlook the supporting cast of jiving comets, babbling brooks and squelching but still sinister bats on the former side two. (PG)