Tag: Eberhard Kranemann

HARALD GROSSKOPF Interview

Harald Grosskopf is the German drummer who entered the world of electronic music while still maintaining his percussive role behind the kit.

Grosskopf made his name in the rock band WALLENSTEIN, but legend has it that a hallucinogenic adventure led to a voice telling him to stop trying to sound like Billy Cobham or Ginger Baker, as he realised he had been imitating other musicians.

With his mind free from having to drum within a set role, he realised rock music was not the best medium for this mode of artistic expression.

Two musicians who were members of the Berliner kosmische combo ASH RA TEMPEL Klaus Schulze and Manuel Göttsching were to become key in paving Harald Grosskopf’s path into the world of electronic music.

Schulze was a fellow drummer who had served an apprenticeship with TANGERINE DREAM and went on to wholly embrace the meditative synthesizer aesthetic; he invited Grosskopf to play drums on his 1976 masterpiece ‘Moondawn’.

Meanwhile Manuel Göttsching had developed a more transient guitar style to compliment his more electronically-based instrumental backdrop as showcased on the classic long player ‘New Age Of Earth’ as ASHRA. Looking to expand his vehicle to a more-band oriented format, the guitarist asked to Grosskopf to join him for the recording of what became 1979’s ‘Correlations’.

Harald Grosskopf took the plunge to go solo with the mind bending album ‘Synthesist’ which was released on the iconic Sky Records in 1980. A work comprising of eight instrumentals that blended a sonic tapestry of synthesizer soundscapes with drumming that provided colour as opposed to dominance, it musically followed in the exquisite tradition of his Berlin electronic friends.

More recently, Grosskopf has been recording and performing live, both solo and with Eberhard Kranemann with whom he released the experimental cosmic rock album ‘Krautwerk’ in 2017.

For the 40th anniversary of ‘Synthesist’, Bureau B are reissuing the album as a deluxe edition with new remixes provided by the likes of Steve Baltes, Thorsten Quaeschning, Paul Frick and Stefan Lewin among others. From his home in Berlin, Harald Grosskopf kindly spoke to The Electricity Club about how his career was liberated by electronics.

You started as a drummer, so what got you interested in synthesizers and electronics?

That‘s a long story until I got there. When my friend and colleague Udo Hanten (of YOU who unfortunately died two years ago) asked me in August ’79 “Why don`t you produce solo albums?“… I was astonished and my first thought was “Who will be interested in an album with a line-up of tracks with solo drumming?”

He of course meant working with synthesizers, which I did not have in mind at all. I told him “I‘m a drummer, I don‘t own synthesizers. All I have is a drum kit, an 8-Track reel-to-reel tape recorder and part of the fee from my work on Klaus Schulze‘ ‘Bodylove‘ album”.

So Udo invited me to come to his home, using his equipment. In exchange, he asked for my 8-Track to record his own album.

I must point out that ASHRA never met regularly, like a rock band to rehearse or produce. We never said “We are a band now forever!“. ASHRA always was based on spontaneity in all concerns. There were quite some breaks in between touring and studio sessions. So I had lots of time and my desire for making music was killing me during 1979.

After a few days thinking about Udo‘s proposal, I decided to do it. To tell the truth, I had no clue how to record nor how to operate synthesizers, even though I had worked with Klaus Schulze, one of the godfathers of electronic music. During studio sessions I never had to, nor did I care about studio techniques. The only thing I occasionally operated was a volume fader during mixing.

In that entire era, I felt I was a drummer, nothing else. Even after ‘Synthesist‘ was done and out. Putting it live on stage seemed technically impossible in 1980. So my first album was kinda born out of an emergency situation; no band activities and left behind with a huge unsatisfied desire to making music.

The beginnings of those recording sessions were technically pretty rough. I had to learn all about recording from scratch while I was recording. But conversely, operating synths was an easy challenge. At the end I wasn`t even sure, almost very insecure whether an audience would share the joy and trouble I went through in the process. And what I emotionally and music wise had put into it. But the naivety and emotional innocence behind that album might be the main reason why it seems to have touched people right up to today.

Working with Klaus Schulze on ‘Moondawn’ must have been interesting, given he started as a drummer. What was your brief from him for the recording?

No briefing at all! After my time in the rock band WALLENSTEIN, it was a very unfamiliar experience. WALLENSTEIN, typically German, was very (!) structured and disciplined.

We used to work extremely hard on details. Program music at its best! It never reached the satisfaction and joy I felt working with Klaus and Manuel Göttsching.

Klaus gave no advice at all. Never ever! He liked my drumming I guess and he trusted me more than I did doing the right thing. Other than from Klaus and Manuel, I was not used getting positive feedback from any of my colleagues in those rock ’n‘ roll times. After ‘Moondawn’, I decided to leave WALLENSTEIN and rock music.

The first ‘Moondawn’ take ended abruptly after 5 minutes, I somehow didn‘t feel well. Klaus and I started talking about what happened. After only one sentence Klaus spontaneously said: “I see you know where we going, let‘s do again!”

The second take led to what is heard on the ‘Moondawn’ A-side under the title ‘Floating‘, one long 25 minutes lasting improvisation. No emotional break or technical mistakes. Joy in the clearest mind. After the last note faded, we met in the control room and hugged each other.

‘Correlations’ saw Manuel Göttsching expand ASHRA into a band format, how did you come to be involved?

We first met at Dierks Studios around 1971 and I visited him occasionally when WALLENSTEIN had a Berlin performance. There was ASH RA TEMPEL, TANGERINE DREAM, POPOHL VUH and some other important formations who were on the same record label (Ohr and Pilz) as well as WALLENSTEIN. Compared to my experience in the German rock business, these Berliners had an extraordinary self-confidence, friendly and relaxed dudes.

My drumming style and emotional presence seemed to have impressed them. Klaus was the ASH RA TEMPEL drummer at the time, after he had left TANGERINE DREAM and he just had announced his split from ASH RA TEMPEL to start his solo career which didn‘t seem to shock anyone. So Manuel invited me to put my drums on ‘Starring Rosi‘. Rosi was his girlfriend and she´s been a New Yorker since 1982. I had a few gigs in New York and we met there after a 30 year break. When I left Klaus in 1975/76 to live in Berlin, my first activity was to visit Manuel. That was the beginning of my ASHRA involvement.

One thing that is quite interesting is that the tracks on ‘Correlations’ were generally shorter than other ASHRA works, had this been a conscientious decision?

We never talked about commercial intensions. Our main interest was having fun and producing something original. I liked the freedom of not thinking about whom we could reach or sell to what we had made. The combination of the three of us simply made it what it was. Everybody had ideas and had the chance to put them into the album. Manuel played a very melodic guitar. In those days. Maybe Carlos Santana was a bit of an influence on him. Lutz Ulbrich had another music background than electronics. He was and still is a brilliant rhythm guitarist and for a change, he liked playing with delays and was open to experiments, even though his main goal was traditional guitar music.

Lutz was in love with Nico of THE VELVET UNDERGROUND and they lived together in Paris, New York and Berlin. He was the only person among all her other famous friends (Bowie, Cale, Alain Delon) that brought her body to Berlin, after she had tragically passed away on Ibiza island, struck by an Aneurysm while riding on her bike. A doctor that was called just said: “I do not treat addicts!”…

The follow-up ‘Belle Alliance’ added vocals and was more aggressive, with your voice on ‘Kazoo’; how do you look back on the approach of that album now?

From my point of view for some reason the “good alliance“ wasn`t as powerful as on ‘Correlations‘. In retrospect, it lacked homogeneity in style. Maybe the reason behind that Virgin Records didn`t want to release ‘Belle Alliance‘ in the first place.

So the three of us went to south France to visit the MIDEM in Cannes, that huge music industry fair, to either sell it to another company or have a conversation again with Virgin Records. The Sony Walkman was just invented and everybody was able to listen to music wherever you were. The visit ended with a longer conversation with Richard Branson who owned the label at the time. Seemed we charmed him, resulting in the release. It‘s still a good album and I liked putting my intensions on ‘Kazoo‘.

As a drummer, how did you feel about the advent of programmable drum machines?

First, I was shocked that machines could replace and endanger my profession as drummer. I could not stand their artificial sounds either. Very unreal and artificial, especially the Roland TR808 that later became cult in techno and rap. More and more studio session drummers used Linn and Oberheim e-drums to stay in the business and make a living from fast productions, mostly pop productions. Linn and Oberheim used samples for their e-drums and those sounded quite real. It still took quite some time to programme a fill that a real drummer could do in a minute.

I never really got into programming drum machines until the first machines came up that could be played like an analog drum kit (Simmons and D-Drum). I could not afford a Simmons but bought three Simmons e-modules and built one myself by using old Bongo drums as trigger. You can hear them on ASHRA album ‘Tropical Heat‘. By discovering the fascination of techno music, I suddenly understood the magic machine drums can have like the Roland TR808. I bought a D-Drum but its dynamic and limitation on sound bored me after a while.

I started editing drums parallel to the invention of digital recording in the late 80s. The Atari 1040 was a first step in that direction. I was in my 40s when most people my generation could or would not cope with computers. A few years later, when digital recording of analog signals became a possibility, I felt a huge release. It freed me from dreaming about hiring expensive analog studios as the only possibility to get creative the way I wanted. I couldn´t have afforded such studios anyway. In the beginning, it was pretty complicated getting into controlling the recording software, but once I managed it, it was a revelation that continues today.

The artwork of ‘Synthesist’ sees you pictured with a Prophet 10, which were your favourite synths and keyboards to work with on this album?

The Prophet 10 was an investment of my manager (R.I.P. Peter) and was bought after ‘Synthesist’ was released. On ‘Synthesist’, you can hear a Korg PS3200 and a Minimoog.

The Moog was triggered by an ARP 16-Step Sequencer or used for solo melodies. That was it! The Moog permanently slipped out of tune and many times, it was more than a pain in the ass to get the bitch stabilized. I had to record the same sequences over and over again.

How did it come together in the studio?

All the basics were recorded during 6 weeks in August and September 1979 at Udo Hanten‘s home in Krefeld, an industrial town in Northern Westphalia, the River Rhine area. Additional tracks were laid at Panne Paulsen studio in Frankfurt, which I knew from the sessions with Klaus and ASHRA. It was perfect for recording my drums and the solo melodies. All on 16 tracks after the basic 8 tracks were transferred.

‘Transcendental Overdrive’ had some distinctive arpeggios but also those very frantic but understated drums?

I take that as a compliment. My intensions lay more on composition and creating magic sounds than drumming. I financially had a week to get it done. It took just 2 days to record all drum parts. There was not much time to think. It just happened.

How do you now look back on ‘Synthesist’ as a whole?

As I mentioned, I was very insecure about what I had done. A negative highlight was a visit to Edgar Froese‘s home where my manager and I asked Edgar to listened to ‘Synthesist‘ before it was released. Edgar listened patiently but did not say a word afterwards. Either he was stunningly shocked or could not stand it. I never found out and the situation led to a bunch of negative speculations.

Back home, I was devastated. The sales after 5 or 6 months also were not super, just around 10,000 vinyl copies. Today that would almost be a hit, but in 1980, it was a massive flop. I did not listen to the album for a very long time until I had several offers from different labels. Young people seemed to have discovered ‘Synthesist‘. DJs all over the world put it on and since I re-released it, they still do. I needed the distance in time to finally to understand and enjoy what I had done.

There is a 40th Anniversary double vinyl and CD package being released by Bureau B featuring remixes, so is remix culture something you embrace and what do you think of the end result here?

40 years flew by! Unbelievable! The remixes on that double album are great. I was surprised about the spontaneous involvement of young musicians. ‘Synthesist‘ had an influence on them and their own music.

I met Steve Baltes in 1994. He was 27 years old, a techno DJ, producer and fan of electronic music, whom I had invited to join in with ASHRA for our first Japan tour in 1997. He made a brilliant remix of ‘Earth’.

Thorsten Quaeschning who toured with Edgar Froese and TANGERINE DREAM for 15 years and is now head of the actual TD line-up did a fantastic remix of ‘So Weit, So Gut‘. Paul Frick remade ‘Synthesist‘, he is member of the well-known trio BRANDT BRAUER FRICK from Berlin which I am a great fan of.

Some famous old Krautrock colleagues who are also on Bureau B. label did a great job too. To mention here: PYROLATOR and KREIDLER. Stefan Lewin, an old friend, musician and quality analog synthesizer producer (ACL) worked on the ‘Synthesist‘ title track. Beside these, a few very young label musicians like TELLAVISION, LOVE SONGS and CAMERA also brought some interesting fresh air on their remix versions.

Your second solo album ‘Oceanheart’ didn’t appear until 1986, were there any reasons for this? How does this album stand up for you compared with ‘Synthesist’?

There was no pressure to put out one album after the other. Like others, I did not want to repeat myself over and over. I also had no equipment to experiment the way I needed. Remember it was the pre-computer time. In the meantime, I had a trio named LILLI BERLIN; I owned a Tascam 8-track reel to reel tape recorder and Manfred Opitz, the keyboarder had a Minimoog and a Roland JX-3P. I used those to lay basics. Drums and other sources were added at Christoph Franke‘s studio. The final mix and master was done there too. I think ‘Synthesist‘ has this first time innocence.

In 1997, you reunited with ASHRA to do some concerts in Japan. The live recordings became the ‘@shra’ album, ‘Twelve Samples’ was a particularly glorious track, how much of the performance was pre-prepared and was there much flexibility for improvisation?

We usually met a week before touring or for studio sessions to prepare some basics. In between, we played ‘Hype‘, a game that was based on the development of rock bands.

From putting a line up together, to low level touring and album recording. The player who first had a hit album won. The game was created by Virgin Records.

Manuel and Lutz rehearsed some basic harmonies and melodies, mostly without even being amplified in Manuel`s flat (Studio Roma). I had a pair of drumsticks, listened and hit on my knees. As I mentioned before had we long breaks in between such meetings. Sometimes for years. So I never knew what will happen next with ASHRA. But I was positively surprised to receive Manuel`s phone call, asking me to join in performing in Japan. A little tour including 4 gigs. Wow! Japan! Great! My second reaction was of technical concerns, which I did not speak out about.

You must know, touring in the 70s was technically quite basic. On stage, it could take Manuel more than 5 minutes in between the titles to tune his sequencer for the next piece, while I was getting nervous just sitting waiting and staring into the audience. That was the reason I wanted Steve Baltes to join in. I knew he was able to recreate all the basic ASHRA sequences and original keyboard sounds we needed with his skills about sampling and sound design.

After I had introduced Manuel and Steve, Manuel liked him from the first minute, so Steve started producing all the required bass and sequencer loops that enabled us to improvise on stage as we always did in the past, with the difference that Manuel was released from that tuning burden. Steve did a brilliant job. We even sounded much better than ever before. The Japanese audience really liked it. We performed twice in Tokyo and twice in Osaka.

You teamed up with Eberhard Kranemann for the 2017 album ‘Krautwerk’, how would you describe your dynamic with regards creating and performing ?

I met Eberhard Kranemann for the first time in 2016 on a local festival at a castle. We performed on different locations. I did not know him, not even that he was an original KRAFTWERK member. I was very curious about what he did on stage and as we performed at different times, I was able to sneak into his gig. After one minute, I left the performance! Pure loud guitar noise and mumblings with his voice! I could not stand it!

Two weeks later he phoned me, obviously very excited by my performance. He asked me what I thought of a collaboration. Wow! My enthusiasm was not very high but I thought what the f*ck, let‘s try, if turns out bad, I can leave.

Eberhard recorded our session we made in his home, located around the corner where I live with my family. The session output was mainly poor, but in between had some great original parts. I took the session back home, dragged it into my Ableton recording software, extracted those parts I liked and produced loops. In a next step, I took it back to Eberhard where we added some material here and there. He really liked the way I had edited the material.

The result was the ‘Krautwerk‘ album released on Bureau B. We did live performances in England, Sweden and on a festival in China. A second album is ready to be released, but Eberhard preferred to concentrate on his solo work again. Meanwhile Ralf Hütter of KRAFTWERK ordered his lawyers to threaten me in case I would not withdraw my ‘Krautwerk‘ name ownership.

You have new works ready for release, how would you describe them? What musical direction are you heading in?

I work intensely on new material and will soon release an album in co-operation with my old friend and colleague on guitar Axel Heilhecker. Sequencer, guitar loops, melodies. Very atmospheric! The album will be named ‘Are You Psyched?‘.

Parallel to that, I work on new solo material which I hope to release next year. No rush as always. I do not think in terms how to style my music. It`s always spontaneous and unpredictable decisions. The main intention is that I must like it. Even that can change after a few hours, days or weeks and it is always possible to push a piece in another direction.

It’s very hard for me to finally decide when something is finished. I do not listen much to music from others. Mainly only when someone says to me “You got to listen to that!“ That does not mean I´m ignorant but I love most to work on my own stuff.

What are your own favourite tracks and memories from your career?

Definitely ‘Moondawn‘. All the tracks I ever recorded are like own children. You love them all but they are different!

When you entered this world of synthesizers back in the day, did you think that you and your contemporaries would have such a big impact in the popular culture of today?

Not at all. Compared to fast and massive internet activity today, we had very little feedback in those days. National and international. Just a few music magazines existed. And they mostly wrote about pop music or the stars. The only measure we had were sales or live performances. But other than KRAFTWERK, we had no hits.

Andy McCluskey from OMD two years ago shook my hands and said “Did you know how much your music changed my life!?“. I had no idea about that influence when I was sitting in my small Berlin flat trying to figure out how to finance the next week. Since I connected to the internet around twenty years ago, I receive wonderful daily feedback from all over the world. It is a great pleasure to specially get it from a younger generation.

Last year, I had my first DJ appearance in a well-known techno club in Berlin. Right now, all live performances are cancelled or postponed. But isolation is not unusual for me and most artists. That‘s the space where we enable output. I still miss to be on stage. Hopefully it will be soon possible again.


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Harald Grosskopf

Additional thanks to Mark Reeder

‘Synthesist’ is reissued as a 40th Anniversary deluxe edition double CD and transparent sun yellow double vinyl LP by Bureau B on 5th June 2020

https://www.haraldgrosskopf.de/englisch/home.html

https://www.facebook.com/Harald-Grosskopf-121526524593386/

https://www.instagram.com/harald_grosskopf/

http://www.bureau-b.com/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
28th May 2020

EBERHARD KRANEMANN Interview

Eberhard Kranemann is a one-time member of KRAFTWERK who later recorded an album ‘Fritz Müller Rock’ with the legendary Conny Plank.

A graduate of the Dortmund Conservatory, the multi-instrumentalist also worked with NEU! but it was in 1967 while as a member of the band PISSOFF that he met Florian Schneider.

More recently, Kranemann has formed KRAUTWERK with Harald Grosskopf who played drums on Klaus Schulze’s ‘Moondawn’ and recorded a number of albums with Manuel Göttsching as a member of ASHRA.

In a merger of the Schools of Düsseldorf and Berlin, Kranemann and Grosskopf transmit their cosmic sonic visions of today, tomorrow and beyond in an updated take on art school kosmische with a lively and rhythmic self-titled debut album.

Following an enthusiastic talk at the 2017 ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE in Düsseldorf, Eberhard Kranemann kindly chatted to The Electricity Club about the genesis of KRAUTWERK and his observations on the vibrant post-war German music scene that ultimately impacted the world’s musical landscape.

So what is the concept of KRAUTWERK?

There is no concept, we are just two guys who are making music for fun. We did know not each other until one year ago. I heard Harald for the first time at a festival in Sulingen where he was doing a solo performance and I had a performance in another room.

I liked his kind of drumming, he doesn’t play natural drums and doesn’t use those crazy boom-boom-boom drums from a computer, he plays a special electronic kit with sticks on plates. He doesn’t use the pure electronic sounds, he changes them via Ableton with his special effects… they had so much power, I had never heard this before. I thought “I must work with him”

Then, he came into my room… I’m a more experimental musician using wired sounds and he didn’t like it! For him, it was too dissonant! So when I telephoned him to suggest working together, he did not want to… but 4 weeks later, he said “OK, we try something”

He came into my studio, but I did not tell him before that I’d prepared it to record our whole session professionally. I recorded 40 minutes of what we had played. We had never played together before but this 40 minutes was so great, it was wonderful music.

We made another date 4 weeks later and did 20 more minutes.

So we had 60 minutes in total and this is our first LP, CD and digital download. It was two old guys making music for fun, but then a label heard it and other people liked it very much.

So we did a British tour which was a big success, we will be going to Stockholm and next year, we play in China. People in America want us to go there too.

Both you and Harald Grosskopf have a lot of history in German electronic music, Harald was in ASHRA and released a great solo debut in ‘Synthesist’, had you been aware of his previous work?

No, I wasn’t interested in the Berlin School of Music, for me it was boring, it was just synthesizers going on and on and it was not enough. For myself, I need more power or action.

You were in KRAFTWERK?

Me and Florian Schneider were the originators of KRAFTWERK, one year later Herr Hütter came into the band and now he is the only man who makes it exist, he gets a lot of money out of it because he is a businessman.

A band who spends 30 years not making any new music and only the old sh*t comes out every year in new clothing, this is not for me. I must make new music going into the future and when I began this project with Harald, I had the idea of starting at a point 30 years ago when KRAFTWERK stopped making music because when they now play concerts, they don’t make music… they stand there like roboters and the music comes programmed from the computer, I do not like this.

When I played in KRAFTWERK in 1971 and the years before, we used techniques between man and machine but there was a lot of freestyle, everyone could play. But they stopped it and did this very cool, reduced music… you can do this if you want, they are very famous for it and they do it very well, but I think my friend Florian left the band he didn’t like it anymore. He is a real musician and he wanted to make music, he doesn’t want to stand on a stage with the sounds coming from the computer

So how do you make technology work for you in KRAUTWERK?

There is a difference between Harald and me; Harald works very much with technology and computers. But I don’t do it as much as he does, because I’m more of a traditional musician. When we play live, I play cello, Hawaiian guitar and sing. But I don’t tell stories, I use the voice like another instrument and make rhythm with it like “boom-tschak-boom-bah-tschak”… so I sing like a drummer and then Harald comes in with drums.

As Fritz Müller, you worked with the legendary Conny Plank, what was he like?

He was a very important man, for me in the last century, Conny Plank was the most important producer, engineer and mixer in the whole world, THE BEST! He was so great that he even turned down David Bowie and U2. He was very honest, he didn’t want to work with them.

He was very clear and only wanted to make music with people he liked… not only liked but loved! There was a lot of love between him and the musicians, it was so wonderful to work with him, he had a good gut feeling about people. I was the person in the background that put him in contact with KRAFTWERK and NEU!


The Electricity Club gives its sincerest thanks to Eberhard Kranemann

‘Krautwerk’ is released by Bureau B in CD, vinyl and digital formats

Eberhard Kranemann and Harald Grosskopf play Kraken Sthlm in Stockholm with FAUST on Friday 17th November 2017

https://www.facebook.com/realsynthesist/

http://www.bureau-b.com/grosskopf_kranemann.php


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th November 2017

ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2017

With the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE now running for its third successive year, 2017’s event gathered together another stellar line-up of speakers and performers to celebrate Düsseldorf’s standing as the spiritual home of electronic music.

Noted previous participants have included Jean-Michel Jarre, Andy McCluskey, Daniel Miller, Rusty Egan, John Foxx, Mark Reeder, Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, Gabi Delgado-Lopez and Michael Rother.

In keeping with the best-selling ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’ book by Rudi Esch which got the ball rolling, its ethos is to reflect on the cultural impact of the city, while providing a platform for both new and veteran artists.

While the conference still had its usual international feel, there was a distinct focus closer to home with local heroes such as Robert Görl, Zeus B Held, Eberhard Kranemann, Bodo Staiger and Tommi Stumpff all speaking at the event, while others such as Wolfgang Flür and Ralf Dörper graced the event with their presence.

Proceedings began with a showing of ‘Blue Velvet Revisited’, an art documentary on the making of the David Lynch film, serenely soundtracked by TUXEDOMOON and CULT WITH NO NAME; the latter’s Erik Stein chatted with German filmmaker Peter Braatz aka Harry Rag about how he captured the psyche of the maverick director and the behind the scenes tensions on set as a young intern on the iconic movie.

Following on, The Electricity Club chaired a panel discussion with renowned music producer Zeus B Held and one-time GARY NUMAN band member Chris Payne, whose musical lives changed when they were introduced to synthesizers. While Held became a member of the German prog rockers BIRTH CONTROL, Payne first became acquainted with German music at music college via FAUST, while he was also a fan of English band VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR who were also a favourite of Paul Humphreys from OMD.

Although Held wanted to make a cold electronic album with GINA X PERFORMANCE, he found that the art student’s eroticism countered the coldness which in turn, created something completely new. For Payne, he admitted it took him some time to get over his original perception that synthesizers were cold, but Numan possessed a strong creative vision that used techniques that could not be learnt at music college, like using diminished 5th chords that suited the dystopian aura of work.

After GINA X PERFORMANCE, Held attended a 1980 Numan gig in Düsseldorf which Payne was a part of. The pair would cross paths again via DEAD OR ALIVE.

In a lively and light hearted chat, the pair recalled their experience of working with their larger-than-life frontman Pete Burns who passed away 12 months ago.

In the studio, Held said “I got on fine with Pete because his mother was German, so we had a few common words we could use. He had a clear vision of what he wanted and the emotional thing he was aiming at. It was crazy, we used four microphones because he sings very loud!”

Meanwhile as live musical director, Payne remembered: “We were rehearsing in Liverpool in 1985 for the ‘Youthquake’ tour, none of the backing singers had arrived, it was just myself and the band making sure everything was in place. Pete was actually quite shy to talk to and he didn’t say anything for the first few days apart from hello… then all of a sudden while we were playing, I heard this VOICE! I looked round and it was Pete who was coming over clearly, but he had no microphone! We could hear him over our racket! It was absolutely extraordinary, I’ve never ever heard anything like it! Although he was insecure, he was a great performer!”

What was particularly striking about the DEAD OR ALIVE material produced by Zeus B Held was that it successfully integrated sequencers and programmed drums with live bass guitar, percussion and brass as on the cover of ‘That’s The Way (I Like It)’ – “It was quite risky and we had to squeeze the brass in” recalled Held, “but Pete wanted this stabbing brass in and we were lucky as we had some good guys, THE KICK HORNS, and explored the spaces we could use them and made sure the sequences weren’t too much on the one to get a feeling of rhythm”

The other artist both Payne and Held have a shared history is of course GARY NUMAN. Payne was one of the musicians on ‘The Pleasure Principle’ in 1979 and recalled “We all played together, we had drums, we had a bassist and myself and Gary on keyboards… there were overdubs but the fundamentals were recorded together”.

From it, ‘Cars’ became a UK No1 and was remixed in 1987 by Held who remembered “I had my new secret weapon called the Fairlight, so I synched up my points and put in car noises. It was also the week the Roland D50 came out so with this and the multi-tracks of ‘Cars’, it was a dream job… I beefed up the drums a bit and I had fun”

With both Held and Payne now in their 60s, their reinvigorated enthusiasm for electronic music and playing live in their respective projects DREAM CONTROL and ELECTRONIC CIRCUS are proof that age is no barrier to continuing musical creativity.

Erik Stein returned to the stage to interview poet ANNE CLARK who despite being from London and being almost unknown in her home country, became a cult favourite within Germany’s vibrant alternative music scene. Growing up in South London, her aim was to put music to poetry and punk opened the doors for her. She said: “the punk thing exploded culturally in everything including comedy, theatre, dance and literature… the things that came after are still resonating”

On her love of electronic music, it was the energy that attracted her, particularly Giorgio Moroder and ‘I Feel Love’. Although Clark has almost near anonymity in the UK, key figures such as John Foxx and Mark Reeder have worked on her music. On why her work has been more appreciated in Germany, she said: “I don’t know, maybe in mainland Europe, people are much more open minded”, although Clark still remembers there was disbelief when ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’ and ‘Our Darkness’ became German hits as she “didn’t fit into the pop star mould”.

The first day of talks was concluded with an excellent presentation by Jonathan Barnbrook entitled ‘Designing Bowie’; “It sounded like someone doing an impression of David Bowie” remembered the Grammy award winner on when the much missed legend phoned Barnbrook about becoming his graphic designer, after seeing his work on a Damien Hirst monograph. He found Bowie to be a charming man who made the process of working with him really enjoyable and fun; this in turn got the best out of Barnbrook.

Referring to designers such as Peter Saville, Malcolm Garrett and Vaughan Oliver, Barnbrook said: “when the magic of the graphics works, it makes something better of the album’s music and the artist, and it’s beyond marketing and something almost spiritual”

On the polarising artwork for ‘The Next Day’ which was the “Heroes” album sleeve with a white square over the top, Barnbrook said it questioned why a new image was expected of an artist every time they released an album, especially with an artist like Bowie who was often shackled by his past. Also as Bowie hadn’t done an album for 10 years, it was a direct reference to ‘Where Are We Now?’, the lead single from the album. So the artwork effectively subverted Bowie’s whole history by defacing it.

Although the process took six months to get to the white square, various studies had been carried out using the ‘Aladdin Sane’ and Pin Ups’ sleeves, as well an old photo of Bowie performing in New York with a particularly isolated look.

Of course, the artwork was not entirely embraced but with good humour, Barnbrook gamely showed screen captures of some of the more critical responses he received. One was “@barnbrook the Bowie cover? come on, it really is bollocks right?”, but maybe this was actually referring to DEPECHE MODE’s recent live reinterpretation of “Heroes”? 😉

But ‘The Next Day’ artwork became a viral marketing sensation with the public, something that had not been planned at all, with cats inevitably figuring later on. While the passing of Bowie in January 2016 inevitably lingered over the follow-up ‘Blackstar’, its graphics and various ‘secrets’ were again an internet talking point. “It’s a system and not an album cover” reflected Barnbrook, referring to how modern visual representation of albums ranges from iTunes, CD and vinyl to posters and advertising boards.

Remembering a question the young Barnbrook asked William S Burroughs about the future of typography, the Texan replied “it’s between Egyptian hieroglyphics and airport pictograms…” – inadvertently, the postmodernist writer had predicted emoticons!

So this was discussed with Bowie and the idea for using the Unicode U+2605 pictogram came into being, with the eventual black-on-black vinyl edition of ‘Blackstar’ becoming a much talked about art piece on its own. Barnbrook’s fascinating insight into his work proved to be one of the highlights of the conference.

The musical programme was opened by ELECTRONIC CIRCUS, the combo led by Chris Payne featuring his wife Dominique Hemard plus college buddies Nigel Bates and Mike Stewart. The emotive gallop of ‘The Trapeze’ and the midlife reflection of ‘Roundabout’ provided a captivating start, with Hemard providing her sweetly naïve Gallic voix. Meanwhile, with Trump and Kim treating the 38th Parrallel like a school playground, the frantic ‘Direct Lines’ was a stark reminder that nuclear war is still a real threat

Mid-set, Payne remained on stage for the arrival of KATJA VON KASSEL to showcase three magnificent songs that the pair had co-written over the last few months. ‘Someday’ captured the beautiful melancholy of Billy Mackenzie while ‘Radio Symphony’ exuded pure electro Weimar cabaret.

A new song ‘Walking In West Berlin’ gave an indication of what is to come on Fraulein von Kassel’s new EP, before the chanteuse and the band swapped positions again for some ‘Space Invaders’. Returning to the stage to join ELECTRONIC CIRCUS for their final number, those present were treated to a wonderful synth laden version of ‘Fade To Grey’, the German No1 for VISAGE which Payne co-wrote with Billy Currie and Midge Ure.

CREEPS gave a suitably mysterious performance as per their name, the trio donning masks with hints of ‘Twin Peaks’ within their carefully thought out presentation. However, the illusion was tempered slightly when they thanked the audience at the end, rather than moodily walking off stage which would have suited their aura better.

A good proportion of the crowd were gathered for ANNE CLARK to savour her stark observations on the darker side of the human condition. Beginning with dramatic ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’, she kept her audience entranced. With electronic backing provided by Herr B, Clark has said her future live performances will be more selective, but she gave a confident performance which more than satisfied her enthusiastic fans, especailly when she encored with her big German hit ‘Our Darkness’.

The second day of the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE 2017 had a more Germanic flavour and Dr Uwe Schütte, who compiled the academic guide ‘German Pop Music’, addressed the conference on KRAFTWERK who all but put the city of Düsseldorf on the world map, while Tommi Stumpff recollected the development of electronic body music with journalist Ecke Stieg.

Bodo Staiger from RHEINGOLD made a rare appearance to talk about his career with Rudi Esch; the band never performed live despite the popularity of songs such as ‘Fluss’ and ‘Dreiklangdimensionen’ so have almost become lost whenever the history of German pop is discussed. RHEINGOLD are certainly under rated and the excellent new album ‘Im Laut Der Zeit’ is a fine return after an absence of original material for many years.

With questions from Jochen Oberlack of Bellerophon Records, the enthusiasm of original KRAFTWERK member and multi-instrumentalist Eberhard Kranemann aka Fritz Müller brought a smile to proceedings. Talking about his new project KRAUTWERK with Harald Grosskopf, he enthused about taking their updated art school kosmische to places as far flung as China. Inspired by the lack of new material emerging from his former colleagues at Kling Klang, the talkative Kranemann certainly has the zest of a man half his age.

Following a presentation of visual and audio interpretations of DAF under the title of ‘Der Räuber Ist Der Prinz’ by students from Der Hochschule in Düsseldorf, it was fitting that the focus of the conference moved towards the duo who formed around the scene at the city’s punk club Die Ratinger Hof.

With the release of the ‘Das Ist DAF’ boxed set on Grönland Records, the profile of the EBM trailblazers is in the ascendancy again. While the music of DAF was aggressive by nature, drummer Robert Görl smiled a lot and revealed an endearing sense of humour during his chat with Rudi Esch; this was especially evident when pretty photos of himself and partner Gabi Delgado-Lopez, that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Smash Hits or Bravo, were projected on the big screen.

With a biography on the duo written by Esch as a companion to the boxed set on the horizon plus more new material too, new generations of electronic music enthusiasts have the opportunity to discover DAF.

ARCTIC SUNRISE began the musical leg of the second day with their enjoyable brand of dark synthpop. Songs like ‘Tell The Truth’ and ‘When Traces End’ recalled CAMOUFLAGE and particularly DE/VISION whose singer Steffen Keth has clearly influenced the vocal style of Torsten Verlinden.

While mostly remaining behind his rack of keyboards, Steve Baltes dusted off a Roland GR77 bass guitar synth to use on ‘Silent Tears’.

In the absence of his DAF partner, Robert Görl bravely performed along to a selection of pre-laid backing tracks comprising of material from his ‘Glücksritter’ live only project. Musically close to DAF but without the live drums, the material was laced with amusingly deviant lyrics while there was a techno edge in keeping with his more recent and largely instrumental output. However no songs from his brilliant solo debut ‘Night Full Of Tension’ were aired, but Görl’s uptempo set was enjoyable with songs like ‘Schieb Das Kind’ and ‘U.S. Acidboys’.

Modular trance duo STRÖME provided the musical surprise of the weekend. With their magnificent tandem Doepfer A100 systems in full view, the pairing of Mario Schönhofer and Tobi Weber kept the audience’s attention, with their combination of pulsing electronics and moderate but energetic synthesized rhythms showing how modern EDM should be done.

And so ended another fabulous weekend with a friendly, intelligent cultured atmosphere that held plenty of insight and passion; the 2018 event promises a new central location and a big name speaker as the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE continues to develop and build its reputation even further.


The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Rudi Esch and Carsten Siewert

Next year’s ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE will take place on 12th-13th October 2018

http://www.electricity-conference.com/de

https://www.facebook.com/ELECTRICITY.Conference/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chi Ming Lai, Kerstin Key and Anja Deerberg
6th November 2017

ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music

OMD’s Andy McCluskey said: “Musically we are much more the sons of Düsseldorf than we are the sons of Liverpool. KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF were so much more influential on us than THE BEATLES”.

Meanwhile ULTRAVOX’s Chris Cross adds: “Personally I would have loved to have been in a band like LA DÜSSELDORF”

First published in German during the Spring of 2015, Rudi Esch’s ‘ELECTRI_CITY – Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf’ gave a fascinating insider’s account of the Germany’s influential post-war music scene which was centred around the city of Düsseldorf.

The original book spawned an English language edition ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’, two compilation albums released on Grönland Records and an annual music conference, the third of which will take place on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017.

Among those performing live will be ANNE CLARK, ROBERT GÖRL, STRÖME, ARCTIC SUNRISEELECTRONIC CIRCUS and KATJA VON KASSEL, while JONATHAN BARNBROOK will be giving a talk entitled ‘Designing Bowie’. In addition, The Electricity Club will be chairing a panel discussion with Zeus B Held and Chris Payne.

Rudi Esch came to prominence as the bassist of industrial trailblazers DIE KRUPPS whom he joined in 1988, but prior to that, he was in DIE ENGEL DES HERRN with the mercurial Klaus Dinger of NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF fame.

The book takes an unusual format in that it features a series of parabites, pieced together from over fifty exclusive interviews, to tell the story of The Düsseldorf School and its cultural significance.

This makes the text easily digestible and is certainly a preferred layout compared to the more tedious documents that have been published about musik von die Bundesrepublik over the last few years.

Interviewees include Michael Rother, Klaus Dinger, Wolfgang Flür, Daniel Miller, Paul Humphreys, Andy McCluskey, Martyn Ware, Glenn Gregory, Chris Cross, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Giorgio Moroder and Rusty Egan who gives one of the funniest quotes: “To me, the Germans made cars and rockets. Mercedes and Messerschmitt were the names I knew before KRAFTWERK”.

“Düsseldorf is the capital of electronic music” says Esch, as he gives an account of how the Düsseldorf electronic scene developed from 1970 to 1986 with acts like KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF, DER PLAN, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RIECHMANN, RHEINGOLD, PROPAGANDA, DAF and NEU!

In those early days, the choice of instrumentation was dictated by money. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben both came from affluent millionaire families, with the latter’s father a prominent architect who oversaw the redesign of the Cologne-Bonn Airport.

As expensive as synthesizers were back then, the more avant-garde types tended to prefer EMS equipment as it did not come with a keyboard, while those who liked melody opted for the Minimoog.

KRAFTWERK of course bought both! But as former member Ebehard Kranemann remembers “KRAFTWERK was not about the money, it was about the music”.

And with his Farfisa organ and its preset rhythm accompaniment, Hütter became fascinated with mechanical percussive templates and goaded their then-drummer Klaus Dinger with his proclamation that it was “the fastest drummer in the world”.

Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother were working class boys, which influenced their pursuit of a more organic approach and ultimately led to them flying the KRAFTWERK nest to form NEU! While Rother had the talent and an easy going manner, Dinger had ambition and his forthright tendencies did not win him many friends. “With Klaus, you never knew if he would give you a headbutt or an invitation to dinner…” says Wolfgang Flür, “…all in all, I didn’t like him”.

Dinger was explosive, confrontational and unpredictable. In KRAFTWERK, while Hütter and Schneider had their neon lit signs with their first names in blue, he wanted one with ‘Klaus’ in red! When Colgate offered to pay a substantial amount of money to use LA DÜSSELDORF’s hit ‘Rheinita’ in a TV advert, he declined. There was also the incident of him breaking journalist Konrad Schalensick’s nose following a negative review of their second album ‘Viva’.

The signs were there from the start, with Dinger playing rhythmic guitar alongside Rother’s melodic interplay, not satisfied with just being the drummer. So without Conny Plank to act as buffer and referee, NEU! would never have lasted for three albums. The silent partner in NEU! who recognised talent and created an atmosphere for musicians to experiment, Plank was without doubt a factor in the second side of ‘Neu! 2’ being filled with speeded up and slowed down variations of a previously issued single.

The thorny issue of KRAFTWERK’s treatment of Conny Plank is discussed in the book; “I don’t know where KRAFTWERK would be today if it wasn’t for Conny” says Hans Lampe, assistant to Plank and later to become a member of LA DÜSSELDORF.

However, Plank did accept 5000 Deutschmarks (a lot of money in 1974!) which bought him out of the co-producer credit on ‘Autobahn’ after it was licensed and edited for release by Capitol Records in America.

Another discussion point is Karl Bartos‘ contribution to KRAFTWERK as he wrote many of the melodies as ‘the kraftsman’. According to Michael Mertens of PROPAGANDA who was a conservatoire classmate: “Karl understood that to make popular music, you had to retain some degree of naivety”.

Classical music education played an important role and it appeared in the most unlikely of places. DAF’s Robert Görl had much in common with Karl Bartos and Michael Mertens, although Görl says: “Wir wollten lieber mit Maschinen arbeiten. We always preferred working with machines”.

During the post-punk period, just as Liverpool had Eric’s, Manchester had The Factory and London had The Blitz, Düsseldorf had a creative centre emerge around Die Ratinger Hof.

Affordable synths from Japan such as the Korg MS20 were a game changer for younger bands like DAF and DIE KRUPPS as they found their sound. However, there was an important distinction between synths and keyboards as Kurt Dahlke of DER PLAN and PYROLATOR explains: “I insist that I am never credited as a keyboardist on records. A keyboard player is some kind of all-round entertainer, sat at his keyboard using various presets. I insist on synthesizer”.

While KRAFTWERK were a reaction to the Americanisation of popular culture in Germany, the next generation of more forthright and aggressive acts like DIE KRUPPS and DAF were a reaction to KRAFTWERK.

Jürgen Engler mentions “I hadn’t bought a single KRAFTWERK album” while Gabi Delgado comments that “To me, KRAFTWERK were sounding too boring, too beautiful, too sedate and too sterile” and even adds “Sequencers and Moroder. That was more important for electronic music than the entire legacy of KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF”.

DAF’s preference for a militaristic aesthetic caused controversy and confused observers, but from the off, they were out to shock. They attracted a following which Gabi Delgado hated; his parents had escaped from the Fascist Franco regime in Spain. However, their early sequencer guru Chrislo Haas was less bothered and flirted with the ideology as a fashion statement.

Their manager Bob Giddens reckons “DAF kind of overdid it later on with their hyper-Germaness” and as they hit the peak of their success, Ralf Dörper reckons they disappeared in a haze of “Sex, drugs and sequencer”. Haas eventually left DAF and went on to form alternative club favourites LIAISONS DANGEREUSES in a charged partnership with Beate Bartel of MANIA D.

Of course, all this is only a small part of the story. The visionaries, technicians and eccentrics who played their part like the late Gunter Körber (A&R for Metronome and Brain Records who later founded the Sky label that issued key albums by Michael Rother and Wolfgang Riechmann), inventor Werner Lambertz and Florian Schneider’s sister Claudia also give their takes on the scene.

The book appropriately ends its coverage in 1986, when KRAFTWERK’s ‘Electric Café’ disappointed many and led to the departure of Messrs Flür, Bartos and eventually Schneider.

But fast forward to 2017 and Düsseldorf has come to terms with one of its biggest cultural exports and is now happy to celebrate the city’s influence on musicians and artists all over the world.

However, the final word has to go to the departed Klaus Dinger: “A lot of people may have helped themselves to the stuff we developed, and then made big bucks abroad. But nevertheless I’d go as far as saying: this was only ever possible in D-U-S, my home town Düsseldorf”.


‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’ is published by Omnibus Press, available via all good book and online retailers

https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch/

The ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE takes place in Düsseldorf on FRIDAY 27TH and SATURDAY 28TH OCTOBER 2017 featuring ANNE CLARK, ROBERT GÖRL, STRÖME, ARCTIC SUNRISE, ELECTRONIC CIRCUS and KATJA VON KASSEL – for further information, please visit http://www.electricity-conference.com/

Tickets available from https://www.eventbrite.de/e/electri-city-conference-2017-tickets-37245039917

https://www.facebook.com/ELECTRICITY.Conference/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th August 2017