Named after the opera by Richard Wagner, Düsseldorf’s RHEINGOLD were part of Die Neue Deutsche Welle movement which also included artists such as NENA, PETER SCHILLING and ALPHAVILLE.
Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD released three albums ‘Rheingold’, ‘R.’ and ‘Distanz’, all working with the legendary Conny Plank.
Led by Bodo Staiger, the band also featured his now-wife Brigitte Staiger on backing vocals and Lothar Manteuffel on keyboards.
Singing primarily in Deutsch, they also differed from their electronically driven contemporaries by having a more melodic vocal style and a distinctive rhythm guitar template.
Staiger starred in the 1982 West German horror film ‘Der Fan’ directed by Eckhart Schmidt which warned against the dangers of fanaticism, but RHEINGOLD never performed live so have almost become a forgotten band whenever the history of German pop is discussed.
However, the inclusion of 2010 reworkings from a ‘Best Of’ album of their domestic hits ‘Fluss’ and ‘Dreiklangdimensionen’ on the splendid ‘Electri_City 1_2’ 2CD compilation, released by Grönland Records, deservedly placed their work alongside LA DÜSSELDORF, HARMONIA, RIECHMANN, DAF, NEU! and DIE KRUPPS.
RHEINGOLD are certainly one of the most under rated acts from the German New Wave, but this year’s excellent new album ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ was a fine return after an absence of original material for many years.
Bodo Staiger kindly took time out to talk to The Electricity Club about the career of RHEINGOLD.
In 2010, you re-recorded the old hits like ‘Fluss’ and ‘Dreiklangdimension’, having also done the ‘Electric City – Düsseldorfer Schule’ 2007 covers album, so why was the time right for a brand new RHEINGOLD album?
There was a collection of about 50 songs / layouts over the last years and in 2014, I got back the lightness of playing guitars, so I felt that is the right time for a new album.
What was different about your approach to ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ compared to your debut and ‘R.’?
Compared to the 80s albums, I have learned a lot about studio work, technology and production.
So this time, I knew exactly what I wanted and how RHEINGOLD should sound today without changing the style.
You give thanks to Karl Bartos in the ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’ album credits, how was he involved?
Karl is one of my best friends, we’ve known each other for a long time and I really appreciate his musical competence. Since I started to work on the selected songs, there were many telephone calls, MP3s and comments between us. Finally he wrote the lyrics for ‘Im Lauf der Zeit’ and ‘Weisses Licht’ for the new album.
The artwork also features some nostalgic photos including ones of you and Conny Plank who was involved in all the previous RHEINGOLD albums, what was he like to work with?
The photos document my musical journey – over time – starting in 1967 with a band called HARAKIRI WHOOM with a young singer called Marius Müller-Westernhagen, who today is a big rock star here in Germany and also the band SINUS with Karl Bartos, THE LILAC ANGELS and my own project RHEINGOLD.
Referring to Conny Plank, we met in 1970 and I recorded – with Marius and Karl – my first tracks with Conny that year were at the Rhenus Studio near Cologne. To work with him was always a pleasure, he was relaxed, very competent and had the talent to listen what the artist wants. And he also brought some good ideas and inspiration. For example, the percussive synth sound on ‘Dreiklangsdimensionen’ was his idea.
Like classic RHEINGOLD, there are several great instrumentals on this new record. Was the opening track ‘Kraut’ intended as a kind of statement?
Yes, of course.
‘Sternstaub’ is very electronic compared with other RHEINGOLD tracks, what inspired this?
When I digitalized our old 24 track tapes in 2010 and I found this song on a tape of the first album from 1980. I think because of the limitation of time on the vinyls, we didn’t use it. So I kept the original recording and mixed it 2016 in for the 1st time. But I forgot what inspired me 🙂
The wonderful ‘Paradieshafen’ sounds like OMD meets Michael Rother?
I take it as a compliment.
‘Theme ‘84’ recalls LA DÜSSELDORF, is it true you gave Klaus Dinger guitar lessons? What he a compliant student?
That’s correct, musically regards to Klaus. I don’t remember the guitar lessons, but I played a lot of sessions with Klaus at his studio Im Grund here in Düsseldorf… maybe I showed him some chords or licks and tricks.
Of the songs on ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’, which ones have become your favourites and why?
I can’t answer this question.
You disliked working with drummers and preferred drum machines, were there any particular reasons for this?
Since I got the Roland CR-78 drum machine in 1979, I liked the sound, the groove and tightness of this unit. But we also worked with a drummer – on ‘Fanfanfanatisch’ and ‘Das Steht Dir Gut’ from the second album ‘R.’
RHEINGOLD did not perform as a live band; do you ever regret this?
No, RHEINGOLD was always a one man band. I never thought about performing live.
How do you feel about the renewed interest in RHEINGOLD?
Well, we enjoy it. But let’s see the result end of the year.
What were your career highlights with RHEINGOLD?
The first years – ’81 to ’84 were our good times, TV shows and films and sales.
What is next for you, either as RHEINGOLD or with your other musical interests?
First of all, we’re trying to promote the new album and keep our Rheinklang studio going.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to Bodo Staiger
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”
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.
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”.
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/
German music has been compiled before, but it has often been a hit and miss affair.
Soul Jazz Records’ lushly packaged ‘Deutsche Elektronische Musik’ sets over two volumes contained a wide range of freeform experimental works from Der Bundesrepublik, but occasionally forgot about the Trade Descriptions Act implications of its title.
Think of it as a direct journey of discovery, but with the benefit of a local tour guide as well. Issued by Grönland Records who handled the NEU! and HARMONIA remasters, the 2CD deluxe edition ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ adds the first volume that came out in 2015 alongside the original German language book.
NEU! and DAF will probably be the best known acts of those included; produced by the legendary Conny Plank, both are more than well represented on ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’. But with the proto-synthpop of ‘Isi’ and the proto-punk of ‘Hero’ from the former, alongside the electro-body controversies of ‘Der Mussolini’ and ‘Kebabträume’ from the latter, there are also many other acts who are worthy graduates of the school.
One of the most welcome inclusions is that of the under rated Neue Deutsche Welle trio RHEINGOLD. Both ‘3Klangsdimensionen’ and ‘Fluß’ are almost up there with great international crossover hits like PETER SCHILLING’s ‘Major Tom’. But often, the German language was a barrier to wider recognition and apart from DAF, most of the material gathered here does not really break the lyric bank. Those of Klaus Dinger from NEU! in particular are amusingly close to ranting gibberish, especially on the two brilliant offerings from his more synth driven combo LA DÜSSELDORF.
Missing though are KRAFTWERK; but with Ralf Hütter’s well-known defensiveness of the Kling Klang legacy, representation instead comes from former percussionist Wolfgang Flür and his autobiographical party piece ‘I Was A Robot’.
There is also a special hidden cover of ‘Ruckzuck’ from THE TECHNOCRATS, a side project of Ralf Dörper, best known as a member of PROPAGANDA and DIE KRUPPS. Anyone getting as far as even listening to this set of compilations will probably have at least one KRAFTWERK album in their collection, so their absence is not really noticed.
As Andy McCluskey put it: “Whilst KRAFTWERK cement their position in the pantheon of the museums and the books, LA DÜSSELDORF and NEU! were very important. They also did something that was beautiful and different”. Of course, British acts like OMD championed the cause of Elektronische Musik aus Düsseldorf, eventually distilling the form into synthpop and even selling it back to Das Vaterland; in acknowledgement of that, a mysterious collective called MAKROSOFT cover ‘Electricity’ in a deadpan apocalyptic fashion.
Further evidence of cultural exchange comes with the 1976 HARMONIA & ENO collaboration ‘Luneberg Heath’, the effects of which were to later have a profound effect on DAVID BOWIE’s Berlin Trilogy of ‘Low’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Lodger’. But the biggest surprise to many will be ‘Darling Don’t Leave Me’, a lost duet between DAF drummer Robert Görl and EURYTHMICS’ Annie Lennox which is a gloriously wiggly synthpop pleasure.
Diversity was one of the beauties of The Düsseldorf School Of Electronic Music and harder, edgier sounds emerged alongside more esoteric instrumental pieces. ‘Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn’ and ‘Zwei Herzen, Ein Rhythmus’ from DIE KRUPPS show how much of a debt is owed to them by the Industrial music scene.
Meanwhile LIAISONS DANGEREUSES led by Beate Bartel (MANIA D, EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN, MALARIA!) and Chrislo Haas (DAF, DER PLAN) took Teutonic precision into the underground dance clubs with hypnotic numbers like ‘Etre Assis Ou Danser’ and ‘Los Ninos Del Parque’. However, those in the hunt for something even angrier will probably appreciate the more challenging platitudes of BELFEGORE.
With ‘Flammende Herzen’, NEU! guitarist Michael Rother opened his solo account to become Germany’s answer to Mike Oldfield while on ‘Karussell’, he also proved he could sound like a one-man ULTRAVOX. A former band mate of Rother’s, RIECHMANN is undoubtedly the great lost talent of the era; the lunar synth passages of ‘Abendlicht’ and the delicate melodic schaffel of ‘Wunderbar’ showcased his potential towards the musical magnificence that was never able to be fulfilled due to his tragic passing.
Of course, a vibrant art scene centred around Düsseldorf and provided a sympathetic environment for many to flourish. DER PLAN, TEJA and DIE LEMMINGE are good examples of that more experimental approach. PYROLATOR’s ‘Max’ in particular comes over like a Rhein-Ruhr version of THE NORMAL while ‘Mustafa’ by TOPOLINOS, a pre-PROPAGANDA girl group featuring Claudia Brücken and Susanne Freytag, is a jaunty, enjoyable piece of Middle Eastern flavoured avant pop that was not really a true indicator of what was to come.
All-in-all, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ is as Rudi Esch puts it “an intelligent and sophisticated roller coaster ride through one of the most integral chapters of recent German music history”. A fine collection of cathartic expressionism, the 29 tracks on offer provide a fine entry point into a fascinating post-war attitude that resulted in a highly influential musical aesthetic.
01 LA DÜSSELDORF Düsseldorf
02 RIECHMANN Wunderbar
03 HARMONIA & ENO Luneburg Heath
04 DER PLAN Wir Werden Immer Mehr
05 DAF Der Mussolini
06 NEU! Hero
07 TEJA Säuren Ätzen
08 DIE KRUPPS Wahre Arbeit Wahrer Lohn
09 LIAISONS DANGEREUSES Los Ninos Del Parque
10 WOLFGANG FLÜR I Was A Robot
11 RHEINGOLD 3Klangsdimensionen 2010
12 MICHAEL ROTHER Flammende Herzen
13 MAKROSOFT Electricity
01 RIECHMANN Abendlicht
02 NEU! Isi
03 RHEINGOLD Fluss
04 ROBERT GÖRL featuring ANNIE LENNOX Darling Don’t Leave Me
05 DIE KRUPPS Zwei Herzen, Ein Rhythmus
06 TEJA SCHMITZ Studieren
07 DAF Kebabträume
08 PYROLATOR Max
09 LA DÜSSELDORF La Düsseldorf
10 BELFEGORE Mensch Oder Gott
11 DER PLAN Gummitwist
12 LIAISONS DANGEREUSES Etre Assis Ou Danser
13 TOPOLINOS Mustafa
14 DIE LEMMINGE Himmel
15 MICHAEL ROTHER Karussell
16 THE TECHNOCRATS Ruckzuck (Hidden Track)
‘ELECTRI_CITY 1_2’ is released by Grönland Records as a deluxe 2CD edition. Each compendium is also available separately as a CD, double vinyl LP and download
Book launch events featuring Q&A sessions with Rudi Esch and special guests to be announced include: London Rough Trade East (10th September), Brighton Hotel Pelirocco (11th September), Liverpool Cavern (9th November), Birmingham and Midland Institute (12th November), Manchester Palace Hotel (13th November)
It was at Conny’s Studio just outside of Cologne that a number of landmark recordings were completed, notably KRAFTWERK’s ‘Autobahn’ and ULTRAVOX’s ‘Vienna’.
The studio was the operational centre of engineer and producer Konrad Plank whose innovative portfolio covered a wide spectrum of music.
An advocate in the possibilities of electronics, he said: “I like synthesizers when they sound like synthesizers and not like instruments. Using a drum machine for electronic music is okay, but not if you try to make it sound like a real drummer”
CONNY PLANK’s work with pioneering German experimental acts such as KRAFTWERK, CLUSTER and NEU! had a strong influence on David Bowie and Brian Eno, and thus ultimately every act that emerged from Synth Britannia.
Using a customised mixing desk, Plank favoured a dynamic production ethos that went against the grain of the compressed rock recording of the times. His influence was quite evident when ULTRAVOX worked with George Martin on the ‘Quartet’ album in 1982; compared to their Plank produced Cologne Trilogy of ‘Systems Of Romance’, ‘Vienna’ and ‘Rage In Eden’, ‘Quartet’ sounded thin and lacked density. But as history has shown, a producer can only achieve so much when the artists themselves are not delivering and even Plank’s involvement in ULTRAVOX’s lamentable ‘U-Vox’ album could not save it.
Plank’s key to getting the best out of his work was to enjoy the company of the acts he worked with. This was a particularly important requisite when trapped inside a countryside complex away from the social distractions of a city.
When Plank was booked by Daniel Miller for a four day session to record DAF’s first full-length album ‘Die Kleinen Und Die Bösen’, only the final day involved any actual recording as he had spent the first three days getting to know them; the relationship with DAF continued for a further three albums. However, legend has it that after being introduced to U2 by Brian Eno with the view to producing ‘The Joshua Tree’, Plank turned down the job declaring: “I cannot work with this singer!”
As well as studio work, Plank was also an active musician. It was while touring South America with CLUSTER’s Dieter Moebius that Plank fell ill; he sadly passed away in December 1987 at the age of 46.
CONNY PLANK leaves an important musical legacy. The Electricity Club looks back at twenty of his works, with a restriction of one track per album project…
ASH RA TEMPEL Traummaschine (1971)
ASH RA TEMPEL were a highly important Kosmiche band; it was the platform from which future electronic exponents Manuel Göttsching and Klaus Schulze emerged; they later found acclaim with their respective progressive opuses ‘E2-E4’ and ‘Mirage’. Plank engineered their very different debut album, seeded from sessions of free-form improvising. With just one track per side of vinyl, the building eerie atmospheres of ‘Traummaschine’ contrasted with the noisier rock of ‘Amboss’.
Having engineered KRAFTWERK’s first two albums and the earlier ORGANISATION ‘Tone Float’ long player, Conny Plank helped Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider’s shift towards synthesizers on their third long player. A Minimoog and an EMS AKS appeared, but a Farfisa electric piano and a preset rhythm unit were the dominant textures of ‘Tanzmusik’. Things were becoming more structured and with the abstract use of vocals, ‘Ralf & Florian’ were heading closer to the sound that would change popular music.
Originally on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Ralf & Florian’ via Philips Records, currently unavailable
Plank acted as mediator between the NEU! nucleus of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger who each had quite different personalities and aspirations. Over a classic Motorik beat, ‘Für Immer’ featured carefully layered mini-cacophonies of sound. Indeed, so much studio time was spent on the track, the duo ran out of budget. In a fit of madness or genius, Dinger came up with the idea to fill the second half of the album with speeded up and slowed down versions of their previously released single ‘Super’!
Available on the NEU! album ‘Neu! 2’ via Grönland Records
Under Plank’s stewardship, ‘Autobahn’ was KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough release as their transition into electronic pop. Ralf Hütter’s octave shifting Minimoog formed the rhythm backbone alongside a futuristic electronic snap, while Florian Schneider’s ARP Odyssey took the melodic lead over a 22 minute car journey. But with Hütter and Schneider growing increasingly confident, the parent album was to be their last recording with Plank. The rest is history…
Available on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Autobahn’ via EMI Music
Unable to recreate NEU! live as a duo, Rother headed to Forst to meet with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of CLUSTER to discuss the possibility of collaborating to augment their sound. While their debut ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ was recorded as a trio, for the follow-up ‘Deluxe’, they added vocals, a drummer in Mani Neumeier of GURU GURU and Plank to assist with production. The wonderful synth work on the title track signalled a melodic sensibility that was equal to that of KRAFTWERK.
Available on the album ‘Deluxe’ via Grönland Records
Plank’s long association with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius began in 1969 when he engineered their debut album ‘Klopfzeichen’ as KLUSTER. Their fourth album ‘Sowiesoso’ was CLUSTER’s first fully realised exploration into ambient electronics. With gentle melodic phrasing and unimposing rhythmical patterns, the title track was a wonderfully hypnotic adventure that welcomed the listener into the soothing world of the long player’s remaining aural delights.
Available on the CLUSTER album ‘Sowiesoso’ via Bureau B
The third NEU! album saw a two styled approach with the second side featuring a frustrated Klaus Dinger looking to seek the limelight. He finally got what he wanted in LA DÜSSELDORF. With his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe as percussionists, he headed down a more aggressive direction on their debut self-titled LP produced by Plank. There was a lot of Düsseldorf as the frantic tracks ‘Düsseldorf ’and ‘La Düsseldorf’ proved, but ‘Time’ was the epic lengthy album closer that built to a brooding climax.
Rother’s first three solo albums ‘Flammende Herzen’, ‘Sterntaler’ and ‘Katzenmusik’, were produced by Plank and featured CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums. “It would be unfair really to have a favourite album” said Rother when TEC asked if he had a preference, “Of course, I try to highlight Conny Plank’s contribution, he was so valuable… we wouldn’t have been able to record NEU! or the second HARMONIA album or my solo albums without Conny, so he’s all over the place in my music… thank you Conny”.
Originating from his sessions with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius in Forst for HARMONIA 76, Eno produced this beautiful piano and synth ballad at Conny’s Studio with Plank at the engineering controls for inclusion on his fourth pop solo album ‘Before & After Science’. The warmth extracted from the Yamaha CS80 used was one of the key stand-out elements of ‘By This River’, which was later covered by DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore for his ‘Counterfeit 2’ solo album.
With the success of their earlier ‘Eno & Cluster’ ambient opus, the artful threesome gathered together again, but added voices and more experimentation for its follow-up ‘After The Heat’. With Plank again behind the desk, the textures on the unorthodox ‘Broken Head’ recalled some of Eno’s work with Bowie on ‘Heroes’ in particular, while the deep monotone vocals were a offset by some oddly noted piano accompaniment and an unorthodox rhythmic template.
The first phase of ULTRAVOX! was dominated by the songwriting of John Foxx, but ‘Slow Motion’ was a group effort. Decamping to Conny’s Studio, the intro and theme were composed by bassist Chris Cross on his newly acquired EMS AKS. The quintet locked together as never before, with Billy Currie’s ARP Odyssey playing off Robin Simon’s treated guitars almost as one behind Warren Cann’s powerful, syncopating drums. Sadly, this breakthrough was not to last…
Dieter Moebius and Conny Plank released their first collaborative effort, the reggae influenced ‘Rastakraut Pasta’ in 1979. For the second album ‘Material’, a more rigid beat was applied, as well as driving synthesizer rhythms. ‘Tollkühn’ was a mightily pulsing electronic workout that more than suited the title’s English translation of ‘Daredevil’. Full of phasing effects with the odd cymbal interjection, it now stands out as ahead of its time in the context of 1981. Moebius sadly passed away in 2015.
Available on the MOEBIUS & PLANK album ‘Material’ via Bureau B
By 1981, Holger Czukay was at the zenith of his Dali-inspired surrealist sound painting, having released ‘Movies’ in 1979. Following their LES VAMPYRETTES collaboration in 1980, Plank contributed ‘Witches’ Multiplication Table’ to ‘On the Way To The Peak of Normal’, the second solo album by the CAN bassist. With Czukay providing an oddball monologue over a dub backbone, Plank added cemetry synthesizer violin alongside bursts of French horn; “Craziness is something holy” he later said.
PHEW! was formally a member of psychedelic rock combo AUNT SALLY and her first solo single ‘Shukyoku’ was produced Ryuichi Sakamoto in 1980. Produced by Plank, Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, ‘Signal’ was the experimental Japanese singer’s take on Neue Deutsche Welle with distant echoes of Berlin noise merchants MALARIA! looming. Driven by hypnotic bass synths and punky guitar, it was unsurprisingly tense and darkly rhythmic.
Available on the PHEW! album ‘Phew!’ via Pass Records
With blue eyed soul hits like ‘Would I Lie To You?’, ‘Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves’ and ‘Thorn In My Side’, it’s unusual in hindsight to understand that Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart were actually interested in rhythmic electronic music from Europe, hence their name. When the pair left THE TOURISTS, one of the first to lend support for their new aspirations was Conny Plank. ‘Never Gonna Cry Again’ with its doubled synth and flute solo was the first song released from their production partnership.
So happy was Plank with working with Warren Cann, Chris Cross and Billy Currie on ‘Systems On Romance’ that when Midge Ure joined following the departure of John Foxx, he offered to finance the recording of a new ULTRAVOX album. The reconfigured quartet signed to Chrysalis and delivered the hit album ‘Vienna’. Produced in Conny’s Studio for the follow-up ‘Rage In Eden’, ‘The Thin Wall’ densely merged synthesizers, guitar, piano, violin and Linn Drum for a formidable yet under rated hit single.
Gabi Delgado-López and Robert Görl had worked with Plank since 1979 and with his assistance, DAF had reduced to a minimal electro body core of Görl’s tight drumming and synth programming driven by a Korg SQ-10 analogue sequencer to accompany Delgado-López’s shouty, aggressive vocals. As with a previous Plank production ‘Der Mussolini’, DAF again courted controversy on ‘Kebab Träume’ with the provocative line “Deutschland! Deutschland! Alles ist vorbei!”
Available on the DAF album ‘Für Immer’ via Mute Records
Mani Neumeier was best known as the percussionist and singer of GURU GURU, the psychedelic jazz combo from Heidelberg who recorded three albums with Plank. Joining him and Moebius for a one-off long player ‘Zero Set’, Neumeier’s presence was felt heavily on ‘Speed Display’, a mad hyperactive collage of drums, bubbling electronics and treated robotic vocals that did exactly what it said on the tin! The drumming was so tight that some have highlighted it as an example of proto-techno!
Available on the MOEBIUS PLANK NEUMEIER album ‘Zero Set’ via Bureau B
‘Marcia Baïla’ was LES RITA MITSOUKO’s tribute to their late friend, Argentinian dancer Marcia Moretto. With Plank at the production helm, a squelchy backing track with enough space for Catherine Ringer’s strident theatrics was honed for a wonderful celebration of life. It was subsequently covered by Ricky Martin in 1998. LES RITA MITSOUKO went on to become very popular in France, collaborating with SPARKS in 1990. Fred Chichin, the other half of the duo, sadly passed away in 2007.
Available on the LES RITA MITSOUKO album ‘Rita Mitsouko’ via Sony Music
The Italian singer / songwriter unusually had something in common with NITZER EBB’s Douglas J McCarthy in that she too had a relative who was a F1 driver; in her case it was her brother, one-time Grand Prix winner Alessandro. Plank started working with Nannini in 1982 at a time when he was still regarded as a more artistically minded producer, rather than one who delivered pop hits. ‘Bello E Impossibile’ was a huge hit in her homeland, but also in Switzerland, Austria and West Germany.
Available on the GIANNA NANNINI album ‘Profumo’ via Dischi Ricordi
“Düsseldorf is the capital of electronic music” – that is the quintessence of the acclaimed German language book ‘ELECTRI_CITY – Elektronische_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf’.
In it, Rudi Esch gives an eyewitness account of how the Düsseldorf electronic scene developed from 1970 to 1986 and spawned acts like LA DÜSSELDORF, DIE KRUPPS, DER PLAN, LIAISONS DANGEREUSES, RIECHMANN, RHEINGOLD, PROPAGANDA, DAF, KRAFTWERK and NEU! To tie in with the book, Düsseldorf paid homage to its electronic music history with the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE, a three day event of lectures, discussions and live music.
An impressive line-up was assembled and read like a ‘Who’s Who?’ of electronic music, with figures such as Gabi Delgado, Ralf Dörper, Rusty Egan, Harald Grosskopf, Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, Mark Reeder and Michael Rother all participating in various talks and discussions.
Known for his love of German music, OMD’s Andy McCluskey was interviewed by Rudi Esch for ‘ELECTRI_CITY – Elektronische_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf’ to give his viewpoint on why die Düsseldorf Schule made such an impression on him as a teenager in The Wirral.
Discussing a variety of records which Esch had brought along from his own personal collection, the pair indulged in some light hearted, but fanboy friendly banter…
Rudi: KRAFTWERK were something radical and new when they first appeared in the UK in 1975. What was the impression you had when you saw them at Liverpool Empire?
Andy: I was wearing my trenchcoat, long scarf, flared jeans and afro, and they walked out on stage in suits and ties… it was incredible. I’m on record as remembering it was September 11th and seat Q36.
I remember it because it was the first day of the rest of my life! It was also the front row of the cheaper seats! This was something I had never seen and it was forty years ago! The amazing thing is, KRAFTWERK are still, NOW, more futuristic on stage than 99% of bands!
Rudi: Yes, it was so different at this time, to cut your hair and buy a suit…
Andy: … although it took Wolfgang Flür a long time to cut his hair, he had it longer for while than the rest of them *laughs*
Rudi: Yes, especially on the inside cover of ‘Radio-Activity’…
Andy: And his moustache lasted a bit too long *laughs*
Rudi: Wolfgang says that was his D’Artagnan look!
Andy: Yes, I can see that. I’m not gay but he was a sexy man, he was the Elvis of electronic music and still is!
Rudi: We often talk about the music, but let’s talk about the artwork of NEU!
Andy: I know Rusty Egan said the artwork didn’t really impress him but if you look at that, it is more contemporary now that if they had done something modernist or constructivist back in the 70s.
Rudi: The original cover to ‘Autobahn’ in the UK was very graphic…
Andy: But the cover I had was like a painting of a car going down the autobahn. That fantastic blue sleeve with the minimal sign image influenced Peter Saville.
Rudi: So you bought the German import?
Andy: That’s what I did! I would go to the shop on Saturday in Liverpool and go to the ‘German’ section and just see what they had that they didn’t have last week. If there was something there, it was the most exciting day of the week, and if there wasn’t, it would be like “NO! I’ve got nothing to listen to this weekend that’s new!”
Rudi: How did you discover LA DÜSSELDORF?
Andy: John Peel introduced me to LA DÜSSELDORF… I was sat in bed, but still had the radio on. On came this track and I was like “what the hell is that?”… so I’ve got ‘Silver Cloud’ minus the first fifteen seconds recorded on a cassette! It was incredible, but I didn’t realise that LA DÜSSELDORF were Klaus Dinger’s band after NEU! although when I spoke to Michael Rother, he dismissed LA DÜSSELDORF as pop! *laughs*
I was still kind of in the dark. You could buy these records, but nobody was writing about them in the press and there was no internet. So I would like the sleeve and then buy it to hear what it sounded like. People always talk to us about KRAFTWERK, and obviously, they were hugely important. But there was another element from Düsseldorf that influenced us, and that was the organic side which was firstly NEU! and then LA DÜSSELDORF and Michael Rother’s solo records.
Rudi: But KRAFTWERK made a bigger overall impression?
Andy: KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’ is probably to this day, the album that influenced Paul Humphreys and I so much. It taught us you could make music with anything you wanted, because we had nothing.
They were definitely being the future, while dressed like the past. It’s interesting that to try not to look rock ‘n’ roll, the only place they could go was backwards with their look… it’s timeless really. They were trying not to be Anglo-American rock cliché and they achieved it. That for me was the exciting thing. When I was a teenager, I was looking for something different.
I became friends with Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos in the 90s, and was invited to Wolfgang’s flat for dinner; on the wall was a gold record for ‘Radio-Activity’ which was a hit single in France. I was telling them that ‘Radio-Activity’ was the song that most influenced OMD and told them ‘Electricity’ was just an English punk version of ‘Radio-Activity’. They replied “Yes, we know!”… it was that obvious! *laughs*
It’s like many teenagers now are frightened of the future and want to conform, but everything about me and people I knew were searching for something different. So when I found KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF, it was absolutely NOT the rock ‘n’ roll cliché that I was bored of.
Rudi: Although Wolfgang has a past in a beat band called THE BEATHOVENS…
Andy: But what people think of now as super distilled minimalism, the early records, you could see how KRAFTWERK came out of the more freeform, jazz music from playing with other people in Germany. But they slowly distilled their own style and sound, and moved away from that organic sound which was amazing, but also meant that we couldn’t go with them on that journey because we were kids with no money, so there was no point trying to be KRAFTWERK. So we just tried to do our thing, this strange hybrid of their ideas, emotional music and completely unconsciously, probably glam rock which we were watching when we were twelve.
Rudi: Musically, you did something unique with OMD because you did not use entirely electronic instruments and musically, I think you are closer to LA DÜSSELDORF?
Andy: Ralf Hütter is very busy curating the legacy of KRAFTWERK… that’s fine because they are the most important influential band from the last forty years in the history of pop music, they changed the world.
It is great that the city of Düsseldorf has woken up to the fact that KRAFTWERK and other musicians changed the world and cherishing them. Whilst KRAFTWERK cement their position in the pantheon of the museums and the books, LA DÜSSELDORF and NEU! were very important. They also did something that was beautiful and different. And OMD unconsciously were combining the two, the electronic sound with the organic…
Rudi: Talking about NEU! They were not an electronic band and there are no electronic sounds of that first record…
Andy: No, it was LA DÜSSELDORF where Klaus Dinger started to add some keyboards and got pop *laughs*
Rudi: With LA DÜSSELDORF and their songs like ‘Düsseldorf’ and ‘La Düsseldorf’, there’s a lot of Düsseldorf for one band…
Andy: Thinking about LA DÜSSELDORF and NEU! – the biggest loss to the scene is Klaus Dinger.
Rudi: Yes, after his death, people were talking about the Motorik beat and how great NEU! were… even Michael Rother said before 2004, nobody cared about NEU! but now he can make a living again from the legacy of these old records…
Andy: It’s great that people are thinking about NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF, they should be up there with KRAFTWERK.
Rudi: People said Klaus Dinger was a difficult guy and not easy to get along with…
Andy: It’s the Van Gogh thing… you have to bloody die before people think you’re a genius!
Rudi: To me in Dusseldorf, there were like two generations, so the people in the 70s had the money to buy synthesizers and make music like LA DÜSSELDORF, and then from 1979, there was the second generation like DAF, DER PLAN and DIE KRUPPS who were in punk bands, but then got new technology like sequencers and used them in a punk rock way…
Andy: The early synth bands had the mentality of punk, but instead of playing one chord, they used one finger. To use technology was a much more interesting thing to do than just punk.
Rudi: My favourite KRAFTWERK song is ‘Showroom Dummies’, I like it because it goes on endlessly and more hypnotic, especially with the drums…
Andy: One of the things about KRAFTWERK is the drums are so tight and the sound is so rigid and hard. It was a drum sound that was completely new and alien. When OMD initially went into the studio, Paul Humphreys made an electronic kit, but it never worked very well.
So when we recorded, we had to use a real drum kit but we were so desperate to get that tight, really punchy sound, we didn’t want our drummer Malcolm Holmes to play the whole kit and have all that splashy ambient nonsense… so we made poor Malcolm play each drum individually, one at a time… that was our concession to be as tight and hard as KRAFTWERK.
So he had to put down four minutes of bass drum, then four minutes of snare, four minutes of hi-hat, but NO cymbals were allowed… that was far too rock ‘n’ roll! It led to some interesting moments because he screwed up the fill at the end of the middle eight of ‘Enola Gay’, playing it on the three, not the four!
Rudi: Do you have the luminous 12 inch of ‘Neon Lights’?
Andy: I have them all, but I don’t have a vinyl deck. ‘Neon Lights’ is possibly one of the nearest times KRAFTWERK came to combining the machine rhythm and the organic melancholic melody with vocals. It’s the closest Hütter gets to really singing, he’s not singing staccato.
And that song is, after ‘Europe Endless’, my favourite song by KRAFTWERK of all time, precisely because it has that amazing juxtaposition of the contrast of the hard machinery and the beautiful melancholic melody; it makes it more romantic, because they shouldn’t fit together.
Rudi: Why didn’t you sing on OMD’s cover of ‘Neon Lights’ on ‘Sugar Tax’?
Andy: That was originally for a single that didn’t come out which I’d produced for a girl named Christine Mellor. I really liked it and wanted people to hear it. But in hindsight, it was a mistake and I should have sung it with maybe just her on the middle eight.
Rudi: KRAFTWERK have a concept and they stick to it, but don’t talk about their records…
Andy: The one thing I could not be, is that focussed, rigid and precise. I can’t stay in the intellectual moment. I like the intellectual pre-concept, but I get carried away in the emotion of it, so when I go on stage, I just lose all control… it’s a shameless madness. I just can’t stay still, I dance like a lunatic and I don’t care!
The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Rudi Esch and Andy McCluskey