Tag: Harmonia (Page 1 of 2)

MOOD TAEG Exophora

MOOD TAEG are a detached combo split between Düsseldorf and Shanghai.

From the likes of CAN, CLUSTER, NEU! and HARMONIA to more recent exponents of the form like CAVERN OF ANTI-MATTER and IMMERSION, MOOD TAEG follow in the tradition of instrumental kosmische experimentation.

Just like those records of cosmic yore, their debut album ‘Exophora’ on Happy Robots Records comprises of five lengthy tracks exploring the rhythmic hypnotism of Apache beats, half speed guitar and expansive electronic soundscaping.

With a heart that is both analogue and metronomic, over the course of just under ten minutes, the mantic opening number ‘2MR’ pays respectful homage to ‘Hallo Gallo’ from the first NEU! album. Running at just six minutes, ‘Deictics’ adds a synthy rumble to proceedings with schizophrenic voices before a bass guitar run morphs in, adding to the mind bending trance laden effect.

The frantically motorik ‘Corpora’ comes closest to being a pop tune despite the gargoyle grumblings and glistens with a cristallo shine that has pulsing electronic keys acting as a melodic engine room as well as a rhythmic one.

‘Interrogative’ displays an affinity with HARMONIA using a offbeat and a psychedelic vibe, but ‘Mood Block’ changes tact with a delightful rhythm unit on a speedy Schaffel setting while Mellotron derived pipe passages add a blurry haze to the spacey cocoon of bleepy sound.

This music is not wholly avant garde, so if a blended cacophony of drifting textures and occasional melody over some tightly rigid rhythm construction appeals, then ‘Exophora’ will satisfy the ears and minds of many kosmische enthusiasts, sitting nicely not far from the most recent FUJIYA & MIYAGI.

‘Exophora’ is released by Happy Robots Records on 22nd May 2020 in vinyl LP and digital formats, available from https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/exophora




Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th May 2020


DAS BLAUE PALAIS is the project of Düsseldorf based music veteran and Bellerophon Records co-founder Jochen Oberlack.

His aim was “to mash up Elektronische Musik and Krautrock – but straight from the view out of 2015, just to create a hybrid somewhere between HARMONIA, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF!”

Competent in guitar and drums, synthesizers, VSTs and antique drum computers were also brought into the mix by Oberlack to help accomplish his dream.

Co-produced by Mathias Black, the right hand man of Karl Bartos for ten years and engineer Rudy Kronenberger, ‘Welt Am Draht’ is an impressive attempt at relighting the past musical spirit of Die Bundesrepublik.

Now finally available in 2016, the album’s intent is signalled with the opening track ‘Oberbilk 80’, an optimistic and musically anthemic slice of space rock with guitars, drums and synths in equal measure. ‘Gegen Licht’ is classic Kosmische Musik in the vein of NEU! guitarist Michael Rother with the minimal six string chimes paying a respectful homage to the former KRAFTWERK member.

But things go off-piste slightly with ‘Himmels Geister’ which surprisingly takes on blues scales and comes across like Chris Rea, especially in Oberlack’s vocal delivery; it could be playfully subtitled “Die Straße zur Hölle”! Regardless though, it’s a likeable guilty pleasure.

Things get back on track with the instrumental ‘Silberwald’ and its echoes of Klaus Dinger’s LA DÜSSELDORFBut it is not, as might be expected, a tribute to ‘Silver Cloud’ but to the eponymous theme song from LA DÜSSELDORF’s debut long player, only with more synths and at a less frantic speed.

The robotised title track returns to the melodic solo excursions of Michael Rother but adds a more energetic pace to the symphonic backing, before the Motorik driven ‘Zeitfeld’. This one recalls the cosmic vibes of ‘Für Immer’ from ‘Neu! 2’ and via its half speed guitar motif, provides the most retrospective moment on the collection. Finishing with the more sedate ‘Blauer Regen’, the tune is less homage and more blau, recalling British acts like OMD and ULTRAVOX whose influences were seeded from neu musik forms,

“It feels like ‘coming back to Düsseldorf’ for me” concludes Oberlack about ‘Welt Am Draht’ and certainly, his sonic adventures provide an entertaining and accessible modern twist to a highly regarded cult music form. It is certainly could be subtitled “Schöne Grüsse aus Düsseldorf”.

‘Welt Am Draht’ is released by Bellerphon Records as a vinyl LP+CD set and download, available from https://bellerophonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/welt-am-draht



Text by Chi Ming Lai
28th September 2016


Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf

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. Released to coincide with ‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’, the English translation of the acclaimed book by Rudi Esch about the city’s music heritage, ‘ELECTRI_CITY 2’ gathers together the more accessible elements of Deutsche Elektronische Musik, Kosmische and Neue Deutsche Welle.

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
11 RHEINGOLD 3Klangsdimensionen 2010
12 MICHAEL ROTHER Flammende Herzen
13 MAKROSOFT Electricity

01 RIECHMANN Abendlicht
02 NEU! Isi
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
09 LA DÜSSELDORF La Düsseldorf
10 BELFEGORE Mensch Oder Gott
11 DER PLAN Gummitwist
13 TOPOLINOS Mustafa
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


ELECTRI_CITY The Dusseldorf School Of Electronic Music‘ELECTRI_CITY – The Düsseldorf School of Electronic Music’ by Rudi Esch is published by Omnibus Press on 26th August 2016.

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)

Please check https://www.facebook.com/Electri.city.Esch/ for details

This year’s ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE takes place at Düsseldorf CCD on 14th – 15th October 2016



Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th August 2016, updated 1st July 2017

A Beginner’s Guide To CONNY PLANK

It was at Conny’s Studio near 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. Using a customised mixing desk, Plank favoured a dynamic production ethos that went against the grain of the compressed rock recording of the times. 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; John Foxx considers Plank to be the most important record producer since George Martin.

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, so here is a look 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, the building eerie atmospheres of ‘Traummaschine’ contrasted with the noisier rock of ‘Amboss’.

Available on the ASH RA TEMPEL album ‘Ash Ra Tempel’ via SMGO Art


KRAFTWERK Tanzmusik (1973)

Having engineered KRAFTWERK’s first two albums and the earlier ORGANISATION ‘Tone Float’ long player, 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 more structured and with the abstract use of vocals, ‘Ralf & Florian’ were heading closer to the sound that would change pop music.

Originally on the KRAFTWERK album ‘Ralf & Florian’ via Philips Records, currently unavailable


NEU! Für Immer (1973)

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 single ‘Super’!

Available on the NEU! album ‘Neu! 2’ via Grönland Records


KRAFTWERK Autobahn (1974)

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


HARMONIA Deluxe (1975)

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 augmenting 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


CLUSTER Sowiesoso (1976)

Plank’s long association with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius began in 1969 when he engineered their debut ‘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 frustrated Klaus Dinger looking to seek the limelight. He 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 closer that built to a brooding climax.

Available LA DÜSSELDORF album ‘La Düsseldorf’ via WEA


MICHAEL ROTHER Flammende Herzen (1977)

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 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”.

Available on the MICHAEL ROTHER album ‘Flammende Herzen’ via Random Records


BRIAN ENO By This River (1977)

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 Martin Gore for his ‘Counterfeit 2’ solo album.

Available on the BRIAN ENO album ‘Before & After Science’ via Virgin Records



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.

Available on the ENO MOEBIUS ROEDELIUS album ‘After The Heat’ via Bureau B


ULTRAVOX! Slow Motion (1978)

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…

Available on the ULTRAVOX! album ‘Systems Of Romance’ via Island Records


MOEBIUS & PLANK Tollkühn (1981)

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.

Available on the MOEBIUS & PLANK album ‘Material’ via Bureau B


HOLGER CZUKAY Witches’ Multiplication Table (1981)

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, Plank contributed ‘Witches’ Multiplication Table’ to ‘On the Way To The Peak of Normal’, the second 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.

Available on the album ‘On The Way To The Peak of Normal’ via Grönland Records ‎


PHEW! Signal (1981)

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


EURYTHMICS Never Gonna Cry Again (1981)

With 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 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.

Available on the EURYTHMICS album ‘In The Garden’ via Sony BMG


ULTRAVOX The Thin Wall (1981)

So happy was Plank with working with Warren Cann, Chris Cross and Billy Currie on ‘Systems On Romance’ that when Midge Ure joined, 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.

Available on the ULTRAVOX album ‘Rage In Eden’ via EMI Records


DAF Kebab Träume (1982)

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 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 is 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 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


LES RITA MITSOUKO Marcia Baïla (1985)

‘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


GIANNA NANNINI Bello E Impossibile (1986)

The Italian singer / songwriter 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 all over Europe.

Available on the GIANNA NANNINI album ‘Profumo’ via Dischi Ricordi


Dedicated to the memory of Conny Plank 1940 –1987

The 4CD box set ‘Who’s That Man: A Tribute To Conny Plank’ is available via Grönland Records ‎



Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th August 2016


Dance To The Future…

 Düsseldorf paid homage to its electronic music history with a three day event of lectures, discussions and live music.

The ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE celebrated the work of pioneers like KRAFTWERK, DAF, RIECHMANN, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF, as well as reflecting the city’s worldwide influence on bands such as NEW ORDER, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, DEPECHE MODE, CABARET VOLTAIRE, VISAGE and OMD.

A year in the planning, organisers Rudi Esch and Carsten Siewert assembled an impressive line-up of artists, musicians and academics which read like a ‘Who’s Who?’ of electronic music.

Daniel Miller-Carsten SiewertIt included names such as Benge, Gabi Delgado, Ralf Dörper, Rusty Egan, Harald Grosskopf, Peter Hook, Stephen Mallinder, Andy McCluskey, Daniel Miller, Mark Reeder, Michael Rother and Martyn Ware.

Also present was Dr Uwe Schütte, whose academic conference ‘Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty First Century – Kraftwerk & the Birth of Electronic Music in Germany’ at Aston University helped inspire the seeting up of the event.

While there have been numerous books about Germany and in particular KRAFTWERK, few have been written by people who were actually there at the time. Esch’s own book ‘Electri_City: Elektronische Musik aus Düsseldorf’ was published in 2014 and provided a much needed eyewitness account.

It fully related the Cold War tensions within Der Bundesrepublik that inspired many young Germans into pursuing adventures in art, music and cinema as a matter of self-expression and cultural identity.

The book’s success in Germany provided much of the impetus and momentum to curate this lavish gathering of kindred spirits. The first of the special guests taking part was Peter Hook who talked to Rob Keane about German influences on the UK’s post-punk scene and in particular, JOY DIVISION.

It was Ian Curtis who first introduced the others to KRAFTWERK. After the charismatic vocalist’s passing, the surviving band members became NEW ORDER and as they became more electronic, they acquired five Prophet 5s costing £2000 each.

This had only been made possible by the posthumous success of JOY DIVISION.

“God bless him, Ian… without him, we wouldn’t have been able to afford these machines to make electronic music…” Hooky said, “what happened in NEW ORDER was as the technology developed, it enabled you to buy the machines that KRAFTWERK were using. I’d love to watch them do something, I really would. Because for all the coverage you get of KRAFTWERK, you never actually know HOW they did it!”

But despite KRAFTWERK being the pioneers of electronic music, Ralf and Florian had been so impressed by ‘Blue Monday’, they arranged to meet its engineer Michael Johnson at Britannia Row Studios where it was recorded. “They wanted to book into the studio we used…” remembered Hooky, “and they wanted to use our engineer, because they wanted their next record to sound like ‘Blue Monday’, which is most ironic because we spent years trying to sound like them!”

KRAFTWERK had a look round Britannia Row but unimpressed with the old fashioned, faded grandeur of the studio, they cancelled the session. “I took that as quite a compliment” quipped the Salford Bass Viking playfully.

Hooky also reminisced about how he was very impressed by fellow Mancunian Mark Reeder’s mastery of speaking German while on JOY DIVISION’s only visit to Berlin in 1980.

But when he asked how Reeder had become fluent so quickly, the then Factory Records representative in Germany answered: “you can learn any language when you’re starving!”

Mark Reeder himself formed part of panel discussion on the German impact of the Düsseldorf Schule to give his ‘Englishman in Berlin’ point of view. As the man often credited with introducing Italo disco to NEW ORDER, Reeder’s recent film ‘B-Movie – Lust & Sound In West Berlin 1979-1989’ captured the spirit of the divided city and highlighted how a similar document about Düsseldorf would now be quite timely.

The ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE was not just about lectures and talks, but about live music too. Cologne’s EMOTIKON opened proceedings with some incongruous generic pop funk, so it was a welcome relief when HEAVEN 17 took to the stage at Zakk for the sold-out show.

Headlining their first ever concert in the German art capital, HEAVEN 17 gave one of their now famous electronically focussed sets which also featured material that had spawned from THE HUMAN LEAGUE Mk1 when Martyn Ware was a member.

Inviting him to join the band, Phil Oakey remembered how Ware turned up at his house with ‘Trans-Europe Express’ under his arm and told him “Look, we can do this!”. The song that best summed up the occasion was ‘I’m Your Money’, a synthetic train ride with multi-lingual business phrases that captured the essence of a European Union.

To follow a fine performance from HEAVEN 17, Daniel Miller’s aftershow DJ set reflected his influences and subsequent signings for Mute Records to conclude an excellent first day.

With a packed second day, Friday’s numerous academic and theoretical proceedings were concluded with a Krautrock discussion in German by a panel of veteran musicians that included one-time ASHRA member Harald Grosskopf, Michael Rother from NEU! and WALLENSTEIN’s Jürgen Dollase.

Whereas Germany has usually been associated with purer forms of electronic music, its kosmische outlook has influenced many rock and alternative bands too.

However, Dollase’s continual ranting about the joys of LSD proved tiresome and was exemplary evidence to children as to why they shouldn’t do drugs!

The panel was later opened up to questions from the audience so ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took the opportunity to ask Michael Rother about his first three solo albums.

‘Flammende Herzen’ , ‘Sterntaler’ and ‘Katzenmusik’ were produced by the late Conny Plank and featured CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit on drums. Did he have a favourite?: “I don’t really have favourites, there are individual tracks I enjoy more, it depends on mood and circumstances. It would be unfair really to have a favourite album” Herr Rother replied, “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”

Opening the second evening’s musical line-up, Dublin’s TINY MAGNETIC PETS have been championed by Rusty Egan and their appearance in Düsseldorf was their first in Europe.

The trio’s main strength was their engaging lead singer Paula Gilmer, while Sean Quinn’s synth soloing was also enjoyable. But the occasional rattle of an acoustic drum kit was a distraction and the trio sounded much better when Eugene Somers took to exclusively electronic percussion.

WRANGLER, fronted by Stephen Mallinder who had lectured earlier in the day, delivered a screeching set of dystopian vibes and cold wave mechanics, demonstrating how the Düsseldorf gene has mutated into marvellous pieces such as ‘Lava Land’. Mallinder’s drowning gargoyle vocal was particularly striking within the venue’s effective stereo panning capability.

Incidentally, the trio’s incumbent synth collector extraordinaire Benge has recently relocated his MemeTune studio to rural South West of England, in an echo of Conny Plank’s legendary countryside complex which KRAFTWERK, NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF all recorded in.

Michael Rother delivered a career spanning set of his works including NEU! evergreens like ‘Hallogallo’, ‘Neuschnee’ and ‘Seeland’.

There was also the welcome airing of material from his HARMONIA days too. Accompanied by Hans Lampe, formally of LA DÜSSELDORF, the drummer was unbelievably metronomic throughout, providing the hypnotic heartbeat to these much loved numbers. With assistance on bass and synth from a computer, the glorious symphony of ‘Karussell’ from ‘Flammende Herzen’ was a joy to behold. Watching enthusiastically in the crowd was OMD’s Andy McCluskey who remarked in passing to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK that ‘Flammende Herzen’ was the most played album on his iPod!

With another fine evening of live music over, proceedings then moved over to the famous club Dr Thompsons for the aftershow party featuring Rusty Egan.

Originally a location for a factory making floor wax, Egan’s DJ set reflected electronic music’s past and present, much to the approval of both TINY MAGNETIC PETS and METROLAND whose tunes got an airing on the dancefloor.

Day three featured SØLYST aka Thomas Klein who warmed up early attendees with an ambient percussive soundtrack that suited the time of day perfectly. Meanwhile, the Rusty Egan vs ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK discussion about the influence of Düsseldorf, Berlin and Bowie on the New Romantics brought up some amusing anecdotes from his Blitz Club and VISAGE days. “KRAFTWERK was all in time!” he retorted in a fascinating and at times, hilarious chat. On DAFT PUNK, he said “The reason why DAFT PUNK wear robot helmets is cos they can’t show their faces… cos THEY STOLE EVERYTHING! But they did it brilliantly!”

The conversation even turned to THIN LIZZY’s Phil Lynott who frequented the scene and recorded the synth friendly single ‘Yellow Pearl’ co-written with Midge Ure that featured Egan on drums. Also featuring Billy Currie, Egan confirmed that it was a VISAGE song in all but name. ‘Yellow Pearl’ was heavily influenced by LA DÜSSELDORF and was to later gain iconic status as the theme music to ‘Top of the Pops’ from 1981 to 1986, showing just how far reaching the influence of German electronic music had become.

Wolfgang Flür’s now famous video messages on the world wide web have been a delight to many in electronic music circles and in his absence, a special broadcast was prepared by the former KRAFTWERK percussionist for the conference.

Following on, Andy McCluskey and Rudi Esch presented some light hearted but music fan friendly banter in what was billed as The Electri_City Show.

Discussing a variety of records Esch had brought along from his own personal collection, the OMD frontman mentioned how he was a big fan of LA DÜSSELDORF: “Thinking about LA DÜSSELDORF and NEU! – the biggest loss to the scene is Klaus Dinger”. Following his death in 2008, Klaus Dinger was hailed as a legendary drummer, having popularised the Motorik beat.

But as Michael Rother once pointed out, before 2004 nobody cared about NEU! “It’s great that people are thinking about NEU! and LA DÜSSELDORF” said McCluskey, “they should be up there with KRAFTWERK”. However as documented in Esch’s ’Electri_City_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf’ book, Dinger was known to be a difficult character and that didn’t help his reputation. “It’s the Van Gogh thing” added McCluskey, “you have to bloody die before people think you’re a genius”

Of course, OMD combined various influences to achieve their distinctive template. But what is not often realised is that it is closer to LA DÜSSELDORF than it is to KRAFTWERK, especially on ‘Architecture & Morality’: “It is great that the city of Dusseldorf has woken up to the fact that KRAFTWERK and other musicians changed the world. 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…”

The Techno / Industrial panel in Deutsch fittingly included DAF’s Gabi Delgado and DIE KRUPPS’ Ralf Dörper as well as Ramon Zenker, the man behind FRAGMA.

It would be fair to say that neither sub-genre could have had its roots in any country other than Germany.

Delgado caused some amusement when he casually lit up a cigarette in the middle of the discussion, reinforcing the rebellious and confrontational aura of DAF.

During the interlude, many went to take a look at the Monster Formant modular synthesizer, owned by local enthusiast Siegfried Brückner, which was being demonstrated in the foyer. Six years in the making and featuring a gobsmacking sixteen VCOs plus many other features too numerous to mention, it was an impressive sight that looked like one of those vintage telephone exchanges.

To begin Saturday night’s live music proceedings were Zurich based combo LEN SANDER; their languid style of trip hop has become a favourite of Rusty Egan who also lists LONDON GRAMMAR among his current favourites.

They provided a cerebral build before the appearance of two of the most impressive synthesizer duos in Europe at the moment.

With the amount of equipment VILE ELECTRODES possess, they could fill Klingklang itself. Using their more streamlined European touring set-up, the Home Counties couple are now effectively adopted Germans having impressed enough during their tour of Germany supporting OMD in 2013 to land two Schallwelle Awards. Splendid new songs like ‘Pulsar Timing Array’ and ‘Stark White’ from the just released EP were evidence of their continuing progression.

With a more minimalist set-up, METROLAND were the perfect act for the weekend to honour the artistic legacy of Düsseldorf. Their second long player ‘Triadic Ballet’ was a conceptual audio installation themed around das Staatliche Bauhaus.

The perfect realisation of Walter Gropius’ theory of uniting art with technology, with a combination of crisp electronics and art school visuals, the Belgian duo gave a wonderful presentation that was appreciated by all those present including Andy McCluskey and Rusty Egan.

Closing the event, escapist trio DELTA turned out to be the most disappointing of all the bands participating, their landfill indie totally at odds with the weekend’s ethos.

Meanwhile Düsseldorf duo BAR fared much better, their synth laden dreampop augmented on occasion by singer Christina Irrgang’s use of a recorder.

However, these two acts highlighted the lack of a clear headliner to finish the weekend on a true high.

Overall though, the ELECTRI_CITY_CONFERENCE was fabulous weekend with representation from both sorcerers and apprentices of the Düsseldorf scene. With the English translation of the ’Electri_City_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf’ book due in 2016, the story of what the city has contributed to the world can only spread further.

French icon JEAN-MICHEL JARRE said recently: “Electronic music has a family, a legacy and a future…” and there was nothing more truer than over these three days by der Rhein.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rudi Esch and Carsten Siewert

Additional thanks to Tom Steinseifer, Roger Kamp and Tapio Normall for the use of their photos

‘Electri_City: The Dusseldorf School of Electronic Music’ is due to be published in English by Omnibus Press sometime in 2016

The ‘Electri_City – Elektronische_Musik_Aus_Düsseldorf’ compilation is released by Grönland Records.



Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Chi Ming Lai except where credited
8th November 2015

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