Tag: Mani Neumeier

2020 End Of Year Review

“It’s such a strange day, in such a lonely way” sang NEW ORDER on ‘Truth’ in 1981.

The coronavirus crisis of 2020 put the entire live music industry into limbo as concerts were postponed and tours rescheduled.

The situation was affecting everyone with several musicians like Bernard Sumner, Andy McCluskey, John Taylor and Sarah Nixey publicly stating that they had contracted the virus. Even when all pupils returned to schools in the Autumn, there was a ban on indoor singing in English classrooms. It was an indication that out of all professional fields, the arts was going suffer the most.

To make up for the absence of live shows, online streamed events become popular. Two of the best live online gigs were by Swedish veterans LUSTANS LAKEJER from the KB in Malmö and Sinomatic techno-rockers STOLEN with Lockdown Live From Chengdu. Not strictly a lockdown show but available for all to view on SVT was a magnificent live presentation of KITE at the Royal Opera House in Stockholm recorded in late 2019 combining synthesizers, orchestra and choir, proving again why Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg are the best electronic duo in Europe.

Concluding his ‘Songs: From the Lemon Tree’ series, Bon Harris of NITZER EBB presented a wonderful set of four electonic cover versions including songs made famous by Joan Armatrading, Connie Francis and Diana Ross. Meanwhile among independent musicians, Dubliner CIRCUIT3 led the way with an innovative multi-camera effected approach to his home studio presentation and Karin My performed al fresco in a forest near Gothenburg.

Taking the initiative, ERASURE did a delightful virtual album launch party for their new album ‘The Neon’ on Facebook with Vince Clarke in New York and Andy Bell in London, talking about everything from shopping to classic synthpop tunes.

Demonstrating a possible new model for the future, Midge Ure launched his subscription based ‘Backstage Lockdown Club’ which included intimate live performances and specials guests like Glenn Gregory and Howard Jones.

Other streamed forms of entertainment came via podcasts and among the best was ‘The Album Years’ presented by Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness. Their knowledgeable and forthright views on selected years in music were both informative and amusing. It was interesting to note that at the end of the 1976 episode, the pair nominated ‘Oxygène’ by Jean-Michael Jarre as the most important album of that year while for 1979, it was ‘The Pleasure Principle’ by Gary Numan.

Many artists who had scheduled releases in 2020 went through with them, although in some cases, there were the inevitable delays to physical product. But a few notable acts couldn’t help but abuse the situation, notably a certain combo from Basildon.

There were already “quality control issues” with the lavish ‘MODE’ 18 CD boxed set, but there was uproar even among the most hardcore Devotees with the ‘Spirits In The Forest’ release. The cardboard packaging was reported to be flimsy and prone to dents, while there was continuity errors galore as Dave Gahan rather cluelessly and selfishly wore different coloured outfits over the two nights in Berlin that the live footage was filmed under the direction of Anton Corbijn.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, there was an Anton Corbijn official illustrated history of DEPECHE MODE entitled ‘DM AC’ in the form of a coffee table photo book published by Taschen which retailed at €750; even though it was signed by Messrs Gahan, Gore and Fletcher, the price tag was a mightily steep. The increasingly ironic words of “The grabbing hands grab all they can…” from ‘Everything Counts’ were not lost on people, who are people, after all!

But Andy Fletcher did provide the most amusing and spot-on quote of the year; during DEPECHE MODE’s acceptance speech into that dinosaur institution The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, when Dave Gahan remarked to his bandmates that “I dunno what the hell I would have been doing if I didn’t find music to be quite honest…”, the banana eating handclapper dryly retorted “YOU’D HAVE BEEN STILL STEALING CARS DAVE!”

There were lots of great albums released in 2020 and Berlin appeared to be at the creative centre of them.

There was ‘LP II’ from LINEA ASPERA who made a welcome return after eight years in hiatus and  the playful debut by ULTRAFLEX, a collaborative offering from Berlin-based Nordic artists SPECIAL-K and FARAO which was “an ode to exercise, loaded with sex metaphors badly disguised as sports descriptions” .

The DDR born Jennifer Touch told her story with ‘Behind The Wall’ and resident New Yorker DISCOVERY ZONE was on ‘Remote Control’, while Lithuania’s top pop singer Alanas Chosnau made ‘Children of Nature’, his first album in English with Mark Reeder, who himself has lived in the former walled city since 1978; their collected experiences from both sides of the Iron Curtain made for a great record with the political statement of ‘Heavy Rainfall’ being one of the best songs of 2020.

Synth-builder and artist Finlay Shakespeare presented the superb angst ridden long player ‘Solemnities’ with its opener ‘Occupation’ tackling the social injustice of unemployment. A most frightening future was captured in musical form by New York-resident Zachery Allan Starkey who saw his home become a ‘Fear City’, while WRANGLER got themselves into ‘A Situation’.

SPARKS discussed ‘The Existential Threat’ and ‘One For The Ages’ while pleading ‘Please Don’t F*ck Up My World’ on their eclectic 25th album ‘A Steady Drip, Drip, Drip’, just as NIGHT CLUB reflected what many were thinking on ‘Die Die Lullaby’ with ‘Miss Negativity’ looking to ‘Die In The Disco’ while riding the ‘Misery Go Round’.

ASSEMBLAGE 23 chose to ‘Mourn’ with one of its highlights ‘Confession’ illustrating what DEPECHE MODE could still be capable of, if they could still be bothered.

But it was not all doom and gloom musically in 2020. With the title ‘Pop Gossip’, INTERNATIONAL TEACHERS OF POP did not need to do much explaining about the ethos of their second album and drum ‘n’ synth girl GEORGIA was happily ‘Seeking Thrills’.

Veterans returned and 34 years after their debut ‘Windows’, WHITE DOOR teamed up with the comparative youngster Johan Baeckström for ‘The Great Awakening’, while CODE made a surprise return with their second album ‘Ghost Ship’ after an absence 25 years.

‘The Secret Lives’ of German duo Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier illustrated that septuagenarians just want to have fun. Along with Gina Kikoine, Zeus B Held was also awarded with Der Holger Czukay Preis für Popmusik der Stadt Köln in recognition of their pioneering work as GINA X PERFORMANCE whose ‘No GDM’ was a staple at The Blitz Club in Rusty Egan’s DJ sets.

Incidentally, Rusty Egan announced that Zaine Griff would be joining him with Numan cohorts Chris Payne and David Brooks in a live presentation of VISAGE material, although the announced dates were postponed, pending rescheduling for 2021.

Swiss trailblazers YELLO were on ‘Point’ and continuing their occasional creative collaboration with Chinese songstress Fifi Rong, while one time YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA collaborator Hideki Matsutake returned as LOGIC SYSTEM and released a new long player ‘Technasma’, his project’s first for 18 years.

It was four decades since John Foxx’s ‘Metamatic’ and Gary Numan’s ‘Telekon’, with the man born Gary Webb publishing ‘(R)evolution’, a new autobiography to supersede 1997’s ‘Praying To The Aliens’. Meanwhile, the former Dennis Leigh teamed up with former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon plus his regular Maths collaborators Benge and Hannah Peel for the blistering art rock statement of ‘Howl’ as well as finally issuing his book of short stories ‘The Quiet Man’.

2020 saw a lot of 40th anniversaries for a number of key albums including ‘Vienna’ by ULTRAVOX, ‘Travelogue’ by THE HUMAN LEAGUE and ‘Closer’ by JOY DIVISION.

Back in 1980, it was not unusual for bands to release two albums in a calendar year as OMD did with their self-titled debut and ‘Organisation’, or JAPAN did with ‘Quiet Life’ and ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’.

It appeared to be a tradition that BLANCMANGE were adopting as Neil Arthur delivered the acclaimed ‘Mindset’ and an enjoyable outtakes collection ‘Waiting Room (Volume 1)’.

PET SHOP BOYS and CERRONE proved they still liked to dance to disco because they don’t like rock, but the year’s biggest surprise came with THE SMASHING PUMPKINS whose single ‘Cyr’ crossed the templates of classic DEPECHE MODE with DURAN DURAN.

Interestingly, Gary Daly of CHINA CRISIS and Michael Rother of NEU! used sketches recorded many moons ago to inspire their 2020 solo creations, proving that if something is a good idea, it will still make sense years later. Veteran Tonmeister Gareth Jones released his debut solo album ‘ELECTROGENETIC’ having first come to prominence as the studio engineer on ‘Metamatic’ back in 1980, but Jah Wobble was as prolific as ever, issuing his ninth album in four years, as well as a run of download singles over lockdown.

ANI GLASS had her debut long player ‘Mirores’ shortlisted for Welsh Music Prize and OMD remixed her song ‘Ynys Araul’ along the way, while SARAH P. was ‘Plotting Revolutions’. NINA and a returning ANNIE vied to be the Queen Of Synthwave with their respective albums ‘Synthian’ and ‘Dark Hearts’, although Canadian synth songstress DANA JEAN PHOENIX presented her most complete and consistent body of work yet in ‘Megawave’, a joint album with POWERNERD.

RADIO WOLF & PARALLELS contributed to the soundtrack of the film ‘Proximity’ released on Lakeshore Records and from the same label, KID MOXIE made her first contribution to the movie world with the score to ‘Not To Be Unpleasant, But We Need To Have A Serious Talk’ that also featured a stark cover of ALPHAVILLE’s ‘Big In Japan’. Meanwhile gothwavers VANDAL MOON made their most electronic album yet in ‘Black Kiss’ and POLYCHROME got in on the kissing act too with their new single ‘Starts With A Kiss’.

It would be fair to say in recent times that the most interesting and best realised electronic pop has come from outside of the UK; the likes of TWICE A MAN and COSAQUITOS EN GLOBO explored the darker side of life, although TRAIN TO SPAIN used the dancefloor as their mode of expression, 808 DOT POP developed on the robopop of parent band METROLAND and ZIMBRU preferred disco art pop.

In Scandinavia, there was the welcome return of UNIFY SEPARATE (formally US) and HILTIPOP aka Magnus Johansson of ALISON who finally released some music in his own right; once he started, he didn’t stop with 9 releases and counting in 2020! APOPTYGMA BERZERK released ‘Nein Danke!’, their self-proclaimed return to “New Wave Synthpop” and out of that set-up sprang the very promising PISTON DAMP.

Within the PAGE camp, Eddie Bengtsson continued his Numan fixation on the ‘Under Mitt Skinn’ EP although his musical partner Marina Schiptjenko teamed up with LUSTANS LAKEJER bassist Julian Brandt to ride the Synth Riviera for a delightful second helping of their electro crooner concept cheekily titled ‘For Beautiful People Only’.

Over in Germany, U96 teamed up Wolfgang Flür while RENARD, the solo vehicle of Markus Reinhardt from WOLFSHEIM teamed with Marian Gold of ALPHAVILLE and Sarah Blackwood of DUBSTAR. DUBSTAR themselves released a striking corona crisis statement entitled ‘Hygiene Strip’ which saw reconfigured duo reunited with producer Stephen Hague. Meanwhile another poignant song on the topic ‘Small World’ came from SNS SENSATION, the new project by Sebastian Muravchik of HEARTBREAK. In lockdown, TINY MAGNETIC PETS recorded an entire album which they called ‘Blue Wave’.

Of course, 2020 was not full of joy, even without the pandemic, as the music world sadly lost Florian Schneider, Gabi Delgado-Lopez, Chris Huggett, Andrew Weatherall, Matthew Seligman, Dave Greenfield, Rupert Hine, Tom Wolgers, Harold Budd and Ennio Morricone.

An introspective tone was reflected the music of female fronted acts such as and ZANIAS, PURITY RING, WE ARE REPLICA, KALEIDA, LASTLINGS, NEW SPELL, WITCH OF THE VALE, REIN, BLACK NAIL CABARET, GLÜME, GEISTE THE FRIXION, FEMMEPOP and SCINTII. However, countering this, the optimism of RIDER, ROXI DRIVE and NEW RO presented a much brighter, hopeful take on life and the future.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK celebrated 10 years as a platform and affirming the site’s intuition about synth talent in anticipation of them achieving greater things, SOFTWAVE opened for OMD on the Scandinavia leg of their ‘Souvenir’ tour. The Danish duo became the sixth act which the site had written about to have become part of a tradition that has included VILLA NAH, MIRRORS, VILE ELECTRODES, METROLAND and TINY MAGNETIC PETS.

On a more cheerful note, S.P.O.C.K beamed down to Slimelight in London before lockdown for their first British live performance in 17 years. Meanwhile on the same night, LAU NAU and VILE ELECTRODES did modular sets at Cecil Sharp House, the spiritual home of English traditional music.

At that event, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK took delight in curating a DJ set comprising of John Cage’s 4’33” in variations by DEPECHE MODE, GOLDFRAPP, ERASURE, NEW ORDER and THE NORMAL from Mute’s Stumm433 boxed set. This defiant act of silence even caused a curious Jonathan Barnbrook to raise an eyebrow, this from the man who designed the artwork with the white square on David Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’ 😉

The final live event that ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK attended before the March lockdown was an informative lecture at Queen Mary University in London presented by noted cultural scholar Dr Uwe Schütte, in support of his book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany’.

Also attending was Rusty Egan who held court at the reception afterwards by having a debate with another musician about the state of UK synth music. He then loudly beckoned ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK over and mentioned how the site was only interested acts that scored “9 out of 10” before admitting that a number of acts he supported only scored “6 out of 10”, with his reasoning being that if acts aren’t supported, then there will be no synth acts existing at all. After a decade in existence, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK remains proud that it is still extremely selective.

In 2020, the notion of reviews being needed to achieve a promotional profile underwent an existential crisis among media platforms. With streaming now being the main method of music consumption, why would anyone want to read a blog for an opinion about an album when they can just hit ‘play’ and hear the thing for themselves on Spotify, Amazon, Tidal or Bandcamp?

The sound of classic synthpop does live on happily in today’s mainstream via singles by THE WEEKND, DUA LIPA and even STEPS! In that respect, the trailblazing kings and queens of Synth Britannia from four decades ago did their job rather well.

From SUGABABES mashing-up ‘Are Friends Electric?’ for ‘Freak Like Me’ in 2002 to ‘Blinding Lights’ borrowing a bit of A-HA in 2020, the sound of synth is still strong.

It is up to any potential successors to live up to that high standard of Synth Britannia, which was as much down to the quality of the songwriting, as much as it was to do with the sound of the synthesizer. It is a fact that many overlook and if aspiring musicians could pay more attention to the song, instead of making the synthesizer the excuse for the song, then classic electronic pop music may still be around for a little longer and continue to evolve.


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK Contributor Listings of 2020

PAUL BODDY

Best Album: LOGIC SYSTEM Technasma
Best Song: NEW ORDER Be A Rebel
Best Gig / Live Stream: NICOLAS GODIN at London Rough Trade
Best Video: POLLY SCATTERGOOD Snowburden
Most Promising New Act: RUE OBERKAMPF


IAN FERGUSON

Best Album: ASSEMBLAGE 23 Mourn
Best Song: DUBSTAR I Can See You Outside
Best Gig / Live Stream: WITCH OF THE VALE online Unplugged Live for SAY Women
Best Video: STEVEN WILSON Personal Shopper
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


SIMON HELM

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: PAGE Blutest Du?
Best Gig / Live Stream: LAU NAU + VILE ELECTRODES at Cecil Sharp House
Best Video: STRIKKLAND Dance Like A God
Most Promising New Act: INDEPENDENT STATE


CHI MING LAI

Best Album: LINEA ASPERA LPII
Best Song: ALANAS CHOSNAU & MARK REEDER Heavy Rainfall
Best Gig / Live Stream: LUSTANS LAKEJER online at Malmö KB
Best Video: ULTRAFLEX Olympic Sweat
Most Promising New Act: LASTLINGS


MONIKA IZABELA TRIGWELL

Best Album: ERASURE The Neon
Best Song: DUBSTAR Hygiene Strip
Best Gig / Live Stream: IŻOL Koncert online at Ziemi Rybnickiej
Best Video: PET SHOP BOYS Monkey Business
Most Promising New Act: MENTRIX


Text by Chi Ming Lai
21st December 2020

MANI NEUMEIER & ZEUS B HELD Interview

‘The Secret Lives’ is a kosmische and electronic amalgam resulting from a couple of septuagenarians jamming with a love of jazz acting as their common base.

It is the long awaited creative union of Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held, two veterans of German music who over the decades have each established notable careers in their chosen fields.

Neumeier has been the drum captain of GURU GURU for 50 years now with over 30 albums to his name including side-projects with notable contemporaries such as Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius plus he was the fourth member of HARMONIA on their second album ‘Deluxe’.

Held first made his name as the keyboard player of BIRTH CONTROL and before becoming an electronic pop trailblazer as part of GINA X PERFORMANCE with ‘No GDM’; In recognition of this, he is to be jointly awarded the Holger Czukay Prize with Gina Kikoine by the city of Cologne for their work together. He went on to become a renowned producer and remixer on hit singles by artists as varied as DEAD OR ALIVE, ALPHAVILLE, SPEAR OF DESTINY and TRANSVISION VAMP.

Zeus B Held and Mani Neumeier took time out to chat from Stuttgart about the making of ‘The Secret Lives’.

You both first met in 1973 when GURU GURU and BIRTH CONTROL were performing at a festival in Frankfurt; what were your first impressions of each other?

Zeus: I thought, now there’s a drummer with a jazzy spirit and a very funky sense of humour.

Mani: I’d like to play with this guy one day!

Why did it take so long for you to come together as an artistic collaboration? Did you stay in contact and follow each other’s careers or was that more far too difficult in those pre-internet days of carrier pigeon messaging? 

Mani: I was totally involved with GURU GURU, so there was no time for other projects

Zeus: During my BIRTH CONTROL C times, I stayed a few times at the GURU GURU country quarters – but we’ve both been too busy to actually create something… and from 1981, I was out of the country. In summer 2018 when I visited Mani, Etsuko, his wife and took a photo of us in the garden. We both posted that on Facebook and it was our mutual friend Jürgen Engler from DIE KRUPPS who commented something along the lines “it’s about time you guys do an album”. In a way, we both thought, he’s right. So a year later we started at SynxxS Studio.

From your past, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK loves ‘Speed Display’ from ‘Zero Set’ and ‘Misty Circles’ by DEAD OR ALIVE, what is your favourite work by the other?

Mani: I did enjoy listening to ‘Misty Circles’.

Zeus: Thanks for pointing out ‘Zero Set’, Chi, I just listened to ‘Speed Display’ for the first time and love it! I always enjoyed Mani doing ‘Der Elektrolurch’ with his various Guru incarnations. That song’s got a key element of the early 70s youth philosophy. And I really enjoy witnessing how Mani takes it further, showing that it sill fits into (t)his world.

The start of the process was quite technological at the SynxsS-Studio in Offenbach with its impressive collection of equipment. Please tell us about what is was like to use the Haken Continuum Fingerboard, various synthesizers and other equipment there to shape some of the tracks… which were the ones you enjoyed playing the most?

Zeus: I met Bernie aka Bernd-Michael Land when we played at the same concert bill at Bochum’s Planetarium when I was performing with DREAM CONTROL. We stayed in contact and I always wanted to check out his studio with the analogue gear. So to start the ball rolling on a creative exchange with Mani, I saw this constellation as a chance to do something new. Mani initially said to me ”it feels like ‘das Pferd von hinten aufzäumen’”, that’s to put the cart before the horse – and as it turned out, that this is exactly what made it a real inspired start. Especially Mani’s first time, meeting and playing with the Haken Continuum.

We did all the basic recordings in a couple of days. Obviously this meant that many things from a production, synchronisation and overdub point of view, were rough and ready. No major changes possible, no quantisation, no safety net. Just twisting and turning it like a loose imperfect recording of the underground 70s. I think this made the essence of the album and kept it fresh,

Mani: I LOVED TO PLAY THE CONTINUUM, IT WAS LIKE MADE FOR ME…

The album is an eclectic mix of live and sequenced elements, was that always the intention?

Zeus: I think the intention was, let’s have a mutual musical journey without too much rules and guidelines – and we knew from the beginning that we didn’t want to copy or repeat any former stuff of our work…

It is interesting that the acoustic drums were last to go on as overdubs, what were the challenges in capturing this process without being too dictated by the precision that may have already been laid down?

Mani: NO PROBLEM FOR ME! I already did this with Moebius and Conny Plank on ‘Zero Set’ in 1981. And many times after that!

Zeus: That’s the twist; some tracks became a handmade non-quantized sequenced basis that we had to put the additional overdubs to – and this imperfection gave way to a human charm – which one finds in many great recordings in Rock and Jazz from the 50s to the early 70s.

Opener ‘Fox Nr. 7’ features a poem about foxes…warum?

Zeus: Somehow the atmosphere of the track reminded us of a short film from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Dreams’ called ‘The Wedding Of The Foxes’ – and once we took the picture into our heads, it felt like we were “automatic writers” of The Beat Generation…

Mani, did you ever want to be Jaki Liebezeit?

Mani: No, but we were good friends and respected each other. I rather would be Elvin Jones, haha 😆

And Zeus, to be Chick Corea?

Zeus: well, I actually saw ‘Return to Forever’ around 1979 in Cologne and met Chick shortly after, on a Midem party in Cannes where he was jamming with Flora Purim and Lionel Hampton – he’s a real virtuoso, right up there with Herbie Jarrett and Keith Emerson – those guys have taken off in a very unique way and of course it would be great to see how this feels like…

‘Volcano Dance’ sees you really get into your love of jazz, it just needs a Miles Davis trumpet?

Mani: Or a Coltrane saxophone.

Zeus: ‘In A Silent Way’ and ‘Bitches Brew’ were great signposts for the jazz rock fusion – and Miles put them there … – so a bit of Miles wouldn’t hurt…

There are some amazing electronic sounds and treatments on ‘Sex Mit Siri’, how did you achieve these?

Mani: I got these man and woman voices out of a Kaossilator!

Zeus: This is how we imagined Siri would be speaking or giving emotional motivated noises.

‘Back 2 Nature’ is a bit like CLUSTER, any thoughts?

Zeus: For us it was more like a very dreamy memory of those carefree and innocent days in the early 70s.

It seems like you had a lot of fun making this album, which are your own favourite tracks and why?

Zeus: I like all the tracks – and it really depends on my mood – at the moment I like the mysterious mood of ‘Threesome Railway’ best

Mani: I love the jazzy craziness of ‘Volcano Dance’!

Obviously the situation makes things difficult but would you like to take this album out to a live audience? Would you throw in some GURU GURU and BIRTH CONTROL material as a bonus?

Zeus: we are working on a live set – the audience, which shouldn’t necessarily consist of only GURU GURU or BIRTH CONTROL fans, should be prepared for some surprises!


ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held

Additional thanks to Jochen Oberlack at Bellerophon Records

‘The Secret Lives’ is released by Bellerophon Records, available in vinyl LP and digital formats direct from https://bellerophonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-secret-lives

http://mani-neumeier.de/

https://www.facebook.com/Mani.Neumeier1/

http://zeusbheld.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zeus-B-Held-162448230492382


Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
14th October 2020

MANI NEUMEIER + ZEUS B HELD The Secret Lives

‘The Secret Lives’ is the overdue union of two German cult legends, Mani Neumeier and Zeus B Held.

The pair met in 1973 at a festival in Frankfurt; Mani Neumeier was there as the drummer and leader of kosmische trailblazers GURU GURU while Zeus B Held was a newcomer joining progressive rockers BIRTH CONTROL on keyboards. They each went on to establish notable careers.

Zeus B Held moved on to becoming a solo artist and producer, with his breakthrough coming from working with GINA X PERFORMANCE in 1979 when the single ‘No GDM’ became an underground club favourite.

As a result, he worked with the likes of FASHION, DEAD OR ALIVE, DIE KRUPPS, ALPHAVILLE, SIMPLE MINDS and TRANSVISION VAMP as well as John Foxx and Gary Numan. Later, Held moved into jazz and World Music while more recently, he formed DREAM CONTROL with Steve Schroyder, a former member of TANGERINE DREAM.

Mani Neumeier has maintained a 50 year career in GURU GURU with over 30 albums while working on various side-projects with his notable German contemporaries. He was the drummer on the second HARMONIA album ‘Deluxe’ while his popularity in Japan, which led to working with acts like psychedelic rock ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE, saw a figure of him being made for a Tokyo waxwork museum.

Up there with CAN’s Jaki Liebezeit in technique, his drumming was so tight on ‘Speed Display’, a collaboration with Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius for the one-off long player ‘Zero Set’ in 1983, that observers cited the mad hyperactive collage of drums, bubbling electronics and treated robotic vocals as an example of proto-techno!

Spontaneous, colourful, lively and oddball, much of the recording of ‘The Secret Lives’ was done at the SynxsS-Studio in Offenbach with its distinguished proprietor Bernd-Michael Land contributing analogue sequencing from the vast array of modular equipment within his complex.

Tracks began with Neumeier tapping percussive moods on the Haken Continuum Fingerboard or using electronic drum pads while Held built chord structures and sequences before Neumeier overdubbed his acoustic drum kit at Freiburg KG Beat Studio. Opener ‘Fox Nr. 7’ is a good example of this approach with stark electronic keys offset by freeform percussion, punctuated with jabs of organ and a hallucinogenic monologue about foxes…

Meanwhile with a deep sequence of synth, ‘Drei Tage Funk’ sees Neumeier go on rhythmic bender augmented by Luigi Archetti on sustained guitar while Held does his Chick Corea impression. With chattering rimshot and syncopated keys, ‘Pfeif Drau’ takes an unusual cosmic ska influence…

There are more abstract adventures too with the collage of mind bending discordant noise forming ’The Secret Lives of Der Lurch’ being more sound sculpture than song, while ‘Ghost Ritual’ is a gong experiment. Then ‘Back 2 Nature’ recalls CLUSTER in its Morgenspaziergang ambience although the klanky guitar dressing adds some menace to the journey.

‘Volcano Dance’ uses an improvised jazz approach with all manner of instruments hovering simultaneously… all that’s missing is a Miles Davis trumpet. The self-explanatory ‘Sex Mit Siri’ though utilises passages of treated percussion with some amazing electronic sounds with one particularly whirring away via a Kaossilator like a dysfunctional Stylophone!

‘Threesome Railway’ is more spacey with drums used as much for colour as well as structure, but a vocoder is dug out for the moody PINK FLOYD inspired closer ‘Wish I Was There’ which also throws in some exotic tablas before some beautiful E-bow to end.

This is the sound of two veterans having rather a lot of fun. At times indulgent, occasionally quirky but with musicianship that cannot be faulted, ‘The Secret Lives’ won’t be for everyone.

But if you are into the idea of a couple of German septuagenarians jamming with a bit of wild jazz thrown into a kosmische and electronic amalgam, then this might just be for you.


‘The Secret Lives’ is released by Bellerophon Records, available from https://bellerophonrecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-secret-lives

http://mani-neumeier.de/

https://www.facebook.com/Mani.Neumeier1/

http://zeusbheld.com/

https://www.facebook.com/Zeus-B-Held-162448230492382

https://www.facebook.com/bellerophon.records


Text by Chi Ming Lai
26th September 2020

A Beginner’s Guide To CONNY PLANK

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, 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 of vinyl, 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

http://www.ashra.com/


KRAFTWERK Tanzmusik (1973)

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

http://www.electriccafe.info/


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 previously released single ‘Super’!

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

http://www.neu2010.com/


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

http://www.kraftwerk.com/


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 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

http://www.harmonia1973.com/


CLUSTER Sowiesoso (1976)

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

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


LA DÜSSELDORF Time (1976)

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.

Available LA DÜSSELDORF album ‘La Düsseldorf’ via WEA

http://www.la-duesseldorf.de


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 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”.

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

http://www.michaelrother.de/en/


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 DEPECHE MODE’s Martin Gore for his ‘Counterfeit 2’ solo album.

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

http://brian-eno.net/


ENO MOEBIUS ROEDELIUS Broken Head (1978)

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

http://www.roedelius.com/


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

http://www.metamatic.com/


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. Moebius sadly passed away in 2015.

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

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


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 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.

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

http://www.czukay.com/


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

http://www.japanimprov.com/phew/


EURYTHMICS Never Gonna Cry Again (1981)

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.

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

http://eurythmics.com/


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 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.

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

http://www.ultravox.org.uk/


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 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

http://www.robert-goerl.de


MOEBIUS PLANK NEUMEIER Speed Display (1983)

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

http://mani-neumeier.de/guruguru/index.htm


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

http://www.ritamitsouko.org/


GIANNA NANNINI Bello E Impossibile (1986)

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

http://www.giannanannini.com/en/


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 ‎

http://connyplank.com/

http://groenland.com/en/artist/conny-plank-2/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
6th August 2016