Between 1980 to 1984, RHEINGOLD were at the forefront of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, releasing three albums and achieving their first domestic hit ‘3klangsdimensionen’ in 1981.
Led by Bodo Staiger, the band also featured his now-wife Brigitte Staiger and Lothar Manteuffel who later formed ELEKTRIC MUSIC with Karl Bartos in 1992 and more recently, played keyboards with Peter Heppner of WOLFSHEIM Fame.
Although hailing from Düsseldorf like KRAFTWERK, LA DÜSSELDORF and DAF, RHEINGOLD differed by having a distinctive rhythm guitar template and more melodic vocals compared to their contemporaries, despite being electronically driven.
Preferring to sing in their own language, the trio attained other notable hit singles including ‘Fluß’ and ‘Fan Fan Fanatic’, before calling it a day after their third album ‘Distanz’ having never performed live.
Then in 2007, RHEINGOLD made a surprise return with a techno-flavoured tribute album to Die Düsseldorfer Schule entitled ‘Electric City’; it featured cover versions of songs made famous by KRAFTWERK, PROPAGANDA and LA DUSSELDORF among others, as well as some updated versions of their own tunes. This led to the 2010 ‘Best Of’ collection containing more conventionally re-recorded songs from the RHEINGOLD catalogue.
And now comes ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’, translated as “over time”, a brand new RHEINHOLD album that features a significant number of instrumentals but also lyrics by Karl Bartos, Uli Luciano and Brigitte Staiger alongside music played and produced by Bodo Staiger.
The opening number is the self-explanatory ‘Kraut’, a fine tribute to the 20th Century kosmische music forms that Germany has become famous for. The bouncy ‘Im Lauf der Zeit’ title song, featuring strummed and E-bowed six string, showcases an optimistic demeanour that more than expresses Bobo Staiger’s joy at his musical return.
‘Sehnsucht’ is not a cover of RAMMSTEIN but rich Compurhythm driven pop with ringing rhythm guitar reminiscent of THE CURE and atmospheric synths, while ‘Stromaufwärts’ does as its title suggests and paddles upstream in positivity with lovely backing vocals from Frau Staiger.
In an instrumental homage to the grand synth rock overtures of LA DÜSSELDORF, ‘Theme ’84’ slows down and shortens ‘Cha Cha 2000’. With some surprising fretless bass thrown in for good measure, it just cries Düsseldorf.
Back to vocals with ‘Energie’, RHEINGOLD homage themselves and in particular, ‘3klangsdimensionen’; it was a great and under-appreciated song so why not?
‘Ins Leben Zurück’ is a drum box laden rock ballad and perhaps doesn’t have the appeal of the other songs on the album, but ‘Weißes Licht’ gets things back on track in classic RHEINGOLD style.
Meanwhile, the melodic synth of ‘Paradieshafen’ drives along a beautiful instrumental that imagines a dream collaboration between OMD and Michael Rother before a fourth, more pulsating instrumental in ‘Sternstaub’; using a wholly electronic method of realisation, it closes the rather fine comeback album that is ‘Im Lauf Der Zeit’.
An album that sits well alongside DAS BLAUE PALAIS and their Düsseldorf inspired ‘Welt Am Draht’, this is a welcome return from RHEINGOLD and perhaps evidence that extended musical sabbaticals aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
NEU! founder members Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger were pioneering exponents of Kosmische Musik.
They met after being recruited as members of KRAFTWERK in 1971, but both left soon after to start NEU! – working with Conny Plank, the legendary producer acted as mediator between the pair’s quite different personalities and artistic aspirations as Dinger and Rother were never easy bedfellows.
While Rother was more laid back, Dinger was a confrontational character who wanted to be more than just the drummer, despite popularising the Motorik beat. But this rhythm was to later reconfigure itself in drum machine form as the backbeat for OMD songs like ‘She’s Leaving’, ‘Georgia’ and ‘Radio Waves’, as well as heavily influencing the style of ULTRAVOX’s Warren Cann.
Dinger sadly passed away in 2008, but Rother has kept the legacy of NEU! alive playing concerts all over the world.
With a sold-out appearance earlier in the year under his belt, Rother returned to perform again to a packed house at London’s Under The Bridge.
While the NEU! catalogue is comparatively small, their sound has helped shape acts such as ULTRAVOX, OMD, SIMPLE MINDS and VISAGE.
Their music also featured on the playlists of The Blitz Club, so it was appropriate that the evening opened with a DJ set from Rusty Egan. After playing a selection of tracks that included SPARKS, TINY MAGNETIC PETS, KRAFTWERK, NEW ORDER, YELLO and SYNTAX, Egan climaxed his stint by premiering songs from his upcoming debut solo long player ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’.
Providing live vocals to two numbers was Erik Stein from CULT WITH NO NAME. ‘Love Is Coming My Way’ came over as a superb slice of machine pop that suited Stein’s mannered vocal style, while Egan joined in on the following ‘Ballet Dancer’, a heartfelt eulogy to the one-time VISAGE percussionist’s late ex-wife that was written in collaboration with Chris Payne, one of the co-authors of VISAGE’s biggest hit ‘Fade To Grey’.
This live section was followed by two videos of songs featuring vocals by former NEW ORDER bassist Peter Hook and Emily Kavanaugh of NIGHT CLUB. Hooky’s star turn on ‘The Otherside’ captured the essence of classic NEW ORDER, complete with a six string melodic bass solo.
Meanwhile Kavanaugh’s enticing demeanour on ‘Evermore’ was not unlike a gothic Britney Spears fronting ULTRAVOX!
Concluding the set were full-length playbacks of excellent new songs sung by Tony Hadley and Midge Ure, as well as the reclaimed ‘Wonderwerke’ featuring live vocals from Egan himself. This slice of classic New York electro has now been given some Sarf London swagger… in Deutsch! Based on this preview, ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ is turning out to be better than many have been expecting.
Michael Rother’s headlining set delivered a variety of pieces from his vast career, beginning with ‘Neuschee’, one of the tracks that was speeded up and slowed down for side two of ‘Neu! 2’. Legend has it that when NEU! ran out of money, Klaus Dinger came up with the idea to fill the second side with versions of ‘Neuschnee’ and its B-side ‘Super’ played at 16 and 78 RPM, complete with needle drops!
But Rother’s version of the story is that Dinger just simply wanted to antagonise their label Brain Records following the perceived lack of promo support for the ‘Neuschnee’ single. Whatever the story, it was in keeping with the duo’s Pop Art aesthetic, presenting their work as variations on a theme as had been demonstrated on their iconic cover artwork.
With Rother accompanied by Hans Lampe, formally of LA DÜSSELDORF on drums and Franz Bargmann on guitar, the trio locked in tight unison to procure a trancey cacophony of sound. In particular, Lampe’s understated heartbeat was highly effective on ‘Hallogallo’; the NEU! evergreen probably got the biggest cheers of the evening.
The frantic pace took a breather with the elegiac ‘Seeland’ from ‘Neu! 75’ and this mood continued with welcome inclusions from Rother’s magnificent solo catalogue.
Taken from his period working with Conny Plank and CAN drummer Jaki Liebezeit, it was fitting that ‘Sonnenrad’ was one of the songs aired, with it being the inspiration for ULTRAVOX’s ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. Plank had given Billy Currie a copy of the parent album ‘Sterntaler’ while they were recording in Cologne. The distinctive purr of the wonderful ‘Katzenmusik’ provided another highlight, but it was a shame that ‘Flammende Herzen’ and ‘Karussell’ weren’t able to be included as well.
Rother’s HARMONIA project with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius was also represented, first by the hypnotic mechanical jam of ‘Veteranissimo’, where Rother put his guitar aside temporarily to handle a variety of electronic effects. Bass sequences and additional synths also figured pre-programmed via a laptop, but these acted more as embellishment and never dominated proceedings, allowing Rother’s drifting layers to come into play.
Meanwhile ‘Deluxe (Immer Weiter)’ and ‘Dino’ were both treated to more NEU! like reworkings. Ending the show with percussive tension of ‘E-Musik’, it was a fine demonstration as to why Rother’s infinite six string style has been so admired by fellow musicians through the years.
Indeed, he was David Bowie and Brian Eno’s first choice guitarist for the ‘Heroes’ album. While Rother may not have ended up playing on it, his template clearly helped give a direction for the final recording.
With a recording career spanning over 45 years, Michael Rother is one of the unsung heroes of German popular music. He should be up there and lauded as much as some of his better known contemporaries; quite why he isn’t is one of those great anomalies.
With thanks to Rusty Egan
The NEU! and HARMONIA back catalogue is available via Grönland Records, MICHAEL ROTHER’s back catalogue is available via Random Records
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
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, 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’.
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 ‘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 German language 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!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Rudi Esch and Andy McCluskey