Electronic song

Neu created the rhythm that continues

Perched in the Star Studio recording room in Hamburg, guitarist Michael Rother heard his playing in a new light. It was days after the start of the four-day session in December 1971 that would produce the self-titled debut album of Neu, Rother’s newly formed duo with drummer Klaus Dinger. With producer Conny Plank, he fleshed out the 10-minute instrumental “Hallogallo,” evoking plumes of melody that swirled over Dinger’s streamlined, insistent 4/4 beat. While listening to the playback, Plank decided he wanted to hear the guitars backwards, suddenly throwing the tape upside down.

“Everything went vvvvp vvvvp vvvvp and I thought, oh that’s wonderful,” Rother recalled during a recent Zoom call from Italy. “This change from reality – this abstraction – really interested me. I’m not saying that all of a sudden great melodies came out of me, but it was inspiring. Plank incorporated reverse guitar into the mix, grounding the song with an otherworldly euphoria that Rother was able to play out in subsequent takes.On the recording, his guitar kicks in and out surreal waves of sound as Dinger’s drums march in a straight line toward the horizon.

“Hallogallo” would define an era in German underground music and influence several generations of rock bands, electronic music producers and experimenters around the world. Although it sold modestly when it was released in March 1972 and was out of print for much of the 1980s and 1990s, “Neu” paved the way soon trodden by Brian Eno and David Bowie, and later by countless others who were looking for a way out of established rock and roll tropes into something more transcendent and outlandish. Through its six tracks, Rother and Dinger, guided by Plank and his penchant for exploring the possibilities of sound, dismantle just about every hierarchical structure in rock music. The chord progressions and the structures of the songs come down to a singular hum, experienced as inexhaustible, almost eternal.

Fifty years after its release, the album’s influence continues to be enormous. To mark this anniversary, the German label Grönland has put together a box set compiling this historic debut album and the next three, as well as a collection of remixes and new songs by contemporary musicians inspired by their sound and their heritage. Artists such as the National, New Order’s Stephen Morris, and composer Yann Tiersen all reworked the material for the set. Although Dinger passed away in 2008, Rother will revisit Neu’s songs at a London concert on November 3, opening for Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.

“We’ve always loved that sound, the stacked guitars going into infinity,” says Kassie Carlson, vocalist of New York band Guerilla Toss. The band contributed an original song, “Zum Herz”, to the Grönland tribute compilation, transposing the melody of Rother’s solo song “Zyklodrom” into a post-punk rave-up. “A lot of our music nods to that era of German cosmic music, with this wonderful, major sound. But with ‘Zum Herz’ we really wanted to try and write a Neu song.

Rother and Dinger met in 1970 when they became members of Kraftwerk alongside one of the group’s masterminds, Florian Schneider. The association with Kraftwerk and the band’s status as one of the most well-known German bands of the 20th century looms large over Neu’s history, even though the duo’s contributions never made it onto a Kraftwerk album. At this embryonic stage, their music had an unassuming, often passionate character compared to the mechanized, detached style they would adopt years later when they fully embraced synthesizers and drum machines. Rother smiles as he recounts a performance story with Kraftwerk and understanding how unhinged a Dinger player could be. “I noticed the audience watching the scene and I followed their eyes to Klaus,” he recalled. “There was blood dripping from his hand. He liked to play on broken cymbals, which of course had very sharp edges. He beat drums and kept playing without stopping for a second. never crossed his mind.

This image runs counter to the number of fans and critics that have characterized Dinger’s drumming. The rhythm of “Hallogallo”, as well as “Negativland” from the debut album, “Für Immer” from “Neu 2”, and other songs, has been popularized as “motorik” (“motor skill”), evoking a well-oiled, immutable and static machine. Dinger never adopted this name, and later in life began to call it the “Apache Rhythm”, evoking a stereotype of Native American music. Despite the problematic genesis of this terminology, it underscores the focused intensity of his playing as the drummer tries to make connections to the ceremonial uses of repeated rhythm in Indigenous communities. Listening to the rhythm of the engine, it can indeed seem independent of clock time, pushing defiantly into boundless space even as it ticks off the seconds with precision and intention.

“To me, this is the best rhythm for playing guitar,” wrote Stereolab’s Tim Gane in a recent email. Many of the French band’s most iconic songs rely on the assertive momentum that Dinger pioneered. “The motorik drum beat isn’t just any 4/4 drum beat, and Klaus Dinger wasn’t just any regular rock drummer,” Gane added. “His way of playing is totally unique and so full of soul, passion and intensity that it counteracts the alienating effect of guitar effects. It creates a new kind of shadow rock music that wasn’t superficial at all.

Motorik has become almost synonymous with krautrock, the inelegant term coined by the British press to group bands emerging from Germany at the time, but ‘Neu’ is an album built on contrasts. After the immediacy of “Hallogallo” comes the hyper-minimal “Sonderangebot,” a five-minute recording of a muted cymbal roll swept between the left and right channels in a slow, queasy lurch. “Negativland” hums to a distorted twang created by Plank manually phasing two recordings of Dinger playing the shamisen, a Japanese banjo, standing between two tape recorders and slowing down one tape then the other. No two songs are alike, and the entire enterprise is built on the juxtaposition of Dinger’s rhythmic intensity and Rother’s bloody, cosmic songcraft.

“It’s definitely more of an ensemble thing,” Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley says when asked about Dinger’s influence on his own style. Shelley first heard Neu on mixtapes Sonic Youth would listen to in the tour van and was able to track down used copies of the first three albums while the band toured Europe in the ’80s. Stooges and obviously the Velvets were a big part of what we shared, and that became another mainstay,” he says. “We really relied on how we heard things and what we started playing on this Neu music.” Shelley was invited by Rother to play this music with him as part of the band Hallogallo 2010, which debuted at that year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties festival. “He has a certain freedom. This thing seems wide open.

This opening allows Neu’s influence to seep into many unexpected streams of music. It fueled the rise of punk, with Iggy Pop telling the BBC in 2009 “when you listen to it, it lets your thoughts flow”. The idea of ​​endless pulsing paired with ethereal atmospheric sounds has come to define many strains of electronic music designed for the dance floor, as DJ and radio host Tim Sweeney explains. Sweeney’s show, Beats In Space, has allowed countless DJs to introduce new sounds to large audiences, and Sweeney himself has been consistently mixing krautrock into the show for decades. “You almost go into a trance listening to it,” he says. “A lot of dance music is like that, with that repetition. The atmosphere is also a big part of it, the delay they used – which is often referenced.

For all his influence on music at home in dense urban environments, even Pop heard what he called “pastoral psychedelia” in Neu’s music. Nashville-born guitarist William Tyler finds surprising connections between the country music he grew up with and the music of Rother in Neu and beyond. Beyond the pervasive associations with the open road that permeate both, there was a telling moment when he heard a Waylon Jennings groove, “which to me sounded like krautrock. It rolls the same and glides the same,” he says. His 2016 album “Modern Country” was based on the question: “What would have happened if these Dusseldorf guys had recorded a record in Nashville? Tyler made the connection explicit by performing the slightly drifting neutral track “Weissensee” on this tour, and covering Rother’s “Karusell” on his “Lost Colony” EP.

The German countryside is very important to Rother, who moved to an estate outside the town of Forst shortly after making Neu’s first two albums (simultaneously forming the band Harmonia with Hans-Jochim Rodelius and Dieter Mobius of Cluster), and has remained there ever since. . Neu’s music was created with the echoes of fascism still audible, a settling of accounts with the Nazi regime still ongoing. Rother is an outspoken pacifist and he blames the obsession with pinning German identity on the music they made on the British music press. His music, with its luminous expanses and textures, suggests a kind of pastoral futurism, an idyllic vision of music that has escaped the trappings of what he calls “Anglo-American influence”. Neu’s music always points to something beyond – beyond the narrow mentality of nationalism, beyond the impulse of history to repeat itself, beyond any expectation whatsoever.

Rother often recalls in interviews his childhood in Pakistan, where his family lived between the ages of 9 and 12. He developed a love for buzzing sounds and new scales he heard while listening to street musicians, and he swam in the Arabian Sea. , the waves swallowing him up and spitting out his little body. “It’s such a great joy,” he says, ruminating on those times spent in the ocean and his current love of swimming. ” It continues. You can’t see it properly, and it’s getting deeper and deeper. It is something that stimulates my imagination. The sound of water permeates the first album Neu – it leads to several songs, these sounds giving listeners audible connections to that sense of infinity that Rother now talks about. Its powerful wake, uninterrupted for 50 years, continues.