Lynchpin member of several pioneering bands of 1970s German music, Michael Rother chats to Claire Sawers about the liquid
smooth krautrock sounds he will be bringing to Edinburgh this week
Only Michael Rother, one half of pioneering electronica duo Neu! Could find creative inspiration in a wonky phone signal. ‘Seriously! You should hear what this sounds like at my end,’ he enthuses, as Skype turns our chat into a distorted, bubbly, underwater crackle of noise.
‘It’s like Conny Plank is putting you through a phaser! It’s amazing – what an incredible effect! I need to start using Skype for making music. This phone connection is so . . . adventurous!’
Reassuring then, that Rother, has lost none of his passion for technology, and that knack for homing in on the strange and new. How else would the music of Neu! Have come about? While the rest of Germany succumbed to a bad wave of naff schlager pop hits during the early 1970s, a small portion of defiant modernists strove to create something that had never been heard before. German experimentalists Kraftwerk (Rother was early member, before forming Neu! In 1971 with drummer Klaus Dinger, then later Harmonia with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Möbius of Cluster) as well as Faust, Can and Tangerine Dream, all embraced bold new rhythms and sounds, and led Europe into a stunning new era of electronic music. Creating sublime rolling motorik beats, Neu!’s liquid-smooth, repetitious sound was completely at odds with the bulky and temperamental technology they were using to make it.
‘We had no idea if people were listening to our stuff back then,’ he explains, referring to the lengthy period when Neu!’s underground music was hard to get hold of, and copies on CDR and cassette were swapped amongst fans. ‘Now it seems the audience is much more advanced, and ready for us. I’m so happy to be in a position where we are in demand.’ So, nearly thirty years on, founding member Michael Rother is reviving his 70s creation, in a touring band made up of Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) on drums, and Aaron Mullan (Tall Firs) on guitar.
Steve is a very powerful drummer, and has a great ability to listen and react to the music. He isn’t trying to imitate what Klaus did though – that would be silly,’ Rother says of his one-time musical partner, who died in 2008. ‘Both Steve and Aaron add their own colours to the music. That’s how it should be; not playing like a slave. It’s all in the spirit of moving forward.’ Forward motion is something that Rother talks a lot about, and likens the music of Neu! To a long drive down a straight motorway; a comparison that often crops up of the krautrock sound. ‘It’s about concentrating on the horizon, just moving. Not fussing over small details, just caring about that fast forward motion.’
If Hallogallo’s performance at May’s Primavera festival in Barcelona is anything to go by, this Edinburgh date has all the hallmarks of a hypnotic, very special glide through krautrock beats and woozy kosmische soundscapes. ‘I look out at all the smiling faces, and people seem so happy when they listen to the music. I’m an artist, and someone that’s not easily satisfied with what I do. But really, when you see that, what more can you ask as an artist?’
Hallogallo/ Michael Rother & Friends present the music of Neu!, HMV Picture House, Lothian Road, 0844 847 1740, 17Aug, 7.30pm, £18. Part of The Edge Fest.
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