Although Neu never enjoyed the commercial success their music deserved, they’re without doubt, one of the most influential groups in musical history. They’re perceived as one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. They’ve influenced everyone from Brian Eno, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Radiohead, Primal Scream and a generation of electronic music producers. That’s despite only releasing a trio of albums between 1972 and 1975. Their eponymous debut was released in 1972. Only 30,000 copies of Neu were sold. Despite that, it’s perceived as one of the most influential albums released during that period. A year later, Neu returned with their sophomore album Neu 2. It too, is perceived as one of the most innovative and influential albums in musical history. You’ll realise why, when I tell you about Neu 2. Before that, I’ll tell you about Neu and the making of Neu 2.
It was 1971 when Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to form Neu. Both had been members of Kraftwerk, but not for any length of time. Klaus, a drummer, joined midway through the recording of Kraftwerk’s eponymous debut album. Michael, a bassist, joined Kraftwerk after the album was finished. When Kraftwerk was released in 1971, it wasn’t a commercial success. It only sold 30,000 copies. For the founder of Kraftwerk Ralph Hutter, this was too much. He left the band for six months. Kraftwerk carried on though.
Kraftwerk were reduced to a trio of Wolfgang Scheider, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. They played a few concerts, and even appeared on German television program Beat Club. However, concerts were becoming few and far between. For two members of Kraftwerk, this was becoming frustrating. Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother decided to leave Kraftwerk and form a new band.
When they founded his new band, which was based in Dusseldorf, there were debates about the band’s name. Michael though the band should have an organic name. Klaus however, had hit on the name Neu! So, the new band became Neu! To go with the new name, a pop art logo was designed and copyrighted. This new logo was seen as a comment and protest against the modern consumer society. Just like contemporaries Can, Neu weren’t afraid to combine social comment and art. Having settled on a name, Neu! headed to the recording studio.
Recording of what became Neu! took place in December 1971, at Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios, in Hamburg. Four days had been booked to record the six songs that Klaus and Michael cowrote. Conny Plank, who’d produced Kraftwerk’s debut album would act as producer. He also acted as a go-between, when it came to differences of opinion between Klaus and Michael.
For the first two days, it was slow going. Nothing much was achieved. It was only only when Klaus brought along his Japanese banjo that they began to make progress. That seemed to act as a catalyst. Not long after this, Klaus first played his trademark motorik beat. That’s where Klaus plays a 4/4 drum beat with only very occasional interruptions. The effect is hypnotic and mesmeric. It can be heard on Hallogallo and Negativland. Klaus didn’t realise how influential the motorik beat would become. The sessions carried on and once they were finished, Conny Plank mixed Neu! at Star Musik Studio, in Hamburg. Now Neu! was ready for release.
On its release by Brain Records in 1972, Neu! wasn’t a commercial success. In total, it sold only 30,000 records. For Klaus and Michael this must have been hugely disappointing. They must have felt history was repeating itself again. After all, Kraftwerk’s debut album hadn’t been a commercial success.
Despite the lack of commercial success, Neu! was critically acclaimed. It was described as an influential and innovative album. This resulted in Neu being hailed as one of the founding father’s of Krautrock. Along with Can, they were credited as the founding fathers of Krautrock. Now the pressure was on for Neu to create the followup to their debut album. This would become Neu 2.
When work began on Neu’s sophomore album Neu 2, everything seemed to go wrong. It wasn’t Neu’s fault. Brain Records schedule and budget was tight. Recording had to take place during January 1973. There was no other option. That was all that had been budgeted for.
For Neu 2, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother eventually, cowrote eleven tracks. Neu headed to Windrose-Dumont-Time Studios, in Hamburg. Recording took place during January 1973. Klaus played Japanese banjo, guitar, percussion, electric piano, electronics and turntables. Michael played guitar, bass, piano, violin, zither, percussion, electronics and effects. Neu and Conny Plank produced what became Neu 2. Things didn’t go smoothly though.
Unfortunately, Neu ran out of money in the middle of recording of Neu 2. Try as they may, Brain Records wouldn’t give Neu any more money. This presented a problem. They hadn’t enough songs for their sophomore album. Then they hit on idea. Why not remix the two singles and use them to fill up the rest of side two of Neu 2. At last Neu 2 was finished. Just like many bands before them, Neu’s sophomore album had proved problematic. How would Neu 2 be received though?
On its release Neu 2 critics realised this was a truly groundbreaking album. Critics were fascinated by the album. It was described as inventive, innovative and influential. Others hailed the album as ambitious, chaotic and experimental. Despite being released to critical acclaim, Neu 2 wasn’t a commercial success. Financially, this was a disaster for Neu. They couldn’t afford another commercial failure. As a result, Klaus and Michael put Neu on hold. Michael joined Harmonia, a Kraturock supergroup. Neu wouldn’t release another album until 1975, when they released ’75. Just like Neu 2, which I’ll tell you about, ’75 is an important album in the history of Krautrock.
Für Immer which translates as Forever, opens Neu 2. It’s not just an epic track, but a Neu classic. Eleven minutes long, the track hesitantly unfolds. Soon, Neu lock into a groove, showcasing their trademark motorik beat. This comes courtesy of the rhythm section who provides the heartbeat. They create the hypnotic beat. Meanwhile guitars chime, reverberate and snarl. Feedback and distortion are tamed by Michael. Using his trusty effect boxes. He unleashes big, bold chords, while white noise makes you recoil. Adding a myriad of effects and percussion Neu augment their trademark motorik beat. The result is a track that’s not just innovative, experimental and pioneering, but epitomises what Neu’s music is about.
White noise recreates the sound of gusting winds or waves crashing on a beach. Then as Spitzenqualität unfolds, thunderous drums pound. The white noise assails you, before the tempo drops and the drums plod along. As effects recreate the sound of traffic, I’m reminded of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn. Both tracks are atmospheric, ambitious and memorable.
Moody describes the gothic sounding Gedenkminute (Für A+K). Wind gusts. It howls as bells chime. The result is a soundscape that’s eerie, gothic and broody.
Neu unleashes screaming, screeching rocky guitars and effects on Lila Engel (Lilac Angel). Then there’s the scatted vocal and mesmeric motorik beat. Soon, machine gun guitars are being sprayed across the arrangement. As for the drums, Michael pounds them. Later, It’s as if Neu have asked the New York Dolls to add the guitars as Krautrock, jazz, proto punk and good time rock ’n’ roll combine. Gnarled chainsaw guitars cut through the raucous arrangement on a track that must have influenced punk pioneers.
The unmistakable sound of crackling vinyl opens Neuschnee 78. That’s before a myriad of instruments are deployed. Everything from a zither, percussion and flute combine. It’s a compelling combination. Especially when played at breakneck speed. Avant-garde, classical, experimental, folk and rock combine during this multi-textured, genre-melting melange.
Super 16 is another track with an experimental sound. Clocks tick, doors shut, vinyl clicks, gongs chime and what sounds like a futuristic army marches towards you. Soon, the track become eerie and haunting. It takes on a cinematic sound. It’s as if Neu have been asked to provide the soundtrack to a gruesome Hammer House of Horror film, and let their imagination run riot.
Neuschnee sees a return to a much more traditional side of Neu. Their motorik beat is augmented by chiming, crystalline guitars, keyboards and violin. Gradually, instruments are added and what follows is a driving slice of Krautrock. Neu are at their most melodic and don’t spare the hooks.
Cassetto is best described as a a sonic experiment. It sounds as if Neu have combined outtakes of The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Heart Club Band and Pink Floyd’s Meddle. Add to that, some of Jimi Hendrix’s feedback. Walls and washes of music assail and surround you. You fear for your speaker’s safety. Then all of a sudden the sound cuts out. It’s as if Neu are either toying with you, as they push musical boundaries to their limits and beyond.
Super 78 is another short track. Again, it has an experimental sound. Guitars are played at breakneck speed and drive the arrangement along. Effects are added to the vocal. So much so, that it sounds as if the LGM from Toy Story are supplying the cartoon vocals.
Lysergic, psychedelic and experimental describes Hallo Excentrico! It’s one of the remixes that was used to complete Neu 2. Best described as a sonic experiment, it’s truly innovative. Neu’s rhythm section provide the heartbeat, before effects are added to the track. They mask much of the arrangement and add an experimental sound. What follows is proof of this. Needles are dropped on vinyl, tapes are played at varying speeds. One minute the tempo drops, the next it increases. The result is a track that’s a fusion of avant-garde, electronica, experimental, free jazz and Krautrock.
Closing Neu 2 is Super, where Neu kick loose, combining Krautrock, pro to punk and good time rock ’n’ roll. It’s a heady brew. While the rhythm section drive the arrangement along, machine gun guitars are unleashed. There’s no vocal as such, just hoops, hollers and scats. Neu even add some of their favoured effects. Mostly though, it’s just Neu kicking loose and creating some glorious rock music.
Neu 2 saw Neu build upon their debut album. They took things further than many groups would’ve dared. This was during their sonic experiments. It seemed Neu trod a line between their trademark Krautrock and what might be described as experimental or avant-garde music. Many groups would’ve been scared to go this far. After all, some critics described Neu 2 as disturbing and chaotic. Other critics described Neu 2 as innovative and groundbreaking. They also describe Neu 2 as essential Krautrock. So would I. Just like Neu, Neu 2 belongs in any self-respecting record collection. Why though?
Well, Neu 2 is one of the most innovative Krautrock albums ever released. It’s also an album that’s ambitious, challenging, difficult, experimental, melodic and pioneering. I’d also suggest that Neu 2 is a case of what might have been. What would Neu 2 have sounded like if Neu hadn’t run out of money? Who knows what the result might have been? As a result, Neu had to make do and mend. They remixed two tracks to ensure Neu 2 was completed. This saw Neu 2 head in the direction of experimental music.
With Brain Records telling Neu there was no more money, Klaus and Michael had to think on their feet. It was a case of working with what they had. Following in the footsteps of other innovators, including Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles Neu used effects, including white noise. Then there was needles dropped on vinyl and tapes are played at varying speeds. All this makes Neu 2 a compelling album. It’s an album to listen to carefully. The more you listen, the more you hear. Truly, Neu 2 is a genre-melting album.
Everything from ambient, avant-garde, classical, electronica, experimental, folk, Krautrock, prog rock and rock is combined by Neu on their sophomore album Neu 2. The result is an album that’s inventive, influential and innovative. Neu 2 is a classic album that contains truly groundbreaking music. In fact I’d go further, and say that Neu 2 is essential listening for anyone interested in Krautrock, and without doubt, is a true Krautrock classic. Standout Tracks: Für Immer, Lila Engel, Super 16 and Neuschnee.