By 1974, supergroups were popular on both sides of the Atlantic. This had been the case since 1966, when Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker formed Cream. Since then, several supergroups had been formed, including Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Blind Faith, Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Bad Company. These supergroups enjoyed varying degrees of success. Some enjoyed critical acclaim and commercial success, while others floundered amidst rancour and bruised egos. However, this didn’t stop others following in the footsteps of groups who would eventually be crowned rock royalty.
This included three musicians who would become the first German supergroup..,Harmonia. Germany’s first supergroup was formed in 1974, when Neu!’s Michael Rother travelled to the Forst Commune, where his he had a proposal for two of his friends, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster. As Michael made his way to the Forst Commune, he wondered if Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius would be interested in joining an extended lineup of Neu!? Then Michael began to consider another possibility, a German supergroup consisting of Neu! and Cluster? This would be a first. Nobody had ever tried this before. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Soon, it became apparent that Michael’s idea of a supergroup was about to take shape, just not in the way Michael had originally envisaged. The three friends began to jam, and the track later became Ohrwurm, a track from Harmonia’s 1974 debut album Musik von Harmonia bggen to take shape. Following their initial jam session, Michael stayed at the Forst Commune to prepare for the recording of Harmonia’s debut album. Germany’s first supergroup had just been born. It wasn’t an extended version of Neu! Instead, it was a new band Harmonia.
Sadly, Harmonia only released two albums while the band was together. Their debut was Musik von Harmonia which was released in 1974. The following year, Harmonia released their sophomore album Deluxe in 1975. These two albums were the only album Harmonia released, before the band ran its course. However, three further Harmnonia albums were released.
The first of these albums was Tracks and Traces, Harmonia’s collaboration with Brian Eno. Sadly, the master tapes went missing, and Tracks and Traces was only released in 1997. Harmonia’s fourth album Live ’74 was released in 2007. This most people believed meant that everything Harmonia had recorded had been released. They were wrong.
Recently, Grönland Records released Documents on CD, LP and digital download. Documents features just four tracks, but they’re essential listening for anyone interested in Harmonia or classic Kominische music. They’re a reminder of one of the most important, influential and innovative Kominische bands, Harmonia. Their story began in 1973, after Neu! released their sophomore album Neu! 2.
Back in 1973, Neu! had just released their sophomore album Neu! 2. It failed to match commercial success and critical acclaim of their eponymous debut album. Neu! had sold 30,000 copies in Germany alone. This was good for an underground album. However, Neu! 2 was a different matter.
The problems started when Neu! went into the studio to record Neu! 2. They had booked ten days to record their second album. This should’ve been plenty of time. Neu! had recorded their debut album in four days. However, Micahel and Klaus spent too long recording side one of the album. With only three days left, the pair panicked. Desperation set in. Then they remembered a single Neu! had released, Neuschnee which featured Super on the flip-side. This was the solution to their problems.
So for side two of Neu! 2, Michael and Klaus recorded versions of Neuschnee and Super. Michael remembers “We did all sorts of things. I played the single on a turntable, and Klaus kicked it as it played. We than played the songs in a cassette player, slowing and speeding up the sound, and mangling the sound in the process.” Just like their debut album, Neu! 2 was completed just in time. It was another: “close shave.”
With Neu! 2 complete, it was scheduled for release later in 1973. When the album was released, critics were won over by side one. Neu! were refining the sound of their debut album. Für immer was Neu! 2’s masterpiece. However, critics weren’t impressed by side two.
Many critics saw the music as gimmicky, and accused Neu! trying to fool and rip off record buyers. Indignant critics took the moral high-ground. Some record buyers agreed. “They felt that we were trying to rip them off. That was not the case.” Side two was Neu! at their most experimental, deconstructing ready made music only to reconstruct or manipulate it. However, neither critics nor record buyers realised this, and Neu! 2 failed commercially. This left Michael Rother and Klause Dinger with a problem.
Both men decided to look for a solution to the problem. Klaus headed to London, where he tried to drum up interest in Neu! Meanwhile, Michael found the solution to his problem in a song.
After hearing “Im Süden, a track from Cluster’s sophomore album Cluster II,” Micahel Rother decided to turn Neu! into the first German supergroup. So Michael embarked upon a journey to the Forst Commune, where his he had a proposal for two of his friends, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster.
As Michael made his way to the Forst Commune, he wondered if Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius would be interested in joining an extended lineup of Neu!? Then Michael began to consider another possibility, a German supergroup consisting of Neu! and Cluster? This would be a first. Nobody had ever tried this before. It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Soon, it became apparent that Michael’s idea of a supergroup was about to take shape, just not in the way Michael had originally envisaged. That initial jam later became Ohrwurm, a track from Harmonia’s 1974 debut album Musik von Harmonia. Following their initial jam session, Michael stayed at the Forst Commune to prepare for the recording of Harmonia’s debut album. Germany’s first supergroup had just been born. It wasn’t an extended version of Neu! Instead, it was a new band Harmonia.
Musik von Harmonia.
Soon, Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius started recording what became Musik von Harmonia in June 1973. It was meeting of musical minds. Over the next five months, Harmonia recorded eight songs. The two members of Cluster were receptive to Michael Rother’s way of working. Hans-Joachim Roedelius explained recently: “there were no problems, we wanted to learn. Previously, we improvised, which made playing live problematic. A song was merely the starting point, it could go anywhere. Michael however, taught us about structure. We influenced him. It was a two-way thing.”
That’s definitely the case. Michael Rother believes: “that working with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius made him a more complete musician.” Over his time working with the two members of Cluster; “I learnt so much.”
This became apparent when Musik von Harmonia was completed in November 1974. Harmonia’s 1974 debut album, Musik von Harmonia, was a move towards ambient rock. Both Michael Rother and the two members of Cluster’s influences can be heard on the nascent supergroup’s debut album. It was released in January 1974.
When Musik von Harmonia was released, many critics realised the importance of what’s a groundbreaking classic. It saw this nascent supergroup seamlessly embrace and incorporate disparate musical genres. In the process, Harmonia set the bar high for future ambient rock albums. Despite the critical acclaim that accompanied Musik von Harmonia, the album wasn’t a commercial success. Michael Rother remember ruefully: “the seventies weren’t a good time for Harmonia. Our music was ignored, it was tough to survive during this period.
Harmonia, just like so many groundbreaking Kominische groups, watched as their debut album Musik von Harmonia passed record buyers by. Incredibly, record buyers failed to realise that the period between 1969 and 1977 was a golden period for German music. Eventually, Musik von Harmonia a truly innovative album, would influence several generations of musicians. That was in the future. Before that, Michael and Klaus reunited for Neu!’s third album in late 1974.
That wasn’t the end of Harmonia though. Neu! spent December 1974 and January of 1975 recording their third album Neu! 75. It was scheduled for release later in 1975. By then, the recording of Harmona’s sophomore album began in June 1975.
In June 1975, the three members of Harmonia returned to their studio in Forst for the recording of their sophomore album, Deluxe. Joining them, was a new face, Conny Plank, who was co-producing Deluxe. Conny Plank and Michael were good friends, and had worked together on three projects. This included Kraftwerk’s aborted album and Neu!’s two album. The addition of the man who Michael Rother calls: “the genius,” just happened to coincide with Harmonia changing direction musically.
Deluxe saw a move towards Kominische musik. Partly, this was down to the addition of Guru-Guru drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on some track, and added a Kominische influence. Another change was that Michael Rother’s guitar played a more prominent role. That wasn’t Michael’s only influence.
The music on Deluxe was more song oriented. This was Michael Rother’s influence. He had taught the two members of Cluster the importance of structure. However, still Harmonia were experimenting, pushing musical boundaries. This was Cluster’s influence. Other parts of Deluxe had been influenced by Michael Rother. Hans-Joachim Roedelius agrees. “Michael Rother’s influence can be heard on Deluxe, more so than on Musik von Harmonia.” What was also noticeable, was that Deluxe had a more commercial sound.
“This wasn’t a conscious decision. The music morphed and evolved, and the result was Deluxe,” Hans-Joachim Roedelius reflects. Michael Rother agrees. “Every album I’ve made I set out for it to be commercial. Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work out that way.” Sadly, that proved to be the case.
When Deluxe was released in 1975, to the same critical acclaim as Musik von Harmonia. The noticeable shift to what was a more commercial sound, surely would lead to a change in Harmonia’s fortunes?
That wasn’t to be. Deluxe was released on 20th August 1975, and sales of the album were slow. They never picked up, and history it seemed, was repeating itself. Michael reflects: “Still our music was being ignored. It was a difficult time for us. So much so, that Michael decided to record his debut solo album.
By then, it looked as if Harmonia had run its course. So Michael Rother decided to embark upon a solo career. That would take up the majority of his time. Michael’s first solo album was “Flammende Herzen which I recorded at Conny’s Studio,” during June 1976. Then later in the summer, Harmonia recorded their third and final studio album.
Tracks and Traces.
Little did the three members of Harmonia realise, that Deluxe was the last album they would release for thirty-two years. For what was their swan-song, Harmonia were joined by another legend, Brian Eno.
At the studio in Forst, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius, Michael Rother and Brian Eno spent eleven summer days recording what was meant to be their third album. The working title was Harmonia ’76. However, by then, “Michael Rother was wanting to concentrate on his solo career. Once the album was completed, it became apparent Harmonia had run its course. It was evolution.” So, Harmonia ’76 was never released until 1997.
During the next thirty-one years, it was thought that the master tapes had gone missing. “That was a rumour. Harmonia ’76 was released as Tracks and Traces in 1997.” Then ten years later, in 2007, Harmonia reunited.
The reunion was for the release of their Live 1974 album. It featured a a recording of Harmonia’s concert on the 23rd March 1974, at Penny Station Club in Griessem, Germany.
Live ’74 features just five lengthy tracks. As Harmonia open the show with a near eleven minute version of Schaumburg instantly, the listener is transported back to that night on 23rd March 1974. Harmonia then work their way through Veteranissimo, which becomes a seventeen minute epic, Arabesque and the Magnus Opus that’s Holta-Polta. Then Harmonia close the set with Ueber Ottenstein. These five tracks are a snapshot of Harmonia at the peak of their powers. They were one of the greatest German bands, but very few people had realised this. By 2007, when Live ’74 was released, it was common knowledge that Harmonia were Kominische royalty.
To celebrate the release of Live 1974, Harmonia played live for the first time since 1976. This landmark concert took place at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, on November 27th 2007. Sadly, it was the last time Harmonia played together.
After a brave and lengthy battle against cancer, Dieter Moebius died on 20th July 2015. That day, Germany had lost one of its greatest musicians. Sadly, the man who had been a member of Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia, three of the most influential and innovative bands of the Kominische era, never lived to see the reissue of Grönland Records luxurious and lovingly compiled Harmonia box set The Complete Works. It featured Harmonia’s entire discography, including the Documents album. However, it wasn’t possible to by just a copy of Documents. That’s until now.
For many record buyers, Documents will be the only Harmonia album missing from their collection. Thankfully, Grönland Records decided to rectify this, and recently released Documents on CD, LP and as a digital download. This means that Grönland Records have released each of Harmonia’s five albums separately. Documents is the final piece in the jigsaw. However, it’s an album that was very nearly incomplete.
Hans-Joachim Roedelius recounts how when Documents was being compiled; “we realised that we didn’t have two of the recordings. Fortunately, there was a happy ending to the story. A relieved Hans-Joachim Roedelius remembers: “After a concert in Hamburg [on 9th February 1975] a friend of ours [Harmonia] asked for a tape of the concert. Back then, we recorded everything. Each night, we recorded the concert. Tapes were expensive, and we were a poor band, so we rerecorded over previous recordings. Despite how expensive tapes were, we sent our friend the tape, and I never thought anything about it.” That was until The Complete Works box set was being compiled.
“It was then that we remembered giving the tape of the concert away. That tape featured the live recordings on Documents [Live At Onkel Pö, Hamburg and Live At Fabrik, Hamburg].” Fortunately, Harmnonia’s friend was none other than electronic musician and “absolute musician” Asmus Tietchens.
He remembers asking Dieter Moebius “if he could maybe copy him one or two of the pieces played in Onkel Pö and Fabrik?” So when a professionally made recording arrived at Asmus Tietchens it was a joyous occasion. He had his own little piece of musical history. Then forty years later, the Harmonia box set The Complete Works was being compiled.
It was then that Asmus Tietchens was approached by Michael Rother who told him about The Complete Works project. Part of the project was the Documents album. It was then Asmus Tietchens remembered the tape. He made it available for The Complete Works project. However, the big worry was what condition it would be in?
Fortunately, the Gods were smiling on Harmonia, and the recordings were just as good as they had been in 1975. It was hard to believe forty years had passed. Still, though, the recordings of Harmonia in their prime were a reminder of one of the greatest Kominische bands at their innovative best. The marriage between Neu!’s Michael Rother and Cluster’s Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius was one made in heaven. The three men created some of the most important music of the Kominische era. This was apparent on their two studio albums Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe. However, Harmonia were able to create innovative music live. That’s apparent on the two live tracks on Documents.
Listening to Live At Onkel Pö, Hamburg and Live At Fabrik, Hamburg, it’s incredible that these two tracks were recorded in February 1975. They were way ahead of their time. So much so, that if a band released them today, it would be hailed as the act of a musical genus. During the two live tracks, Harmonia take the listener on a captivating and innovative musical journey. Sadly, when Harmonia played Hamburg in February 1975, their music wasn’t finding the audience it deserved. So much so, that if a band released them today, it would be hailed as the act of a musical genus. Sadly, that wasn’t the case in 1975. Harmonia’s music passed most people by.
Despite this, Harmonia continued to tour and record new music. This includes Tiki-Taka which opens Documents. It’s one of two tracks recorded at the Harmonia Studio In Forst. Hans-Joachim Roedelius describes this version of Tiki-Taka; “as the ultimate version of the track.” He replicates the urgent Motorik beat as we speak, and enthuses about what he seems to regard as the holy grail of Harmonia’s unreleased tracks. He’s not wrong. Tiki-Taka is guaranteed to stop the listener in their tracks. It’s classic Harmonia. The hypnotic Motorik beat accompanies Harmonia at their inventive best. Sci-fi sounds, subtleties and nuances unfold as one sits spellbound while this lost Harmonia hidden gem works their magic. It’s akin to a Kominische symphony from the trio of musical pioneers. By the end of the track, one can’t help wonder what other tracks recorded at the Forst Studio are hidden in the Harmonia vaults?
Soon, you have your answer, as Proto Deluxe unfolds. It’s another unreleased track. Again, it falls into the category of hidden gem. It’s another truly timeless track, that finds Harmonia doing what they did best…innovating. Collectively, they’re like an artist, except that Harmonia’s pallet includes synths, keyboards, a drum machine, Michael Rother’s guitar and a myriad of effects. These effects transform the dry signal, and result in a timeless, driving, mesmeric and futuristic sounding Kominische track. Again, it’s amazing that it was recorded in 1975. If ever a group were ahead of their time, it’s Harmonia. Thankfully, their music has now been discovered by a new generation of record buyers
Somewhat belatedly, this new generation of record buyers discovered what had been one of the best kept musical secrets, Kominische musik. It was known only to a small, discerning group of musical connoisseurs who feel as if they’re part of the most exclusive club. In this club, they speak in hushed tones of groups like Amon Düül II, Can, Cluster, Embryo, Kraftwerk, Neu! and Xhol Caravan. However, time and time again, one name comes up in conversation… Harmonia.
Although Harmonia released just two albums while they were together, Musik Von Harmonia in 1974 and Deluxe in 1975 were both Kominische classics. After that, Harmonia’s long-lost collaboration with Brian Eno was released in 1997, and is worthy of being referred to as a genre classic. That wasn’t the end of the story. Live ’74 was released in 2007. Many critics thought that the Harmonia story was over. That wasn’t the case, with Grönland Records releasing Documents as part of The Complete Works vinyl box set. Its almost sold out, so Grönland Records reissued Documents on CD, LP and as a digital download. Just like previous albums bearing the Harmonia name, Documents is an album of groundbreaking music from one the most important and influential groups in the history of Kominische music, Harmonia. Their timeless music, including that on Documents, transcends generations, and will continue to do so.