Back in the seventies, the life of a musician wasn’t an easy one. Most bands were contracted to release at least one album each calendar year. As a result, many bands would get into habit of entering the studio just after the festive period, and would spend a couple of months recording their new album. It would be released in the spring, and then the band would embark upon an extensive tour to promote the album.
Often, the band was on the road for the remainder of the year, and had a gruelling schedule to contend with. In each city, there was a round of interviews with press, radio and television before heading to the venue to play live. Usually, concerts lasted two to three hours. This was the case night after night, week after week, and month after month. Then when the band returned home, they enjoyed a few weeks rest before the whole process started again. That was the case for many bands during the seventies.
This included Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, who were two of the hardest working and most prolific German musicians of the seventies. They were members of Kluster, Cluster and Harmonia and recorded twelve studio albums during the seventies. Seven of these albums bore the name of Cluster, the band that Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius formed in 1971.
Although Cluster released seven studio albums between 1971 and 1979, they were also a legendary live band, whose marathon concerts usually lasted six hours or more. Sadly, Cluster never released a live album during the seventies. The nearest most people got to hearing Cluster live was when they heard Live In der Fabrik, a fifteen minute epic that featured on Cluster II in 1972. Since then, Cluster have never released an album of material from the seventies. That was until recently, when the Hamburg based Bureau B label released Konzerte 1972-1977, which features recordings from two Cluster concerts. These recordings make their debut on Konzerte 1972-1977 and are a tantalising reminder of what Cluster live in the seventies sounded like. Konzerte 1972-1977 is the musical equivalent of time travel, and transports the listener back to seventies,
Cluster’s concerts in the seventies were akin to the happenings of the sixties, with the band and audience often having partaken in alcohol or illicit substances. This was enough to open the doors of perception, as Cluster took the audience on a musical voyage of discovery.
During this voyage of discovery, Cluster always played with an intuitiveness and spontaneity as they improvised. That was the case night after night. Similarly, the two members of Cluster played with a fluidity and freedom during their marathon concerts. Meanwhile, the audience were captivated by Cluster’s groundbreaking soundscapes. What they heard on albums was merely a starting point, as Cluster sought to reinvent familiar tracks. It was like a live realtime remix. Sometimes, Cluster created a new soundscape live on stage. When this happened, the audience knew that they were watching musical history being made. This was something Cluster continued to do throughout the seventies, and beyond.
Constantly, Cluster sought to reinvent their music as the seventies progressed. In the early days, the music was rough and almost brutal. Later the music evolved and veered between elegiac and ethereal to eerie. Sometimes Cluster made music that pensive and ruminative, and invited reflection. Often though, Cluster made music that was cinematic and sometimes, lysergic. They were musical chameleons whose music never stood still and aways was groundbreaking and innovative. This was quite a feat, as Cluster used what was quite basic equipment.
Unlike other groups, like Kraftwerk, who were using expensive, cutting edge equipment, Cluster used only the most basic equipment. They eschewed expensive synths and sequencers when they took to the stage. Similarly, they didn’t use expensive high-end amplifiers to amplify their music when they played live. There was a reason for this. Cluster was determined they weren’t going to become dependent on machines. They were a means to an end, and part of the music making process. For Cluster, the important thing was the performance and the music, not banks of gleaming, expensive keyboards, synths and sequencers. That wasn’t Cluster’s style.
Sometimes, though, the sound quality suffered because of the equipment that Cluster used. That is the case on Konzerte 1972-1977. The sound quality can’t be described as hi-fidelity. However, Cluster’s performance couldn’t be faulted. As the audience left Fabrik, in Hamburg, in 1972 and at the Festival International de La Science-Fiction, in Metz in 1977, they knew that they had witnessed a groundbreaking group at the peak of their powers. Proof of that can be found on Konzerte 1972-1977.
By the time that Cluster appeared at Fabrik, in Hamburg, in 1972, the band had already released two albums. Cluster ’71 had been released in 1971, with Cluster II following in January 1972. Both were innovative albums that would influence a new generation of musicians in the early seventies. Even today, Cluster and Cluster II continue to influence musicians. That is no surprise, as both albums are regarded as Krautrock classics.
Sci-fi sounds swoop as beeps and squeaks emerge from the soundscape that is Fabrik, Hamburg 1972. So do seemingly random sounds that buzz, beep and grind. Meanwhile the soundscape is lo-fi and shrill, as an array of futuristic sound flit in and out, as Cluster transport the listener on a lysergic voyage of discovery. It’s a case of expect the unexpected as shrill, churning, whining and grinding sounds assail the listener. Sometimes, this doesn’t make for easy listening, while other times it’s strangely melodic. Always, though, the soundscape is engaging and compelling. Especially, as futuristic, industrial, grinding and droning sounds unite and become part of this groundbreaking soundscape. It ebbs and flows, as Cluster throw curveballs, and the listener discovers sonic subtleties and surprises.
Later, the soundscape becomes understated, and it’s as if Cluster are providing the soundtrack to sci-fi movie, as the music becomes futuristic. This brings back memories of Apollo space missions, as a drone grows sails above the arrangement. By then, there’s a degree of drama as the arrangement reverberates. It then becomes understated, otherworldly, haunting and cinematic. When beeps, squeaks and cheeps emerge from the soundscape, it sounds like Cluster have discovered an alien nation during this epic, genre-melting musical adventure. It’s a groundbreaking, captivating and cinematic with Cluster fusing elements of avant-garde, electronica, experimental, industrial, Krautrock and Musique Concrete,
Five years after their appearance at Fabrik, in Hamburg, in 1972, Cluster were invited to appear at the Festival International de La Science-Fiction, in Metz in 1977. Cluster’s music was regarded as the perfect backdrop top a festival dedicated to sci-fi. By then, Cluster’s music had evolved.
That had been the case since Cluster released Zuckerzeit in 1974. It was a haunting and melodic album of electronic pop and Krautrock, co-produced by Michael Rother. He was responsible for the rhythmic sound that was reminiscent of Neu!, and the stronger, more defined melody. Just like their first two album, critics hailed Zuckerzeit as a Krautrock classic.
Despite this, Cluster was put on hold while Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius collaborate with Michael Rother on a new project, Harmonia. Although it wasn’t a successful project, the band produced two classic albums, 1974s Musik von Harmonia and 1975s Deluxe. Harmonia also collaborated with Brian Eno, who had called them: “the most important band in the world.” Unfortunately, the master tapes to Tracks and Traces were mislaid and the album wasn’t released until 1997.
After Harmonia ran its course, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius recorded Cluster’s fourth album Sowiesoso. It was recorded in just two days, and was released in 1976. Sowiesoso was a much more understated and melodic album, and later, would be hailed as a Krautrock classic. However, just like many of the Krautrock bands, Cluster weren’t going to become rich men.
Their first four albums hadn’t sold in vast quantities. Especially in their native Germany, where their music was overlooked and misunderstood. Part of the problem was that Cluster’s music was way ahead of the curve, and many people didn’t understand the music. However, in Britain and France, Cluster’s music found an appreciative audience. It was ironic that Cluster were more popular abroad, than at home.
In June 1977, Cluster released their collaboration with Brian Eno. Entitled Cluster and Eno, it was a fusion of gentle melodic, Brian Eno’s ambient stylings and avant-garde. Cluster and Eno was hailed an instant classic. As Cluster prepared to play at the Festival International de La Science-Fiction, in Metz in 1977 they were regarded as one of the most important, influential and innovative of the Krautrock groups. This becomes apparent on Konzerte 1972-1977.
Straight away, there’s a futuristic sound to Festival International de La Science-Fiction, Metz 1977. Drones quiver and otherworldly sounds ascend and descend. Mostly, the drones are to the fore and add a degree of urgency, before sound flit in and out. Some are subtle and distant, while others much more noticeable. This ranges from ruminative and otherworldly, to a whirring and growling sound that resembles an aircraft. It’s joined by pensive and futuristic sounds that add to the cinematic sound. This is guaranteed to set the listener’s imagination racing. Especially when the sound of an aircraft emerges from the soundscape.
Not long after this, the music becomes melodic, which was one of the trademarks by 1977. Meanwhile, the music drones and quivers, as if soaring high into the night sky. Before long, the music takes on an almost ethereal quality, as the journey continues. By then, it sounds as if it the aircraft is heading for a distant planet. Plink plonk strings and keyboard join with shivering, quivering, otherworldly and futuristic sounds. Gradually, the aircraft nears its destination, and as it does, the drama builds as this cinematic opus reaches a crescendo.
For many fans of Cluster, Konzerte 1972-1977 is the album that they’ve been waiting for. They’ve always wanted to hear live album of music that features Cluster in their seventies pomp. As the years passed by, it looked increasingly like this was never going to happen.
The only reminder of Cluster live in the seventies was Live In der Fabrik, which featured on Cluster II. It was a tantalising taste of Cluster live in the seventies. During this period, Cluster were one at the peak of their powers and one of the leading lights of Krautrock scene. Cluster released one classic album after album after another. This started with Cluster and continued with Cluster II, Zuckerzeit, Sowiesoso and Cluster and Eno. Each of these albums were among the most important and influential released during the Krautrock era. They featured groundbreaking and genre-melting music. However, the only thing missing from Cluster’s seventies back-catalogue was a live album. That was until the recent release of Konzerte 1972-1977, which features musical pioneers Cluster at the peak of their powers, as they show why will forever deserve to dine at Krautrock’s top table.
- Posted in: Avant Garde ♦ Electronic ♦ Experimental ♦ Industrial ♦ Krautrock
- Tagged: Bureau B, Cluster, Cluster '71, Cluster and Eno, Cluster II, Deluxe, Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Harmonia, Kluster, Konzerte 1972-1977, Michael Rother, Musik Von Harmonia, Sowiesoso, Tracks and Traces, Zuckerzeit