HARMONIA-A SUPERGROUP AND “THE MOST IMPORTANT BAND IN THE WORLD.”
Harmonia-A Supergroup and “The Most Important Band In The World.”
Throughout musical history, innovative music has often failed to find an audience upon its release. It’s only much later, that the music’s importance and innovation is recognised. Musical history is littered with examples. This includes the group that Brian Eno once called : “the most important band in the world,” Harmonia.
Despite such high praise, Harmonia’s albums failed to find the audience that they deserved, and the band struggled make a living. For Germany’s first ever supergroup, this was an inauspicious start to their career.
Just over twenty years later, and somewhat belatedly, Harmonia’s music was beginning to find a much wider audience, and receiving the recognition it deserved. At last, Harmonia had taken their place at the top table of Krautrock, alongside Can, Kraftwerk, Cluster, and Neu! This was somewhat belated, given The Harmonia story began back in 1973.
Harmonia featured members of Neu! and Cluster. They decided to form 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, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger 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,” Michael 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. Critical acclaim the release of Musik von Harmonia Brian Eno on hearing the album, called Harmonia: “the most important band in the world.” Despite the critical acclaim and the endorsement of Brian Eno, Musik von Harmonia wasn’t a commercial success. For Harmonia, this was a huge disappointment.
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. So towards the end of 1974, Michael and Klaus reunited for Neu!’s third album.
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 Harmonia’s sophomore album began in June 1975.
The Return Of Harmonia-Deluxe.
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 Komische musik. Partly, this was down to the addition of Guru-Guru drummer Mani Neumeier. He played on some track, and added a Komische 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 Komische 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. By then, Harmonia were receiving the recognition that their music so richly deserved. Dieter Moebius with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Michael Rother had been part of one of the most innovative groups in the history Krautrock. They’re now regarded as one of the finest purveyors of Krautrock. That’s why Harmonia sit proudly alongside Can, Cluster, Kraftwerk and Neu! at Krautrock’s top table.
Sadly, the recognition that Harmonia received, came long after they released their two classic albums, Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe. Nowadays, Harmonia are regarded as one of the most important, influential and innovative Krautrock bands of the seventies. Forty years after the release of Musik Von Harmonia and Deluxe, Harmonia is more popular than ever. For Michael Rother, that’s ironic. He remembers how: “the seventies weren’t a good time for Harmonia. Our music was ignored, it was tough to survive during this period.” Now things are very different for Harmonia. They’re quite rightly regarded as one the giants Komische music. Harmonia are regarded as just as important, influential and innovative as Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! That’s why Brian Eno once called Harmonia: “the most important band in the world.”
Harmonia-A Supergroup and “The Most Important Band In The World.”