Cult Classic: Neu!-Neu!

There aren’t many artists who after leaving one of the most pioneering groups in musical history, end up founding another groundbreaking group. That’s what happened to Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother who had both been members of Kraftwerk, but left in 1971. After leaving Kraftwerk, the pair  founded Neu! another Kratrock band. 

Neu! went on to be one be one of the most influential groups in musical history. They’re 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. However, Neu only released a trio of albums between 1972 and 1975. Their debut album was Neu!, released in 1972. It was followed by Neu! 2 in 1973 and then Neu! ’75 in 1975. These three albums were among the most influential albums released during that period. Despite being innovative and influential, Neu!’s three albums weren’t particularly successful when they were released .

Just like so many other musical pioneers, Neu! didn’t enjoy the success their music deserved. Maybe Neu! were ahead of their time? Possibly, people didn’t understand what was essentially, a new musical genre, Krautrock. This was the case for Neu’s contemporaries Can, Cluster and to some extent, even Kraftwerk. Since then, a new generation of musicians and music lovers have discovered Krautrock. Its influence can be heard in modern music. Indeed, many musicians refer to Neu! as one of the groups that have influenced them. One of the most influential albums Neu! released was their eponymous debut album.

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. Klaus played drums, guitar and Japanese banjo, while Michael played guitar and bass. 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. However, there was another thing the two albums had in common, they were influential and innovative albums from two of the founding fathers of Krautrock.

Opening Neu! is Hallogallo, a ten minute epic. Chiming guitars, funky bass and driving drums unite as the tempo increases. It’s a track to loose yourself in. At the heart of the arrangement is Klaus’ drumming. He creates a hypnotic groove, thanks to the motorik beat. It hardly changes, except for occasional crashing cymbals. Crystalline guitars escape from the arrangement, wah-wahing into the distance. Washes of guitar create an atmospheric, ambient sound. It’s a counterpoint to mesmeric rhythm section, where the bass and drums are one. They match each other every step in the way. Later, blistering guitars and thunderous drums see the arrangement head in the direction of rock and psychedelia, as this groundbreaking, hypnotic and genre melting track introduces musical pioneers Neu!

An eerie vocal is panned right and the sound of a plane descending from the sky opens Sonderangebot. This gives the arrangement a cinematic sound. It reappears, adding to the drama of this experimental sounding track. Sound effects are utilised, before gongs and cymbals crash. Somewhere in the distance water runs, while a droning sound makes its presence felt. The moody arrangement assails you. You’re surrounded by it, unable to escape it. Cinematic, disturbing, eerie and experimental, Sonderangebot is all this and more, including innovative.

From the opening bars, Weissensee has a moody sound. It reminds me of Pink Floyd. The tempo is slow, just Klaus’ drums providing the hypnotic heartbeat. Guitars wah-wah, as if speaking in some unknown language. Together, they march along purposefully, as elements of rock, psychedelia, funk, Krautrock and ambient music create a dramatic, cinematic opus.

Side two of Neu! was entitled Jahresübersicht and is a three part piece. The first past is Im Gluck (Lucky). Straight away, it has an experimental sound. What sounds like people in a boat, chatting and laughing can be heard. This gives the track an avant-garde, ambient sound. Droning guitars arrive from faraway. Gradually, they drift in, taking centre-stage. They’re alone, wah-wahing and recreating the sound of wistful strings. Above the arrangement, birds can be heard as a boat is rowed. You wonder where to? Here, Neu draw inspiration from ambient, avant garde, classical and experimental music, creating a wistful soundscape that’s atmospheric and cinematic.

Negativland” (Negative Land) is the second track in the three part movement. It features Klaus’ trademark motorik beat. The sound of pneumatic drills, applause and a discordant symphony assail you. It has a psychedelic sound, reminiscent of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Then it’s all change. A bubbling bass combines with Klaus’ motorik beat. Shredded guitars spraying feedback add a free jazz sound. There’s an avant-garde influence as sound effects are unleashed. Neu! use panning effectively, meaning the music surrounds you. By now they’re in a groove, and are exploring it fully. Rock, funk, jazz and psychedelia are  combined as the Krautrock pioneers become one. It’s as if Klaus and Michael know what the other is about to do, as they create an uber funky, hypnotic, groove-laden track.

Closing Neu! is Lieber Honig” (Dear Honey). This was the final piece in this groundbreaking movement. It has pensive, spacious and melancholy introduction. Space is left, before a tender, fragile and ethereal vocal makes its entrance. Just like the arrangement, it spacious and wistful. It’s akin to a stream of consciousness, or a cathartic confessional cleansing. When the vocal drops out, a droning noise drifts in. This is the polar opposite to the rest of the arrangement. After that, the track reminds me of Im Gluck, as someone rows a boat across. That’s all you can hear, apart from the droning noise heading into the distance. The result is an enigmatic, ethereal and experimental track which poses more questions than answers.

Having left Kraftwerk to found a new band, Neu!, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother began as they meant to go on, by creating music that was pioneering. This began with their debut album Neu! Recorded over just four days in Hamburg, Klaus and Michael, with Conny Plank producing and acting as referee, created one of the most important and influential albums in the history of not just Krautrock, but music per se. Quite simply, Neu’s importance can’t be underestimated. It went on to influence everyone from Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and Brian Eno right through to Primal Scream and Radiohead. Even forty-two years after the release of Neu! it’s still cited as album that influenced the latest generation of musicians. So, you’d think that Neu! sold millions of copies?

Sadly, that wasn’t the case. When Neu! was released, it sold just 30,000 copies. Since then, Neu! has been released several times, allowing several generations of musicians and music lovers to hear the album. This includes several generations of electronic music producers. Just like Brian Eno, Can, Cluster and Kraftwerk, Neu!’s music has influenced electronic music. There’s a reason for this. The music these artists produced was groundbreaking. 

When  Neu! was released in 1972 it was an album that was innovative, groundbreaking and totally unique as they combined disparate musical genres. They drew inspiration from ambient, avant garde, electronic, experimental, funk, psychedelia and rock to create their unique brand of Krautrock. This is no different to how a painter uses his palette to create paintings. Neu’s musical experiments were groundbreaking and unique. Proof of this was Klaus’ trademark motorik beat. That’s where Klaus played a 4/4 drum beat with only a very occasional interruption. The effect is hypnotic and mesmeric. It can be heard on Hallogallo and Negativland. This helped Neu! to stand out from other Krautrock groups.

It’s also why Neu!, along with Can, Cluster and Kraftwerk, are seen as the founding fathers of Kraftwerk and why forty-seven years after its release this cult classic is regarded as one of the most important, innovative and influential Krautrock albums ever released.  

Cult Classic: Neu!-Neu!

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