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2023/4 Albums Thing 253 - NEU! “NEU!”

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If you’ve ever wondered what it is, this, dear reader, is Krautrock. It was a label jokingly given to German underground music of the early 70’s by the Melody Maker, and it stuck. To the point where leading German band Faust recorded a track titled “Krautrock” (https://youtu.be/m5-_c2VFxhQ?si=Z4WchY3OmVU3N0Zj).

After the Second World War Germany was split in two with the East overseen by Russia and the Allies of the USA and the UK overseeing the West. American music arrived with the GI’s stationed in West Germany. By the time we get to the late 60’s the American music the German “heads” had picked up on was that of the Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, the weirder more experimental end of things. Ally that to the experimental, electronic “classical” music being made by Karlheinz Stockhausen in Cologne and you have an altogether different set of influences being applied to Germany’s underground and progressive musicians than on those elsewhere in the west.

The result was the bands to whom Melody Maker applied the somewhat disparaging sobriquet “Krautrock”,  including (but not limited to) Faust, Amon Düul, Ash Ra Tempel, Cluster, Popol Vuh, Harmonia, Can, Kraftwerk and, of course, NEU!

NEU!, as far as this album is concerned, were a duo from Düsseldorf consisting of guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger both of them recently departed from Kraftwerk. Producer Conny Plank (who would go on to produce records by Ultravox and Eurhythmics because of his work with Krautrock) was also instrumental in the construction of NEU!’s first 3 albums (“NEU!”, “NEU!2” and “NEU! 75”).

NEU!’s sound was built around Rother’s pulsing, rhythmic, effects laden guitar playing and Dinger’s minimal drumming. Dinger’s style, a simplistic 4/4 pattern, heavy on the kick drum and with few fills, that never lets up, has become so influential it earned its own name, “the Motorik”. If you can’t imagine what it sounds like have a listen below or think of anything by Stereolab who have fashioned n entire career out of it ! The music is largely instrumental (there is a vocal on final track “Lieber Honig” (“Dear Honey”) but it’s more of an effect than actual singing), rhythmic and features sound effects, there is a somewhat startling pneumatic drill at one point and the sound of a boat rowing on water elsewhere. Rother’s guitar playing does get beautifully melodic in places, have a listen to “Weissensee” (“White Lake”).

The key track on “NEU!” is the first one, “Hallogallo”, a 10-ish minute groove-fest of pulsing, hypnotic guitar riffs and that relentless Motorik beat pushing everything along. Have a listen below, it really does tell you everything about NEU!

NEU!’s first 3 albums are rightly regarded as landmarks in German music and their influence is widespread. It’s rumoured Bowie originally wanted Michael Rother to play guitar on “Heroes” but some crossed wires meant he never received the request. I spent years avoiding any contact with  Krautrock, seeing it merely as a branch of the dreaded Prog, which I was very wrong about,l. Music like this had a huge influence on Punk and Post Punk. But thanx to the persistence of my dear friend Phil Barlow and Julian Cope’s seminal tome on the subject, “Krautrocksampler”, mine ears were opened and NEU! were a real gateway for me.

Hallogallo - https://youtu.be/zndpi8tNZyQ?si=BcCBm5m22u9ZE1Jd

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