Back in March, we went along to Chalk to review Tangerine Dream. At the time, we pointed out that it was fifty years since they’d released their album, ‘Zeit’ (‘Time’ in English). A month later, another German band – Rammstein, a hard rock band formed in Berlin in 1994 – released their eighth studio album. It is also called ‘Zeit’. The coincidence prompted us to look back over some of the year’s releases and gigs from various German acts, and to assess the ongoing influence of krautrock today.
Another album released in 1972 was the eponymous ‘Neu!’. The band itself started out the previous year in Düsseldorf when Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother left Kraftwerk – a pioneering band (last seen in these parts in 2017) that embraced electronica in the form of synthesizers, drum machines and vocoders and, in albums such as ‘The Man-Machine’ took us on an exhilarating, emotion-free trip. Neu!, arguably, changed music for ever, their minimalist 4/4 motorik rhythms becoming synonymous with the term “krautrock”, and influencing acts as diverse as Eno, Joy Division and New Order, Hot Chip, Daft Punk, Orbital, Snapped Ankles, Blanck Mass, Scalping… An endless list.
This year, to celebrate Neu!’s fifty-year influence, Michael Rother played a gig at the Clapham Grand, playing songs from their first three albums, as well as tracks from spin-off band, Harmonie, and his own solo albums. In addition, last January he released an album recorded with Italian musician Vittoria Maccabruni entitled ‘As Long As The Light’, with tracks like ‘Exp1’and ‘Edgy Smiles’ confirming that in 2022 he remains true to the band’s original production values.
Ulrich Schnauss, formerly a member of the shifting Tangerine Dream line-up followed 2021’s ‘Destiny Waving’ with August’s re-working ‘The Extremist’. He returned to Brighton to play at St Luke’s church back in March, treating the audience to a range of his material spanning more than two decades. His 2007 album ‘Goodbye’ was full of spacey ambient workouts taking us on journey after dream-filled journey, but ‘Stars’ – a song with a vocal – was a highlight, and testimony to the fact that his soundscapes are also supremely danceable.
From the outset, German electronic music has got people onto the dance floor. Unlike more demanding Latin American beats, the unchanging mechanical rhythms of krautrock make it easy for the least gifted dancers among us to move around enthusiastically without being wrong-footed, and when the songs are combined with a vocal, they create an irresistible draw. Obviously, this has found expression with the huge number German techno acts, many of whom – Timo Maas and Einmusik spring to mind – have been brought over to Brighton by Markus Saarländer for his increasingly popular Berlin nights that, for the last eight years, have taken place in a range of venues around town.
Anjunabeats/Anjunadeep, sister record-labels have also brought DJs to Brighton, most recently to the Arch this December, and though this latest gig highlighted the works of English and Spanish DJs, both labels are the home of many a German DJ specialising in deep and progressive house. Ben Böhmer, whose British gigs were postponed twice because of Covid, finally managed to play a set that confirmed his place at the forefront of German dance music; ‘Escalate’, a track of his second album proving a highlight, while stablemate and relative newcomer, Nils Hoffmann, delivered an album this year – ‘A Radiant Sign’, with tracks like ‘Let Me Go’ and ‘9 Days’ highlighting his own developing talent. We’re hoping that the rumours he’ll be playing Brighton in 2023 are true.
Another German band we caught in Brighton this year was Flying Moon In Space. Hailing from Leipzig, the six-piece played the Hope & Ruin in July to promote their second album, ‘Zwei’. A so-called supergroup, comprising members of various other German bands, they had developed a reputation for long live improvisations. The evening’s superb gig, however, with the rhythm section augmented by more than the usual number of guitars, proved to be a tightly managed affair, showcasing fine songwriting in tracks like ‘Optimist’ and ‘The Day The Sun Was Made’, and reminding us of some hybrid concoction of K-Pop and Brighton’s own The Go! Team.
One seminal figure from the German music scene who, sadly, we did not catch this year was Wolfgang Flür, a former member of Kraftwerk. His concert at the Concorde 2 was initially postponed because of Covid restrictions, and when he did play in October, it was Covid that prevented us from getting down to see him. By all accounts, the gig was excellent, and confirmed the pivotal influence Kraftwerk has had – not least on one of the British supports that night, Anzahlung, whose excellent album we reviewed back in October.
And so, back to the two bands that triggered this retrospective: Tangerine Dream and Rammstein. Tangerine Dream released ‘Raum’ this year, with a track like ‘Portico’ – all insistent electronic beats and washes of synthesizer – as strong as anything they have ever done. Meanwhile Rammstein, a rock band that have always shunned the blues influence of their British or American counterparts, produced one of their strongest albums to date in 2022. From the dark humour of ‘Zick Zack’, which takes a brutal look at cosmetic surgery (“Belly fat in the bio bin / The penis now sees the sun again”) to ‘Lügen’, whose protagonist concedes that all his romantic promises are nothing but lies, the band never shies away from contemporary issues. While ‘Zeit’, the title track, is a moving look at the inevitable passing of time.
From Can to Camera, from Neu! to Nils Hoffmann, from Kraftwerk to Rammstein – and, of course, not forgetting the industrial mayhem of Einstürzende Neubauten; whether or not you are aware of these German musicians, their influence on contemporary music cannot be overestimated. MOGO awards, anyone?