For those unfamiliar with German rock of the ’70s, NEU! was former by two members of Kraftwerk in Düsseldorf in 1971. They are best known for being influences on David Bowie, Joy Division, Gary Numan, Sonic Youth, Stereolab, Radiohead, and basically all of electronic music, but especially IDM.
“multi-instrumentalists Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger both split from Kraftwerk. Recorded in the space of four days with Can producer Conrad Plank, the duo’s self-titled debut appeared early in 1972 and quickly established their affection for minimalist melodies and lock-groove rhythms.”
The 5th track on the album, Negativland, is a stone cold groove. I once shoveled the snow from my front steps once while listening to it and it was both a meditative, invigorating and funky experience.
From Thom Jurek’s review on AllMusic, “Neu! created a sound that was literally made for cruising in an automobile… Dinger‘s mechanical, cut time drumming and Rother‘s two-note bass runs adorned with cleverly manipulated and dreamy guitar riffs and fills were the hallmarks of the “motorik” sound that would become the band’s trademark.
On “Hallogallo”, which opens the disc, the listener encounters a timeless rock & roll sound world. The driving guitar playing one chord in different cadences and rhythmic patters, the four-snare to the floor pulse with a high hat and bass drum for ballast, and a bassline that is used more for keeping the drummer on time than as a rhythm instrument in its own right. These are draped in Rother‘s liquidy, cascading single note drones and runs, so even as the tune’s momentum propels the listener into a movement oriented robotic dance, the guitar’s lyrical economy brings an aesthetic beauty into the mix that opens the space up from inside. …
All hell breaks loose again on Dinger‘s “Negativland” as an industrial soundscape eventually gives way to a bass and guitar squall as darkly enticing as anything on Joy Division‘s Unknown Pleasures. It’s really obvious now how the JD’s sound was influenced by this simply and darkly delicious brew of noise, bass throb, percussive hypnosis, and an oddly placed, strangely under-mixed, guitar.
Neu!’s debut album was driving music for the apocalypse in 1971.”
“Their second album, Neu! 2, features some of the earliest examples of musical remixes. The band, excited to record another album, decided to expand their limits by purchasing several instruments. With the money they had left as an advance from the record company, they could only record half an album’s worth of material. The company would not increase their advance because the first album did not sell anywhere close to well and the label did not see a reason to further finance what was most likely to become a flop. To rectify the lack of material, the band filled the second side with manipulated versions of their already released single, “Neuschnee”/”Super”, playing back each song at different speeds and sometimes warbling the music by messing with the tape machine or placing the record off center on the turntable. The song “Super 16,” unwittingly, became the theme song to the 1976 martial arts cult
classic Master of the Flying Guillotine by Jimmy Wang Yu. This film was later referenced by Quentin Tarantino in Kill Bill (Volume 1) by also featuring the track “Super 16”.
Dinger and Rother were both very different when they were left to their own devices, and this led to their final album of the 1970s, Neu! ’75. Side One was Rother’s more ambient productions which were similar to the first album, albeit more keyboard driven. Side Two (particularly the song “Hero”) was acknowledged as important influence by many later involved in the UK’s punk rock scene, with Dinger’s sneering, unintelligible vocals searing across a distorted Motorik beat with aggressive single chord guitar poundings.
From Jim DeRogatis, of WBEZ in Chicago, a great subsection from his History of Psychedelic Rock, Turn On Your Mind is available on the WBEZ website. He gives a context and an explanation of how this music captured the minds of so many and influenced them to make fascinating music.
Theirs is music for the present — alive, urgent, bursting with energy, and demanding to be played. Neu! are as relevant today as they were a decade ago. — David Elliott, liner notes to Black Forest Gateu, 1982
In Germany, there is no speed limit. The most culturally myopic American knows this but tends to envision futuristic superhighways criss-crossing the country. In fact, the autobahns were built by Hitler to provide a system for quick and easy troop transport, and they have only two lanes running in either direction. They are simple but efficient blacktops cutting through the countryside, unobtrusive intrusions of modernity in the rolling green hillsides. Neu! is the sound of driving late at night on these quiet, empty roads. The white lines move toward the headlights with mechanical regularity, in time to the steady speed of the car. They are the only thing you see, but the Fatherland is out there in the darkness. You can feel it.
The roots of Neu! are intertwined with those of another great German band, Kraftwerk. Ralf Hƒ¼tter and Florian Schneider would prefer people to think that they surfaced in 1974 as fully formed electronic-pop pioneers, but in fact, the two met at the Dƒ¼sseldorf Conservatory in the late ’60s. In 1968 they formed a group called Organisation to play improvised music with organ, flute, and electronics at art galleries and happenings. At one of these gigs, they met Conny Plank, a jazz musician and recording engineer who had started his career doing sound for Marlene Dietrich and Duke Ellington. In the late ’60s he became fascinated with the Velvet Underground, Jimi Hendrix, and Jamaican dub producer Lee “Scratch” Perry, and he was intrigued by the possibility of working with a rock group that had a distinctive European sound and identity.”…