Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Neu! (pronounced "noy") were a German band, probably the archetypal example of what the UK music press at the time dubbed Krautrock. Their name translates to "New!" in German. The band had minimal commercial success when active, but are credited with being a huge influence on a diverse group of artists, including The Sex Pistols and David Bowie, as well as the current electronic music scene.
- Klaus Dinger (1971-1975, 1985-1986)
- Michael Rother (1971-1975, 1985-1986)
- Conny Plank (producer)
- Thomas Dinger (1975)
- Eberhard Kranemann (1972)
- Hans Lampe (1975)
- Uli Trepte (1972)
Probably the most cherished element of the NEU! oeuvre is what is often called the "motorik" beat (although the band themselves do not use this term, Dinger himself sometimes referring to it as the "Apache beat"). At least one third of their recorded output is in the motorik form. Here they deconstruct the traditional rock song format, with its verses and choruses, intros and changes, stripping it down to a single minimalist 4/4 beat, which drummer Dinger repeats continuously throughout the entire track. Although on paper this might seem a recipe for monotony, in fact Dinger's discipline and flair as a drummer generates a very powerful, focussed groove, with a great sense of continuous forward motion (the analogy is often made with motorway driving). In terms of traditional western and rock music harmonic form, Rother would complement Dinger's rhythm by eschewing chord changes, and instead opting for a harmonic drone - a single chord, layering numerous electric guitar overdubs. Timbral change takes over from harmonic change as the main focus of interest. Conny Plank was renowed as a producer for creating a working environment where musicians could be free to explore such experiments, and also as a master of timbral texture and spatialisation.
Many other Neu! tracks are very slow and gentle, sketching out traces of a song in what might be called an 'ambient' style.
Drummer Klaus Dinger had joined Kraftwerk midway through sessions for their eponymous debut album. Guitarist Michael Rother was then recruited to the Kraftwerk line-up on completion of the album. (Rother had been playing in a local band called The Spirits of Sound, the line-up of which also included drummer Wolfgang Flür, who would himself go on to join Kraftwerk two years later.) Kraftwerk founder Ralf Hütter left the band at this point, and for a 6 month period, Kraftwerk consisted of a trio of Rother, Dinger & Florian Schneider. This line-up played sporadic gigs and made a live appearance on German TV programme Beat Club (recently made available on DVD). Attempted recording sessions at Conny Plank's studio were unsuccessful ("a difference of temperment", Rother was later to remark), and Dinger and Rother parted company from Schneider and began a new project with Plank - NEU! (Schneider rejoined Hütter and the pair continued recording the second Kraftwerk album with Plank.)
Their eponymous first album sold very little by our standards today (though 30,000 records was a lot for a band of their musical nature), yet is today considered a masterpiece by many, including influential artists such as Thom Yorke of Radiohead and David Bowie. It included the Motorik benchmark tracks "Hallogallo" and "Negativland", and bizarre "songs" like "Sonderangerbot". Also included was the widely considered low point in Neu!'s catalog, "Lieber Honig". With a beautiful acoustic guitar in the background, it sounds fine until Dinger's terrible off-key mumblings ruin an otherwise ambient piece. Luckily, these are the only vocals on the album.
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, Rother and Dinger expanded on what they did have by messing around with the master tapes. They sped up and slowed down some material, thus turning newly recorded songs like "Super", into "Super 16" and "Super 78" (the numbers meaning the RPM that the tapes were played at). Other methods were tried: a piece called "Cassetto" involved music being played through a cassette player that had low battery and eventually died. Due to the wonders of financial limitation and no commercial potential whatsoever, Neu! introduced the world to the concept of remixing already produced music in drastic ways that overall changed the feel of the music. (Side Note: "Super 16" is available in excerpt form as track 17 and in full form as track 23 on the soundtrack to the Quentin Tarantino blockbuster, Kill Bill, Vol. 1)
In 1974, Rother collaborated with German electronic duo Cluster, recording an album titled Musik von Harmonia.
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 was the invention of punk rock, with Dinger's sneering, unintelligible vocals searing across a distorted Motorik beat with aggressive single chord guitar poundings. To aid with performing on the album, and more importantly, live, Hans Lampe and brother Thomas Dinger were enlisted to help execute more music than was possible by two men. Upon its release, and arugably to this day, Neu! '75 is the most diverse record available from the Krautrock scene. While this can be seen as a positive point, the differences in musical direction (as well as personal issues) not only isolated the Dinger/Rother duo, it isolated their already small fan base. Neu! broke up after the release of Neu! '75. Rother was the only one that actually left, however. The two Dingers and Lampe formed La Dusseldorf , who were equally cited as influential David Bowie in a 1979 interview with a music magazine.
Between October 1985 and April 1986, Dinger and Rother tried to rekindle the flame that was Neu! for reasons unknown. By adding more synthesizers and a slightly more commercial aspect to some compositions, the band sounded like a cross between their old selves and the recent new wave groups, and undoubtedly were torn apart again by personal and musical issues. An example of the sharp contrast between Dinger and Rother was evidenced by such tracks as "Crazy", Rother's attempt at pop, and "'86 Commercial Trash", a Dingerian collage of dialogue and sound effects from Germany's television commercials of that year. The work that took place in these sessions surfaced on Captain Trip records in 1996 (see below)
Conny Plank sadly passed away in 1987. His studio is still run by his widow Christa Fast and his son.
Dinger and Rother did not work together during this decade, and indeed some degree of acrimony existed between them, not least due to Dinger releasing a couple of old substandard NEU! out-take recordings on the Japanese Captain Trip label, without Rother's consent:
In 1996, Captain Trip released the above-mentioned NEU! 4 recordings, and also '72 Live . The latter was recorded in Düsseldorf on May 6th, 1972, and the title is misleading, as the "live" aspect of it pertains to the fact that it was an on-stage rehearsal of poor audio fidelity, and only of interest to Neu! die hards who want to hear their heroes musically frustrated that they cannot reproduce their hypnotic studio sound on stage. Definitely not a place to start from in the Neu! catalog, and undoubtedly their weakest release. Notable for the inclusion of Eberhard Kranemann, who was involved with Neu! precursors Kraftwerk as well.
Captain Trip was also responsible for the CD reissues of albums from Dinger's post-Neu! aspirations with La! Neu? and La Dusseldorf .
The rights to the NEU! back-catalogue are jointly owned by Rother, Dinger and Plank's widow, Christa Fast. However, for many years a degree of acrimony and legal wranglings existed between Rother and Dinger, and they could not agree on licensing arrangements to make NEU!'s music available on CD. (In the ensueing vacuum, illegal and inferior quality bootleg CDs [mastered from old vinyl records] were distributed by an outfit calling themselves 'Germanofon '.)
Happily, this situation was finally resolved in 2001, when Rother and Dinger put aside their differences and entered a studio to transfer the three classic NEU! albums to CD, from the original mastertapes (reputedly mastering each album three times to make sure they sounded how they wanted the mass public to hear it). These were then released on the Astralwerks label, packaged with stickers raving about the albums from musical people of recent notice, again including Thom Yorke. Finally, the world was able to enjoy Neu! music without having to buy the discs illegally or track down rare, expensive vinyl.
Neu! have not recorded anything new since Neu! 4, and are currently inactive.
- Michael Rother currently writes and produces solo albums.
- Klaus Dinger currently writes and produces solo albums, as well as archival releases by La Dusseldorf .
- Thomas Dinger died on April 9th, 2002. Before this, he released a string of unsuccessful solo albums.
- Neu! (1972, Brain Records)
- Neu! 2 (1973, Brain Records)
- Neu! '75 (1975, Brain Records)
- Neu! 4 (1995, Captain Trip Records)
- '72 Live! (1996, Captain Trip Records)
All Neu! albums on Brain Records were reissued in 2001 by Astralwerks. All Neu! albums on Captain Trip Records are currently out of production.
- Tangerine Dream
- Amon Düül II (aka Amon Duul II)
- Ash Ra Tempel
- La! Neu?
- La Dusseldorf
- Cosmic Jokers
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