Neu! (styled as NEU! in block capitals, German: New!, pronounced ['n]) was a German krautrock band formed in Düsseldorf in 1971 by Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, after their split from Kraftwerk. The group's albums were produced by Conny Plank, who has been regarded as the group's "hidden member". Though Neu! had minimal commercial success during its existence, the band is retrospectively considered one of the founders of krautrock and a significant influence on a variety of subsequent rock, post-punk, and electronic music artists.
Neu! was formed in 1971 in Düsseldorf as an offshoot from an early line-up of another seminal krautrock band, Kraftwerk, whose early works were also produced by Conny Plank. The name ("new!") was inspired by the prevalence of the advertising business in Düsseldorf at the time, according to Dinger, who described it as "the strongest word in advertising" and even owned a pro forma advertising agency himself for the purpose of booking studios.
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 six months, Kraftwerk consisted of a trio of Rother, Dinger and Florian Schneider. This line-up played sporadic gigs and made a live appearance on German TV programme Beat Club. Recording sessions at Conny Plank's Windrose studio were unsuccessful (Rother later attributed the failure to "a difference of temperament"). Dinger and Rother parted company from Schneider and began Neu! with Plank. Hütter rejoined Schneider and the pair continued recording the second Kraftwerk album with Plank.
The band's eponymous first album sold very little by mainstream standards (though 30,000 records was a lot for an "underground" band), yet is today considered a masterpiece by many, including influential artists such as David Bowie, Brian Eno, Iggy Pop and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. It included the Motorik benchmark tracks "Hallogallo" and "Negativland" (the band Negativland took their name from this track), and bizarre "songs" like "Sonderangebot".
Their second album, Neu! 2, features some of the earliest examples of musical remixes. The duo, excited about recording another album, decided to expand their limits by purchasing several new 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 well enough 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 songs "Super 16" and "Super 78" (slowed down and sped up versions of the prototype punk song "Super," respectively) unwittingly became the theme songs 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 left to their own devices, and this led to their final album of the 1970s, Neu! '75 being two solo half-albums. 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, barely intelligible vocals searing across a distorted Motorik beat with aggressive single chord guitar pounding.
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 arguably 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.
Neu! are highly praised in Julian Cope's "Krautrocksampler", along with other krautrock artists such as Kraftwerk and Can, and Cope has also written a song called "Michael Rother" which appears on CD2 of the Deluxe edition of the album Jehovahkill.
In 1974, Rother had already collaborated with German electronic duo Cluster, recording as Harmonia an album titled Musik Von Harmonia. In 1975, he recorded a second Harmonia album, Deluxe, and further sessions followed with Brian Eno, which were not released until 1997 as Tracks and Traces. In 1977, Rother started recording as a solo artist. His first three albums; Flammende Herzen (1977), Sterntaler (1978), and Katzenmusik (1979) were recorded with Neu! producer Conny Plank.
Klaus Dinger, his brother Thomas and Hans Lampe formed La Düsseldorf, cited by David Bowie as "the soundtrack of the eighties". The band released three successful albums; La Düsseldorf (1976), Viva (1978) and Individuellos (1981).
Between October 1985 and April 1986, Dinger and Rother tried to rekindle the flame that was Neu!: 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. Then they 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 would later resurface as Neu! 4 in late 1995.
Dinger and Rother did not work together during the 1990s, and indeed some degree of acrimony existed between them, not least because Dinger had released a couple of old substandard Neu! recordings on the Japanese Captain Trip Records label without Rother's knowledge or consent. In late 1995, this label released the previously mentioned Neu! 4 recordings from the 1985-1986 sessions. It also released Neu! '72 Live in Düsseldorf (recorded on 6 May 1972), which comprised poorly recorded rehearsals for some abortive live shows, but notable for the inclusion of Eberhard Kranemann, who had briefly been in Kraftwerk with Dinger.
A 1999 tribute album, entitled A Homage to Neu! (Cleopatra Records), features covers from artists including the Legendary Pink Dots, Download, Autechre, Dead Voices on Air, Khan, System 7, and James Plotkin, as well as an original track from Rother entitled "Neutronics 98 (A Tribute to Conny Plank)". Plank had died in 1987.
For many years the acrimony and legal wrangling between Rother and Dinger prevented their reaching agreement over licensing arrangements to make Neu!'s music available on CD. In the ensuing vacuum, illegal and inferior-quality bootleg CDs (mastered from old vinyl records) were distributed by an outfit called Germanofon.
This situation was finally resolved in 2001, when Rother and Dinger put aside their differences and entered a studio to transfer the three Neu! albums to CD, from the original master tapes (reportedly mastering each album three times). These were produced and released by Grönland Records (licensed to the Astralwerks label in the US), packaged with stickers featuring rave reviews by notable artists, including Thom Yorke. Following the release of the first three albums, Dinger and Rother tried but failed to agree on a legal release of Neu! 4. Rother called the failure of those negotiations "unfortunate".
Rother has said that he and Dinger had been considering recording a fifth Neu album, but the idea was aborted after personal disagreements resurfaced between them. Dinger died of heart failure on 21 March 2008. Rother said that he was unaware of Dinger's illness until just before he died.
Rother writes and produces solo albums. Before his death, Dinger was a member of the band La! Neu? - whose name also irritated Rother - as well as collaborating with Miki Yui and band Sub-tle in a project that is unreleased to this date.
On 25 May 2009, the new record label Feraltone released a compilation CD called Brand Neu! containing tracks by many modern artists who credit Neu! as an influence. Most notably, it featured a track from Michael Rother from the previous Neu! homage album (A Homage to Neu!) and a new track by La Duesseldorf.de, one of Klaus Dinger's final recordings before he died. The compilation features both new and established artists from all around the world including Oasis, Primal Scream, Kasabian, School of Seven Bells, Ciccone Youth (Sonic Youth), Holy Fuck and the young band Pets With Pets from Australia. This was to outline the enormous influence of Neu! which spans multiple decades and countries.
The rights to the Neu! back catalogue are jointly owned by Rother, Dinger's estate and Plank's widow, Christa Fast. Rother worked with them to produce a box set that included all of Neu!'s recordings including material that appeared on the Neu! 4 album (now officially released as Neu! '86). Neu! Vinyl Box was released in May 2010 and Neu! '86 followed as a standalone release later that year. The box set included some of the 'live' recordings from 1972 on a maxi single.
In 2010 Rother teamed up with Steve Shelley (of Sonic Youth) and Aaron Mullan (of Tall Firs) for Hallogallo 2010, a live project to present Neu! music and some new pieces. He has since toured sporadically with the German trio Camera, performing the work of Neu!, Harmonia and his own solo music, occasionally with Dieter Möbius of Cluster.
Probably the most cherished element of the Neu! oeuvre is what is often called the "Motorik" beat (meaning 'motor skill' in German) - although the band themselves did not use this term. Dinger himself later referred 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 Dinger repeats continuously throughout the entire track. Neu! were a big influence on the sound of the 1970s band Hawkwind, particularly Simon King and Lemmy's driving Motorik drum and bass double act. The band's 1975 track "Opa Loka" is an homage to Hallogallo. Japanese experimental music group Boredoms cite Neu! as a huge influence on their later sound, evident in their unique application of the radical tape manipulation remix techniques and driving 4/4 rhythms pioneered by Rother and Dinger. Releases such as Super Ae and Super Roots 3 pay clear homage to the classic Neu! sound. The influence of Neu! is also readily apparent in Martin Hannett's production for Joy Division and others, which routinely apes tracks such as Lila Engel and Spitzenqulität. David Bowie was also a Neu! fan, and, according to David Buckley's book Kraftwerk: Publikation, originally wanted Michael Rother to collaborate with him on Low.
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 renowned 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.
All Neu! albums on Brain Records were reissued in 2001 by Astralwerks and Grönland Records. All Neu! albums on Captain Trip Records have at least in part been re-released as part of the 2010 Grönland Records Vinyl Box.
|1982||Black Forest Gateau
|1996||Neu! '72 Live in Dusseldorf