Cluster – Konzerte 1972/1977


My eyebrows raised when I saw this one announced – live vintage Cluster? The very notion flusters the brain because their albums mostly sound like the result of using the studio as an instrument. Yet, here it is and it is not even unprecedented. Mind you, it was years before I realised the song ‘Live in der Fabrik’ from Cluster II actually was recorded live at a venue called Fabrik which is where the 1972 recording on here is from.

This recording is definitely a companion piece to Cluster II and sees them laying down some dense and deeply cosmic drones that must have been the most intense thing in a small club at loud volume. Within this twenty two minute performance, there is a lot to be found. At times the deep echoes call to mind the techniques of Jamaican dub and yet some of the noises sound like stoned factory machines, more like abstract industrial than new age ambience. Even as it becomes more blissful towards the end, it remains alien and unknowable. What on earth are they doing there? What have they got on stage with them? How are they doing this?

The second track/set is from 1977, the year they released “Cluster & Eno”, just a year after “Sowiesoso” and captures a very different Cluster, more meditative and considered, yet just as strange. The intensity is gone, replaced with a stripped down minimalism. The music is almost a pulse of sound throbbing through your cortex. Its a long way from the pastoral feel of “Sowiesoso” but I suspect Cluster are improvising at these shows and responding to their environment. In this case, the environment is probably a bare bricks and heating pipes concert room full of dope smoke and cross-legged youths – lucky bastards.

It is a testament to the potent power of the 70s German scene that they can still dig up gold like this from the tape archives and it is a testament to this music that I can still enjoy it just as much after the responsibilities of parental life have made me a person of much greater temperance than I was when I first discovered the music of Cluster! ENCORE!

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Popol Vuh – Kailash

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Harmonia – Documents 1975

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When I heard that an album of unreleased Harmonia material was coming out I was really beside myself with excitement but when I found out it was to be part of a box set containing albums I already owned at a cost way beyond my budget, I was gutted. So when I found out it was getting a release on the ultimate budget-friendly format, cassette (with a free download), the excitement kicked back in.

So what do you get? Its short and sweet. The first side begins with a new song, side two begins with an alternative version of “Deluxe” and both end with an extended jam from an early concert. At fifteen minutes per side, it never outstays its welcome.

The new song, “Tiki-Taka” sounds so much classic Harmonia that for a while I convinced myself it was an alternative version of something off “Deluxe”. It isn’t but is so clearly flowing from the same river that it would make a natural bonus track for a reissue. The alternative version of “Deluxe” is recognisable but different enough to merit your attention.

The real gold, though, is the live songs. I was always a bit underwhelmed by the Harmonia live album from a few years ago but these recordings are far more dynamic. Rother is letting rip with his guitar, the electronics are both hypnotic and out there while there appears to be a tight rhythm to both jams, with someone (Mani from Guru Guru perhaps?) letting rip on the drums around a rapid, pulsing (digital?) bass. It feels like truest collision of Neu! With Cluster. Not that the Harmonia studio albums aren’t wonderful but there they seem keen to leave their pasts behind for new worlds. Here we have a genuine distillation of their back catalogues.

The tape does come with a download code but the mp3s provided are at a low resolution of 192kbs so you do need either this cassette or the vinyl to be able to enjoy the music properly. Yes, haters, cassettes are far better sound quality than 192kbs mp3s. Speaking of sound quality, on here it is just great for both studio and live material. You know already what I am going to say – its essential. Thirty minutes of finest German vintage for your listening pleasure.

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Neu! – Neu! 2

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This is one of my favourite album covers of all time. Which might seem strange at first but there is something audacious about it, a punk take on pop art that revels in its simplicity and minimalism. It was the inspiration for the original site design of this very website (long since discarded – it wasn’t very good). The music contained on here feels just as iconoclastic at times. Although it starts off with almost stereotypical Neu! with “Für Immer” (Forver). I say stereotypical because when you think of Neu! you think of this beat, that driving motorik sound with Rother’s utopian guitar licks over the top. Its eleven minutes of bright sunny day high speed adventures and there’s no shame in that.

“Spitzenqualität” begins with a squeal of guitar and then in come the stomping drums, sounding like they were recorded in a vast, empty church. There’s a little phased guitar feedback and strange subliminal sounds coming in and out of perceptibility. It fades out by slowing down into absolute entropy, seguing straight into “Gedenkminute (für A + K)”. All we have here is the sound of desolate wind and subtle hums like a distorted church bell. Given the title translates as a minutes silence for A + K it might be a eulogy for some lost friends.

They contrast that by kicking in with “Lila Engel”, probably my favourite ever Neu! song. It gets me every damn time with its death stomp drums, fuzzed-out droning guitars and Dinger’s ecstatically deranged vocal which sounds like some sort of wordless nursery rhyme sung by a wino during a religious vision. One of my friends once said it sounded ‘satanic’ and I can understand why he might find it intimidating but it is one of those songs that as a DJ it is a joy to play because every time I hear it on a big, loud P.A. system it makes my heart race, especially when it ebbs away and then comes back harder and more distorted.
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Side two is one of the most daring and cheeky things ever released. The band had run out of money to pay for studio time so they had to find a way to fill side two. Well, they had released a single called “Super” which hadn’t sold very well so took that song and it’s b-side, “Neuschee” and fucked around with them. The first track on side two, “Neuschee 78” is literally the song being played at 78rpm instead of 45! It’s very obviously a song at the wrong speed. It even skips a couple of times. Then you get “Super 16” which as you would imagine is the song “Super” played at 16rpm instead of 45. This one is much more effective, sounding so sinister that it ended up being used in classic martial arts film “Master of the Flying Guillotine” and plays every time the villain of the title appears. Once you have seen that film, you will think of him every time you hear “Super 16”. This is why Quentin Tarantino used it in “Kill Bill Vol.1” .

After that, the original and unmolested version of “Neuschnee” (German for ‘fresh snow’ ) seems positively normal. It’s the old Neu! beat with some deep bassy sounds building up in pace for four minutes. “Cassetto” (the German word for cassette) is the sound of what might be “Hallogallo” from their first album being played in a dodgy cassette player which is chewing it up. Anyone of a certain age will remember that horror so it is interesting to be able to experience the sound without the associated feelings of panic and horror as you can to the machine to save your music from destruction. It is another molestation that works, the distortion being quite hypnotic.
“Super 78” is another speed up but as its for quite a wild song, it is more fun than the previous speed up and can be enjoyed although it is very silly. “Hallo Excentrico!” would appear to be “Hallogallo” being played too slow on two different record players at once and the spinning of the decks being occasionally interfered with. It seems to have then been transferred to cassette and the cassette played back and interfered with. Its more nonsense but not actually alienating, it is still enjoyable in a mad and rowdy way.

The finale is the normal version of “Super” which is a great song and deserved to have been more successful. Dinger growling away while madly thrashing the drums and Rother getting quite heavy. It seems almost silly to call it ‘normal’ but that is only in comparison to the previous experiments, it is far from ordinary and a great climax to a timeless album.

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Amon Düül II – Yeti

Yeti the dog meets Yeti

Yeti the dog meets Yeti

“Yeti” is an iconic album in every sense. It ticks all the right boxes from its cover artwork, which adorned the front of Julian Cope’s scene-stirring book “Krautrocksampler” to the timeless songs that regularly find their way into my DJ sets because they always please the people. It is a classic all the way and not just within its genre. The website besteveralbums.com, which claims to have aggregated over 20,000 different greatest albums charts, puts it at 43 in its chart for 1970, which may not sound particularly high until you consider who else was releasing albums in that year. It ended up between The Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell.

Hitting the ground running, it opens up with the frenetic rhythms of the thirteen minute “Soap Shop Rock” cycle. It is described as being four songs but feels like one long ever shifting song and even ends with the same breakdown it began with. Chris and Renate share the lead vocals and shifting gear all the time, their voices ghostly and almost operatic.

Side two opens with the timeless “Archangels Thunderbird”, a storming rock song that makes you want to grab your hairbrush and sing into it while shaking your butt to those chunky drums. However, the next song “Cerberus” is a guitarists bonanza with all the stringers furiously strumming away like an amphetamine American primitive with bongos. Nothing can quite prepare you for the psychedelic Dalek explosion of “Eye-Shaking King” with its guitar intensity and crashing rhythms.

People often talk about Can’s “Tago Mago” as being a radical format for an album but here a year earlier we have the exact same thing: a double LP with one the first record featuring more conventional song based music and the second disc featuring just wild improvisations. OK, the second disc of “Yeti” has nothing as paint-strippingly nuts as “Aumgn” but it is all improvised jams and sees them getting their furthest from tradition and harkening more to the original Amon Düül with even a few members of the other collective joining in for the final jam, “Sandoz in the Rain”.

Sumptuous vinyl and CD reissues of “Yeti” have been in abundance ever since a new generation discovered the innovative 1970’s German music scene so you really should have at least one copy of this album in your collection. It is no exaggeration to describe “Yeti” as a cornerstone of the German cosmic sound.

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Popol Vuh – Affenstunde

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It begins with the sound of a sunny day for a few moments and then after a big splash and a few drips we go down the electronic rabbit hole into a listening wonderland. For their debut album, Popol Vuh are very much an electronic band, closer to the stranger parts of their score for “Aguirre” than to the beautiful, almost classical music they would soon embrace. Here they are conjuring strange dreamscapes out of their analogue technology.

Side one begins with curious, aquatic dreamscapes and sudden electronic chimes that seem to approach and disappear like passing vehicles. This strange and mysterious series of sound waves suddenly morph into a dense ethnic percussion jam, not loud or heavy but an intricate arrangement of many unusual sounds. From then on, it becomes particularly ghostly, almost intersecting with the mellower parts of the Radiophonic Workshop’s early output but with a sense of peace replacing their science fiction alienation.label
The album is one that is experienced very differently between the vinyl version and the CD version. For the listener to the vinyl, it feels like one long extended piece on each side but when you go digital, what was once side one is split into tracks but how it gets split does vary between different CD versions! One version lists it all as being called “Ich Mache Einen Spiegel” and split it into three tracks, “Dream Part 4”, “Dream Part 5” and “Dream Part 49” but other versions make “Ich Mache Speigel” the first track followed by the various Dream parts. Still, the remastering seems nice although I am a bit puzzled why one release decided to stick side A of “In den Gärten Pharaos“ as a bonus track, although it does flow well I will concede.

While the moog-focused palette of sounds is very different to what we would associate with Popol Vuh, Florian’s distinctive creative voice does shine out. It is a thoughtful, meditative album and he somehow imbues the electronics with his interests in Eastern spirituality. It has a concentrated serenity quite unlike any other early electronic music apart from perhaps Pauline Oliveros. Like Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and The Scorpions, this is a debut album that doesn’t quite fit in with the bands general image and provides unexpected delights (or shocks if you are a purist!)
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Klaus Schulze – Body Love

IMG_20150922_192104 Popol Vuh soundtracked Herzog’s best films, Can leant their sounds to both underground arthouse films and to gritty mainstream thrillers but only Klaus Schulze, as far as we know, went and did the soundtrack to a pornographic movie. I do not mean something a little bit saucy or racy but a genuine, full-on hardcore porn film. Of course, it was not really in the same vein as modern, production line pornography. This was for Lassse Braun who fancied himself a skilled film-maker, an artist and a sexual revolutionary. He even went as far as to show this film, also called “Body Love”, at the Cannes Film Festival. Braun later claimed to have quit the industry in disgust at what he saw as its commercialisation and turned instead to sexology, anthropology and erotic fiction. However, if you take a look at “Body Love” it is just an old porn film, whatever the philosophy behind, just one with an unusual soundtrack.

The most unusual thing about the “Body Love” soundtrack is that Schulze seems to make no compromise or alteration to his sound for the medium. This really feels like a straight up electronic cosmic Klaus Schulze album. If you were played it and told it was a soundtrack to something, your first guess would probably be a sci-fi film. First track “Stardancer” in particular sounds like the sound of a rocket launch. Harald Großkopf provides some nice wild drums but Jesus they are low in the mix sometimes, especially on “P.T.O”! Schulze’s keys are hypnotic and psychedelic with some suitably epic use of that choral mellotron thing he bought off Florian Fricke.  “Blanche” is more serene and beautiful with some gentle piano in amongst the swirling electronic pulses and ghostly synths.

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Whatever your views on porn, Schulze has in no way compromised his artistic vision on this release, staying true to his classic sound and producing an album with as many nods to baroque classical as it does to the Berlin-school of electronics. Its energy and pace make it one of those records that lay down the foundations for dance music just as much as any of his peers.

The original edition has lots of images from the film (though nothing more risqué than some bare breasts) but was swiftly replaced by the more subtle version you see in this review. For the CD reissue a fourth bonus track was included, from the same recording sessions and also used in the film. It was simply titled “Lasse Braun” and at over twenty two minute it drastically changes the size and pace of the album. For at least half of it is discrete and ambient and then it builds up into something quite wild and intense.

Is this an album you’d pop on in the bedroom? Perhaps. It’s not an obvious choice but it could not do any harm unless you were just trying to sleep. Is it an album you’d pop on in the living room to listen to with friends? The original vinyl version is but the extended running time of the CD version makes it a bit hard going for the casual listener. Still, “Body Love” is a classic piece of German 70s electronica that has aged beautifully.
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