HOW A CITY DISCOVERED ELECTRONIC MUSIC

Pop has long been history. And for some years Düsseldorf was a central meeting place for labourers in the electronic lab. In Electri_City, the musician and scene connoisseur Rüdiger Esch has gathered together voices from past and present and combined them in a panopticum of the pioneer years.

It is a late, almost sublime triumph. At the start of 2015, before the general refurbishment of the New National Gallery in Berlin, Kraftwerk performed a concert cycle that, on each of eight sold-out evenings, placed one of their albums from Autobahn to Tour De France centre stage in an elaborate 3-D installation. The forefathers of German electronic music in the incunabulum of modernist architecture by Mies van der Rohe. “If this is a visionary, utopian idea of a building, Kraftwerk stands for a visionary, utopian idea of music”, says the Director of the New National Gallery Udo Kittelmann, describing this close dance of cultures. Robots in the transparent palace of glass. Computerliebe under the girded steel roof. Rarely has Pop seemed so sublime as here.

THE DÜSSELDORF PRIMORDIAL SOUP

Kraftwerk thus returned to its origins. Even before its official founding, the group moved in the tension field of the Düsseldorf Art Academy, which back then overlapped with glam rockers and fashion designers in the avant-garde club “Creamcheese”. It was here that, in December 1968, Joseph Beuys and his assistants chained themselves for hours to a beer table, surrounded by psychedelic noise and experimental films. There was hardly an evening without a performance. A primordial soup compounded of the vapours of dark beer and concepts, which after 1970 also produced a singular school of sound. Bands such as Kluster (later Cluster) and Neu! sought their own musical paths and wanted to depart from that of the Anglo-American models. “These were the days of kraut rock, cosmic music, prog rock and the pioneers of electronic”, the introduction to the book Electri_City – Elektronische Musik aus Düsseldorf (i.e. Electri_City – Electronic Music from Düsseldorf) tells us. In writing it, its author, the musician Rüdiger Esch, conducted dozens of interviews with the leading figures of the scene and has assembled from these original soundtracks a polyphonic chronicle.

The first generation wanted to be “progressive”. Free of ideology and thought control. It looked to advertising and industrial design, oriented itself to the newly emerging synthesizer technology. “This was a transitional period: the electronic alienation of acoustic instruments. It was then developed further so that at some point the instruments were omitted and there was pure electronic music”, says the bassist Eckhard Kranemann, recalling the beginnings of Kraftwerk. These sound experiments did not yet have a song structure and the major record companies responded to them with reserve. Thus many memories in Electri_City revolve round the producer Conny Plank, who sat behind the mixer console for the first records by Kraftwerk, Neu! and La Düsseldorf and who died in 1987. He gave Düsseldorf electronic music the necessary degree of timing and rhythm, and thanks to his contacts to the major labels was also an important catalyst. Even a decade later, the Düsseldorf electro-punks trusted in his “machine park sounds”.

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