BERLIN (Reuters Life!) - Four decades after recording one of the most influential German rock albums ever, Michael Rother of Neu! can finally play it live the way he always wanted to.
At the age of 60, the guitarist of the Duesseldorf duo who pioneered the controlled, linear, driving “motorik” sound that became a hallmark of the 1970s West German rock scene often called “Krautrock,” has never been in such high demand. After watching his career all but grind to a halt in the 1980s, Rother’s fortunes have undergone a marked renaissance — built on the legacy of the three albums he cut as Neu! (New) with the late Klaus Dinger on drums between 1971 and 1975.
“The workload has exploded: it’s non-stop,” Rother told Reuters in an interview after playing in Berlin. “I’m being steamrolled by everything that’s going on — in a nice way.”
“The response and the enthusiasm we’ve generated at our concerts is incredible. It’s almost like the music was created today — and hasn’t been in my head for the past 40 years.”
The interest in Neu!’s music reflects a wider revival in appreciation for records produced by German bands in late 1960s and early 1970s whose distinctive forays into garage rock, electronica and psychedelia won them many fans abroad.
Since late May, Rother and his band Hallogallo have been playing the music of Neu! to crowds across Europe and cities as far afield as Edinburgh, Mexico City and Detroit — with more dates in the offing in South America, Turkey and the Far East.
The contrast with Neu! could not be starker.
Hampered by the limits of technology in the early 1970s, Rother played only a handful of gigs with Dinger, who died in 2008. The pair, who had earlier toured with Kraftwerk, went their separate ways, reuniting briefly for an album in 1975.
Rother initially enjoyed solo success, but over time he and Neu!’s records gradually faded from memory, leaving the softly-spoken guitarist to wonder whether he still had a career.
“By the mid-1980s there was nothing. There was no interest,” says Rother, in a voice mirroring the steady, measured tones of his music. “For 12 years it was just about surviving as an artist because my records had completely disappeared from view.”
Since then Neu! have been hailed as an inspiration for artists ranging from David Bowie, U2 and Stereolab, and namechecked by the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Oasis.
Neu!’s eponymous debut placed no. 25 in U.S. online music site Pitchfork Media’s top albums of the 1970s, ahead of any record by star acts such as Pink Floyd and Stevie Wonder.
Named after the opening track of that album, Hallogallo features Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley and bassist Aaron Mullan of the Tall Firs — a combo that has enabled Rother to perform the band’s old music they way he intended.
“In my view it’s really the first time the music of Neu! can be performed live,” he said. “Though it’s not about playing the pieces note for note as they were on the album.”
“Back in 1972, we only did about seven or eight concerts. We saw that with the means available to us and the musicians we had to draw on, we couldn’t perform it live. So we stopped.”
Now in demand across the globe, Rother shrugs and says he’s been lucky. “It’s not like I’m in the top 10 now,” he said.
Musing on what enabled him to stay in business in the lean years, he offered one explanation that could have come straight from the German government, which is now trying to persuade cash-strapped European partners to live within their means.
“I hate chaos — chaos in the sense of not being able to pay the bills. And being in debt,” Rother said. “That would weigh on me so much it would take away the joy of living.”
Editing by Paul Casciato