There’s one unusual thing about Live 1974, the superbly sprawling live album by Harmonia. When the proto-electronica trio Michael Rother formed with Cluster’s Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius following the first bust-up of Neu! get to the end of a performance, there is virtually zero audible applause.
Eyewitness reports from the show recorded for posterity suggest this isn’t a case of clever editing. As with likeminded compatriots – most notably Can – on the fertile 70s German experimental music scene, the music Rother was instrumental in creating in Neu! and Harmonia was so far ahead of its time, so totally at odds with the prevailing trends for prog excess and bluesy noodling people didn’t know what to make of it and, consequently, preferred to ignore its existence.
Judging by the rapturous reception from tonight’s capacity crowd, many of whom dance enthusiastically to music that was reportedly received sitting down by its scant original audience, the world has at last fully caught up with Rother’s vision.
At various points during tonight’s tight, electrifying 80 minutes drawn from all stages of Rother’s career, the 66-year-old multi-instrumentalist and drummer Hans Lampe (a former member of La Dusseldorf, the band Rother’s Neu! partner Klaus Dinger formed after the duo’s untimely demise in 1975) seem genuinely touched, perhaps even baffled by the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to tunes that went underappreciated for so long.
Completed by guitarist Franz Bargmann and performing in front looped film clips, (there must be some wry humour in the co-author of the robotic, unrelenting ‘motorik’ beat performing in front of distorted motorway footage), the trio maintain the ethos of Rother’s most celebrated outfit (Neu = new). The material may be familiar but it’s twisted into new shapes and beefed up – without losing sight of the sleek, sparkling minimalism that characterises Rother’s finest melodies – in compelling ways that defy cosy nostalgia and render the well-known, well, new.
For example, we’re some time into Neu!’s signature tune Hallogallo before its famous riff rises to the surface, making it just about recognisable. It’s startling to realise how contemporary, even futuristic the pulsating beats of the Harmonia material – with Rother swapping guitar for synth and electronics – still sound. A propulsive rendition of the beautiful Katzenmusik, with Rother’s languid, pristine guitar lines gradually yielding to Lampe’s increasingly insistent pummelling, may drive those unfamiliar with Rother’s solo material on a record-buying binge.
The only problem being that as with a truly colossal set highlight Negativland (from Neu!’s 1972 debut), tonight’s muscular reimagining is clearly superior to the very fine but tamer studio version; how often can you say that about career retrospective sets that revisit tunes recorded decades ago?