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(Credit: Creative Commons / Dena Flows)

Music

The krautrock record that influenced Stephen Morris and Joy Division

@jackwhatley89

When Joy Division began making a stir in the punk clubs of Manchester in the 1970s, they were propelled by the Bavarian beat of krautrock. The group had become fascinated with the distinctive sound of the industrialised European powerhouse. While punk was a burning ball of unholy creativity, krautrock always presented itself as more measured, controlled, and yet still as highly flammable. While the group, led by Ian Curtis, would often have their origination pinpointed to that Sex Pistols show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall, there’s a good argument for saying that it was the German genre that really galvanised the band.

It was said that Curtis would rarely leave his home for an extended period without bringing at least one Kraftwerk album with him. Likewise, the band’s beatmaker and wildly underrated percussionist, Stephen Morris, was equally as enamoured by the unique and churlish sounds that were created. However, for him, there was one group, album and drummer that really took things to a new level: Neu! and their self-titled masterpiece.

In truth, all roads lead to Neu! No band typifies krautrock and the experimentation it promoted more significantly than Neu! Not only was the band a composite of former Kraftwerk members, but their debut album affected all those who heard it and continues to do so to this day. The debut self-titled record is a powerhouse from the duo of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother. It thumps through the door with ‘Hallogallo’ and never really lets up until the needle drops off the record. There’s inspiring metronomic rhythm throughout, and there’s pure innovation along the road. Artists such as Sonic Youth, Wilco and, of course, Joy Division can all point to the band and this record as a starting point for some of their trademarks.

The band was christened by Dinger and given the agitating logo, “it was a protest against the consumer society but also against our’ colleagues’ on the Krautrock scene who had totally different taste/styling if any,” recalled Dinger.

“I was very well informed about Warhol, Pop Art, Contemporary Art. I had always been very visual in my thinking. Also, during that time, I lived in a commune, and in order to get the space that we lived in, I set up an advertising agency that existed mainly on paper. Most of the people that I lived with were trying to break into advertising, so I was somehow surrounded by this Neu! all the time.”

This potent spark of sound, mixed delicately with the petroleum of artistic endeavour, was enough to light a fire under Morris, with the percussionist telling Quietus that not only was the record one of his favourite but that it shaped him as a performer. “As a drummer, Klaus Dinger was important to me: [he taught me] how to make one riff last a lifetime!” Morris explained.

“It’s a great riff, though, don’t get me wrong. Neu! was absolutely brilliant; it’s another record where the first time you buy it and put it on, you think, ‘I’ve never heard anything like this before’. I was into krautrock, and that’s why I bought it – I bought anything that came out of Germany – but Neu! were just completely out there. I had no idea who was in the band; there was just a big ‘Neu!’ image on the front… it was striking, kind of punk.”

This expert blend of the ferocity of punk and the purity of artistic drive would shape Joy Divison and New Order. “The way that they used cut up music and bits of ambient sound… as soon as I heard it, I thought, ‘If I ever start a band, I’d like them to sound a bit like this – as adventurous as this’.” The drummer elucidated: “A lot of krautrock was trying to plough its own furrow, but there were other bits that were trying to Germanize Western things. And the odd thing about it is, I never knew that Michael Rother lived in Wilmslow for a time – which is just around the corner from me – in the ’70s. I was watching a Krautrock documentary and he was saying: ‘I’ve always been surrounded by flowing water, there’s always been a river – the Rhine, the Elbe, the Bollin.’ And I said: ‘Hang on, did he just say the Bollin!? That’s just down the road!'”

Neu! – Neu!