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Michael Rother presents the music of Neu! and Harmonia (live at Central Station, Wrexham)

27 April 2013

Out here on the periphery, the phrase ‘sole UK appearance’ instinctively elicits grumpy mutterings about ‘privileged Londoners’… after all, nobody ever does ‘sole UK appearances’ in north Wales!’ But what’s this?… Michael Rother presents the music of Neu! and Harmonia at Helsinki… Tilburg… Krems… St. Petersburg… Wrexham… Wrexham!?!… surely not THAT Wrexham?

It turns out to be true – the recently established Focus Wales festival have eccentrically booked Mr. Rother and Charlotte Church as joint headliners for this year’s festival – I’d wager a decent sum that it’s the first time the two have shared a bill.

Rother’s foray into revisiting his back catalogue a couple of years back as Hallogallo featured an all-star line-up that included Sonic Youth‘s Steve Shelley. I only experienced that via YouTube – it seemed very good stuff, but not exactly Neu! This time around, Rother is touring with a young Berlin trio, Camera, a ‘guerilla krautrock’ group who more commonly set up in public spaces – U-Bahn stations, award ceremonies etc – than in concert venues, and as it turns out, a group that captures the spirit of Neu! better than any celebrity fans ever could. Guitarist Franz Bargmann and synth player Timm Brockmann mesh with Rother’s own familiar guitar in an engulfing wave of sound that avoids pointless attempts to reproduce the records. More crucial however, is the appropriately-named Michael Drummer, standing behind a low tom, snare and cymbal, pounding out a relentless motorik beat in a single-minded feat of stamina that is as much Mo Tucker as Klaus Dinger.

Much of the set is taken up with the more rocking side of Neu!’s repertoire – “Hallogallo,” “Für Immer,” “Super”,”‘Neuschnee” and even the odd Harmonia song such as “Deluxe” sounds pretty much like Neu! when these guys get their hands on it. Neu! 75‘s “Seeland” provides a brief respite in tempo, but Camera’s flair is confirmed when they pull out a version of “Karussell” from Rother’s Flammende Herzen solo album that totally obliterates the recorded version – no mean feat when you are competing with Jaki Liebezeit!

A pleasing aspect of the gig was that, alongside the old beardy guys whose Grobschnitt and Brain T-Shirts struggled to conceal expanded girths, there was a high proportion of young people, many of them female, some of who may have just come along for the festival in general. Whether here by chance or design though, everyone was completely won over and Rother must have been pleasantly surprised to be gazing out over a sea of grooving youth for the first time in many years. Neu! and Harmonia made groundbreaking music, but for once that doesn’t equate with inaccessible.

The show wasn’t billed as Neu! and of course couldn’t ever be so without Dinger, but then the original group seldom performed live anyway and judging by the one available document – the 72′ Live in Düsseldorf CD that Captain Trip brought out in 1996 (and which later reappeared as part of the Neu! boxed set), this current incarnation seem to be actually better than the real thing!

As a footnote, Camera’s recent LP Radiate on Bureau B is also well worth getting hold of for further motorik krautgrooves – a continuation of the mission rather than a mere tribute, you can certainly hear why Rother chose them to help him out.

-Alan Holmes-

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