Saturday, 5 November 2022


Clapham Grand, London, Thurs 3rd Nov

As I may have given away by now I’m something of a Krautrock obsessive - particularly over what we might call the Holy Trinity of Can, Faust and… well, expect you’ve guessed the third one. And, after the unfortunate demise of Klaus Dinger back in 2008, seeing the remaining half of the duo is the closest we can ever to come to Neu! Rother’s joined by drummer Hans Lampe, who played on their third and final album, and guitarist Franz Bargman from Camera. 

Having seen anniversary sets of, in order, Can, Faust and now Neu!, I’d concede this was the most straightforward of the three - playing the classic tracks more or less as they were recorded back then. (Sometimes dipping into his other band of the era, Harmonia.)

But then again, these are classic tracks. It’s no exaggeration to call it some of the greatest music ever made. And it feels awesome to be in a room of fellow aficionados, enthusiastically clapping a few beats into each new number. Which is why I preferred this to the other time I saw Rother, where he concentrated more only his later solo output. Maybe Rother without Dinger is a little like a sweet ’n’ sour with just the sweet. But seriously, if you can’t celebrate fifty years of Neu!, I really don’t know what you can.

And also, as a duo, Neu! back then were really confined to be a studio project, only playing live with their expanded line-up of the final album. Leading to the sense that all this isn’t retrospective so much as overdue. And it’s not just great music, it’s great music to hear live, serene and ecstatic at the same time. So irresistibly dancey were they, codgers even older than myself were to be witnessed abandoning themselves to the moment. (There may have been a few aching joints the next day.)

And also also, people picture Krautrock as science fictiony. Which may be partly true of Kraftwerk, but doesn’t apply to the Holy Trinity. Neu! may lend themseles to machine metaphors, but there’s nothing to suggest anything futuristic. And nature analogies apply equally well. So if, in the well-know adage, nothing dates faster than science fiction, there’s nothing here to date. In fact you could easily believe it sounds as fresh today as it did fifty years ago. In Neu!s case the absence of lyrics also helps, nothing which might pin it to an era. (Fans of ’Hero’ look away, but they skip the few numbers Dinger sang on. Only one track had vocals all night.)

Speaking of machines, I’ve waxed lyrical before how their sound ”glides as if … so pure a thing as to be untroubled by the lumpen world of gravity. Its pulsing drive, repetitive yet so propulsive, always seems to be stretching ahead of you. It's like the car that always seems to stay in front of you on the motorway, seemingly sailing ahead without burning up any energy.”

And indeed part of the backdrop film show was of the camera drifting freely down the motorway. A coincidence? Probably. But I’m going with it anyway.

Neu! may have exceeded even Faust and Can in the disparity of lack of immediate units shipped and long-term influence felt. Post-Punk, Dance and Electronica all owe them an unpayable debt. And as a sign of that esteem those promised “friends” turned out to be Stephen Morris of New Order and Paul Weller, joining them for the encore. I’m not sure that musically they contributed all that much, but perhaps being there’s the thing.

Actually a Harmonia number, but it’s all good…

The Albany, London, Sat 29th Oct

“Test Dept's formation in 1981” it says here “in the decaying docklands of South London, was an urgent reaction to the materialistic drift and reactionary conservatism of the prevailing musical and political culture. TD rejected the conventional and developed a style that reflected the decay of their surroundings scavenging the unregenerated wastelands for raw materials, and transforming found industrial items into designed, sculptural instruments…. It was the antithesis of commercial record industry values.”

I have to admit I never quite caught up with them back in the day, even missing the famous Brighton show where they used police riot shields for percussion. But I liked the sound of them when I heard them. And, well, I liked the sound of them. Industrial outfits, to varying degrees, tended towards dodgy ‘provocations’ which seem even worse looking back from our era of hipster racism. While Test Dept were unapologetically Leftist, all Constructivist typefaces and collaborations with a striking Miner’s choir. More in the spirit of Mayakovsky than Charlie Sodding Manson. And more Mayakovsky means more me.

When this gig was announced, they commented they’d be glad to be back in New Cross, the place it had all started out for them. And, walking round the area beforehand, I discovered how Old London New Cross still is - graffiti, political flyposting and (perhaps most remarkably of all) cafes that give change from a tenner. Made all the more bizarre by the way you can constantly see Canary Wharf on the skyline.

While Blurt went through their set (more of which anon), visible behind them was a metal scaffold sporting sheets of metal, dangling chains and various extemporised devices which might have been musical or torturous in intent. If there was such a thing as Chekov’s Percussive Supply, that would have been it. It was then placed literally centre stage. And yes, they did all go off.

The set started with high-register electronics, pounding drums and everyone else pitching in on percussion. And bar occasional outbreaks of wind, usually on strange and ethnic-looking devices with names unknown to me, that was the musical set-up. One member showed a remarkable ability not just attach a bass drum to him but to march around with it.

Beats are martial, unrelenting, providing no release. And that era had a penchant for musing the master’s tools against him, calls-to-arms enlisted against the arms trade.

The drummer… you know the actual drummer looked young enough to be a recent recruit. And I wasn’t quite sure how the splendid drumming was down to him or the drum sound. But it was surely something of both. They rattled and resounded like an Ironmonger’s shelves all being upended at once.

Not knowing their output well, I couldn’t tell you from when the set was pulled. Some lyrics sounded quite contemporary, so I deduced not an entirely historic set. I further guessed several tracks were from the Nineties, when they took on more of a Dance influence. (Before they came on the canned music notably switched from the Stooges to House.) Though it seems it was dominated by the new album, ’Disturbance’, and sounding pretty good for it.

The Dance direction is now often ridiculed, like it was all old Punks desperately reaching for relevance. But in fact they’d spotted something in the music which they could work with, its insistency, its powerful production-line beats. And jettisoned the parts which didn’t work for them, such as the blissed-out hedonism. Besides, it all sounds pretty dancey, whenever from.

The only weakness… okay, you can’t bash and shout the whole gig long. And some of the more ambient passages were actually pretty good. But they got a little too ambient at points for a gig setting, and you felt the audience’s attention starting to wonder.

But overall, you know the way T-shirt manufacturers kept busting the ceiling of their scales. (L, XL, XXL and so on.) You may need something similar to convey the intensity of this performance.

Blurt are a Post-Punk band dating back even further, to 1979. They once played Brighton semi-regularly, but it must have been over fifteen years ago, as I don’t seem to have blogged about them before.

They’ve the peculiarity of being a beat-driven band not incorporating a bass player. Which they often manage via the guitar and drums trading places. Guitar lines can me the most metronomically simple, or even tones, while the drums power the number.

Frontman Ted Minton’s sense-defying lyrics, sometimes declaimed poetry and occasional sax blasts don’t just make the connections between Post-Punk, Dada and Beat recitals, they more defy any distinction between them. It’s all sound and fury signifying nothing, and that’s the very point of the thing. (The titles given to their discography gives some of this away.)

If memory serves, they were better fifteen years back, to be truthful. But they’re still worth catching, and provided the vital role of a support band to provide something unlike yet complementary to the main act.

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