Setting the stage: Hallogallo 2010

Sun, Aug 29, 2010

On September 7 guitarist Michael Rother arrives at the Wexner Center's Performance Space with Hallogallo 2010 to perform the music of NEU! We asked our friend Ryan Shafer, one of the biggest krautrock fans we know, to help set the stage and get the energy going. Here's what he says.

Who is NEU! and what is Hallogallo, you say? NEU! was one of a nexus of bands coming out of Berlin and Düsseldorf in the late 1960s to form what's unfortunately known as krautrock. The name isn't particularly descriptive or useful: we know these cities are in Germany. But it is useful to know that the krautrock bands Rother played with together wrote the syntax for much of contemporary rock. At least the new bits that didn't rely on the blues or hoary denim-and-leather-clad stereotypes.

Consider this:

Together with drummer Klaus Dinger, Rother played in an early version of Kraftwerk, whose clockwork combination of machine drums and warm synthesizers laid the sonic foundation for everything from the Human League in 1978 to Black Eyed Peas in 2008.

Rother and Dinger played together as NEU! most frequently from 1971 to 1975 (“Hallogallo” is the name of the first track on their first album), layering delayed, sustained, and soaring guitar lines over tribal drumbeats in a way that any fan of Joy Division and U2 would immediately recognize. If you've ever wondered where punk got its beat from or Edge his guitar sound, look no further.

Between NEU! projects, Rother played with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius (of improvising synth duo Cluster) to form the “krautrock supergroup” Harmonia. In 1975 or so, Brian Eno called them the most important band in the world. Not only because many of Eno's musical ideas were pinched directly from Harmonia, and not only because Eno fed those ideas back into his production work with David Bowie and U2. But because, for me at least, Harmonia still is the most important band in the world after the Beatles. Discover them for yourself (on Rother's website, which has a page on Harmonia or on Moebius's site, where you can listen to everything he did), and you'll realize that experimental bands today are working directly from a 30-year-old book of notes. Because the notes still work.

“Neu” is German for New. Propelled by a cultural need to escape World War II, the music of Rother and NEU! was emphatically about forgetting the past and embracing new musical technology and forms (delay pedals, drum machines, and looped improvisation). Maintaining a primal sense of human movement while never letting the machines take over, NEU! music is still tense, vital, and fresh. When Rother says “the most important aspect [of this concert] will be this idea of flying to the horizon,” he's not kidding. For my money, Rother is one of the last driving forces behind what's truly new in rock. In short, he's a legend, and this show is not to missed.

Ryan Shafer
Writer, editor, and musician with the band Alt.