What’s old is Neu! again, as the 1970s German electronic-rock duo are releasing their massively influential first three albums for the first time in the United States May 1, on Astralwerks.
Founded in the Krautrock hotbed of 1971 Düsseldorf, Germany, by Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, Neu! were among the leaders of the German experimental-music movement that included artists such as Kraftwerk, Can and Amon Düül. These bands challenged the boundaries of the rock form by adding electronic instrumentation, employing unconventional song structures and emphasizing a new style of groove based on extended repetition and an oddly syncopated rhythm that became known as “motorik.”
Formed after Rother and Dinger left an early incarnation of Kraftwerk, Neu! recorded their self-titled debut in just four days, ironically with Kraftwerk producer/engineer Conny Plank. The album’s processed effects and freeform jams established a prototype for electronic funk of every stripe to come in its wake.
Neu! 2, despite just 20 minutes of newly recorded material (due to limited expenses), formed another cornerstone of the techno realm. These tracks were altered in the studio — sped up and slowed down, among other effects — to form new variations, thereby creating enough songs for a full album and, arguably, inventing the remix.
Although the duo disbanded after the second album, with Rother forming the proto-ambient outfit Harmonia with Dieter Moebius and Joachim Roedelius (of Cluster), they reunited to record Neu! 75, which meshed electronic minimalist templates with somersaulting walls of chugging guitar textures.
The roots of contemporary artists from a myriad of scenes can be traced back to the early German experimental era, and although Kraftwerk and Can are regularly given lip-service as inspiration, Neu! are the secret weapon in the Krautrock artillery. From Mouse on Mars’ Teutonic eclecticism to Sonic Youth’s discordant shards of melodic guitar beauty to David Bowie’s ’70s drone — he has said Neu! influenced “Station to Station” — to, perhaps most notably, Stereolab’s expansive song structures and motorik rhythms, Neu!’s reach is both deep and wide.
A section of “Jenny Ondioline,” from Stereolab’s 1993 opus Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements, is a clear-cut ode to “Hallogallo,” from Neu!’s first album, while “Metronomic Underground,” the opener on 1996′s Mars Audiac Quintet, undeniably mines Neu! territory. Similarly, the fragile frayed edges of “After Eight,” from Neu! 75, wouldn’t be out of place on a Sonic Youth’s late-’80s masterpiece such as Evol or Sister.
Neu! reunited to record Neu! 4 in the mid-’80s, but the album wasn’t released for some 10 years, and was largely dismissed at that time.