Formed from members of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster (and some of the most important musicians in the 1970s German expermental music scene: Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius), Harmonia were once declared to be the world's most important rock band by Brian Eno.
In their short lifetime (1973-76), the trio released two albums that captured Krautrock in its prime. Full of twists, turns and hidden depths, these extended experiments-in-sound still sound as cutting edge as they did when they were first released.
Harmonia appear live in the UK for the first time following the release of last year's acclaimed album Harmonia Live 1974, a dusted-down recording of hypnotic machine music from a gig on 23 March 174.
You’ve heard of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster, right? How about Harmonia? It’s much less likely because, like many trailblazers of their own era, they were ignored at the time. Well, beyond the ‘How to buy Krautrock’ section in your local record shop sits a further, towering wall of German space music to explore and first on your list should be Harmonia. Trust us, it’s worth your time. They’re a vital discovery for anyone who thrills in kicking back and nodding out to motorik grooves, proto-ambience and a relentless, euphoric drive. And, get this, they’re comprised of three of Germany’s experimental music heavyweights, Michael Rother, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius – all of whom played in the aforementioned stars of Krautrock.
That’s right. Harmonia were formed from the crusts of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster and make up something equally as tantalising as any of those three acts, inspired, according to Moebius, by ‘Velvet Underground, Mozart, Coltrane, Brel, Arabic, Hindu … the list goes on and on.’ Over the years they’ve turned the heads of anyone who’s heard them, such as Brian Eno – who once declared them the world’s most important rock band – David Bowie, the Edge, Aphex Twin and, more recently, Secret Machines, who’ve been known to include a cover of ‘(Deluxe) Immer Wieder’ in their sets.
In their short time together (1973-76), the trio released two albums: 1974’s strung-out ‘Musik Von Harmonia’ and the friendlier electro-pop of ‘De Luxe’. Now, with renewed interest in them and the Krautrock ‘genre’ in general, comes new material. Well, not new exactly, but unreleased, in the shape of ‘Harmonia live 1974’, a dusted-down recording of hypnotic machine music from a gig on March 23rd 1974. It was recorded at the Penny Station Club (a former railway station in Griessem) ‘in front of about fifty people,’ according to Neu! mainman Rother, who played the same venue in 1971 when he was still a member of Kraftwerk.
It might be a live record but it won’t satisfy anybody in search of a rowdy, feel-like-you’re-there gig atmosphere; there’s no whooping, applause or even heckling. It’s simply the sound of a band locked into a groove, backs to the audience (as you’ll see on the album sleeve) and concentrating hard in an effort to blow minds and take their industrial space music to the further reaches. Rother suggests that the lack of applause and noise wasn’t because of audience indifference but because every member of the crowd is either stoned (‘no incense sticks though,’ reassures Rother) or because they couldn’t decipher when one ten-minute epic started and another finished.
Amazingly, it still sounds as experimental as it must have done in that former railway station thirty-three years ago. It certainly shows the kids a thing or two about losing themselves in music. The album contains just one track under nine-minutes, featuring the wiggy, industrial chug (it was recorded in a former railway station) of ‘Schaumburg’; the pulsing, seventeen-minute opus that is ‘Veteranissimo’; the almost pop song-short ‘Arabesque’; the dark and dubby, proto-trip hop of ‘Holta Polta’ and ambient template ‘Ueber Ottenstein’.
Full of twists, turns and hidden depths, these experiments-in-sound are what Roedelius calls artistic science: ‘We were – still are – experimental. Science and art are really sisters in the way they approach reality, exploring what there is and trying to do something different with it.’ Let’s hope that, with the release of ‘Harmonia live 1974’, a new generation picks up this baton.