I’ve been doing a lot of cycling recently, up and down Ayrshire’s sun-baked coast, and much of it has been soundtracked by Neu! I’ve become a bit fed up of my self-compiled iPod ‘Cycling‘ playlist, a playlist that was put together a year ago with great care and attention, added to sporadically since and been sequenced and resequenced numerous times to reflect the ebbs and flows of an average 30 mile ride – a blood-pumping fast one to start (a track by the essential yet horribly-named Fuck Buttons, the name of which escapes me at the moment), before settling into the groove and rhythm of cycling to the combined output of Underworld, Land Observations, Kraftwerk and the likes. And Mogwai’s The Sun Smells Too Loud. That’s always a good one when it pops up. But I got fed up with all of it and started listening to complete albums instead. Searching for the ideal cycling companion. Did you know, you can cycle from Prestwick to Kilwinning in exactly the time it takes London Calling to play? If it’s not too windy…
As much as I love my guitar bands though, I prefer to cycle to electronic music. Music with a pulse beat. Music that plays repetitively. Music that is enhanced when, between the gaps in the tunes, you catch the whirr of a well-oiled chain snaking through the sprocket. Which is where Neu! come in. Not really pure electronic music, Neu! They play guitars and stuff. It’s just that, in amongst the found sounds and random ambient noises they’ve commited to tape, the band have a knack of locking into a good groove and can go at it for ages. Proper head-nodding music. But you knew that already.
Their track Hallogallo has been a cycling staple for over a year. Rhythmic, repetitive and driven by that very motorik, Krauty pulsebeat that’s required for my type of cycling (“I wanted to be carried on a wave like a surfer”, said Rother, explaining his music a few years back), it’s almost as if it was made with me in mind. Which is frankly ridiculous. If someone had told the band in 1972 that their 10 minute opus would be able to be freely listened to on a portable device whilst someone wheezed their way along the highways and byways of the national cycle network, they’d have accused you of smoking something more potent than the jazz cigarettes they were willingly ingesting.
Imagine if after leaving The Beatles, Pete Best had gone on to form The Rolling Stones. Not content with being the founding father in one extremely influential group, he goes on to build another. Dinger and Rother did just this. Both were in a prototype Kraftwerk, before splitting and forming Neu! To paraphrase an old joke, I’d say Neu! play both types of music – arty and farty. The three albums they released in the 70s – 1972’s Neu!, ’73’s Neu! 2 and ’75’s Neu! 75 are hugely influential (not then, of course, but now) and greatly important in the development of the Krautrock sound – “an ambient bassless White-light Pop-rock mantra,” as Julian Cope described it in his excellent (and recently reprinted) Krautrocksampler. Remarkably, I picked up an original in a book sale in Kilwinning library for 25p!
If you’re expecting to hear verse/chorus/verse/chorus/bridge/chorus/fade to end, look away now. If you’re made of sterner stuff, jump right in. It’s a bit like drinking alcohol for the first time. Initially, you pretend to like it, but secretly find it hard to stomach, but before long you wondered how you got by without it.
Hallogallo is the opening track from Neu!
Für Immer is the opening track from Neu! 2. “A greener richer Hallogallo“, to quote Julian Cope again. It’s another terrific example of the Neu! sound – a relentless, motorik driving pulse with textured layer upon layer of chiming, ambient guitar and occasional whooshing flung in for good measure. I think you’ll like it.
The Sun Smells Too Loud by Mogwai. Cut from the same Krauty kloth, but with a heavier guitar. S’a cracker.
And, hey! If you go here, you can download Krautrocksampler as a PDF, for free. Danke schön!