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The Essential... Underground NDW

Earlier this month saw the publication of The Big Book of Woe, an ebook compiling the unfailingly informative and iconoclastic 2003-2010 blog posts (and other internet writings) of Matthew Ingram, aka Woebot. To mark the occasion, we asked Ingram if we could re-publish one of his classic primers, specifically his 2009 guide to noteworthy records to come out of the Neue Deutsche Welle (German new wave).


My friends at Dissensus have witnessed the saga of my investigation into Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW for short), and so I should apologise in advance if they’ve heard any or all of this before of.

My research has been severely hamstrung by my lack of German, and unlike the largely established canon of Krautrock there is as yet no translated history for NDW. Music fans take for granted things like Julian Cope’s Krautrocksampler and the pioneering forays into that music made by the likes of Ian McDonald. Listening to Krautrock nowadays you almost “think through it” in English, obviously there are English language points of entry, Kraftwerk’s willingness to do translated versions of their music and Damo of Can’s fusioneering approach to his lyrics, a pile-up of English/Japanese/German, both softened the barrier.

Just the other week I rounded up all the stuff I’d collected this year, and built a compilation of what amounted to my choice of the best, most interesting, most relevant pieces of music. This post is a companion to that compilation, a blow-by-blow breakdown of the little I know about each of the tracks. Firstly it ought to be stated that this comp amounts to a “second grade” primer to NDW. If you’re a total newbie to this music you should first get the following LPs: DAF’s Die Kleinen Un Die Bosen, Pyrolator’s Ausland, Palais Schaumburg’s debut LP, Der Plan’s Geri Reig (which if you get on CD is doubled up with the also excellent Normalette Surprise), Liaisons Dangereuse’s eponymous LP, Einsturzende Neubauten’s first LP, and the quite excellent Verschwende Deine Jugend: Punk und New Wave in Deutschland 1977-83 compilation. In truth if you have those 7 things you’ve probably got enough. You’ll very regularly hear people singing the praises of Fehlfarben’s Monarchie und Altag, stuff by Malaria and Abwarts, so there must be something to them as well, but I’ve not got anything out of them – I suppose it may be case of personal taste.

Close readers will probably have noticed I’d been trying to do this as a Primer in The Wire. To give them their dues they did consider it, but sadly my enthusiasm for the subject wasn’t enough to convince them I was the man for the job. The fact that I was going to have to rely on the very generous Alexander Pohle (of the Backagain site and NLW label) to essentially provide the basic skeleton to the piece further scuppered me. From my half-baked, albeit completely under-researched comments here you’ll fathom I wasn’t ready to be unleashed on a “NDW Primer.” For a while I wasn’t going to take no for an answer and actually managed to get an audience with Chris Bohn, the editor, in an attempt to convince him by the sheer presence of my towering charisma (ha ha ha).

Bohn had an important role to play in the music’s reception out of Germany. In his own words he ” was there”: as well as cheerleading Einsturzende Neubauten and breaking Pyrolator’s Ausland over here, he hung out with the genius Christlo Haas of Liasons Dangereuses. I asked him about Haas, whose recent death prompted Bohn to contribute to a radio show about him on Resonance FM, and was regaled with a great story or two. Tales of Haas and his compulsive music-making, days of work spooling on to a reel-to-reel, work which Haas would then often quixotically destroy. Bohn’s reluctance to run a Primer also foundered on his conviction that NDW was, in the main, a crock of shite. That all the promise exhibited by German Punk was quickly squandered as the German majors descended on the movement, swiftly bringing us dreck like Nena, Falco and The Spider Murphy Gang. I hummed and ha-ed a little at this point. Wasn’t there some kind of distinction between Underground NDW and the mainstream? Well, certainly I hadn’t bothered making it.

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Love this, and take any opportunity to play it. Have no idea at all who he is; I think, by the looks of his current website, he may well be quite naff? Evidence to the contrary? BackAgain>NDW have a section devoted to him, the Edelweiss cover is beautiful, it’s engineered by Rene Tinner (Conny Plank’s right hand man) and it’s a great track.


This guy has been around doing electronic music since 1965. He worked on the Cluster and Eno record and went on to put out a load of records on the (currently-being-re-evaluated label Sky). I think he’s worked with Namlook and Atom Heart recently, though that doesn’t show up in this old interview from 1992. ‘Unterhaltsmusik’ is, I kid you not, like a very florid slightly ambient Grime instrumental.


Grauzone’s linchpin was one Stephan Eicher. They hailed from Switzerland, so that bundles them in with Lilliput, Yello and The Young Gods, however their aesthetic is pure NDW. ‘Eisbär’ is extremely sparse, clinical, majestic synth rock. It’s the production sound which sucks you in. This track, and indeed everything on the Sunrise Tapes compilation sounds way ahead of its time.


Extremely hip and rare bit of New Wave synthery. ‘We are Happy’ is an emblematic dancefloor chant. The sound is reminiscent of The Stranglers albeit in a band-in-a-box style.

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At school I was shown the Christiana F movie by my tutor as a means of dissuading me from taking hard drugs. If you haven’t seen it, it’s the filmed version of Christiana’s biography detailing her descent in Heroin addiction at the age of 13. I don’t remember paying much attention to the message that was intended to be drummed into me (though I’ve never taken smack, so maybe it sunk in on some level?) but was pretty seduced by the culture depicted and the great Berlin-era Bowie soundtrack. I didn’t know until earlier this year, upon hearing the brilliant ‘Wunderbar’ on the Berlin80 compilation that she’d made a record. ‘Wunderbar’ is a pallidly, attractively left-footed disco track, and it reminds of Vivian Goldman’s ‘Launderette’ for lots of reasons.


Extremely scary post-Suicide terror beats twinned to a compulsive bassline. On the back cover the artists crouch beside some animistically daubed wall, one dressed like a muhajadin warrior. I know practically nothing about them, but this is pretty uncompromising stuff. My interest in most of these tracks betraying my post-Acid House tastes.


This conjoures to my mind noir-ish images of old BMWs haring round the Deutsche suburbs. Bal Paré was the synthesiser-pop reincarnation of Matthias Schuster. One of the key figures in Underground NDW, Schuster started out in the band Geisterfahrer, provided production work on Andreas Dorau’s Fred Vom Jupiter, did some landmark solo music and also was behind the cult outfit Bal Paré, who the cognoscenti discuss in hallowed terms. He’s tied in with the quite excellent Konkurrenz label which is the counterpart to 99 records or Y. Set up by the painter Hans Richter’s grandson Tommy, it had a stunning pedigree, even before they started releasing stuff!


The early minimal records by these people (this record and ‘Wissenswertes uber Erlangen’) with their Jarry-esque covers are great. I think, later in the 1980s, they even managed to get on the Peel show.

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The LP Fakten sind Terror could quite easily be appended to the “must-buy” list I made earlier on. As powerful as, and not dissimilar to, records like Unknown Pleasures and Metal Box, its eight tracks are quite stunning. I’ve often thought that Blixa Bargeld’s delivery, especially circa Kalte Stern, owes a lot to the vocals here. Again on Konkurrenz and it has been reissued on NLW.


Anthologised on the first, solid, Teutonik Disaster compilation. I’ve always loved this, pure Teuton Clunk-Funk like the Christiane F track. I’m delighted that I just managed to find a copy of this. Carmen Gaspar was a former member of the Marinas and also sung on Pyrolator’s Ausland.


My eternal thanks to Jim Backhouse for hipping me to this B-side of an extremely rare 7″ on the awesome Zick Zack label which I haven’t yet tracked down on vinyl. If the Carmen is like More Songs About Buildings and Food-era Talking Heads this, approximately more liquid, shimmying, lolloping and echo-ated, is more like Fear of Music.


Again thanks to Jim. I picked up this privately-pressed tune off a dealer in San Francisco (via eBay). Weirdly the record was put out in California by a label called optional music. This surely couldn’t be described as an “important” release, but it’s just so fantastic. More left-footed Post-Punk riddims.

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Stunning DAF-in-a-woodshed electronics from our man Schuster. A real underground anthem, this 7″ is rounded up on the truly excellent Atemlos reissue, which you can get through NLW. I paid loads for my vinyl copy of Atemlos but the reissue is where it’s at.


Taken from the Fest Der Vielen Sinne LP, which [blushes] I don’t own. Propelled by a post-Gang of Four cyclical Tom-Tom-style militant drum pattern this is a deeply satisfyingly slice of punk-funk. I do, however own this: Geisterfahrer’s quite excellent debut on Konkurrenz, which though it doesn’t contain anything quite so hooky, is excellent in a post-Flowers of Romance style.


Lifted from the excellent Vogel compilation on Touch and anomalous in present company. Strafe are frequently described a being “like” Einstürzende Neubauten, but that doesn’t do their magic canvases much justice. There’s an excellent illuminating article here where Brian Duguid interviews them.


From the mighty Ata Tak label, who brought us Der Plan and Pyrolator. This brilliant LP houses the wonderful ‘Fred Vom Jupiter’, ‘Tulpen and Narzissen’ and this, ‘Arriverderci’, which I adore. Dorau is wept over by a forlorn girlfriend he’s saying farewell to. Super charming with a kind of sub-Compass Point rhythm. If you go to they still have copies of this on vinyl, and you can pick up the Der Plan and Pyrolator on CD while you’re there.

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‘√1 = 1’

From Konrad Becker’s masterpiece Monotonprodukt 07 which was without a doubt my discovery of the year [2009], any track would have done. Again thanks to Jim B. It completely baffles me that this CD isn’t more widely known. The square root of Basic Channel, Oval, Carl Craig’s ‘Neurotic Behaviour’, its fibonacci arithmetics will have you locked into a trance in no time at all. A very strong candidate for the most important record of the last 30 years, and I promise you I’m not being hyperbolic. There’s no point in hunting out the vinyl on this one as the CD remastering apparently gave Becker the sound he was really after. One for your stocking.


The B-side where things get dubby is the one. Picked my copy up in Marseilles this summer but you’ll get it on with ease. Like the Joachim Witt it’s engineered by Rene Tinner at Inner Space – shorthand for nearly a Can record but not quite.


A legendary piece of vinyl and the basis for the Carl Craig/Maurizio ‘Domina’ track. In a sense occupying a similar relationship to the history of Techno as Manuel Gottsching’s E2-E4 does. The story goes that Ralf and Florian gave two friends of Manuel Gottsching’s Rosi and Claudia two chords and that with Manuel’s help they spun them into jams. Ralf and Florian liked the tracks so much they designed the cover. This is a gas.

Doing this I was struck by the extremely narrow time-span all the stuff I really rated fell into (1980-83). I’d been working to a 1979-85 window, copying Simon [Reynolds]’s one on Rip It Up and Start Again, but I didn’t need half that! While it may be scrappy and fall far short of that wot it ought, I don’t reckon such a good primer exists anywhere else in the English language. (Props to himself…) If anyone on my links-bar wants a copy of my CD, they should feel free to drop me a line at the usual address and I’ll pop one in the post. It’s superb, bracing stuff. At some point, with a little luck, I’ll be doing a show with these tracks on Kosmische Show/Resonance FM, and by that stage I will have been able to cook up some kind of historico-cultural background for all this.



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