“If some of you were here in February,” announces the diffident, remarkably youthful-looking 66-year-old Michael Rother, “then you’ll know I don’t talk much. But I hope you enjoy the music.”
Well, Krautrock was never about the verbals. As for enjoying it, the rapt crowd’s response ranges from chin-stroking awe to bouncing merriment, as Rother’s guileful grooves reiterate that this music is both intellectually robust and an insanely infectious celebration of rhythm.
It’s well documented that, in the 70s, the Hamburg-born guitarist-keyboardist-programmer co-founded Neu! and Harmonia, and was briefly in an early version of Kraftwerk. It could be argued that he was the main man of Krautrock, wherein modulations occur over a driving, hypnotic beat.
His influence on everybody from Berlin-era Bowie to Ultravox and Radiohead, plus most electronica, cannot be overstated. Yet the man’s own name is less well known outside the cognoscenti than that of Neu!. But at last that may be changing. This year’s shows have attracted thrilled throngs and rave reviews, and tonight confirms why. This is music you can’t help but get swept up in, its repetitions coolly insistent, its excitement levels furious.
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You might think this clean, slick venue next to Chelsea’s football stadium isn’t ideal for total immersion, but there’s something about the sight lines and perfect sound that banish scepticism. Rother begins most numbers with a twiddle of his laptop before focusing on guitar, while Franz Bargmann fleshes things out on second guitar and Hans Lampe plays primal, irresistible drums (Lampe played on the Neu! ’75 album).
As the instrumentals pound and flow, Rother’s guitar recalls Tom Verlaine in its counter-intuitive, itchily inspired simplicity, while Lampe’s big beats can take you into Spiritualized-style trances for a spell, but then jolt you into a more stomping style. The trio even sound like The Sweet at one stage, though more often they induce reveries of late-night European trains traversing enigmatic, romantic landscapes. “Don’t hesitate to dance, please,” says Rother.
The 90-minute set mixes Neu!, Harmonia and solo material. From the burning Neuschnee through the gentler Seeland to Katzenmusik, it’s riveting in the clarity. This may be predicated on one brilliant idea beaten to within an inch of its life, but it’s never beaten to death – there’s always suspense.
For all the tunnel vision of the aesthetic, you’re on edge as to what comes next. A second drummer, Crystabel Riley, joins for a few songs, giving more of a pounding beat, before the climax of Hallogallo and Groove 138 provides an arty party you don’t want to stop. We’ve been truly motorik-rolled.