Neu's Michael Rother: 'You have to rely on your own judgement'
- David Pollock
- 3 August 2018
In advance of Neu! Reekie's spoken word / music showcase, we talk to the legendary German musician about independence, inspiration and the happiness of being rediscovered
When the German electronic musician Michael Rother became aware of the promoters who were booking him for Edinburgh International Festival's Light on the Shore series at Leith Theatre, he naturally took a pause for thought. 'When I first heard the name I was puzzled,' he says. Rother, of course, was one half of the pioneering Dusseldorf duo Neu! alongside the late Klaus Dinger in the early 1970s, the project immediately following on from the pair's short-lived time in Kraftwerk; and the people behind this show are Neu! Reekie!, Edinburgh's much-loved and always edgily enjoyable showcase of music, spoken word and film.
Run by poets Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson (the latter of whom was Irvine Welsh's first publisher at Rebel Inc), Neu! Reekie! are returning to Leith Theatre after their Trainspotting special last year dared the Edinburgh Festivals to head north and use the stunning venue regularly once more. Under the banner of Edinburgh International Festival, they've programmed two events filled with some of their dream guests: Rother, Lydia Lunch and Fire Engines on 12 August, and the Vaselines, the Pastels and Linton Kwesi Johnson on 17 August.
Neu! Reekie!, I try to reassure Rother, chose their name partly out of sheer love for the music he makes ('Neu! influenced Bowie, Eno, us and far better,' Pedersen had earlier told me. 'We're delighted this show is happening, and in Leith, the cultural motherland [of Edinburgh]'); and partly because it's a nice play on words. Besides, they're in good company in seeking inspiration from Neu! 'Some people just try to pick up ideas, like David Bowie when he chose to call the track "Heroes" after our track "Hero",' says Rother.
On the phone from his home in 'the middle of nowhere' in the German countryside – the same location where he, Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Mobius of Cluster, and later Brian Eno, founded the post-Neu! project Harmonia – he is a relaxed and thoughtful conversationalist, whether on the subject of Brexit (he isn't a fan) or the source of his inspiration.
'The advantages of this magical place are so strong,' he says of his home. 'I feel special, I feel different when I return from trips. As much as I like city life, it has something to do with my soul, I think. It's difficult to explain. Just looking at the beauty of the landscape and the quietness, this is something very important for me, to find balance and to calm down. Does it bring me inspiration? This question is impossible to answer, really. The path of inspiration can be so twisted and delayed, and you don't know what really touches you, whether it's something you see or hear or smell or feel, or from other music, or the emotion of a film or the influence of the landscape. But the music is not only an echo of quiet and peaceful landscape; I think listening to my music these days live, you would think it comes from a very lively environment.'
With a 60-minute set programmed for Neu! Reekie!, Rother says to expect tracks from his Neu!, Harmonia and solo periods, and that the presence of Hans Lampe – who played on Neu!'s third and final record Neu! '75 and in Dinger's La Dusseldorf – means we might expect the former album's 'E-Musik' to appear. His live trio is rounded off by guitarist Franz Bargmann from Berlin band Camera. 'We are a good band, we get along well and the music output is very pleasing,' he says. 'Successful. Better than the German football team!'
The degree to which Neu! has been appreciated of late – far more than while they were ongoing and in their country of origin – is a pleasant surprise to Rother, although he's confident of the reasons for this. 'It's to do with technology, as the internet has made the exchange of information much easier,' he says. 'Back in the 70s we were cut off from the world, here at the end of the tunnel, and I didn't know what was happening in the UK or USA or Japan, those countries were out of reach for us. Julian Cope's book Krautrocksampler started to change things, certainly in Germany. I remember that journalists were suddenly keen to write articles about our music, because if this famous British musician loves German music, maybe we should write about our guys.
'Yet I always remind myself that it's important to stay independent of praise just as much as I have to stay independent when my music is rejected. That was one of the main lessons I've had to learn, you have to rely on your own judgement. In the long run there's no other way to keep on going than just focusing on what you yourself think. But of course, it's much more fun to have people cheering and enjoying the music, and when you hear from others that they've taken inspiration from it.'
Leith Theatre, 12 Aug (Michael Rother, Fire Engines & Lydia Lunch) & 17 Aug (the Vaselines, the Pastels & Linton Kwesi Johnson), 7pm, £25.