Okay, I feel a little more coherent, so some long overdue writing — first on the sad event I noted earlier.
Idolator has a good piece up on Dinger and his work in brief courtesy of Jess, so I recommend that as a basic history read. To quote from it:
Though he lent his man-machine power to Kraftwerk during the band’s first phase, Dinger and Neu! became infamous in the international underground rock scene of the early 1970s for their trio of albums driven by his “motorik” rhythm—Dinger called his most famous invention the “Apache beat”—and guitarist Michael Rother’s mix of ethereal proto-ambiance and visceral near-punk riffs.
It’s important to note, as Jess does, that Neu! was very much a partnership — and one that didn’t last, fracturing badly after three albums and never fully getting off the ground again after that. The first I heard of Neu! was via very random mentions here and there in the late eighties, the kind of obscurantist detail beloved of those younger sorts like myself who relied on Trouser Press and Bryon Coley and the like to point the way to certain things. At one point Mute Records announced a rerelease of their albums and there was a bit of excitement about it all, but it came to nothing.
Then there was Stereolab.
I first heard of that band via a variety of music press mentions, specifically Melody Maker, in 1991 or so — unsurprising given the group’s press-friendly connections, not least counting regular MM photographer Joe Dilworth as an initial member (he later ended up in the no-less-great Th Faith Healers — and yes, I spelled that correctly). A variety of mentions of their combined influences cropped up often, and I got a good initial sense of what they were talking about when Transient Random-Noise Bursts With Announcements was released in 1993 — still one of their most monstrously great albums, one which provoked a lovely piece by Douglas Wolk in the Marooned anthology. To my ears the propulsive drone drumming underpinning so much on that album in particular — courtesy of ace performer Andy Ramsey, a gentle giant of a man who still does those honors for the group — reminded me of a couple of touchstones I knew to an extent already — Moe Tucker for the Velvet Underground, Jaki Liebezeit for Can, both of whom are definitely in the final product.
Then fellow KUCI DJ John Lewis — much older than me, and therefore with a wider context that I lacked for earlier things — asked me if I’d ever heard Neu! “Heard of them, yeah,” I said, or something similar. I think he and I and a couple of other folks, including the redoubtable Mackro, were going to LA for a show or something. As it happened he had their albums on tape in the car — still out of print, they had taken on a near-mythic quality, but a series of suspiciously good if not perfect CD bootlegs (covering not only those releases but the early Kraftwerk albums, which Dinger and Rother had also played on, as well as the Silver Apples two late sixties albums) had recently resurfaced. Perhaps John had copied them from those, perhaps he always had ‘em, but he went ahead and almost certainly played “Hallogallo” from Neu!’s self-titled debut.
And then everything became perfectly clear.
Nothing against Stereolab (too much, at least — friend ML tells the story of how he chatted briefly with the band once after a very early show of theirs, mentioned how they obviously knew their Neu!, and how in response they clammed up and withdrew hastily…they’re a little more open about it now). But whatever recombinations and imaginative leaps Stereolab aimed for and did on Transient, songs like “Hallogallo,” “Negativland” (which, indeed, is where the band got its name), “Für Immer” and “Lila Engel,” to name many others showed exactly where they were mainlining a deceptively simple but amazingly powerful blend of propulsion and guitar chop and chug from.
Rother’s work deserves its own attention — the sounds he coaxes out of his guitars are breathtaking — but Dinger’s playing is, as Jess says, truly that of a man-machine. It certainly helps that the brilliant Conny Plank‘s engineering captured it beautifully — Neu! is tactile music, Plank’s clear but warm sound a near womblike cocoon holding it all in — but the point is, it’s Dinger who gets the balance right. The striking thing about his performances — whether the brisk down-the-autobahn rumbles or the slower and steadier songs like “Weissensee” — is how beautifully Dinger is simultaneously man and machine, precise as hell but given to wonderful fills, breaks and other twists on the basic beat that never once disrupt the core flow. It helps to remember that this is in an era of drum machine and rhythm box infancy as well, and in contrast to that relentless focus Dinger showed a way that drumming and percussion could embrace minimal simplicity while still holding some amazing flair. That YouTube clip I put in the first post gives a taste of how that must have functioned live, Dinger in the zone as Rother, similarly posed between restraint and explosion, lifts up and out.
Motorik is a term I’ve found myself using in recent years a lot and for good reason — I cannot begin to tell you the amount of bands who cloned Dinger’s approach (if rarely his level of talent — they get the focus right but not the twists on it) for even at least one song. If you’d like to hear one instance of it, consider Placebo’s “Slave to the Wage” — the extra bit of guitar glaze that crops up throughout is a Pavement sample and the visuals are a cloning of Gattaca, but that beat Steve Hewitt is laying down, matched with the basic chug of the guitars, is pure Dinger, drop-kicked ahead a couple of decades:
And again, this is just one example of many.
Dinger, ultimately, is the kind of music genius who operates against a more Romantic model — he’s not a crazed, blazing showman (showboater?) like Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa, say, but someone like the Meters’ drummer Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste, a core part of the whole that everyone remembers for his individual power. A strange comparison to make, perhaps, but the Meters by default were always on the one, Modeliste’s amazing work never failing to live up to the structured implications of the band’s name, and in a much different context, so was Dinger in his own striking way. It used to be said that part of the success of Kraftwerk were that they were so stiff they were funky, but arguably that might be why Dinger had to leave Kraftwerk to go out on his own — he didn’t need to be stiff, and he found his own way back to the beat and beyond.
Rest in peace — the motorik drives on.