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A Quietus Interview

Klaus Dinger And Me: Miki Yui Of Japandorf Interviewed
David Stubbs , April 5th, 2013 06:47

Following the recent release of Japandorf, Klaus Dinger's final album, David Stubbs talks to his widow and ex-bandmate Miki Yui

"He didn't put on brakes," says Miki Yui, the widow of Klaus Dinger, temporary member of Kraftwerk, former drummer with Neu! and later founder of La Düsseldorf. "He wasn't moderate. He didn't care about health, he did what he wanted, he was a real rock star kind."

Although his place is sealed in history as the inventor of motorik, Dinger was undoubtedly a rock star manqué, someone who had the requisite ego but not quite the luck to have become a t-shirt icon. Perhaps, if anything, he had too much force as a musician. Even by the time he made the recordings that make up Japandorf (released this week on Groenland under the name of Klaus Dinger & Japandorf), having switched to guitar and bass, he plays with an undimmed, brilliantly unorthodox fury – on the distorted firebursts and cubic gobbets of 'Sketch No 1-6', or 'Cha Cha 2008', a raucous, 12-minute-plus continuum in which are gathered up like recharged moss all the old energies of glam, Krautrock, pre-and post-punk, which Neu had anticipated as early as 1971. And, of course, it's motorik as funk.

This was his last work. Klaus Dinger died suddenly in 2008, after a lifetime of creativity, strife and run-ins with fellow musicians, his own father, would be father-in-laws and the music business. He was a punk from childhood onwards, a whirlwind of often futile revolt and rage, leading to a series of unfortunate business decisions and fallings out, including with his own brother Thomas at the height of the success of La Düsseldorf, the group they co-founded. However, this rage was also the fuel for the non-stop propulsion of the Dingerbeat. The Dingerbeat made no concession to verse or chorus, was hailed by Brian Eno as among the most important rhythm inventions of the 70s and for many today is the very definition of Krautrock.

Dinger warred with his family, cast himself as a "working class hero", studied carpentry and eventually fell out with Kraftwerk, not least because of what he saw as their intention to replace drummers like himself with machines. There was a class basis to his eventual antipathy to the group, whom he described as "millionaires", with himself as the exploited and eventually cast off labourer. Despite their contrasting temperaments, he worked well with the more peaceable Michael Rother, and the first three Neu! albums are testimony to the perfect, yin and yang synthesis they achieved. Ultimately, however, both were pulling in different directions, with Rother drawn to the forest and the infinite flow of the river, as reflected in his solo music from 1977 onwards and Dinger towards the city and the prospect of rock stardom and fronting a successful, proto-punk band, La Düsseldorf, a departure from the hippy-ish communalism of Krautrock, an anticipation of abrasive frontmen like John Lydon, who always cited Neu! as a precedent.

After initial success and despite predictions from David Bowie that they would be the "group of the '80s", La Düsseldorf foundered acrimoniously – the project Japandorf is so named because for legal reasons Dinger was not allowed to carry on with that name. A brief attempt to revive the Neu! partnership in the '80s failed also. The '90s, meanwhile, saw him dig in stubbornly, preventing the release of the early Neu! albums, which, only available on bootleg, become the stuff of Krautrock myth, to the secret joy of collectors but to the despair of Michael Rother. Channelled by groups like Stereolab, the Dingerbeat provided an alternative underpinning to the 1990s – yet Michael Rother described those years to me as the "dark decade".

Dinger's story could be seen as one of visionary rock architecture, sabotaged by his own temperament, impossible ambitions and demands on the world. However, the last years of his life, riven as they were by disputes and penury, also saw him find peace, both in his marriage to Miki Yui, now the curator of his legacy, and in the working company of a community of Düsseldorf-based Japanese artists.

Dinger's first dealings with Japanese people were with the Captain Trip label, with whom he released albums as La! Neu?, whose very name reflected his underlying regret at past, eventually sundered projects - as well as, controversially, two Neu! albums – Neu! 4 and Neu! 72 Live, to which Michael Rother did not consent, further adding to their estrangement. "The Captain Trip people contacted him and saved his life," says Miki Yui. "He didn't have any proper income from his releases - he had a self-release which was not so successful." Dinger, it seems, was impressed by what he saw as Captain Trip's attention to very precise design detail. "Klaus was also like this. If something was two millimetres to the left of where it should have been, he would notice - he was crazily precise, but Japanese people could work with this."

He met Miki Yui in 2000 – she had been drawn to Düsseldorf out of her fascination with the artist Joseph Beuys, who lived, worked and taught there, and was considered an avuncular influence on the Krautrock aesthetic. Despite his reputation for turbulence, theirs was a happy and settled relationship. "Oh, yes!" says Miki Yui. "Maybe I came to him at a good time - maybe my own Japanese influence, not fighting too much - I didn't experience that in our personal life."

When Miki Yui arrived in Düsseldorf, she realised that the town had a settled Japanese community, with its own families, temples, kindergartens. This had begun in the 1970s, when Japanese companies first began to move premises to the city, taking advantage of its proximity to the industrial heartland of the Ruhr and easy access to other European countries such as France and The Netherlands. Arising from this community was a collective of Japanese artists, to whom Dinger was introduced by his artist friend Masaki Nakao, including Kazuyuki Onouchi, and Satoshi Okamoto, all of whom play on the album, along with Miki Yui herself.

The tracks that make up Japandorf, were the product of a leisurely but intensive process over the course of several years, in which the five group members not only recorded together but hung out, went camping, cycling, chatting, in a manner reminiscent of the old Krautrock communes, in which the music arose from the natural rhythm achieved through co-existence, shared knowledge and understanding - "not just making music together but being together," says Miki Yui. Dinger clearly found a pleasure in mentoring his new friends in the art of music making, gently coaxing out of them performances they never knew they had in them, particularly vocalist Nakao. "Klaus drew from him something he would never have expected from himself, writing and singing songs." You can feel this vibe of encouragement on tracks like 'Osenbe' or thoughtful group assemblages like 'Doumo Arigatou'.

On March 21 2008, just before the album was to be finished, Klaus suddenly died from a heart attack, aged just 61. Miki Yui helped complete the sessions – she also produced a volume of photos, interviews and memorabilia for a special exhibition presented at the Slowboy Gallery in Düsseldorf, the graphics of whose sleeve are similar to that of the cover of Japandorf – punkish pink lettering, in keeping with Dinger's visual flair, long evident since his days satirising the garishly ensnaring graphics of Düsseldorf's advertising industry, which also inspired the name and logo "Neu!" It's indispensable for Dinger fans.

Images of Dinger in the book see him in his trademark white overalls, a distinctive and meaningful sartorial gesture of solidarity with everyday working folk and artisans who could never afford expensive clothes, never be able to "buy" taste. We see him in his various phases, from typically hirsute member of the young German counterculture, to someone who by the time of Neu! 75 looks out of time, ahead of his time. Angular and upfront, by this time he'd pretty much abandoned his drumkit to come out and upfront, be a "face". (Krautrock was not big on "faces", which were mostly shrouded in hair and beards in any case). In his latter days, however, he's bearded again, an almost Catweazle-like human touchstone of lost, more progressive musical times. "He was aware of what he did in his history," says Miki Yui of the older, perhaps wiser Klaus Dinger she knew. "And while he is not the kind of person to say 'sorry', he did say that he did certain things wrong."

Penitent he may have been but defiant also. The title of Miki Yui's collection is Ihr Könnt Mich Mal Am Arsch Lecken, which, roughly translated means, "You can all lick my arse." "It's not as bad as it sounds. It's a little softer in German," says Miki Yui. "Something like 'let me do whatever I want'. The sort of thing a teenage girl could say to her mother."