Düsseldorf 1970: The Crucible Of Krautrock By Those Who Were There

In an exclusive extract from the book that accompanies a new compilation of music from Dusseldorf, 
Michael Rother, Roedelius, Klaus Dinger and more discuss jazz and the spirit of collaboration from which Krautrock grew

Jan. 1970 – Organisation, the predecessor band to Kraftwerk, releases its first album, Tone Float, in the UK on RCA Victor; March 1970 – Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider leave Organisation and found Kraftwerk; April 1970 – Paul McCartney announces the end of the Beatles;uly/Aug. 1970 – Kraftwerk’s first album is recorded by Conny Plank in Rhenus Studios in Cologne, Germany; Aug. 1970 – Klaus Dinger plays drums on Track B2 ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’; he does so again in Sept. 1970; Dec. 1970 – the newly founded label Philips issues the debut album with an orange and white traffic cone on the cover; End of 1970 – Ralf Hütter leaves Kraftwerk for several months; Dec. 1970 – On Boxing Day, Kraftwerk performs with a line-up of Schneider/Kranemann/Weiss at Cream Cheese club in Düsseldorf…

Klaus Dinger: Now and again there are a few crazy dudes who just have it. They just come out of nowhere. I think all the influences were nowhere near as strong as the guys themselves were, and what they made of that strength. Those are great moments that not eve you can explain yourself. It’s crazy. That’s why there’s music. You don’t have to explain it; you listen, and that’s it.

Wolfgang Seidel: From Berlin, the beginnings of Düsseldorf Krautrock at the end of the 1960s weren’t at all perceptible. What was keenly observed and heavily influenced aesthetics were the fine arts, psychedelia, things like Beuys, the Cream Cheese club, Uecker, Polke, that whole scene. Düsseldorf bands were hardly known at all back then, including Organisation, the precursor to Kraftwerk.

Roedelius: We jammed with Organisation once. I thought they were all right guys. I just had no affinity for their music, although I did for Florian Schneider’s sister Claudia.

Eberhard Kranemann: The Düsseldorf Schauspielhaus inaugural event took place in January 1970, amidst angry protests. I was there as the base player. When we started looking for a flautist I didn’t hesitate and brought Florian to the next recording session. It worked out pretty well. The Schauspielhaus was inaugurated to our music.

Michael Rother: In my mind, the early stages of our development in Düsseldorf are linked to people and places. We played at lots of school events, even at Rethel Dance strip club, and in youth centres, like the one on Lacombletstrasse, and carnival. In my mind that time in Düsseldorf was defining.

Wolfgang Seidel: Conrad Schnitzler, who later founded Kluster, and who was a true pioneer of electronic music, was also born in Düsseldorf and had a lower-middle-class background.

Roedelius: Beuys was our link to Düsseldorf; we founded Kluster with his first student, Conrad Schnitzler. We moved in the world of fine arts, so primarily in museums and art galleries; we seldom appeared at festivals or in bars. Eberhard Kranemann, Florian Schneider-Esleben and I played together a bit, sometimes in my apartment, sometimes at his parents’ house, then with various other musicians in different line-ups. Basil Hammoudi was with us playing the conga, and so was Cap, who played trumpet, and a classical guitarist. One day Florian brought along a Hammond organ player from Krefeld and we rehearsed together. That went pretty well. His name was Ralf Hütter and he studied architecture. We started a quartet, and the performances went well too. Line-up: Florian Schneider-Esleben, flute; Ralf Hütter, Hammond organ; Eberhard Kranemann, bass; Thomas Lohmann, drums. Roedelius: Florian was an extremely peculiar, introverted fellow; he wasn’t very communicative. Ralf was outgoing, affable, almost like a friend.

Eberhard Kranemann: The work with Florian and Ralf was progressing. We had a rehearsal room in a back courtyard between a brothel and the main railway station. You could make loud music there without any hassle. Back then there was a lot of experimenting with different sounds and various musicians. Like everyone else, Bodo Staiger, Ralf and Florian were always at different jam sessions. That was the time of youth centres, like the stage at Kolpinghaus hostel on Bilker Strasse and the youth centre on Lacombletstrasse. Back then, there were quite a few little joints and bars where bands could perform.

Eberhard Kranemann: It didn’t interest a soul in the beginning. It was experimental music, it was totally out there. People ran away from it. There were just a few insiders who were really into it and made it a point to come to every concert.

Roedelius: I wasn’t too interested in what they were doing musically. Because of my friendship with his sister, I was in and out of Florian’s parents’ house.

Eberhard Kranemann: At that time, Florian primarily worked with electronically amplified flutes that he modified with all kinds of filters to create new and different sounds. He had every kind of flute: piccolo, soprano recorder, alto flute, bass flute; the last one, in particular, is very rare and difficult to play. Florian hooked up echo machines with different echo rates between the electronic module on the flute and the amplifier, creating waves and waves of overlapping flute sounds with various times and rhythms. I liked the sound he had on the alto flute best. It was cool, calm and full of depth. 

Wolfgang Flür: Florian had spent a few months studying at the music conservatory, the ‘jazz academy’ in Remscheid-Küppelstein. He was really good at tinkering with experimental stuff.

Eberhard Kranemann: Florian had electronically modified the flute. It was a transitional phase: electronic modification of acoustic instruments. They developed that further to the point that they just got rid of the instruments and made purely electronic music.

Wolfgang Seidel: Kraftwerk, and early Kluster, made more electroacoustic than electronic music. That is, they had a few amplifiers, they taped contact mics onto everything, which made ratapoof and chang-chang sounds, and their favourite toy was the famous Dynacord Echocord Mini, an ingenious machine with a sliding tape head. You could really make some noise with that. But synthesisers were still nowhere to be seen.

Eberhard Kranemann: In that early phase, Florian experimented with an electric violin that he put on his lap and played while sitting down; he played Arabic scales, which were still very exotic sounding back then. Ralf worked on coaxing unusual sounds out of the Hammond organ. He did without the harmonic percussion and vibrato effects. Blue notes and syncopation from American jazz, soul and rhythm and blues music all got chucked into the bin. That resulted in a neutral sound pattern more like what one is likely to find in modern classical music, as, for example, in György Ligeti’s music.

Wolfgang Seidel: In Kluster’s early phase almost all the instruments were self-made. Of the instruments we bought, the Farfisa organ became the most important. You could really get that thing squealing; you could tape down keys, or hold them down with metal rods you sawed yourself – like Conrad Schnitzler, who was a trained toolmaker, did. That resulted in the wildest harmonic constellations – Kluster, as it were. Wah pedals came out a short time later; they, too, were good for making loads of noise. Then Klaus Freudigmann came along with his metrology and broadcast instruments, and that was electronic music in the narrower sense.

Eberhard Kranemann: I played a four-string electric bass, an electric cello that I had pieced together, and a Hawaiian guitar. I played the bass to create both rhythm and harmony, as a bass element and modified with a wah pedal and a distortion pedal. That led to strange, otherworldly sounds best for use as solos.

Wolfgang Seidel: Klaus Freudigmann was the key technician. He was responsible for Kluster recordings and he played. He had trained to be a sound engineer and was the first one to come along with a sound generator, when no one else even knew what that was. He constructed a ring modulator, and the string instrument that gave Kluster its characteristic industrial sound. It was a board that you could string two strings across – guitar strings or piano strings or whatever. The strings were affixed to one side, but ran over a roller mechanism on the other end, like the vibrato arm on a guitar, except there were individual ones for each string and it had an unbelievably wide range. You could make the most off-the-wall sounds.

Eberhard Kranemann: I teased arco and pizzicato sounds out of the electric cello – sounds ranging from soft, harmonic, sweet to aggressive, distorted, loud, scratchy, screechy. I retuned the strings on the Hawaii guitar subjectively and instinctually and ran a piece of iron across the strings; that was very unconventional and new at that time. Charly Weiss, a free jazz drummer who came to us from Berlin, sometimes supplied rhythmic elements on Kraftwerk songs, but he also provided free percussive sound elements.

Wolfgang Seidel: The first two Kluster records, released on the Christian label Koch/Schwann, with the portentous recitations over harsh industrial and electronic noise, that was Schnitzler, Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. The breakup came shortly thereafter. After that, Kluster was only Roedelius and Moebius.

Eberhard Kranemann: Around 1970/1971 Ralf bid farewell to Kraftwerk. I guess he felt like he needed to finish his architecture studies first. We continued working as a trio. Florian, Charly and I. It was a tough way to make a living. We rehearsed every day from five in the evening till midnight. Hardly any work. No money. Little success to reaffirm the work we were doing.

Wolfgang Seidel: Roedelius and Moebius would soon become Cluster. They saw the West German art gallery scene as their chance, while Conrad, who had initiated all those contacts in the first place, could never get out of Berlin for longer due to his family. The two of them sort of took the Rolodex and the concept and absconded to the West, to the Weser Uplands – which led to bad blood for many years after. And, as a compromise, they had to at least change one letter in the band’s name to do that, and called the band Cluster instead of Kluster.

Eberhard Kranemann: Kraftwerk had a few gigs at the end of the year. For example, there was the Kraftwerk performance in Cream Cheese club on Boxing day, 26 December 1970, 4pm to 10pm, with Florian Schneider-Esleben, flute; Eberhard Kranemann, bass, cello, Hawaiian guitar and Charlie Weiss on drums.

Wolfgang Seidel: Then, later, Charlie Weiss showed up in Klaus Freudigmann’s studio in Berlin as well. He was the first one to show me that you can tune drums.

Wolfgang Flür: Ralf was a natural. When I met him he had already been playing Hammond organ in a jazz band for ages. He really knew his stuff. I haven’t got a clue what made him want to go and study architecture in Aachen in that phase.

Eberhard Kranemann: Ralf was kind of banned from music – I don’t know whether he imposed it on himself or if it came from his father, who was seemingly worried about his education.

Klaus Dinger: We, unlike Florian, had no musical foundations at all. I think Ralf had some pretty good musical training as well. I, on the other hand, am more or less illiterate when it comes to music. In school I always thought music class was absolute bollocks. I had to recover from that first. It was terrible. Although I was a Mozart fan when I was a kid, I was a self-taught musician with no musical background – typical rock & roll. I had no real training, just the constant desire. ‘Come on, we have to do this. Somehow, but in our very own way.’

Eberhard Kranemann: The most famous Hammond organ player in the world was, and is, Jimmy Smith, an Afro-American. Back then Jimmy Smith gave a concert in the Tonhalle in Düsseldorf. Afterwards the whole band went to the Dum Dum jazz club in the Düsseldorf’s historic town centre, where we were really firing things up: Ralf on his Hammond M-100, Florian on the flute, I was playing bass, and the drummer was making sparks fly. Blue notes and syncopated sounds were flying all over the joint.

Wolfgang Seidel: Lots of important Krautrockers started out as jazz musicians – and often remained so in their heart of hearts. If you ask Lothar Meid from Amon Düül II what his greatest musical experiences were, he’ll tell you one was when he played with Coltrane’s drummer, Elven Jones; and the second was when he had a blues jam with Jimi Hendrix before he was famous.

Eberhard Kranemann: The vibe in the Dum Dum club was great, the joint was full to the gills – all hell was loose! In jazz clubs it’s common for guest musicians who are in the city to join in, that is to play with other bands just for kicks. It was expected that Jimmy Smith would do that, too. But he looked at Ralf’s organ and said: ‘Mickey Mouse organ’, and he took off again. He only ever played the Hammond B-3 and Ralf’s smaller model, the M-100, was too tiny for him. However, Kenny Burrell, his guitarist, stayed around, unpacked his guitar and amp and joined us. It turned into a fantastic session that night.

Klaus Dinger: At some point Ralf from Kraftwerk called me. That same day I drove to the studio in Cologne. I saw Conny Plank for the first time that day and cut a few drum tracks for the guys from Kraftwerk. ‘Vom Himmel Hoch’ was the name of the tune, but I didn’t learn that until later. I didn’t really realise just what was going on then.

Bodo Staiger: I had known Conny forever. He was originally from Hütchenhausen, near Kaiserslautern. He worked for Saarländischer Rundfunk (Saarland broadcasting) at the radio station SR1 Europawelle Saar and was a trained sound engineer. From there, he went to Cologne-Rodenkirchen, Godorf to be exact. There’s an IKEA where Rhenus recording studio once was. He was the chief sound engineer there, a friendly Viking of a guy. Very normal, very polite and obliging.

Eberhard Kranemann: From 1967 Conny worked at Rhenus Studios, which belonged to German Schlager musician Margot Eskens’s husband. They recorded German Schlager, a kind of pop music, there during the day, and at night Conny Plank used the empty studio to record musicians he was friends with.

Bodo Staiger: The first time I recorded with Conny? That had to be in 1970. The band was a real hodgepodge, made up of Marius Müller-Westernhagen, Karl Bartos on drums, me on guitar and the bassist from the band Lilac Angels. Those were my very first recordings with Conny.

Eberhard Kranemann: I met Conny at a very early stage, back in the 1960s. I was with him at the same studio as a studio musician making crappy advertising videos with my electric bass for Maggi stock cubes and VW. A good studio musician could get about 300 marks a session. That was good money back then. And Konrad – who had yet to become the famous Conny Plank – needed money too, and was doing the same rubbish. Sometimes you’d record with a big orchestra, but you also did advertising jingles – whatever. That’s how I met him. I was there to play bass and we just kind of hit it off.

Bodo Staiger: It was a huge studio. At that time studios were still gigantic, and that WDR orchestra studio was as big as a gymnasium. Back then, the control room and the machine room were two separate rooms, plus there was the a recording room and a drum room; you could really get lost in there.

Eberhard Kranemann: Conny was looking for inspiration from the studio musicians and from others. Thanks to his good communication skills, he was able to approach things that were new to him without a pre-set opinion, and always with an inquiring and questioning mind.


Roedelius: We were introduced to Conny, or rather to the studio he was working at in Godorf, by a music lecturer and producer of new church music in Düsseldorf, Oskar Gottlieb Blarr. From then on, things kept moving forward with Conny as our record producer, as our sound engineer and as a fellow musician at live performances.

Michael Rother: When chance suddenly carried me into the Kraftwerk studio, a whole new chapter began. I was doing my alternative civilian service in Neuss at the time in the psychiatric ward of St. Alexius hospital and a colleague of mine told me that a band in Düsseldorf was looking for a guitarist and asked if I wanted to go to a jam session with him. That day we went to some demonstration near the elevated road – the Tausendfüssler – and then we went to see Ralf and Florian on Mintropstrasse. The place had a generously laid out room with some equipment in it, but it was nothing compared to Kling Klang Studio, which came later. Florian Schneider and Klaus Dinger were sitting on the couch, just listening. First, I grabbed a bass that was standing around and started jamming with Ralf Hütter. It was a life-changing experience; I had rarely come upon anyone who had such similar harmonic and melodic ideas. I immediately got the feeling that I had found a special counterpart in that Hammond organ player. We played and understood each other fantastically on a musical level; he, too, followed distinctly European harmonic and melodic contours. Everyone in the room noticed it could work. That’s what Klaus and Florian thought too. We exchanged phone numbers and everything went its course.

Electri_city Elektronische Musik Aus Düsseldorf is out now on Gronland. Visit their website for more information, and buy it via Amazon Ma href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/Electri_City-Elektronische-Musik-aus-Düsseldorf/dp/3518464647" target="out">here

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