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Harmonia - Live 1974

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Artist: Harmonia

Album: Live 1974

Label: Water

Review date: Apr. 30, 2008

As far as krautrock super-groups go, it's hard to beat Harmonia's composition, a trio formed by members of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Cluster. With two albums released between 1973 and 1976, though, their legacy has been somewhat sparse. This live recording, from a show in Griessem in March of 1974, is thus a rather special thing.

The sound quality is actually rather stunning, with a perfect balance between the band’s chugging electronic percussion, hypnotic guitar, and droning keyboards. The photo on the back cover illustrates perfectly what to expect, with Michael Rother, guitar in hand, standing between Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, both positioned behind racks of analog gear that would go for thousands of dollars on eBay today.

Starting from the motorik pulse of "Schaumberg," it's all good trance-inducing stuff, as the trio takes its time proving that it's all about the journey. The 17-minute "Veteranissimo" proves the point conclusively, as it shuffles along on a synthetic snare-kick rhythm. Hypnotic synth notes snake about, while spacey tones come and go. At times the song becomes extremely minimal, with the nearly-unchanging rhythm taking the forefront, and to be sure, the repetitive nature of the piece may be a bit much for some. But if you let it carry you along, you'll feel the drift – it's just a very slow evolution.

The brief "Arabesque" is a cheerfully brief, almost bouncey tune, which gives way to the slightly sinister industrial throb of "Holta-Polta," whose 15 minutes might be the highlight here. Its mechanical pounding and dense electronics feels like a direct precursor to the early proto-electro-dub of Cabaret Voltaire. It's a terrific chunk of futuristic dubbiness. The album finishes with 10 minutes of chittering percussion and the long, drawn-out notes of Rother's unmistakable guitar.

There's no question that Live 1974 is not only a noteworthy addition to Harmonia's slim discography, but also a pretty essential addition to the overall canon of ’70s German rock. It's rare to find live albums that are just as worthy as a band's best studio work, but this is one of them. The fact that it's from such a seminal band, over 30 years since the performance, is icing on the cake. A welcome, wonderful release not to be missed.

By Mason Jones

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