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La Düsseldorf - La Düsseldorf / Viva / Individuellos

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Artist: La Düsseldorf

Album: La Düsseldorf / Viva / Individuellos

Label: Water

Review date: Jan. 14, 2009

Klaus Dinger is best known for supplying Krautrock with its definitive rhythm. Though he disliked the descriptor “motorik,” Dinger’s lateral throb – a pulsing current of bass, snare and clenched hi-hat occasionally flecked by flashes of silver and rattling toms – became a singular, recurrent trope in a movement-cum-genre that, remarkably, lacked uniformity. The Dinger-beat is also inseparable from the sound Neu!, the duo he led with guitarist Michael Rother after both passed briefly through Kraftwerk. Dinger’s mantric linearity shuttled Rother’s chord-churn and mellifluent launches. His trotting metronome provided a steady point of focus around which swirled all the radiant color, carbonated texture and sing-song sweetness. Though tasked with driving Neu!, Dinger was also fond of prankish derailments: the initially enervating tape-speed “versions” all over the group’s underfunded second album and “Hero” the caustic thrash of proto-punk urgency sorely sticking out on the group’s blissed-out final LP. With La Düsseldorf, Dinger managed to transform Neu!’s clean, serialist gridwork into swooping, anthemic space rock.

Both La Düsseldorf’s 1976 self-titled debut and its 1978 follow-up Viva have a commanding, panoramic vastness. Replacing himself behind the kit with not one but two drummers, his brother, Thomas, and Hans Lampe, Dinger also pseudonymously handled “synthies” under the name Nikolaus VanRhein. Singing only slightly more in tune but with markedly less bile than on the aforementioned “Hero,” Dinger largely chants or slings off short, slogan-sized lines. But mainly, it’s Dinger’s fretwork that startles. While Rother joined forces with Cluster to form Harmonia and also recorded his own series of solo, instrumental albums post-Neu! – all works of a smaller, more streamlined scale – Dinger went big. (By his own admission, he “felt the need to become more understandable for more people.”) Instead of Rother’s delicate honeycombs of fluorescent melody, Dinger unleashes raucous streams of flaring electricity and crystalline harmonic hives He soars straight for the peaks. If Neu! was all about maintaining constant, regulated analgesic discharges, La Düsseldorf went straight for all-out endorphin rushes.

The self-titled debut finds the group’s stenciled logo hovering over their namesake’s skyline, perhaps playing off the jetliner’s roar that introduces the band on opener “Düsseldorf.” Winged surveillance of “a world that’s cleansed and newborn,” as aptly noted by Simon Reynolds, it predates Wenders’ longing angels by over a decade. Though it’s often said the city’s name is the only word sung on both this track and its sprightly little sister, “La Düsseldorf,” there is in fact quite a bit of lyrical content on both (all of it thankfully reproduced by Water in their CD reissues). On the first song, Dinger paints a stark landscape: glass, wind, gold and water (the Rhine) – a zero degree metropolis, empty but not vacant. “La Düsseldorf” finds Dinger populating this new city with cartoonish icons of decadence: Daimlers, gangster, models. The track itself changes the album’s tone from floating drift to hi-octane zip. An improbable smash single, the synth hymnal “Silver Cloud,” carries side two through to the closing “Time.” Picking up momentum as it moves through its nine minutes, “Time” is the glistening blueprint for many a Sonic Boom song to come. Farfisa flashes and faintly-flanged two-chord strum powers a spiraling mandala.

From the Neu!-like spray-painted cover bearing its declarative title, Viva is more cosmic bubblegum, now with a slightly glam luster. With a mass of guitars shimmering like jet streams, the opening title track is a bierhall sing-along beaming through the galaxy. “White Overalls,” like “La Düsseldorf” on album No. 1, is another nervy spigot of fizz. Playing on Dinger’s minimalist/populist clothes of choice, the refrain of “Overall / overall / overall” unmistakably echoes “über alles,” a reminder that Germany’s militaristic past is now its consumerist, “western” present. “Rheinita” is the album’s “Silver Cloud,” a cool bath of trembling synths and gleaming ache set on a bed of rumbling toms. “Geld” (“Gold” or “Money”) joins the aforementioned “Time” as proof that while Pink Floyd were meticulously piecing together bloated, humorless paeans to the same grand themes in 1973, Dinger handily replaced their lurching gravitas with monotone giddiness (“Time”) and hysteric grotesquery (“Geld”). Merry-go-round synths circle a lively march as Dinger, at his most unhinged since “Hero,” speak-screams along to the sugary crunch of his distorted guitars: “Make love, not war” and something about “Monkeys, junkies, drunkies, punkies.”

Sidelong colossus “Cha Cha 2000” is a dizzying call-to-arms, worlds away from the corporate smoothness Krafwerk found in “Expo 2000,” their own ode to the 21st century, some 20 years later. Dinger’s vision of “man nature technology,” to borrow Ralf & Florian’s refrain, is no koan of hygienic boosterism. Ironically, Dinger’s hopes for a “Belleville” where “the rivers are blue / and the air is clean / and the grass is green,” with no cars, no smoking, no doping, does smack of the same office-park sterility offered by Kraftwerk. That said, Dinger seems to be, somewhat confusedly, rallying against the spectacular “phantasy” of progress and wealth by offering his own hippified socialism. Another pileup of thundering toms seared by geysers of glittering guitar heat, it extends La Düsseldorf’s play of release and removal, teasing and surging on its volcanic course.

Just a bit more than a footnote, the third and final album Individuellos is a déjà-vu of sorts for Dinger. The first two Düsseldorf albums made bank, so Dinger hardly faced a cash deficit. Rather, he just lacked tunes. But just as the lack of funding for Neu!’s rushed sophomore effort led to experimentation with recorded matter as tape reels themselves became instruments, Individuellos improves on this model of povera materialism. Instead of just toying with playback speeds of finished compositions, Dinger isolates components, drops samples and warps timbres. The resulting album is hardly the letdown or total wipeout it was once perceived. Instead it’s a wormhole to some other, bizarro La Düsseldorf. (A worse realm altogether can be found in the ice-rink pomposity of La Düsseldorf’s final single, 1983’s “Ich LIebe Dich,” mercifully not included here.) Not quite the remix album avant la letre that its liner notes claims, Individuellos proves Dinger’s batteries were still charged. He just lacked direction. (Dinger in fact professed much later that he found “something deeply unethical and immoral” about remixes.) Opener “Menschen,” the superstructure which will be dismantled across the album’s first few tracks, is pretty much regulation La Düsseldorf stomp. But in his reductions and alterations, Dinger manages to not just leapfrog ahead to post-punk’s percussive tribalism and glacial synthetics; he does so with a wistful gaze back to traditional German volk music. Kazoos notwithstanding, “Dampfriemen” and “Tintarella Di…” is pretty much switched-on Bavariana. Garish and austere, too much and too little, Individuellos reaffirmed Dinger as restive inventor and puckish savant.

By Bernardo Rondeau

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