Friday, May 08, 2020

‘Drinking just Champagne’

In the late 70s there was a man of indeterminate foreign-ness apparently living in the basement of my father’s office in Neal’s Yard called Jan, or perhaps it was Yan. 

He was the ‘sound guy’ and shared his limited space with a massive mixing machine with all sorts of knobs and slide controls. He introduced me to the siren synth sounds of the likes of Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre before it was strictly cool to be into them. 

Around the same time my cousin Sara was doing the promotional legwork for Tubeway Army and then Gary Numan and British pop was about to embark on its epic electronic adventure of the early 80s. (Visage, New Order, The Human League, Depeche Mode, OMD and so on.) 

So, when The Model was released in English in ‘82 (the same year as Vangelis’s  Chariots of Fire), I perhaps didn’t have quite the sense of how pioneering Kraftwerk — ‘power plant’ — had been to the new sounds and techniques, but I was thrilled nonetheless, in part because it refers to an era when my mother was on the catwalk, but also because it flirted outrageously with all the clichés we had about West German pop culture...and ruthlessly satirised. (That includes the audience in this clip.) 

The boys from the Conservatory in Düsseldorf described themselves as Klangchemiker (zound kemistz!), yet outside Germany eventually acquired the moniker of the ‘Electronic Beatles’. 

The tributes to founder member Florian Schneider, who died this week aged 73, have reminded me just how much of an indispensable building block of the culture this signature hit of theirs became. 

Not everyone was enamoured of their chilly, somewhat archly-detached aesthetic. NME described them as the sort of people who’d blow up the world just to hear what sound it would make. I suspect my old friend Yan might also have belonged to that same club. 

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