INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo DECEMBER 2007 - by Mike Barnes
After a thirty year break, the Eno-collaborating Krautrock legends return.
"Julian Cope did a good job promoting us with his book Krautrocksampler," says Harmonia guitarist Michael Rother. "We were so gone in the late'80s and'90s, especially in Germany, where nobody gave a damn about our music from the '70s. And suddenly when the book came out, people were doing interviews and articles about us because they thought, Oh, we can be proud of our guys now."
Formed in 1973, Harmonia were a collaboration between keyboardists Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius of Cluster (also active again after a ten-year lay-off) and Rother, who'd played in Kraftwerk in 1971 and was also a member of Neu! at the time.
With their specially-treated drum machines, their all-improvised music was a unique mix of the lyrical, the organic and the mechanistic. Less conceptual in this respect than Kraftwerk, Harmonia pursued the more impressionistic moods of early Cluster, with Rother incorporating more soaring melody lines into his guitar playing, which then fed back into his work with Neu!. Only extant for three years, Harmonia nevertheless made a bona-fide classic in Musik Von Harmonia, while the just-released Harmonia Live 1974 shows them at their mesmeric best. Although, in Rother's words, their career was a "financial disaster" at the time, the trio's reputation has grown apace.
As well as their involvement with Eno and Bowie back in the day (Rother was due to play on Heroes but, mysteriously, both he and Bowie received messages that the other had changed their mind), those who have more recently admitted their influence include John Frusciante, Autechre and Boards Of Canada. With the appearance of Harmonia Live 1974, a tape from Rother's archive, the group's profile has risen again. "International interest is constantly growing," confirms Roedelius, and the group make their live return in Berlin this month with some preparatory exchange of ideas, but no rehearsals.
"The idea of doing a concert as Harmonia is quite an adventure, which should inspire all of us to think about what we can do to not make fools of ourselves," Rother quips. "But I'm not afraid. I don't think I'd even want to do a rehearsal because the chance of jumping into the deep water - that's the exciting thing."
Harmonia are curious as to what they are capable of in 2007 ,which will decide whether or not they will record or play again, though a UK show is rumoured for 2008. Roedelius puts it this way: "We'll see and hear in Berlin first, what's possible now. Avant-gardists in general don't know what they do and what they cause."
ROTHER AND ROEDELIUS REMEMBER KRAUTROCK
In the period between 1968-75, AKA the Krautrock era, Germany produced some of the most potent and exploratory rock music of the century. But how did it feel to be part of it all at the time? "In Germany after World War II, the young generation needed urgently to get rid of the Nazi past even though they had nothing to do with it," says Roedelius. "There was a big spiritual and cultural vacuum that needed to be filled. So we had to adventure, we had to try to experience ourselves, to be able to find the exit out of the misery of unawareness."
"There was a feeling of change," adds Rother, "but I didn't feel kinship with other German bands. I liked Can but nothing else really interested me, except for the musicians I collaborated with like Cluster, Kraftwerk, Klaus Dinger [Neu!], [engineer] Conny Plank. I remember once hearing music by Tangerine Dream and thought, How boring. That was all very different from what I had in mind. I don't want to create the impression of being big-headed, but it was a necessary approach to forget what everybody else was doing and follow your own ideas."