Born 24 March 1946, Scherfede, Germany; died 20 March 2008
To have played in one of the most influential avant-garde rock bands born from the post 1960s European counter-culture is achievement enough. To have played in two, as Klaus Dinger, who has died of heart failure four days before his 62nd birthday did, is remarkable. But then, if the early version of Kraftwerk Dinger joined in 1970 hadn’t required a temporary guitarist after founder member Ralf Hutter went on sabattical, Dinger would never have met Michael Rother, with whom he formed Neu! after the returning Hutter and fellow band member Florian Schneider decided Kraftwerk should continue as a duo. The three albums released by Neu! have come to define the much lauded ‘motorik’ beat, a propulsive, no-frills style cited and co-opted in various degrees by David Bowie, Brian Eno, Simple Minds, Primal Scream and Stereolab.
With the 1970s Kosmische or ‘Krautrock’ sound currently being reassessed by a younger generation, and with former musical partner Rother set to tour a reunion of his post Neu! project, Harmonia, Dinger’s path may have been more wayward, but his creative importance should never be understated.
Growing up in post-war Germany, Dinger was an unruly child who sang in the school choir. He took up drums as a teenager, playing with The No, an archetypal 1960s beat group who took from The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones. Displaying an early sense for diversity, he also played in a jazz/noise offshoot. After studying architecture for three years, Dinger dropped out, discovered LSD and concentrated on music, playing across Southern Germany in a covers band called The Smash.
In 1970 he received a call from Ralf Hutter, and added drums to the eponymous debut album by the nascent Kraftwerk. It was the Dinger, Rother, Schneider line-up that appeared on German TV show, Beat Club, on which the Neu! is said to have been invented. Neu!’s debut album, recorded with producer Conny Plank, was a stripped-back array of extended grooves, naïve melodies and trippy, trance-like. Released in 1972, it’s Dinger designed sleeve, on which the band’s name was emblazoned, slogan-like, was steeped in a Warholian pop art sensibility born of Dinger’s time living in a commune founded on a quasi-fraudulent advertising agency he’d set up. Here, then, was the shock of the Neu! made flesh, with Dinger apparently driven by an all-consuming love for a Swedish girl named Anita that stayed with him long after the object of his affections had been decamped to Norway and away from Dinger by her father.
Neu! sold 30,000 copies, though this didn’t prevent its follow-up, Neu! 2, running out of money mid-way through recording. Dinger dealt with this creatively, reconstructing already laid down tracks at different speeds. This mix of pragmatism and conceptualism can now be regarded as an early form of remixing, however frustrating a listen the 1973 release remains in parts.
Dinger and Rother were yin and yang. Where Rother was placid and contemplative, Dinger was mercurial and contrary. Neu!’s third and final album, Neu ’75, reflected this, with Dinger developing a vocal style on his song Heroes that was primal, incantatory and some might say unhinged. It was also a clear influence on former Sex Pistol John Lydon’s provocative and repetitive howl in Public Image Limited.
With Dinger’s relationship with Rother in meltdown, Anita gone and money lost on his own record label and a couple of disastrous free festivals, Neu! fell apart. Dinger formed La Dusseldorf, named in homage to his home town, who combined the Neu! beat with commercial Glam to huge success with three albums released between 1976 and 1981. Neondian, released in 1985, was originally intended as the fourth La Dusseldorf , but eventually appeared under Dinger’s own name. A blistering attack on Reagan-era America’s foreign policy, coming from pre-unification Germany, Dinger was effectively shut out of the west following its release.
The same year saw Dinger and Rother reunite to record as Neu!, an aborted project which nevertheless generated an album’s worth of material. As Rother relates in a recent interview, however, few record labels were interested in releasing it, and the two, still distrusting each other, sealed the tapes. Rother relates how he received a fax from Dinger in 1992, congratulating him that the album now known as Neu! 4 was about to be released in Japan. To ease his perilous finances, Dinger also released a set of Neu! rehearsal tapes from 1972.
In 1995, Julian Cope, who had once appeared on Top Of The Pops sporting a Neu! t-shirt, published his book, Krautrocksampler. By the time this study of Neu! and fellow travellers such as Can and Faust appeared, Dinger had fused the defining poles of his past by forming La! Neu? Under this banner, Dinger released a stream of eccentric albums throughout the 1990s on his Dingerland imprint, licensed by the Tokyo based Captain Trip Records.
Neu! reconvened again in 2001, though this time only for a tense set of interviews to publicise the re-release of their three albums. Rother’s urbane European aesthete and Dinger’s wild-bearded eccentric seemed even further apart than ever. Since his death, Rother has posted on his website that "Together with many friends of his music I will remember Klaus for his creativity as an artist and I will think about him with gratitude for his wonderful contributions to our project Neu!."
Dinger was buried at a private ceremony attended by close friends and family. René Renner, head of Grönland Records, who released Neu!’s records, called Dinger "an uncompromising musician, a challenging personality, [an] inspirational human being, and one of the most influential drummers"
Dinger, however, was never happy with how his legacy had been tagged.
“I have never called the beat "the motorik" myself,” he said in a 1998 interview. “That sounds more like a machine and it was very much a human beat. Instead I called it "lange Gerade" or "endlose Gerade". It's a feeling, like a picture, like driving down a long road or lane. it is essentially about life, how you have to keep moving, get on and stay in motion. To be driven by the drive, breaking on through. Since "Néondian", I call the beat "Apache".
Whatever it was called, Brian Eno had long since pointed out that “There were three great beats in the ’70s: Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, James Brown’s funk and Klaus Dinger’s Neu! beat.”
The Herald, April 2008