Listen to this track by Dusseldorf duo and krautrock architects with an ironic consumerist moniker, Neu! It’s “Hallogallo” the lead track off of their eponymous 1972 debut record.
The band was made up of guitarist Michael Rother, and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Klaus Dinger. Both were involved in early iterations of fellow innovators Kraftwerk, and deal in many of the same musical approaches to a generous use of space and economic instrumentation. Speaking of space, this tune in particular seems to evoke a vast aural landscape of motorways and fast car travel. A sense of childlike wonder is contrasted to the idea of a dehumanized world of metal and glass that is an important undercurrent and vital tension in the music.
The incredible thing about this song in general is that this tension is evoked by the sparsest means, most notably a simple and unrelenting drum beat that is so undeniable it even has it’s own name: motorik.
The motorik beat is characterized by it’s straightness, so much like the image of a sleek automobile streaking down a motorway that it evokes that image even without any lyrical cues. Dinger plays the beat with so few interruptions on the part of the music happening around it that it seems almost machine-like, not played by a person. It is in fact accentuated by the impressionistic wash of sound created behind it, with backlooped electronics and guitar pedal effects that play in and out of the movement of the piece. Those supporting elements never try to take the wheel. That beat is right up front doing all of the driving, riding layers of musical tension as it carries us along with it.
I think what makes it such an effective piece of music is that dynamic which seems to suggest a narrative without lyrics. This really feels like we’re taking a fast car trip somewhere. Where is this journey taking us? Where will we end up by the end? To me, that plays into some pretty common themes that their former colleagues in Kraftwerk explored about the future, and about what role technology would play in it for good or ill. That was a rising concern by the early 1970s, what with space programs and early computer interface technology quickly on the rise and in the papers.
Yet here with Neu!, there really isn’t any sort of sense of dread to be found in this song. To me, this piece of music shimmers with optimism. Maybe that’s because the term “Hallogallo” isn’t strictly about machinery or the fate of civilization on the surface. It’s about connection, and celebration, literally being a portmanteau that mixes the German “hello”, with a slang term for what would loosely translate as “wild party”. This song seems to suggest that as we hurtle into the future, at least we still have our rock ‘n’ roll to keep us grounded.
Plagued by only regional success and record company indifference, Neu! Would be a concern until 1975, with a hiatus period lasting until the mid-1980s before breaking up soon after. Their influence on many bands is significant, most notably Stereolab who work within a similar musical space that deals in constancy and tension, plus other bands and artists like David Bowie, Brian Eno, Porcupine Tree (who actually covered this song), Death in Vegas, OMD, Ciccone Youth, Broadcast, and many, many others.
Klaus Dinger passed away in 2008.
You can find out more about Neu! by exploring this site.