Michael Rother and James Holden
RBMA Encounters explores what happens when great minds connect. This edition sees krautrock pioneer Michael Rother chat with James Holden.
In our first edition of Encounters, we invite krautrock pioneer Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, and techno’s errant master James Holden of Border Community to explore conversational themes that are both shared and divisive. Topics range from Michael’s struggle to keep things in synch, while James aims for the opposite; the current software they both use to try and get the sounds they want; Michael’s nightmare mastering from tape, while James uses expensive plug-ins to try and achieve the warm tape sound; and both have endeavored to get drummers to play with sequencers with varied results.
Multi-instrumentalist and producer Michael Rother has had an enduring influence on German electronic music, and wider notions of western music since he first started playing and recording in the late ’60s. Rother played in a short-lived version of Kraftwerk in 1971, which despite some successful live shows didn’t manage to capture the sound in the studio. However, the experience did result in a working partnership with drummer Klaus Dinger, and the two founded the visionary krautrock duo Neu!. Their unconventional mix of extended cosmic workouts and proto-punk leanings recorded with Conny Plank, earned them a steady fan following: and even though immediate commercial success eluded them, the Neu! albums have gone on to become cult classics. After Neu! took an extended hiatus, Rother went to recruit Cluster duo Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius to join Neu!, but instead the three ended up collaborating as Harmonia, and recorded the albums Musik von Harmonia and Deluxe in their own studio in the rural village of Forst. In the mid-70s, Harmonia were credited by Brian Eno as “the world’s most important rock band,” and after befriending the trio during a concert, Eno was invited to visit the studio at Forst and they recorded the songs that later became known as Tracks and Traces. By this time Harmonia had disbanded, and having secured a couple of weeks of studio time with Conny Plank, Rother invited Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and they recorded Flammende Herzen, the first of Rother’s many acclaimed solo albums. As the years have gone by, Harmonia and Neu! have gained critical mass, inspiring everyone from David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Gary Numan and DEVO, to Radiohead, Stereolab, Joy Division, and many others.
Border Community’s founding father James Holden, who kicked off proceedings with the genre-defying melodic anthem “A Break in the Clouds”, before coming of age with his twisted debut mini-album of next level music-for-dancing-to, The Idiots Are Winning in 2006, is a man of many talents: label boss, trend-setting producer, hugely in-demand monster remixer (check his take on Radiohead), and on top of all of this he finds himself at the head of the pack of that very modern breed of DJ. Holden is exploiting new technology to the fullest in order to bring his unique musical vision to life by brazenly uniting tracks from music’s past and present, regardless of scene or status, confounding the purists and making club hits out of many an unwitting dancefloor virgin. His supreme and unrivalled command of the modern technology available to him allows Holden to go where other DJs fear to tread, consistently pulling off daring mixes on-the-fly which just wouldn’t be possible on a conventional two turntable set-up. And so distinct is the resulting sound that your average conservative dance music night can barely contain it. Having brought his unique take on the club experience around the world, Holden returned with a sophomore album that classified as epic in many ways: 2013’s The Inheritors is a transformative electronic trip through England’s pagan mythology, as well as a bow to his native country’s musical legacy, that created a whole new, psycho-active narrative of its own.