Viva Klaus Dinger!

I wonder if, when Klaus Dinger identified “Gigantic possibilities” in the middle of “Cha Cha 2000”, he had any idea of the gigantic possibilities his music would offer to thousands of artists in the future?

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I wonder if, when Klaus Dinger identified “Gigantic possibilities” in the middle of “Cha Cha 2000”, he had any idea of the gigantic possibilities his music would offer to thousands of artists in the future?

By the time “Cha Cha 2000” came out on “Viva” in 1978, David Bowie had already drawn heavily on the music made by Dinger in La Dusseldorf, Neu! and, for a brief time, Kraftwerk. By the time I got round to hearing these records in the early ‘90s, though, they had become touchstones for avant-rockers, techno musicians, even, discreetly, pop bands. Sonic Youth had created “Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening To Neu!” on the Ciccone Youth album. Orbital’s publicist was compiling me cassettes from his bootleg collection. And Stereolab were sending out advance tapes of an album – “Transient Random Noise Burst”, possibly – where the tracks were listed by their working titles: “Neu! One”, “Neu! Two” and so on.

This is all coming back to me this morning as I play “Viva”. Late yesterday afternoon, David Cavanagh emailed me to say he’d heard that Dinger had died last month. I called someone in Berlin, and within an hour the story was breaking: Dinger, protean drummer, maverick yelper, architect of motorik and a man described yesterday in an official German press release as a “challenging personality”, had died.

Dinger’s music means a lot to me, not least because Krautrock – and especially the motorik strain that ran through Neu! and beyond – was one of the first pseudo-esoteric old scenes that I started collecting, once I was established as a music journalist and started getting all my new records for free. Still, I hear that heart beat everywhere.

Over the past few months, though, it seems that we’ve focused a lot more on Michael Rother than Dinger, thanks to that Harmonia live album, the new Harmonia live shows and the reissue of Rother’s immaculate first four solo albums. Consequently, a return visit to “Viva” is quite a revelation. Dinger might not have quite had Rother’s calm consistency, but his quixotic and vivid music was much more varied – with peaks that caught a wild euphoria that Rother would never dream of chasing on his own.

So “Viva” runs through beautiful ambient passages, that trademark motorik, the howling ur-punk that Dinger introduced on “Neu! 75” and which so inspired John Lydon, and even a dysfunctional kind of glam, an ecstatic mutant strain of Glitterbeat.

I met Dinger once, at the turn of the century. Neu! had tentatively reconvened to promote the official reissues of their three albums; the reissues that replaced, for many of us, those Japanese bootlegs (but not the La Dusseldorf bootlegs, sadly). Rother and Dinger did a handful of interviews together, including one with me which I never managed to get published anywhere. In fact, I never even got round to transcribing the tape; I have a plan to go hunting for it in the attic this weekend – if I find it and have time to write it up, I’ll post it on the site sometime in the next week or two.

What I remember of the interview, though, is two men who could barely tolerate each other’s company, who clearly weren’t going to be reunited for long, and who had grown into middle age in radically different ways. Rother was a suave European technocrat, dressed discreetly in black, every inch the calm paterfamilias of ambience.

Dinger, on the other hand, was immensely warm and unpredictable. He had wild eyes, the hair and beard of Catweazle, and photographs of his girlfriend sellotaped and pinned to the front of his shirt. I can’t remember the details of the interview, but I remember its pattern. I’d ask a question about the ‘70s, Dinger would immediately respond with a torrent of stories. There’d be a pause, Rother would say something like “I remember it slightly differently,” then completely contradict his old partner.

It was very funny, but also hugely disappointing. At the time, there seemed a chance that Neu! would reform to play gigs again, but an hour in their company immediately proved how impossible that would be. Since then, I’ve no idea what Dinger has been up to, and it’s always been a source of huge disappointment that, for whatever reasons, he never chose or was able to capitalise on the massive affection that existed for him and his music. With Rother and Harmonia reactivated, now would seem to have been the ideal time for Dinger to emerge, triumphant and uncompromised, from the underground.

That’s not going to happen, obviously. But as that valid cliché goes, we still have the music, and this morning, it sounds as fresh and exhilarating as ever.


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