Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Klaus Dinger + Japandorf - Japandorf

Klaus Dinger + Japandorf

Released 2013 on Grönland Records
Reviewed by KosmischeSynth, 05/04/2013ce

Japandorf is an album Dinger faithfuls have known about for a while. From the time of la!NEU?’s sudden termination in summer 1998 photographs and drawings sporadically emerged online which hinted at a brave new project, comprising ‒ so it would seem ‒ solely of Japanese musicians. The yellowed polaroids posted on dingerland.de of the ‘Zeeland Festival’ featured a mysterious figure named Masaki Nakao, whilst the live recording of la!NEU?’s final concert (‘Live at Künsthalle Düsseldorf’) was mastered by (the as yet faceless) Kazuyuki Onouchi. What was Dinger up to this time? Why had la!NEU? been abandoned so suddenly after such a prolific output? Could it be that Dinger had simply gone native after his long association with Captain Trip Records Tokyo and moved to Japan?

Thankfully this was not the case, but we were ‒ nevertheless ‒ left guessing for a long time as to the substance of Dinger’s new project. It was fifteen years from la!NEU?’s split to the release of Japandorf’s debut album, during which time the project was named, some rather odd pictures of Dinger with German pop-star Herbert Grönemeyer emerged, the original six NEU! and La Düsseldorf albums were finally released on CD and the album ‘Viva 2004’ was announced, postponed to 2006, and again to 2010. Then, out of the blue, it was announced by Dinger’s friend Ralf Gawlista that Krautrock’s most innovative musician had suddenly passed away on Good Friday 2008. He was ‒ perhaps ‒ the highest profile Krautrocker to die yet, and the media ‒ which had been so uninterested in Dinger during his lifetime ‒ snapped into action. I remember one horrendous obituary (from ‒ I think ‒ The Guardian) wondering how Kraftwerk would ever recover from the loss of their drummer. Even today, when you google Dinger’s name, the first page of results will contain primarily obituaries, which is a great pity in my opinion.

So, Dinger was dead. Michael Rother immediately jumped on the opportunity to go touring as NEU!, generating some much needed income, and a small community of diehard fans went into mourning. Everyone presumed that that was it; all we would hear from Klaus Dinger; that the final notes of ‘Time’ from ‘Live at Künsthalle’ were Dinger’s final musical contribution. Slowly, however, signs began to appear that this was not the case. A K.D. MySpace account was created, then YouTube, then Facebook. Someone claiming to be Dinger’s “heiress” (later, we discovered, a remarkably Yoko Ono-ish Japanese installation artist and Dinger’s devoted girlfriend) Miki Yui started speaking of not one but three new albums ready for release. Still there was delay and confusion; a NEU! vinyl box-set was put out by Groenland with Miki Yui’s blessing, then a photo-book appeared containing a wealth of unpublished photographs (including some from the Japandorf era). Finally, in January 2013 it was announced that the ‘Japandorf’ album was to be released (the others apparently being the much fabled ‘Viva Remix’ album and a live jam obliquely named ‘Pre-Japandorf’) in time for the five-year anniversary of Dinger’s death. I waited in anticipation another two months.

How could I afford to be so positive? Well, a few previews had snuck through. First, the (now rare) 2006 CD compilation ‘Mon Amour’ contained a bonus track from ‘Viva Remix’ (featuring Herbert Grönemeyer on beautifully out-of-tune vocals). Secondly a track from ‘Japandorf’ was revealed on the ‘Brand NEU!’ compilation. The track ‒ named ‘Sketch 1_b’ ‒ far outshone anything Dinger had released in years. It was a loud and abrasive ‒ but expertly produced ‒ guitar and drums jam, showing the evolution of Dinger’s sound. As gritty and sensual as anything by NEU! or la!NEU?, but as catchy and undeniably modern as 2000s indie music. Dinger’s new sound was also his old sound, but ‒ as with each new project ‒ it had been renovated, extended and enriched. The new album is a perfect showcase for this style, below is (eventually) a review of it.

First, the cover art. Disappointingly the CD is a sleeve, although perhaps that’s just personal bias. In true Dinger style, the notes are handwritten (by Miki Yui) and a collage of photos can be found inside. Rather confusingly, the gatefold shows Miki holding aloft some kind of oriental vegetable, perhaps giving us a flavour of the music inside.

We open with what was the album’s first (YouTube) single ‒ ‘Immermannstraße’. A light-hearted homage to Düsseldorf’s Japanese district, it quite literally bounces. Here is a return to the old fashioned La Düsseldorf sound that made Dinger a celebrity in the late 80s. Strident chords, subtle motorik, simple lyrics and a refrain to die for. Miki Yui provides high pitched (and occasionally Japanese) backing vocals creating an almost J-Pop/K-Rock sound (as we all know, fusion only ever makes things better). This is followed by a short sound-clip recorded in a bookstore on Immermannstraße ‒ ‘Doumo Arigatou’ (thus reprising yet another Dinger trademark which dates back to the few seconds of birdsong which follow ‘Hero’ on ‘NEU! ‘75’).

The next track blows out the water any possibility of a bubblegum pop record. A slightly remixed version of ‘Sketch 1_b’ as it appeared on ‘Brand NEU!’ with more synth and bass, it truly rocks. A guitar explosion á la NEU! it brings together the past and present Dinger in a kaleidoscopic vision of utopia. Hats off to Kazuyuki Onouchi on the drums, who keeps the motorik flame alive admirably in the 21st century, and does it with style. A tune to die for and wonderfully manipulated echo and distortion, this may well be one of Dinger’s best tracks ‒ ever.

We follow on with the second ‘single’ ‒ ‘Udon’. Another Dinger oddity, it is ostensibly a Japanese song about noodle soup, incorporating a recipe in the lyrics as well as illustrative cooking sound effects. This is down to the lyricist Masaki Nakao, who also sings. However, if we forget the lyrics for a moment we are left with a pretty Kraut-pop song incorporating a heart-breaking refain paying homage to Dinger’s home on the Dutch coast (“Udon in Zeeland / Heisommer Heisommer / Udon in Zeeland / Heisommer Heisommer”). I must conclude that this is one of the album’s strongest songs; the final piano crash leaving one hungry not only for noodles, but for more music.

That is presented in the wonderful instrumental which follows ‒ ‘Kittelbach Symphony’. The press release informs me that Kittelbach is a small stream in Düseldorf in which the Dinger brothers fished as children. The haunting chordal melody brings up all the feelings of nostalgia and sentimentality which one would expect from such a song, and is strongly reminiscent of Dinger’s days in ‘Die Engel des Herrn’. The chord progression seems to be searching for a release it can’t quite find, making the music all the more emotional and awe-inspiring.

The next track sees the return of an old favourite. Dinger recorded ‘Cha Cha 2000’ no less than seven times throughout his career, the song becoming something of a signature as well as a good indicator of Dinger’s musical direction. This is the first version released since the explosive 1996 ‘Live in Tokyo’ version which stretched on for two epic hours and reduced me to tears on first listen. There was, then, a lot riding on ‘Cha Cha 2008’, and I’m pleased to say it delivers. Definitely post-Tokyo in its outlook, it is as noisy and violent as its predecessor, but also much faster paced and ‒ dare I say ‒ punk-ish. Miki Yui provides angelic backing vocals over Dinger’s heavily processed chanting, whilst the guitar reverberates and distorts creating a shrapnel-haze of clashing chords and words. The originally lengthy “and you fall into a deep dream” section is shortened to barely 30 seconds, perhaps illustrating this version’s harsh mien. Dinger always wanted to create “music for the new millennium”, and we must suppose that this is it. Not the glorious billowing organ and synth of the original 1978 version but the clashes and chaos of the real 2000, pounded out with gusto by a modern-day prophet.

This is ‒ somewhat pointedly ‒ followed by an 11 second spoken word description of love, or rather, the Japanese symbol for it (as graces the front cover). Perhaps ‘Ai’ is an allusion to his love affair with Miki Yui, or perhaps this is a message for Dinger’s 21st century listeners, we will never know.

Then the guitar cranks up one of the most abrasive sounds to come from Dingerland. ‘Sketch No. 4’ is another guitar and drum jam between Dinger and Onouchi, starting on one painfully distorted chord, from which it does not progress for the first three minutes. It is a rhythmic thrashing, a baptism of fire. Dinger is just so angry: if you were ever going to headbang to a Dinger track this would be it. We then move onto a two chord format, which feels much less punishing by comparison. Finally, in the closing moments of the jam, the guitar breaks into the most rapturously beautiful four chord motif, releasing all the energy which has built up over the previous nine minutes. This is a climax rivalled only by the twenty minute version of ‘America’ presented on ‘Blue’, and like that song it quite literally sends shivers down your spine. It’s the kind of climax which makes you want to kick doors down or destroy a hotel room. It’s the real stuff, the eye watering distillation of sixty years of rock’n’roll in ten minutes. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for.

How to follow such nuclear fall-out? With another pop gem. ‘Spacemelo’ is Miki Yui’s eulogy to Dinger, mixing a pretty guitar melody with heart-breaking Japanese vocals recorded after Dinger’s death. You feel all the pain of bereavement, to quote from the lyrics “a tear / happiness / sadness / one drop / only one drop”. Dinger is now indeed “beyond the stars” and this puts not just his life, but all our lives in perspective. We can be aggressive and angry like ‘Sketch No. 4’, but ultimately it all comes crumbling down.

That is not to say we can’t have any fun. Enter ‘Karnival’. This is (according to the press release) a comedy anthem to Düsseldorf’s winter carnival, recorded in the final months of Dinger’s life. It is, however, as full of life and joy as any of the La Düsseldorf classics, and appears to have been built up from another of the ‘sketch’ jams, even featuring a return of the chord progression from ‘Sketch No. 4” in the refrain. It is incredibly catchy and is probably my favourite track on the album ‒ in short, this is Dinger proper.

Another slice of humour follows. ‘Osenbe’ is apparently an ode to the rice cracker, which I can believe hearing it. The word ‘osenbe’ is simply repeated to a simple melody over a strummed acoustic guitar, recorded in the garden of Dinger’s Zeeland home with Miki and Nakao singing along. Dinger made Zeeland a “paradise on earth” (as he says ‘Arms Control Blues’) and this is the perfect crystallisation of his world-view: egalitarianism, camaraderie and joy. As the song collapses into laughter after two minutes, I am reminded of the immense warmth which makes Dinger’s music special, why I fell in love with it in the first place.

This is cut short by a most poignant album closer ‒ the toll of church-bells, presumably at a funeral. There will be no more Dinger music (chronologically at least; there were two albums recorded before ‘Japandorf’ which have yet to be released), and ‘Osenbe’ really is the end for Dinger. Dinger’s recorded career, then, ends with laughter, and I can think of nothing more appropriate.

All, however, does not run smoothly. ‘Japandorf’ was originally intended to be a La Düsseldorf album, and yet it finally finds release under the rather obscure moniker of ‘Klaus Dinger + Japandorf’ (putting one in mind of the ill-fated ‘Klaus Dinger + Rhinita Bella Düsseldorf’ project). This is due to the stubbornness of the one surviving member of the original La D. line up ‒ drummer Hans Lampe. Lampe has, perhaps successfully, thwarted the appeal of a wonderful album which is a treat not just for fans like me but for the general listening public (hello). Dinger’s final effort thus sees him side-lined just as all his efforts since 1981 have been. This has led to an (I assure you) false conception that after ‘Individuellos’ he went crazy and released badly recorded demos. Whilst it may be true that he went a little mad (viz. the 1996 release of ‘NEU! ’72: Live in Düsseldorf’) and that la!NEU?’s material was at times amateurish (which it makes up for in quality, I might add), this does not determine ‘Japandorf’. This is a professional and sturdy album as well made as ‘NEU! ‘75’ or ‘Viva’. If you still don’t believe me, you’ll just have to buy it and find out.

Cha Cha 2013!

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