Our favourite German label serves up two excellent tributes to a pioneer of Deutsche electronica
Conrad Schnitzler, who died in 2011, was a conspicuous lump of concrete on the often green and fertile plains of krautrock. He detested the hippy tendencies of the era in which he grew up and was an outsider musically. Despite being a luminary of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin and an early Tangerine Dream member, in many ways he heralded the more brutalist German electronic scene of the late 70s and beyond.
Schnitzler’s early 1980s output, his so-called “white” period, is the subject of the latest Bureau B ‘Kollektion’ album, which this time is compiled by Thomas Fehlmann, once of Palais Schaumburg and now of The Orb. Fehlmann first encountered Schnitzler on arriving in Hamburg in 1979 and attending a lecture in which the great man explained how the ideas of the artist Joseph Beuys could be applied to music. The lecture was an epiphany for Fehlmann and this is his tribute to Schnitzler: a carefully and sympathetically sequenced selection of his proto-synthpop.
While up on the surface of planet pop in the 80s, all manner of faces and poseurs were making their name with diluted and colourised versions of ideas initiated by the likes of Schnitzler, he himself was toiling as if in an underground lab amid metal clamps and tubes and bubbling liquids. The sense of pure, obsessive experimentalism is palpable on tracks such as ‘Contempora 11’ and ‘Con 3.3’. He was anticipating a later era in which techno was more about the product than the personality, though in fairness he was a rather large personality himself and not averse to striking some spectacular poses, not least while out on the streets making field recordings.
Fehlmann has put together a marvellous collection. Other highlights include the Kraftwerkian parody of ‘Tanze Im Regen’ and ‘Fata Morgana’, which takes its title from the Herzog film of the same name, the nearest German cinema came to a pure “krautrock” experience in its looped, picaresque style. ‘Komm Mit Nach Berlin’ meanwhile conveys the sense of the album as a whole – a tour around an alternative sonic U-Bahn in one of the key German (and indeed global) electronic urban hubs.
‘Con-Struct’ is also a tribute to Schnitzler, part of a series initiated by M=minimal label head Jens Strüver. Here, however, the idea is not merely to present Schnitzler’s finished works, but to trawl through his bequeathed archive of unique synth sounds and invite other musicians to remix them. In this instance, it’s the turn of Pyrolator, aka Kurt Dahlke, formerly of DAF and Der Plan, two groups whose work was influenced or at least prefigured by Schnitzler.
Pyrolator’s stated objective is for his remixes to show how Schnitzler was a pioneer of classic Berlin techno music and this he does on tracks like ‘389-8’, which grimly foreshadows the post-unification deep electronic pulse of the city, and the stalking, arpeggiated ‘289-5’. ‘296-16’ is more sinister still, with its roving searchlights, sirens and sequencer rotorblades, while ‘289-9’ is a bubbling analogue river of dark ambient music. There’s also the playful zip-doodling of ‘316-16’, which illustrates (as does the picture of Schnitzler on the back of the album) that Schnitzler always approached his work with a twinkle in his eye.
You feel Conrad Schnitzler would have approved of Pyrolator’s project as much as Thomas Fehlmann’s, gratified that the world eventually turned his way and that his lonely work in painstakingly dragging one of the hulking cornerstones of techno into place was not in vain.