The debut album from this Irish-Franco-German trio enchants the darker side of Berlin’s underbelly
After initially occupying itself with reissues of European pop and easy listening records by the likes of James Last, Hamburg’s Bureau B label quickly moved into releasing rare tracks from the German post-punk Neue Deutsche Welle scene. Deals with Sky Records and the seminal cassette imprint Ata Tak positioned Bureau B as a destination for otherwise out of print examples of German music that has become legendary in its scope and influence. Later still, the label’s careful approach to curating the legacy of these bands allowed them to put out fresh material by artists such as Faust and Andreas Dorau.
A glance at the track listing for this compilation highlights the enviable breadth of Bureau B’s operation. Across 25 cuts and two discs, the roll of names included here is impressive – Conny Plank, Dieter Moebius, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Der Plan – alongside a host of lesser known but equally mesmerising acts. It’s curated by Death In Vegas founder Richard Fearless, who has painstakingly worked his way through the label’s entire archive to assemble a showcase that seamlessly wends its way through old and new material. Fearless’ ‘Kollektion’ follows three previous volumes that saw Tim Gane, Lloyd Cole and Palais Schaumberg’s Holger Hiller digging into the Bureau B crates.
The Neue Deutsche Welle scene arrived in the wake of what is perhaps unfairly dubbed krautrock, and on tracks like Thomas Dinger’s ‘Für Dich’ and Moebius & Beerbohm’s ‘Doppelschnitt’, it’s still possible to discern the long shadow of NDW’s predecessor. Unlike contemporary scenes in the UK and the US, NDW isolated and almost venerated the characteristics of what came before – namely the chugging, hypnotic rhythms that we now call motorik, coupled with dimensions of nothing less than astral proportions – and riffed off that groove endlessly.
While bands like Der Plan and Jaki Liebezeit’s jazz-inflected Phantom Band ploughed a similarly noisy furrow to Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire, melodic dexterity was never far away among many of these artists. The effect is to link the music back to an essentially formalist European classical tradition. Cluster’s ‘Sowiesoso’ does it through hazy ambient textures and Asmus Tietchens through a strain of synthpop that could have been an off-cut from Depeche Mode’s first album, while Wolfgang Riechmann’s evocative ‘Abendlicht’ is symphonic in its scope.
Elsewhere, Günter Schickert’s ‘Suleika’ could be a particularly meditative Fearless track from a buried Death In Vegas album, melding trippy beats, a chiming guitar passage looped into infinity, and a restless, noisy distortion serpent lurking in the space Schickert leaves in between. Krautrock hangers-on Faust do the same on the vast expanses of ‘Kundalini Tremolo’. Ever true to their name, they sound like they are steadily honouring a dark and fatal pact with the devil.
‘Kollektion 4’ concludes with a sequence that ranges from a collaboration between Automat and US no wave queen Lydia Lunch to another dirge-like Faust cut, by which point the beat and melodic sensibility has morphed into a sluggish, dubbed-out spaciness full of drones and reverb. But whether the tracks were located deep in the archives or pulled fresh off the shelf, there’s a uniform sense of exploration here – both from Richard Fearless as he determinedly worked his way through the Bureau B catalogue and from the creators of the music he’s placed under his discerning spotlight.