Interview with Klaus Dinger
by: Michael Dee/ London
for: "POP"/ Stockholm/ Sweden/ Oct. 1998
(This reprint with kind permission. This reprint
was once more edited by Klaus Dinger in order to get rid
of all mistakes, so...: There might be some minor differences between
this text and the version printed (in Swedish language) in
"Krautrock is the blackhole of rock music."
That headline was used last year in dozens of
publications. To the casual observer, it seemed almost as if the
daily papers had joined forces with the rock press in order,
to once and for all, define the exact nature of Krautrock and its
influence on the sprawling history of rock music. Needless to say,
hapless hacks were falling over themselves to interview members
of Can, Kraftwerk, Amon Düül, Faust and Tangerine Dream.
The curious thing about last year's mediablitz was that one of
the most important groups, or rather two groups: NEU! and
La Düsseldorf, with Klaus Dinger as common denominator, were
conspicuous by their absence.
This wasn't a minor omission. It was like documenting New York
rock while leaving out The Velvet Underground, like covering
Detroit rock while failing to mention MC5.
What made this omission even more peculiar was the profound influence
that NEU! and La Düsseldorf had had on mainly English
rock music, from David Bowie's trilogy of Berlin-albums: "Low",
"Heroes" and "Lodger", where the NEU!-beat ran like a pulse,
to Ultravox, Simple Minds and assorted post-punk groups, then on to
Acid House, to Stereolab and Tranquility Base.
But perhaps this was to be expected. Despite having read thousands
of magazines over the years, I have never encountered an interview with
the members of NEU! and La Düsseldorf. To me, and many
others, it seemed that these groups had chosen to engulf themselves
in mystery, and communicate with the outside world entirely through
their records; as if the records were communiques from their own
magical universe, Düsseldorf as seen through a laughing glass.
NEU! was formed by Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother in 1971,
emerging from an early line-up of Kraftwerk. Over a course of three
albums, they developed a music which stretched from beautiful,
minimalistic, trance-like grooves to meditative ambient pieces,
which were abstract but still rich and contained extraordinarily
wide range of emotions, from a child-like sense of wonder to an almost
surreal darkness. And then of course there was the beat, the now
classic NEU!-beat, invented by Klaus Dinger, drummer and
It was essentially a 4/4-beat, the most standard of all rhythms in
rock music, but Dinger gave it an entirely new dimension through
his approach. Instead of breaking it up, by adding fills or
creating tempo changes, he quite simply kept playing it, often
creating pieces that would last 10-15 minutes. In Dinger's hands,
it was no longer a beat, more like a pulse, a very human pulse,
that sounded as if it had gone on since the beginning of time
and would continue for all eternity. It was like the rhythm of
life itself. Over this beat, the pair constructed simple but
beautiful soundscapes with melodies, which were often hinted at
rather than played.
Listening to NEU! was a bit like finding yourself in a roadmovie,
not an American, but a very European road movie, with a slightly
naive outlook, as when a child presses its face to the windscreen
and gets lost in dreams about the landscape and the clouds
And all of it was packaged by Dinger in his very own version of
Pop Art, with NEU! painted on the front of the sleeves, in
large bold strokes. And inside the sleeves were the credits,
written either in his own handwriting, or banged on an old typewriter,
alongside cellotaped polaroids, photobooth photographs or silver stars.
Dinger and Rother went their separate ways after "NEU! 75"
and Dinger formed La Düsseldorf, with his brother Thomas and
Hans Lampe who had worked as a tape-op with producer Conny Plank.
Dinger brought the NEU!-beat with him to La Düsseldorf
but the melodies were now allowed to fully take shape. And while
NEU!'s music was mainly instrumental, La Düsseldorf's
was largely based on songs, with lyrics written by Dinger. Among
the songs were "Cha Cha 2000" and "White Overalls", a celebration
of the band's own, and highly individual look.
La Düsseldorf disbanded 1983 after their maxi single "Ich liebe
dich (Jag älskar dig)", which was released in 1982. Over the
last few years, the cult around the two bands, or rather, their
records, has grown considerably.
Julian Cope, who in 1995 published the book "Krautrocksampler",
appeared for a while to be conducting a one-man promotion campaign
for NEU! and appeared on Top of the Pops, wearing a NEU!
t-shirt, and I have lost count of the dozens of people that have
mentioned them in interviews that I've done over the last few years;
Primal Scream, Ride, Midge Ure, Jim Kerr, Flood, Ed Buller, Sonic
But despite the admiration, none of them seemed to know anything about
the groups, apart from what could be gleened from the information
on the sleeves.
When I interviewed Ralf Hütter in 1991, I took the opportunity
to ask him if he was in touch with any of the NEU!-La
Düsseldorf members, but he shook his head, with a rather
worried look on his face, as if I had reminded him of a part
of Kraftwerk's history that he's rather forget.
A few years later I met Karl Bartos, who by then had left Kraftwerk
and formed Electric Music, I once again inquired about the various
members but he laughed at the question, commenting that the various
members of NEU!-La Düsseldorf had always existed on
Over the last couple of years, more than a few magazines have tried
to interview Klaus Dinger, but according to rumours flying around
London, these requests were always met with a blank refusal.
"Dinger won't talk to anyone", was the word one the grapevine.
I was therefore not particularly hopeful when last July, I sent a
fax to Captain Trip, the Tokyo-based record label which has
become an outlet for various Dinger-projects. Two weeks later,
however, I received a fax from Düsseldorf, written in
Dinger's unmistakeable handwriting. More than six months later,
we finally get to talk over the phone.
Michael Dee / POP
I ask him to start at the beginning, and how he got into music
in the first place.
I don't come from a particularly musical background. I'm more
of a "working class hero", if you know what I mean by that. The
music teachers at school were very authoritarian. It was only
when I got older that I began to find music interesting again.
I started to play drums and joined a school band called
In a photo taken in 1966, The No look like a bohemian art/mod
We played our own music but our songs were heavily influenced
by the Beatles, The Kinks and The Stones. There was also a
splintergroup which played jazz/noise and I remember seeing
Florian Schneider in the audience at one of the festivals we
played. He had a face I will never forget.
Dinger studied architecture for three years but abandoned
his studies to concentrate on a career as a professional musician.
I borrowed money to buy myself a new drumkit and I withdrew
for six months in order to practice and become more proficient.
After that I joined a band called The Smash. We were a coverband
really, but we played live a lot, mostly in southern Germany, so
at least I could make a living from playing music. Then in the
autumn of 1970, I got a call from Ralf Hütter and I guess
you know the rest?
Well, there are several versions of how Klaus Dinger ended
up in Kraftwerk, so I ask him to put the record straight.
Kraftwerk were recording their first album but they were
having problems with their drummer. Somebody had recommended
me to Ralf and he called me up and asked if I was interested.
He picked me up the same day and we travelled to the studio where
I recorded the drums on side 2. Ralf and Conny Plank, the
producer, were very pleased with the results. Florian was away
on holiday at the time and when he came back, he didn't like
it at all. I recorded the same tracks again and they sounded
exactly the same. Florian, however, was very pleased but that's
another story, a "Ralf & Florian story".
Dinger joined Kraftwerk on a permanent basis and this
new line-up played live extensively until Ralf Hütter
Yes, in February of 1971 he made decision that he couldn't
play anymore and he went off by himself somewhere, isolating
himself from the world. Florian and I needed to replace him
if we were to continue. We tried several people and had a
floating line-up but in the end, Michael Rother was the only one
of the replacement candidates that remained.
Kraftwerk now consisted of Florian on flute, electric
flute, bass flute and electric violin, Dinger on drums and
Michael Rother on guitar, and the group once again returned to
a regular schedule of live concerts.
It was a very successful line-up, much more
than with Hütter.
And Dinger and Rother gave the music a distinctive flavour
of their own. According to some versions, the pair more or less
came upon their NEU! music while still in Kraftwerk, by
chance and through improvisation, and during an inspired session
which took place on live TV. It supposedly happened in June of
1971, on a programme called Beat Club where the Kraftwerk performed
"Truckstop Gondolero", eleven minutes of trancelike, intensity,
with strong characteristics of classic NEU! tracks such
as "Hallogallo". Except it didn't happen quite like that, says
The real title was "Rückstoß Gondoliero", not
"Truckstop Gondolero" which is how it's referred to everywhere.
It's difficult to say when Michael and I found our music but it
didn't happen on live TV. It was, however, heavily influenced
by the live-concerts we had played with Florian.
The NEU!-beat is sometimes referred to as "the motorik".
I ask Dinger if there was a moment of discovery, when he thought
"mm, now there's something else entirely".
No, there wasn't a moment when I thought "mm". It was more
spontaneous than that, and it had more to do with how the audience
reacted when we played live. I have never called the beat "the
motorik" myself. That sounds more like a machine and it was very
much a human beat. Instead I called it "lange Gerade" or
"endlose Gerade". It's a feeling, like a picture, like
driving down a long road or lane. it is essentially about life,
how you have to keep moving, get on and stay in motion. To be
driven by the drive, breaking on through. Since "Néondian"
[his solo album, released in 1985], I call the beat "Apache".
The first NEU!-album was recorded over four days,
with Conny Plank as producer.
After two days we hadn't recorded anything that we could use.
On the third day, we started recording "Negativland", with me playing
drums, and Michael playing bass. Then I overdubbed a heavily
electrified Japanese banjo and that got the whole record rolling. After
that we had a recording approach which consisted of putting down
some kind of basic track, and then deciding who was going to play what.
Dinger and Rother were both multi-instrumentalists but they were very
different, both as people and as musicians.
Michael was a very good guitarist but a bit on the sweet side. He
was also very conventional and traditional in his thinking. He was
basically against all the things that made NEU! groundbreaking and
revolutionary. In those days I took a lot of LSD and he didn't, and
as you can imagine, that made a big difference. We never had any
loud arguments but he was always so reluctant, always saying: "Do you
really think so?" Conny Plank was invaluable as a mediator. He gave me
the freedom to fly high and wild. Michael
was also very reluctant about the name. He didn't want to call the
project NEU!, but it was perfect to describe our music which
really was "new".
The name and the Dinger-designed sleeve must have hit the
krautrockscene, which was fairly cosmic, like a bomb. Over a
white background, Dinger had painted "NEU!" in big, bold strokes. It
looked like home-spun Pop Art or an ironic protest against the consumer society
which had emerged in West Germany after the second world war.
NEU! was, and still is, the most common slogan in German
advertising. It hits you in the eyes everywhere you go.
Yes, it was a protest against the consumer society but also
against our "colleagues" on the Krautrock scene who had totally
different taste/ styling if any. I was very well informed about
Warhol, Pop Art, Contemporary Art. I had always been very visual
in my thinking. Also, during that time, I lived in a commune and in
order to get the space that we lived in, I set up an advertising
agency which existed mainly on paper. Most of the people that I
lived with were trying to break into advertising so I was
somehow surrounded by this NEU! all the time.
Dinger's ambitions with NEU! weren't the usual run of
the mill, i.e., musical and career orientated.
I suppose you could say I "abused" the project to fulfill my
romantic dreams. One of the main reasons for NEU!'s
existence, at least from my point of view, was a relationship that I had with a
Swedish girl. Her name was Anita. I lived for a while in Florian's room
in his parents'house after he himself had moved out, and his sister
and Anita were best friends and that was how we met. On
the first NEU! -album you can hear the sound of a rowing
boat. I recorded that sound in the summer of '71, when Anita and I were
travelling around Sweden in an old Ford Transit. We were "Im Glück",
(in happiness); she is the honey in the song "Lieber Honig".
The first NEU!-album was a fair sized hit in Germany.
It sold about 30,000, which was more than most krautbands.
The follow-up, "NEU! 2", was recorded in Jan.-Feb. 1973 and
caused considerable problems for Dinger and Rother. Halfway through the
recording they ran out of money. Dinger however, got an idea.
We had recorded a single, "Neuschnee/ Super", but our record
company (Brain Records), didn't understand it and didn't want it. Bands
on our scene just didn't make singles. When the money ran out, I got
the idea of taking the single, play around with it and put the results on
side 2 of the album.
"Play around with it" in this case meant that the tracks were put
on side 2 at normal speed and also in versions played at 16 and 78 rpm.
"Hallo Excentrico" with its crazy, swerwing sound, was created by Dinger
by playing "Super" out of center, and by hand. "A Pop Art solution to
a Pop problem", in other words?
Of course, and it was absolutely my idea. I came from that world,
Pop Art thinking. Michael did not like the idea. These days he claims
that everything in NEU! was 50/50. Financially: yes.
Creatively: no. He was always very conventional.
NEU!'s third album, "NEU! 75" is by many
regarded as their finest. The first side is the more lyrical, with many beautifully
constructed layers of simple but effective melodies, melting into each other.
Side 2 contains, apart from "E-music", a rhythmic trance-like piece, with
swirling guitars and keyboards, and also two tracks, "hero" and "After Eight",
which are pure punk, or rather pre-punk, since these tracks were recorded
late '74, early '75. I ask Dinger if he had heard The Velvet Underground or
I had heard The Velvets in '69 but The Stooges I still know only by name.
The music in those tracks didn't come from other bands though. They came
from my own emotions. 1974 was a difficult year. I had started my own
record company and had produced a band called Lilac Angels. I pressed
to many records and around the same time I also organized two free concerts
in Düsseldorf and received no help from the industry or the press.
As a result, I went bankrupt, to the tune of 50,000 marks, an enormous sum for
me. On the top of that, the relationship with Anita, my honey, ended. So all the
emotions that I had about these experiences I put into the music.
On "Hero" Dinger sings "Fuck the business/ Fuck the press". He
also sings something like "Going back to Norway". So who went back to
Anita. Her father was a businessman and he didn't at all like the
thought of us being together so he moved the family to Norway in
order to split us, which despite my many attempts, it finally did.
I realize the full importance of Anita to Dinger only after the
interview, when I receive a 14-page fax from him where he
explains how he tried to keep the relatonship going on, how the
hope of them being together was translated into the NEU!-beat,
indeed was the foundation of it. "Driving on to get that girl!"
Though they split up more than twenty years ago, he never forgot her.
"She was the love of my life" and throughout his work there are
references to her, perhaps most clearly and directly on the
track "Jag älskar dig" ('I love You' in Swedish) on "Néondian".
On "NEU! 75" the duo was joined by Klaus' brother Thomas and
Hans Lampe, with the pair playing drums on side 2. They also joined Klaus
for his next project, La Düsseldorf. According to Klaus there was
never really a point when NEU! split.
It was more the case of me and Michael drifting apart. He hated the
city life and decided to go and live in the country, while I loved the city.
La Düsseldorf's debut-album, released in 1976, is in many ways a
glorious celebration of their beloved city. On the front of the
sleeve is a panoramic view of the city's air terminal. On the back,
there's a shot of the trio, seen against a gleaming wall of
corrugated iron. They all wear big, happy mischievious smiles, as
if by adding La in front of Düsseldorf, they had accomplished a
Pop Art coup and made the city their very own, laying bare its
wonderful secrets and fantastic possibilities. La also sounds more than a little camp.
We felt very glamorous in those days. Düsseldorf is a small city
but there's a lot of fashion, many photographers and advertising
There is an abundance of photos on the inner sleeve of their
second album, pictures of the trio in their La Düsseldorf-look.
"The three of you must have stopped traffic in those days?"
Oh yes, and we were very conscious of it. The look with the
white overalls was an idea that I came up with for NEU! and it can
be seen in the only official NEU! publicity shot. The others were a
bit hesitant at first but we ended up using it as a uniform in La Düsseldorf.
It clicked, it functioned. I realized at a very early stage in my life that
I would never be able to afford expensive clothes so I had to create
my own style. Besides, I never liked the idea that you could just
buy "good taste". I had the same attitude to clothes as to sleeves.
They had to be based on cheap things, everyday things.
There are many similarities between NEU! and La Düsseldorf
but also many differences.
My projects are always about my own vision but also about the people that
I work with, what they can do.
NEU! s music was more geared towards instrumentals,
minimal and trance-like, whereas La Düsseldorf´s music was more based
on songs, with lyrics and clever melodies by Klaus.
During the recording of NEU! 2" I realized that I had done
everything that I could do with drumming. Before the recording of
the first La Düsseldorf-album, I spent a lot of time trying to make the
music more melodious and I also began to write lyrics. It was a
conscious decision on my part. I wanted to be more concrete and
to reach more people.
Unlike NEU!, La Düsseldorf really looked like a gang,
a heavenly gang.
Yes, we were. We didn't live together but we were always together
and we felt the same.
And after "Individuellos" it started to fall apart.
Yes. The problem was "too much, too fast". Big money was
coming in and we had no one to advise us on how to handle it.
How to handle big money had never been a problem in our family.
When I asked Karl Bartos about NEU! - La Düsseldorf
he laughed and said, "I think Klaus went slightly crazy. Michael moved out to
the country and became a hippie. And Thomas and Hans vanished off
the face of the earth. Gone. In the hazy shade of winter".
I don't know what Bartos meant by that. I've only met him once,
at a time when he had realized that he wasn't Kraftwerk. And Thomas
and Hans have not entirely vanishe from the face of the earth. We
have met many times in court because of the disputes over money...
Yes, it's sad. The dispute between me and my brother became a
family tragedy. It killed my father. I made up with Thomas about a
year ago but sadly not with Hans.
And the disputes do not only concern the back catalogue for
La Düsseldorf but also the NEU! - back
catalogue. Klaus relates the details of the now many strange turnings
in the negotiations for the NEU! - back catalogue.
Polygram tried to release the NEU! - albums on CD
without my consent and I managed to win the CD-rights, which they never
had in the first place, away from them through a court decision which
But there is still no deal between Klaus, Michael and Christa, heir of
Conny Plank who died in 1987. Consequently the back catalogue is still waiting
for an official CD-release. In its absence, there is a lucrative market which is
exploited ruthlessly by bootleggers, operating under the name "Germanofon".
I have tried to trace the bootleggers through my lawyer but the trail leads to a
post box in Luxembourgh and no further. That's why I am mad at Julian Cope.
He didn't mention in his book that these CDs are bootlegs and that's also why I don't
do many interviews because they are almost promotion for the bootlegger's products.
I don't know when they will receive an official release. There is so much
psychology in this. Right now it seems rather hopeless.
However, over the last few years there have been two official
NEU! - CDs...
They are semi-official. Michael is still very angry about them.
...released by Captain Trip. "NEU! 72 live", a rather rough
recording before an early tour, and "NEU! 4", with recordings that
Klaus and Michael made in 1985-1986. Unlike the original three, "NEU! 4"
is hardly the stuff that dreams are made of. Klaus agrees.
I am not very happy with it but the good thing about it is that Michael
and I at least did something together again.
And despite the various bizarre turnings in the negotiations, there
is a possibility that there will be another NEU! - album.
It has been suggested during the negotiations that we should record a new
album. I am keen on the idea. Michael is not. So we'll see. It has also
been suggested that the old NEU! - tracks should
be remixed which I am absolutely against. There is something deeply
unethical and immoral about it.
Despite this, Klaus gave his permission to a remix that appeared
three years ago, when Steve Hillage's System 7 based their "Interstate"
on a sample of "Hallogallo".
It's a decision that I regret now. You can say that once is never but still.
I gave my permission mainly because Steve Hillage wrote me two very nive letters.
Captain Trip is these days the main channel for Dinger's music.
Since "Individuellos" (1980) I refused to appear on TV shows. Since the release
of "Néondian" (1985) I'm totally boycotted in the west (Listen to "Pipi AA"
and to "America"), and the so-called "Big Five" have branded me as being
difficult - which I am.
Apart from the already mentioned NEU! - CDs,
the Japanese label has also re-issued "Néondian" and two titles with Die Engel des
Herrn, plus three CDs from la! NEU?, his current project,
"Düsseldorf", "Zeeland" and "Rembrandt" plus the three
La Düsseldorf classics plus Thomas Dinger "Für mich" on CD.
Also, released in May was
"Cha Cha 2000 live in Tokyo 1996 Vol. 1" and "Die with Dignity: Kraut?".
Operating under the banner of "electro hippie punk", la! NEU?
takes the Dinger vision into the future, while merging with the musical ambitions
of his cohorts, of which three are half his age, and the fifth member, Renate Dinger,
is his mother. Some of la! NEU? 's music is sad,
gentle and moving. On other tracks, such as "Hero '96", Dinger sounds angrier
than ever, and perhaps also more bitter. But hope is always present, not the least in the
shape of "Cha Cha 2000", a song first featured on the "Viva" album and which
has been reworked on "Néondian", by Die Engel des Herrn and now again
by la! NEU?.
I find that people of my own generation haven't got very exciting ideas anymore.
In 1994 I felt fairly blocked because of all the things that were going on but
then I met new, much younger people to work with. As I had invented two fairly successful
names, NEU! and La Düsseldorf, I decided to combine the two,
and out came la! NEU?.
Klaus, who is 52, is aware of the impact that his groups have had over the
last 20-25 years but hasn't heard half of the bands that have incorporated
his ideas into their music. He chooses to take a rather philosophical view on the influence
that he's had on Bowie, Ultravox, Stereolab and many others.
I can't say that I mind, as long as people mention where they borrowed
their ideas. I haven't heard Stereolab. People often send
me CDs and cassettes, but quite frankly I don't listen to them.
It seems I am always busy with my own projects. I prefer to listen
into myself which is quite difficult in an extremely stressed, tense and chaotic life.