Michael Rother at the Village, Dublin on Monday 29th April 2013
Heads nod in 4/4 time and all eyes are trained on the four men at work onstage. It isn’t quite a capacity crowd for Michael Rother – multi-instrumentalist of Neu! Harmonia, Kraftwerk for a spell, and solo artist in his own right – but it isn’t far off. This just means that extra bit of room for the rest of us to move in time with the hypnotic, cyclical rhythms laid down by Rother and his backing band, Camera. The Berlin based group have been collaborating with Rother since 2011, and on this tour the four men onstage kick out the jams in full-on, three dimensional style.
Warming the room before the main act are Waterford trio Percolator, playing a blend of 90’s shoegaze, indie noise rock, and repetition in the vein of Rother’s own roster of collaborations. Guitars hark to MBV, Broadcast comparisons abound, and there is some nice vocal interplay between the drummer and guitarist amidst the syncopated beats and enveloping synth/guitar sound. By the end of their set they’ve garnered a sizeable crowd, many of whom elicit an ‘awww’ when the band can’t play just one more. Nice work, Percolator.
A semi-circle of equipment leaves a void mid-stage, and around this negative space Rother and Camera take up position – from stage-left, keys, synths and screen give way to an economical snare and floor tom drum set-up, guitar, and around to Rother himself. Manning an electronic station, laptop emblazoned with the Neu! logo, Rother dons guitar as the lights dim and blades of grass fuzz in and out of focus on the backdrop. From the off it’s a clear signal that this is a collaborative effort; no frontman, no spotlight, and no fucking around – just an interlocking machine moving through the gears.
From an ambient base the music undulates in forward/rewind fashion as all four – upstanding and with heads down – engage in the task at hand. Rother’s guitar squall is the sound that leads the attack, and every so often the band will cast a glance in his direction, or he in theirs, for a subtle signal from Rother that things are moving up a notch or coming to a halt. Glitchier, techno-tinged material forms a counterpoint to the more ambient Harmonia material, and the organic effects that blend in and out through the set, but it is the motorik Neu! material that brings out the best in the crowd. At certain points it seems as if Rother’s drone guitar suddenly doubles in volume and washes over everything else onstage. Shrugging off the tick-tock drum pattern and shaking ribcages stagefront, it’s as effective an attention-focuser as you’ll experience.
Interaction is thin – the odd appreciative smile, a few words mid-set – but no-one is too bothered with all that palaver when a band is this good. The one track encore brings things to a savage, banging end, and the only complaints are that it’s a school night. The overarching influence of Rother’s past output on contemporary music is laid out in full – it’s an understated performance, yet a cohesive, full-bodied and mesmeric set from this lock-tight unit. A few necks will be feeling the repetitive strain in the morning.