Mnemorex Tour Journal
Kreidler / Momus
November 31st - December 19th, 2000
Click on the thumbnails to see full-sized photos
Thursday November 31st
Shizu and I fly in from Finland by way of Copenhagen. Andreas from Kreidler
meets us at the airport. He's skinny and reassuringly fey, with the cute ectomorphic body language of a young Andy Warhol. You notice it when he pipes the high pitched greeting 'Tschuss!' Later, in the cheap Lebanese restaurant where we eat with a friend from Russian Georgia, he draws animals on the napkin. He is, like so many of my friends, both lefthanded and Aquarian.
We memorise the names of the band: Alex is the bassist, Thomas the drummer, David the sound man, Detlef manipulates samples and Andreas plays keyboards. David and Alex turn out, to my surprise, to be British.
Andreas takes us in Kreidler's orange VW van to his Koln apartment then to nearby Dusseldorf, 'the office of Germany' and home of Kraftwerk, where we see the abandoned 70s post office where Kreidler rehearse. It's an extraordinary space with a vast factory roof, so huge you can walk on elevated gangways all the way to the cental station.
The elevator is hot pink stainless steel. Along with the bright orange VW, it's classically German: that moment when the sheer industrial solidity of German engineering collided with the flamboyant colours of the 70s to make something boldly social democratic. Of course, as this building is an abandoned post office, it's also full of severely groovy sans serif notices, functional yet elegant, and all tied together (like the London Underground) with a long-lost public service design integrity.
The building is to be demolished in January. The last artists' studios will be cleared out. The Hobbypop Museum, an art space which Kreidler curated on the ground floor, has already been closed, although sporadic exhibitions continue in London. At its peak, Hobbypop mounted fresh shows each month, eccentric themed events reflecting the band's whims. One was called 'Melville, Momus and Morrissey'. Now someone's making a painting of Noel Coward.
It's odd to rummage through Detlef's records, his sculpture sketchbook, and see so much Momus. A vinyl copy of Timelord. A watercolour of me in wig and eyepatch in the industrial-sized bathroom, taped above a scene of Japgirl carnage from a Wakamatsu movie. The American Stars Forever sleeve, pasted into his commonplace book next to photos of his rubber sculptures.
Shizu is in ecstasies over his Japanese video collection. We watch 'Love and Pop', an innovatively-filmed tale of Tokyo high school girls, then an anime called 'Lain' (a girl gets e mail from a dead friend), then Beiniex's 1994 film about manic Tokyo collectors, 'Otaku'.
The nucleus of Kreidler invite me to rehearse with them. We're scheduled to perform a few songs together onstage: 'Mnemorex', 'Rhetoric' and a new song, a funky glitch 'n' click number in which I rap about 'my guru, King Bolo, the electronic negro'. Where does this stuff come from? Well, early drafts of T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland', actually.
Friday December 1st
I dream of my father, who's recovering from a stroke, having to relearn the power of speech (an ironic task for a linguist). In my dream he's deranged yet exuberant, staggering about like a happy drunk.
I hunt Dusseldorf for a working modem cable. Why can't we rationalise national phone systems? In Finland they use a three-pronged phone plug. In Germany it's a long multi-bobbled black thing, complicated by the fact that fax and telephone use different sockets. I leave Dusseldorf with two cables, neither of which can bring dial tone to my iBook.
I'm also thinking about national issues because in the tour van I'm reading a book about pop and British national identity written by a Finn, Kari Kallioniemi. It's called 'Put the Needle on the Record and Think of England: Notions of Englishness in the Post-War Debate on British Pop Music'. (It's pretty good, as a matter of fact.) And on the SAS flight from Copenhagen, in an article about Max Martin and the hyperpop producers of the Swedish Pop Boom, I read this:
'Like some peoples (most notably the Japanese, who, coincidentally or not, are avid consumers of Swedish pop music) Swedes have a distinct and proven flair for absorbing and adapting foreign cultural forms, particularily filmic and musical ones. Musically, this is often accomplished by melding foreign songs and lyric ideas with the hooky, childlike melodies of Swedish folk music.'
When Detlef arrives in the morning to wake us with delicious coffee, rolls and yoghurt, he puts on a record by a Koln group called Hausmeister which shares a similar childishness. I feel sure that this tour will draw me further into Wire magazine-style formalism, and that I'll soon want to make my folk recontextualisations even more radical, warping, wobbling and deforming folk structures and sounds and taking them into glitch, crackle and pop territory. This will be Scottish folk music influenced by Japanese-obsessed Germans.
In the tour van a surprising tape of Sade's new album is abandoned in favour of ultra-minimal clicks and rumbles. I think they're rehearsal tapes. They're even more stripped down than the new Kreidler album. Shizu plays Bugdom in the back seat.
Bielefeld is a small town, solid houses set amongst trees. Magpies caw on the chimneys. We set up in the hall of a youth centre. Sound checks are so boring. I'm reminded of my Superflat essay, with its scathing condemnation of the metaphysics of rock: ten hours in a tour van for thirty minutes of transcendental guitar soloing. A poor exchange, and that's not even counting the boredom of the drum check: 'Your kick has a hollow sound, Thomas. Keep hitting it.' Thank god there's a large, neat and clean apartment on the top floor to escape to. We feast on the food the venue has prepared for us. Then it's time to rehearse the three collaborative tracks, 'Mnemorex', 'Taxi' and 'Rhetoric'. Alex the bass player hisses the lyrics to 'Mnemorex' standing right behind me on the stage like a theatrical prompt. I keep messing up the verse order. It won't do.
The show begins at 9.45. I take the stage and explain in German that I'm a very old singer-songwriter who is making a comeback as a folk singer. Start with 'Handheld', using the Roland PMA 5 as the singing handheld. 'Smooth Folk Singer' gets wilder and more shrieky each time I play it. I fall to my knees like Otis Reading. The show is a success, and involves encores. I'm basically having fun, and the pleasure is infectious.
Kreidler burn convincingly with a cool blue Germanic soul. It's all about repetition, insistent yet oblique rhythms, the interplay of real drums and programmed blips and clicks, real bass and Andreas's sinuous synthy top lines, caged by the fact that a bad case of RSI has put his arm in a sling. 'Too many hand jobs,' he jokes. Shizu says to me: 'I think this music is about sex. Japanese and Germans must be the people who masturbate most in the world, and you can hear that in this music'.
Saturday December 2nd
Thomas the drummer is our driver, gunning the Kreidler Mercedes through the manicured, eco-friendly German countryside that surrounds the autobahn to Hamburg. It's a relief to arrive at 2.30 with a few hours of daylight and leisure before our hard day's night onstage. It's also great to be back in a city of some sophistication. The Westwerk is a canalside complex of arty lofts and warehouses. On one side of the door there's a multiples gallery, on the other one of the best art bookshops I've ever seen.
Shizu and I make a beeline for a nearby Japanese bookstore and catch up with the latest Japanese magazines. I'm aghast to find that the ganguro ('black faced') girl movement is still going. I thought it had died the death last spring. But its flagship magazine, Egg, is not only back (it was closed down for several months after being linked to prostitution rings), but now has a brother, Egg Men. Shizu and sigh saite (disgusting) as we survey page after page of gormless tanned and tinted buriteri girls. I'm also displeased to find that this shop no longer carries Street, the magazine which photographs the coolest looking passersby on the streets of various cities. 'It doesn't sell,' the shop owner tells me. I was hoping to see myself in the new issue. A couple of months back they stopped me in Lower Manhattan twice on the same day for snaps.
My shameless ego surfing is later rewarded in the art bookstore when, browsing a Taschen book of Wolfgang Tillmans' photographs, I find the back of my head in a tiny photo of a party Wolfgang (the winner of this year's Turner Prize) threw in his New Inn Yard loft in 1997.
I discover I've left my iBook power cord in Bielefeld and have to take a taxi to some suburb for a new one ($100 with only a free demo of the groovy graphics and bulbous animations of Macintosh System X for consolation). Without the iBook this tour (not to mention this diary) gehts nicht. It makes me think about the logistics of tours. The typical Momus tour has a Jules et Jim feel to it: three or four friends of slim build and mixed gender, a fast car, a general consensus on when to dine and when to retire to the hotel. I travel light -- my instruments on this tour are a laptop, a Stylophone and a filofax-sized Personal Musical Assistant.
This, on the other hand, is a rock tour. There's a military itinerary, a heavy-duty drumkit to put up and take down in each city, not to mention seven people to round up at the end of the night. After the slightly lacklustre Hamburg show there's a painful three hours of waiting until we're all poised to pile into the van and head for our Novotel. That time gets filled up with cigarette smoke, which weighs heavy on my lungs and will make our clothes rotten stinky on the four and a half hour drive to Halle tomorrow.
This kind of reminds me of my Creation days, in the back of a Transit with Felt, Biff Bang Pow or Der Scream. I'm beginning to miss my day job, the stuff I was doing in Finland last week: lecturing in art colleges, presenting Hong Kong movies at the museum, and giving soundbites for documentaries about digital culture. My air fare to Europe this time was paid for by the EEC development fund, via a media college in Lappland! Nice work if you can get it (I call it 'doing a Scanner'). But no matter how you vaunt the merits of Superflat, at the end of the day lecturing can't touch the transcendental histrionics of a screechy sing through 'Pygmalism'.
Part Two is here.