The Return Of Die Krupps | Die Krupps
Die Krupps, founded over 10 years ago by Jürgen Engler and sometime-Propagandist Ralf Dörper, are back — with thrash guitars and Metallica covers to spice up their brutal teutonic electro. Derek Johnson reports on more German re-unification.
Anyone remember John Peel's show on Radio 1 when it was broadcast four nights a week, 10 'till midnight? It was a programme that influenced my record buying for a good chunk of the '80s, and my collection is still littered with purchases inspired by Peel's eclectic airplay policy. I've also recently discovered that my cassette collection has an fairly high count of off-air recordings — which, I hasten to add, were made solely as a reference to aid my imminent record buying! Sad to say that, in spite of it being somewhat easier than at present to track down obscure music, there were quite a few good records that I never did locate, including an epic 12" from 1981 by a fairly obscure German outfit called Die Krupps; the record was 'Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn' ('A Fair Day's Work For a Fair Day's Pay'). However, as anyone who has ever experienced this seminal piece of teutonic electronic power will attest, once heard, never forgotten.
Founded at the start of the '80s by Jürgen Engler and Ralf Dörper, Die Krupps continued to make records up until 1985, though Dörper left in 1982 — he went on to form Propaganda, no less. Post-85, Engler set up a label dedicated to thrash and speed metal, but Die Krupps have spent the last few years getting their act together again, following renewed interest by both the world at large and the band themselves. A new album is out in the UK now, and their next UK release will be a mini-album of Metallica covers, extending a connection that starts with a cover of 'One' on the current album.
I spoke to Engler and Dörper, together again at the heart of Die Krupps, in London recently about their new album — called simply I — and life at the edge for the last 10 years.
The recent flurry of activity comes about due to a number of chance occurrences, not least of which was reading an interview with Nitzer Ebb in which the band said that they were heavily influenced by DAF and Die Krupps. Front 242 also admit an influence. One thing led to another, with Die Krupps and Nitzer Ebb collaborating on a re-recording of 'Wahre Arbeit Wahre Lohn'; Die Krupps also released a couple of new singles, 'Machineries of Joy', and 'Germaniac', the latter a timely comment on German reunification, then firmly under way. These releases saw the gradual return of Ralf Dörper to the fold, a new internationalist approach, and the release of a major retrospective album on Mute records. Ralf explains: "In the beginning, it was just an idea to do a one off single, but as a result, Jürgen and I noticed that it was good to work together again." Jürgen agrees: "It was like a more fun project at that time; it became interesting again, especially after the new version of 'Wahre Arbeit', with Nitzer Ebb, was released in the States and went to the Top 20 in the Billboard charts. It really caught me, I had to do something of my own, with my own proper band. I wanted to do Die Krupps again."
Ralf was involved with Propaganda even as far as the regrouping that recorded 1234 for Virgin back in 1990; however, a court case with record label ZTT and the excitement of a possible Die Krupps reunion meant that he lost interest and was eager to sever his ties with the band and Virgin; the split was not unfriendly, however, and Ralf's memories of Propaganda are of excitement and living on the edge. "It was like living through every side of the music business in two years. We experienced everything that you read about, musical differences, everything."
Jürgen's early musical life involved playing with Male, one of Germany's first punk bands. He initially had no interest in electronic music or electronic instruments, "but I got bored with punk music at the end of the 70s, and really got into things like the Normal, Robert Rental and Thomas Leer. I was interested in their sounds, and I realised there was something else besides guitars. At first, synths were never appealing — we were never influenced by Kraftwerk, I didn't like them at all — and then Ralf (who had been involved with electronic music) showed me this Yamaha synth. I was playing around with it and I actually came up with 'Wahre Arbeit, Wahre Lohn'. It was interesting because you could do the same thing on guitar and it would sound kind of boring, but with a synth it sounds different, it sounds new."
The story behind 'Wahre Arbeit' is typical of the early efforts by Die Krupps, aimed at getting the best from limited equipment. Ralf comments: "The old guard of electronic music, when you think about it, have all been very rich, they have all been able to spend, at that time, large amounts of money on equipment, and only they could do it because they were from rich families, and we weren't. We couldn't afford the big equipment like the big Moogs of that time, so we had the challenge of getting good sounds out of shitty equipment."
Jürgen takes up the story: "The Yamaha synth actually sounded really shitty, so we put it through a distortion effect, and gave it the sound that appeared on the record, and no-one had done that before... Before it was very clean sounding, like Kraftwerk."
The question of whether the part was sequenced or played live brought laughter from the supposedly dour duo. Jürgen explained the reason: "It was sequenced, but the sequencer looked like a big cupboard. It was huge! A guy who was electrical built it for us, and it looked like a telephone switchboard. It only produced 16 notes, which it could repeat. He also built an interface that allowed the sequencer to play the sounds on a preset Korg drum machine — with Rumba and Samba patterns on it and so on — and he hooked it up to the switchboard, so the sequencer would play the sounds. Shortly after we did the second album, Voile Kraft Voraus, we got this little sequencer, from a German company, and it could play 64 notes, eight sequences." The cupboard is still in existence; Der Plan bought it, and they use it as decoration.
The equipment used by Die Krupps in their early days is hard to divorce from the current arsenal, since more or less all the instruments collected over the years are still in use. The first synth owned by the band was the Yamaha monosynth used on 'Wahre Arbeit' — no one can recall the model number — and that has been added to over the years. As Ralf put it, "we used anything we could afford!".
"The thing is, there wasn't a lot of equipment," continues Jürgen. "Some analogue synthesizers, Yamaha, Korg, ARP Odyssey. To be honest, the equipment I use most of the time in our work is mostly still analogue, like an Oberheim X-pander, ARP Odyssey, Sequential Circuits Pro 1, MiniMoog, or a Korg MS20."
Amidst the collection of old equipment, there is room for selective examples of more modern instruments: "The only modern synthesizers that I really like are instruments such as Roland's JD800, because you can really work on the sound. It feels like an old synthesizer." The other highly rated modern sound source is a Waldorf Microwave; Ralf still has a PPG system — a precursor of the Microwave — from Propaganda days, although it is too unstable to use. Jürgen is especially looking forward to the imminent arrival of the keyboard version of the Microwave, the Wave. "I think it's going to come out late this year. I will definitely have one. It looks like a huge MiniMoog, with a lot more possibilities. It's just awesome. It's the instrument I've been waiting for..."
Rather than have all of their old analogue gear retrofitted with MIDI, Die Krupps use a collection of MIDI-to-CV convertors, including models by Philip Rees and Groove. Although these have made Jürgen's old MC4 redundant, it still has a place in the studio in case it is needed.
The current sequencing centre of Jürgen's studio has moved on a few stages beyond 16-note cupboards: Steinberg's Cubase for Atari ST is the preferred software. "I prefer Cubase. You can really see what parts you're working on, you can see the whole song, all the parts on the screen. It's very intuitive. I really like it!"
Sampling facilities are present in the form of the keyboard version of Emu's Emax II, which Jürgen chose for a number of reasons: "I don't like samplers without a keyboard, but Akai samplers also seem a little trickier to use. I had a couple of S1000s in my studio, and I wasn't comfortable working with them; I don't know why. The system seemed a little more complicated, but for me there is also a great difference in the sound. I wouldn't say the Emax is better, I just prefer it. I prefer the editing, the filters, and the sound."
Jürgen's studio is based around an MCI 24-track machine and a Peavey Mark VIII mixing desk; this seems an odd choice, as it is primarily a live desk: "We were looking for a really good desk that cost no more than about £5,000, and we chose the Mark VIII. It is a live desk, but I've had it modified for recording purposes. It's a great sounding desk." Dynacord products also feature heavily in the studio and are highly rated by Jürgen, especially the DRP15 multi-effects processor. Further processing comes courtesy of Klark Teknik (their DN780 reverb), Alesis (Quadraverb+) and ART (SGX), amongst others. The studio is well-specified, and on the odd occasion that they find something is lacking, they also have access to external equipment on loan.
Die Krupps' actual writing process starts with Jürgen alone in the studio. "Most of the time I just sit down and start with a sequence, and a drum beat. Ralf writes the words after the sequences." Ralf takes up the story: "I think the groove is very important for us... We start with the groove, and after that we go in certain directions and the theme of the song is adapted to the track. I prefer working like this, otherwise you tend to be very concept-oriented and I think that's the wrong idea.
"My writing more or less fits around the mood of a sequence... we have to start with certain ideas about songs, but that doesn't mean we don't change them around. We aren't like a concept band."
MIDI sequencing is at the start of the creative process; sequenced drums and drum machines were used exclusively during the recording of I, and a real drummer didn't enter into the equation, though thrash guitars do feature; live drums are a definite possibility in the future. In fact, there is a lot of crossover; new recordings and gigs see the addition of Rüdiger Esch on bass and Volker Borchert (of Accuser, signed to Jürgen's label) on drums; the new album even includes their version of Metallica's 'One', and the future seems to hold more in the way of a thrash/electronic sound, which Jürgen is quite excited about. "What I'd like to achieve next is to have a really hard drum beat and add more guitars or something and make it more compact. On the new album, the basics were all finished, without guitars — there's a different version of the album without guitars — then we added guitars. The next step will be to compose the songs with guitars and keyboards at the same time. I really want to compose the songs on guitar, and make it more raw and compact."
Initially Die Krupps were more of a concept, an idea of what German music should or should not be; these days they see themselves as a band. "In the beginning," reflects Ralf, "if you did electronic music, you were more or less stuck in the studio. It was very difficult to play live without pre-recording everything and taking a tape recorder on stage. Now we are functioning very much like a band, and going on tour. This year we will make a national German tour, and then the European tour; this is the first time we've done it." In fact, Die Krupps had just returned from a series of American gigs, which was both a positive and interesting experience for the band and apparently went down well with the audiences.
The Atari joins them on stage; although DAT backing tapes have been used, Jürgen sees no difference: "It doesn't matter if you have the main sequences on DAT or a computer, you still press a button. DAT is perhaps more reliable. The last three gigs before we went to America, we were joined by the guitarists from Accuser, and their drummer still plays with us. We had a bass player, Ralf played keyboards and samples, and the main sequences were on DAT."
Sampling features surprisingly little in Die Krupps' work, although one of the most telling aspects of the single 'Germaniac' was the use of a particularly prominent — and relevant — speech sample, as Ralf recalls. "We had a spoken sample that fitted the theme. It was the voice of an American officer after the Second World War saying 'Don't make friends with the Germans... no human contact', and it really fit the song! Otherwise, we don't use a lot of samples, and when we sample a sound, we tend to modify it a lot."
Die Krupps' recent incarnation has seen an increasing use of English as the lyrical medium, the reason being that the band now see themselves as an international project. Ralf: "German only makes sense on certain very big topics, like when we did 'Germaniac'. We did that song to comment on what was happening during German reunification, so it was recorded in both languages because for us it was very important that the Germans understand."
"We had to do Germaniac for the Germans as well as for the rest of the world," adds Jürgen. "We might do two different versions of a track in the future, but otherwise it's important to get something across for everyone, not just concentrate on a little tiny Germany. We're really keen on reaching the rest of the world."
"In a way we are independent in what we release and the way we release it," says Ralf, "not only money wise, but in the way we can work, because since Jürgen has his studio, and other things make us almost financially independent, we do not have pressure from a company to come up with a certain kind of music that fits the market.
"That's the thing; we don't need to make so much money out of Die Krupps. That's always the problem; the moment a band sees that they have a certain formula that is successful, they then stick with it. We're still taking risks, while a lot of bands would just repeat themselves." Jürgen continues: "We never played the business game, like putting out an album, doing promotion, doing a tour — until now! This is a new experience for us, we haven't done it for 10 years. The whole situation is different for us and that's one of the reasons we called the new album I, as in 'one'. It's a new start."
Interview by Derek Johnson
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