True colours from Yello
"If there is an opposite to Yello, it is Kraftwerk." So says Yello's Dieter Meier, never a man to dish up the expected. It seems anybody who had Dieter and his partner Boris Blank down as the Swiss Hütter and Schneider was sucking on the wrong Toblerone. But how can this be, Dieter?
"Because Kraftwerk - and I've always liked them a lot - have tried more than anything to actually become machines. The machine is the message. Whereas Yello is not really a 'techno' band. Yello's roots go back to Boris's roots: he was a poor boy and he could not afford musical toys. In his mother's kitchen, he would create his first pieces on a little tape recorder by using all kinds of utensils. His first snare was a piece of paper. His first bass was a piece of wet cloth. He wasn't trying to be avant-garde - he was trying to make pop music."
And so he did, with Yello notching up nine successful albums of unique sequenced material since 1980. On 22 August this year, the list will extend to 10, with the release of a new, as yet untitled, work on Phonogram. The tools may have become more sophisticated, but all along they have been a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.
"When Boris became able to use digital equipment, it merely made it easier for him to work the way he would work anyhow," says Meier. "It just made it easier to access his musical instrument - which is every sound on this planet. The complex technology in his studio is nothing more than the bongos of the 20th Century. He plays the whole studio - the studio is to Boris what the acoustic guitar is to other people.
"What's happening with technology is an even bigger revolution than the invention of the grand piano. Every musician has access to the most incredible sounds for very little money. In the 18th Century, if you wanted to check out what you were doing you had to be employed by a wealthy patron and have a house orchestra. Now you can have the orchestra in your bedroom. Technology democratises music."
Without the necessity for a recording contract, Dieter reasons, liberated musicians not only gain pushbutton orchestras, but also avoid administrators and censors.
"Boris's first snare was a piece of paper. His first bass was a piece of wet cloth"
"Money is always censorship," he says. "Take movies, for example. Only an idiot would say that a movie is purely art. A movie, first and foremost, is a piece of commerce."
There's a good reason for this comparison. Dieter Meier now lives in LA and spends much time wooing the Hollywood moguls with ideas for films. Nevertheless, independent movie-making is also benefiting from cheaper technology, and the lesson seems to be that if money is censorship, it might as well be your own money.
Putting this philosophy into practice, Dieter has formed his own small label, named after Yello's first album Solid Pleasure. With the aim of nurturing rather than exploiting talent, Solid Pleasure quietly supports a small but stable roster.
In 1988, Yello finally cracked the Top 10 with a tune called 'The Race'. Since then, their music has struck a chord with the dance generation. If the track record of this eccentric Swiss two-piece is anything to go by, the new album will again inspire scores of would-be bedroom hit-makers. In the meantime, Dieter has comforting words for those still listening out for the starting gun.
"Why, for God's sake, should a musician, composer or songwriter not have the time to mature when in every other area - business or art - it's natural to allow someone to reach 30, 35 or 40 before they're expected to reach their peak?"
Interview by Phil Ward
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