The 4-CD Box Tribute Sampler of Conny Plank, “Who’s That Man”, is out now on Grönland Records.
Conny Plank’s tribute release party was a success. Comfortably full, there was a good vibe in a nice club.
I must admit it’s been ages since I went to an electro club, and I forgot a bit what it’s like. After hanging out for a while at the bar, with a varying line-up of people behind the DJ table twiddling things to aid the music that was trembling through the speakers, the main act came on, that being Mr Moebius, a legend of the Krautrock scene. A slightly older gentleman, somewhat debonair and with one of those secret smiles that could mean pretty much anything, which he wore throughout the performance.
As I said, haven’t been to an electro performance for a while, and I found it at first somewhat bemusing to find myself ranged with a good-sized crowd of people (mainly men, strangely) who stood around watching a well-dressed man move his finger and thumb very slightly in different directions for a half-hour or so.
Because at the end of the day that’s really what it was. For, I suppose, the unitiated, yours truly included. I did however consult with the friend that I went with, electro music aficionado, tech geek and professional sound dude. He admitted that he spent the time craning his neck to see just what equipment was laid out and so which of the possible filters on which of the possible machines he might have been twiddling.
at some point I closed my eyes and just listened and whatever was going on it sounded good.
At some point too I turned around to see what everyone else was doing and of course everyone was intently watching our man Mr Moebius. Then I realised slowly that actually the audience was really the show, visually speaking – it’s great watching people watch music being made, and I don’t mean that snidely or negatively. Just that it was very interesting watching people do what they were doing, or watch what they were thinking. It would be easy to say that they could be easily divided into two or three categories, and of course they couldn’t, becuase in the end people are after all complex and different. Still, there were the electro geeks, who were intent on studying the equipment and the man. There were no doubt the fame geeks who wanted to see the legend in the flesh (especially the very annoying guy who kept getting his friends to photograph him standing in a „I’m just hanging out“ pose, leaning on the DJ table in front of Mr. Moebius. That wouldn’t bother me, but he did it for like ten minutes, insisting on getting his friends to photograph him from different angles and checking the results before moving position. Yes, I’m talking about the guy in the red hat and big glasses, in case he reads this, or in case anyone else reads it who was there and thought the same. Anyway. I digress.
There was a contingent of beardy glassy guys – different from the one described above – who were very serious (or very stoned, one is never sure) and seemed to be very in the moment. But the bulk of the people I sensed were not electro geeks but more people who had come in probably because of the whole Conny Plank thing. Which returns me to what is surely essentially the point. When I was told that there was to be a Conny Plank tribute, I admit that I went straight to wikipedia to check out who Conny Plank was. And that’s exactly what you should do, and then go through some of his releases (it’s basically impossible to go through them all unless you both don’t have a job and also don’t intend doing anything else at all for the next two or three years). Since Conny Plank has become somewhat forgotten, and that’s really a shame, and makes me very glad that someone is doing this tribute to bring his name back to mind. Mr. Plank did in fact lay a lot of the foundations for what became Krautrock, which in turn laid a lot of the foundations for what we know as 80s pop (European and British mainly actually). Plank was „a star producer before there were star producers“. He was the first studio guy who started messing around with effects to dramatically change the sound of what he was recording – to record people coughing in large metal containers (maybe not coughing. I may have made that bit up.) But you get my drift. He experimented in an age when everyone else was concerned with making things bland and flat. And after having done things that inspired a lot of the eighties bands, he went on to record them too – he produced Ultravox’s „Vienna“, also a lot of Eurythmics stuff, Echo and the Bunnymen, he was „the third member“ of the breakthrough band Neu!, he worked with Kraftwerk, he even recorded the Scorpions in his Kölln studio. And to top it all off, he became dude of dudes by, when being invited by big fan Brian Eno to take his offered place as producer of U2’s The Joshua Tree, declined after a short chat with the band, saying „I cannot work with this singer.“
He was, as they say, the man.
And it’s unfortunate that in the end it seems that it’s the producers who make things flat and uninteresting who have won out, if we look around at what has become the norm today. And that also makes it the perfect moment to celebrate Conny Plank, and to have another think about whether flat+uninteresting=good. Whereas surely crazy+experimentation-barriersshould=verygood?
Review by Noel Maurice