So Much Strange Music
Why Moebius Is One of the Greatest Musicians You Don’t Know
Dieter Moebius has had a hand (sometimes two) in some of the most innovative records ever. But it's doubtful you'd recognize his face or even his name—unless you're one of those nerds who freaked over Julian Cope's Krautrocksampler tome or caught motorik fieber and dedicated your life to accumulating knowledge about the explosion of innovative rock and electronic music emanating from late-'60s/early-'70s Germany.
Know this: Moebius—with Kluster/Cluster, Harmonia, solo, and in collabs with Brian Eno, Conny Plank, Mani Neumeier, and many others—has influenced some of your favorite post-rock, IDM, experimental-techno, and ambient artists. The 68-year-old keyboardist has maintained absurdly high quality levels for more than 40 years. Even his new full-length with Asmus Tietchens, Moebius + Tietchens, is essential. It raids the two mavericks' storehouse of bizarre moods and mesmerizing rhythms with vitality and inventiveness.
Moebius was born in Switzerland and then studied art in Brussels and Berlin, but it seems as if he descended upon us from Jupiter or some other alien outpost, intent on obliterating our cozy notions of what constitutes music with otherworldly and underworldly sounds. Below are six reasons—out of way more—why Moebius deserves your devout worship.
Kluster: With all due respect to Throbbing Gristle, industrial music starts here. Along with future Cluster and Harmonia partner Hans-Joachim Roedelius and the late mad-synthesizer genius Conrad Schnitzler, Moebius helped to forge towering, scouring masses of tones that conjure the bleakness of factories and the harrowing atmospheres of environmental disasters. This is music as necessary evil, an enveloping swarm of expertly diseased effects that triggers nightmares. Approaching records like Eruption, Klopfzeichen, and Zwei-Osterei is daunting, as each track seems to last longer than a Bill Clinton speech, but you emerge from them stronger.
Cluster's "Plas" and "Im Süden": These two tracks from Cluster II mark the zenith of Moebius and Roedelius's psychedelic inclinations. They make the strongest case for Cluster's inclusion in the krautrock pantheon. Later Cluster works tilted toward the sweeter, lighter synth pop of Zuckerzeit and Sowiesoso, both of which are superb specimens of that style and inspired much new-wave synthesizer music. But this diptych demonstrates how minimalist repetition—a flanged keyboard riff, a frog croak run through a wah-wah pedal, a slowly plunging bass line, a spine-tingling cyclical guitar motif that Spiritualized surely copped, etc.—can coalesce into a stunning soundtrack for high-stakes vertigo.
Moebius-Plank-Neumeier's "Speed Display" and "Pitch Control": If you think Moebius is a cloistered egghead unfamiliar with club culture, this album will overturn your assumptions. Recorded with legendary krautrock producer Conny Plank and Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier, these tracks from 1983's Zero Set are supremely kinetic and strange. "Speed Display" zooms and squelches like a new kind of vehicle, fueled by mathematical genius and crazily rumbling beats. "Pitch Control" struts with some of the oddest funk ever to emanate from Europe. Imagine Kraftwerk's "Numbers" transposed to an equatorial jungle. Pow!
Harmonia's Musik Von Harmonia: Some might think it heresy not to discuss Harmonia's Deluxe in a survey of Moebius's greatest works, but Musik Von Harmonia is indeed the more sublime creation. Produced in 1974 in conjunction with Roedelius and Neu! guitarist Michael Rother, Musik is an indisputable krautrock klassik. The bleepy machine funk of "Watussi" foreshadows early Warp Records 15 years before the fact. "Sehr Kosmisch" (translation: "It's Cosmic, Motherfucker") totally lives up to its title; someday it will anchor the soundtrack to the greatest sci-fi film ever. "Dino" almost out-autobahns Kraftwerk. "Ohrwurm" converts the best worst mushroom trip you've ever had into sound. "Veterano" anticipates trance techno (the gut kind) by nearly two decades. Musik is a cornucopia of amazing ahead-of-its-time tracks and merits the awe typically reserved for Can, Neu!, and Faust's peak achievements.
Eno Moebius Roedelius's "Broken Head": This should be the anthem of everyone who's ever felt funny in the noggin. These three brainiacs have written a brilliantly lethargic pop song for underwater daydreaming—a veritable bottom-40 chart smash.
Moebius & Plank's "Rastakraut Pasta" and "Feedback 66": You may surmise by the title "Rastakraut Pasta" that Moebius has a whimsical side; he's not always hell-bent on creating dark, twisted compositions for grim sonic scientists (not that there's anything wrong with that). The title track to his and Plank's 1980 LP is a woozy Teutonic take on reggae that's damn infectious, against great odds. Will your Bob Marley–loving roommate dig it? Probably not; it's just too off-kilter and good. "Feedback 66" is Moebius's most psych-rockin' cut since 1972's "Plas." It slows the beat from the breakdown of Sly & the Family Stone's "Dance to the Music" and submerges it in ectoplasmic whorls and squiggles of duck-squawk guitar and multilayered murmurs. Even if you've never taken a hallucinogen in your life, "Feedback 66" will make you feel as if the laws of physics have gone AWOL. It's a Moebius trip.