Café Oto, Dalston, London, June 21 2012
Strange days indeed. The venue is rammed, stickier and hotter than a docker’s armpit, every square inch of floor housing an eager devotee of one of Krautrock’s founding fathers: outside, torrential rain pisses down, winds howl like banshees, and those in E8 soon begin to regret not bringing a jacket.
After a harmonically interesting and eventually climactic supporting set from Petrels, aka Oliver Barrett of Bleeding Heart Radio, and the obligatory extended drink-buying break (not too much outdoor fag-smoking this time, for aforementioned meteorological reasons) the hubbub of voices descends to a hush as the composer, 77 years young and still as irrepressibly unconventional as ever, humbly ambles on stage and positions himself between a piano - unusually, not the venue’s own- and an array of electronic devices. A few moments’ fiddling is followed by the appearance of several stark, low, quieter-than quiet chords, at which point it dawns on us: he’s started.
Nowhere else in my days as either fan, writer or even promoter can I remember a more subtle, gentle and inauspicious beginning to a show by such a heralded and revered artist, yet this is all very much part of the Hans-Joachim Roedelius experience. It also soon becomes apparent that this isn’t a gig, but more a recital. Nor if anyone else had performed this music would I be reviewing it here: truly, it dwells on the utmost fringes of Shindig!’s remit, only included by virtue of its author’s impeccable track record as one of the founding fathers of German progressive music in the 1970s; a progression still very much demonstrated by the man’s steadfast refusal to conform in any way to what people expect of him.
By this token, at least 65 to 70 percent of what is performed tonight consists of minimal, resonant and glacial solo piano, its nearest counterpart in recent years being the solo work of United Bible Studies’ Richard Moult or maybe some of the more meditative recordings of Current 93, and whilst this is no new departure - indeed, half of his solo work has been in this vein since 1978 - it still sounds entirely new and unfettered by preconception. The globular, tinkling electronics, swirling drone and occasional hammering assaults he popularised with Cluster, or the rockier, more song-based (by comparison) leanings of Harmonia, are largely absent tonight, although when he does move from piano to electronic keyboard, or tinker playfully with wires and devices (well, I assume this is what he physically does, but I am so entranced in thought at this point with both eyes closed, as probably is everyone else, that I can’t tell you for sure) it still creates the same powerful, ebbing, flowing worlds of sound so intrinsically associated with his best known recordings.
Not that, of course, he in any way plays up to this on purpose- you do not come to see Roedelius for a greatest hits set, and stand at the back yelling “Heisse Lippen!” whilst making metal horn signs, no matter how amusing it might be to do so. Anyway, both elements still move so seamlessly in and out of each other that there is no join to spot: bursts of sudden, amplified synthesized volume are followed yet again by ephemeral, barely audible pianistics which fall like raindrops slowly releasing in a pool. A shame, then, that it’s hammering down so much outside, the real rain almost threatens to aurally drown him out. A case of Hans Across The Water, maybe? Mind you, at least the elements are excusable, which is more than can be said for the twats outside babbling into their mobiles. There’s always one or two, isn’t there?
Sadly, just when the instrumentation locks into the first pulsing groove of the evening and the externalised nattering finally ceases, so does Roedelius: stepping to the microphone after a rapturous applause which the throng had withheld until they knew the right moment had arrived, he mumbles something about “enough for now” and proceeds to start unplugging everything. Is this the interval? No, that’s your lot. 45 minutes? I’ve waited at bus stops for longer, but then again, I do live in the countryside. True, we all know the adages of 'short but sweet', 'less is more' and what have you, but I can’t help feeling that the esteemed gentleman may be taking liberties even by those standards, especially considering that most people here actually paid to get in, some even after he’d started. Maybe the pillocks with the mobile phones wound him up after all, even though he seemed visibly unruffled at the time. Or, on the other hand, maybe when you’ve performed a piece (in several parts, but still a ‘piece’) of perfect music, it would be foolhardy to follow it with anything else.
The motive remains a matter of conjecture, but this was definitely the shortest concert I’ve ever attended (hardcore bands having their plugs pulled on them for encouraging stage invasions notwithstanding). Yet, the following morning, as I head homeward to the Shires in the definitely not minimalist downpour, a wry smile crosses my face, as it dawns on me that such foibles, maybe even pranksome japes, dwell at the very epicentre of Roedelius the live artist, and that he’s probably heading back to Berlin now in much the same way with the same wry smile spreading across his wise, chiselled features. Let us just hope, considering the transient nature by definition of such behaviour, that it won’t be too long before he returns in another of his manifold incarnations to play with us (and for us) again.
Darius Drewe Shimon