News / / 12.09.13


Oval Space | September 5th

Techno owes a huge debt to Manuel Gottsching. His E2-E4 album was perhaps the first to combine the pointillist minimalism of Steve Reich with the progressive electronic rhythms of Kraftwerk; on its release, electronic music was instantly endowed with the kind of lofty aestheticism only a classically-leaning piece can bestow. 

No longer the preserve of avant-garde pop (Kraftwerk), Detroiters unknown outside their hometown (Juan Atkins et al) or the scattered and generally overlooked experimentalists beyond (Bruce Haack, for example), electronic music was now something a tweed jacketed critic deigned attention-worthy.

So it was with some excitement that we approached Oval Space’s hosting of the man himself, along with two of German electronic music’s younger generation – Henrik Schwarz and Frank Wiedermann. We arrived as Schwarzmann were gently lifting the crowd out of an ambient start; a laptop-centred, hardware-laden desk groaning under the weight of Teutonic noodling. Henrik, always a joy to watch (only the coldest aesthete could fail to warm to him), was ably partnered by an assured Frank. The two somehow communicated without actually speaking very much, nods and eyebrow lifts apparently doing the job in words’ stead. We were treated to an ebb-and-flow set of melodic, progressive house and techno with several jazzy flourishes along the way.


As good as they were, most had come to see Manuel. This was the first show he had played in the UK for over a decade, so London’s Kosmische Musik community was out in force. Manuel began with a huge beat pounding its way around the Oval, laptop in front, keyboard beside and guitar behind. He worked through his extensive back catalogue, with an abridged version of Shuttlecock providing what for us was the highlight. His guitar playing on this, so influential to later musicians, hasn’t declined at all. Grounded in rock scales, but augmented by complex chromatic codicils and sweep picking, his technique means his picking hand doesn’t have to do very much for a lot of notes to emerge – at great speed. Players half his age would have struggled. The audience looked on in awe as an exhibition of genuine musicianship took place before them.


Manuel, now a grandee of Germany’s cultural life, was possessed of an effortless charm throughout. He smiled broadly as he announced song titles, and soaked-up well-deserved applause at close. This return to the UK was a great success – please don’t make it 13 years until the next one.


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Words: Robert Bates