Sure, there are the credentials: producing since 1988, he was a pioneer of German electro through the 90s, thanks to his teaming with Kanzelramt’s Heiko Laux. The founder of his label PSI49NET, he is responsible for some of the most influential electro records such as ‘Little Computer People’, remixes like Sven Vath’s Schubdüse, and CD opuses like ‘Simulationszeitalter’ and last year’s unforgettable ‘Hacker’. Yeah, anyone can fumble through this guy’s bio. But listen to Rother’s music and it will speak for itself.
And that’s generally the message the man himself gives. He’s at his studio in Germany. The line isn’t always clear, and the language barrier means the interview is ungainly at times. I tell him I want to talk about his live show, I want Australia to get excited about the performance, not just a name on a flyer with production credits attached. And then it happens. I ask him my first question, and suddenly the problems with communication evaporate. I ask him to describe to this virgin audience, in one sentence, his show.
“Its’ a um....conversation with the crowd and me, made with the body talk that I have with my machines and the crowd dancing and yelling...the result is not me - it’s me and the crowd arriving at that result.”
My jaw drops to the ground but I regain my composure. “The music being a conversation.” Strange how someone with a slightly clumsy grasp of English can be so poetic.
I have to admit, I’m not exactly a Rother live PA virgin. Last year I chanced upon a recording of the internet radio transmission of his set at the massive German festival, SonneMondeSterne. Recorded in August 2002, it is an intense, entrancing, emotional performance. Words really can’t do it justice. It’s the best live set I’ve ever heard.
Words fail me but Rother has just summed it up in one: “conversation”.
The SMS set, I put it to him (stumbling horribly over the party’s German name) contained layers lifted from different tracks on ‘Hacker’, tweaked, and thrown together into a dynamic soundscape. Hacker was released around the time of the festival, but what will he be using as his basis on this tour? With the unflappable air of German efficiency, he repeats the options I give to him as an answer.
“Old, new, and unreleased.”
With so much material, then, I wonder how Rother prepares for a live set. I anticipate that preparation for such an ‘interactive’ set is minimal. Rother goes one step further:
“I don’t have time to think, I just go, I don’t think, I just do, up on stage.” The unflappable voice takes on an a gently animalistic tone, an insatiable hunter tracking down an aural orgasm. “Working with the MIDI and keyboards, I do the vocals live. Arranging the tracks on the stage is the conversation.”
Rother’s answers become more rushed, his mind churning out a stream of consciousness that he can’t enunciate quickly enough. The passion that drives this man is plain to see, and in this music fan it is marvelously inspiring.
I wonder if this trip might be the exception to the rule. Rother tells me it’s the furthest he’s travelled for a gig, and I wonder how any artist can prepare to play their material to a new audience.
“I don’t prepare, I come and I be. I can’t prepare. I am waiting for a surprise when come. Preparing is something I can’t do. It is nice to have that surprise.”
OK, but does he at least know what types of parties he’s headlining? I tell him that, for example, in Melbourne he’s playing a huge warehouse party with thousands of people, while in Sydney he’s at quite a small club.
“OK, this is the first I’ve heard this,” comes the quick response. “I never know where I’m going, how many people I’ll go to. I see it when I’m there, let’s go. I go there and see it and jump into the situation.”
“There’s no plan in my head,” says Rother. He says that if he were to pre-empt what tracks to play where he could drive himself insane. “I do it up on stage.”
This then makes the spectacle we’re about to witness all the more impressive. Imagine flying halfway around the world without even knowing the type of people or the type of venue you’d be playing at, and having the self-assurance to know you could stroll in and improvise your way through the performance.
But then again, he’s just going to be having a conversation with us. Doesn’t sound that difficult, does it?
I ask him what he’ll be talking to us with, and Rother is happy to volunteer the equipment spec, reeling off names as he looks around the studio.
“In front I have a 3 [level] stand”:
Roland Alpha Juno 2 - synth used for basslines et al
Clavia Nord MicroModular - MIDI control keyboard
“And on my left side”:
Laptop running Cubase 3.0.5 – his sequencer, he uses the old version because it’s reliable
Another MicroModular – a second sequencer
Yamaha Pro 01V – 24 channel mixing console
Access Virus – analog synth
Pioneer EFX-500 – the effects unit is also the final output
Rother wears a headset for the live vocals and uses a MicroModular for vocoder effects.
Such a spec means that Rother will be bringing with him carriage to the tune of 200 kilograms. I ask if he has any horror stories with the freighting of his gear.
He talks about a gig, “way ago, when I was by myself. I carried the stuff into a train to play in Switzerland, then had to come back from Switzerland to Frankfurt, I had to carry most of it by myself.”
But times aren’t so hard anymore. Thanks to the rise of his career, and his enrolment on the books of agencies like Cocoon, “now it’s possible to play outside of the country.” And Rother has jumped at the chance to bring his music to a wider audience. “This is great because otherwise I’d just be doing this in Germany.”
And so it is that Rother embarks on this tour, which will take him to Osaka and Tokyo after Australia. Some artists, I remark, prefer to lock themselves away producing tracks before emerging to tour their live show, then repeat the cycle. Rother’s approach is different:
“It’s a flow. During week I produce, weekend I go play. Sometimes when I have off the weekend I go drink a beer. I try to have a life, be a part time musician, part time normal reality.”
So what exactly is happening in the studio at the moment? “The next thing coming out is a Live LP on Cocoon,” says Rother, as I feel the first drips of saliva starting to form. And what of a follow up to Hacker?
“Hacker for me is very fresh, I need a little bit of time to fill up my batteries,” he says. But the inspiration must surely return, because he immediately says, still in that hurried voice, “There will be one night in the studio, like with Hacker, where that was it, I wrote the song in one night and I knew it was the beginning of the new album.”
Aha! So he does grapple with a lack of motivation! Rother explains, “Always when I complete the album it’s a burn out, I think it’s over. After ‘Sex With The Machines’ I thought that was it but I’ve learnt that give it time, and you’re back.”
It’s more of that German efficiency, really. By orchestrating his life around this concept of “flow” Rother keeps himself interested. It even extends to the years of media interviews he’s had to field. “[Sometimes it’s] boring but the interviews tonight were nice, different. It’s long ago since I did one; I go and hide a little bit. I take a pause for myself to make them a little different.”
The next conversation I have with Anthony will be with him behind banks of equipment in Altona. Rother hammers home the two things I’ve come to realise about his music when I ask him for some final comments: it’s an interactive experience – he needs the crowd response to be able to play his set, and it’s goddamn emotional.
“What you can expect – you can expect yourself,” he philosophises. “I want them to feel alive.”
Come and have a conversation with Anthony Rother. This isn’t a DAT tape hack. This is a man who will talk to you with his song.
Anthony Rother is part of the huge Hardware 20 lineup that takes over Altona next Thursday April 17. For more information see our Events Section.