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MUSIC

Berlin electronica pioneer dead at 70

Edgar Froese, whose band Tangerine Dream crafted the ambient sound that set the stage for generations of electronic artists, has died at 70.

Berlin electronica pioneer dead at 70
Edgar Froese in 2006. Photo: Tim Brakemeier/DPA

Trained as a sculptor, the German multi-instrumentalist shocked the musical world in the early 1970s by using synthesizers to generate a trance-like but minimalist atmosphere that had only passing connections to the rock sound that then dominated the airwaves.

His son Jerome Froese, who later joined him in the band, said that his father died unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism while in Vienna on Tuesday.

"Edgar once said, 'There is no death, there is just a change of our cosmic address.' Edgar, this is a little comfort to us," a statement from the band said.

Froese was born in what is now the Russian city of Sovietsk on June 6, 1944 – the same day as the D-Day invasion – and has described growing up in a cosmopolitan post-World War II German cultural sphere in which he felt little attachment to national identity.

Froese studied art in West Berlin but his formative experience came in 1967 when he was invited to perform with an earlier band in Spain at the villa of the painter Salvador Dali, one of his heroes, and became convinced to take his music in a similarly surreal direction.

In an interview years later, Froese said that Dali taught him that "nearly everything is possible in art as long as you have a strong belief in what you're doing".

"His philosophy of being as original and authentic as possible had touched me very intensively at that time," Froese told the British online magazine The Quietus.

He linked up with fellow Berlin musicians to form Tangerine Dream – the exact inspiration for the band name was unclear – and initially pursued a musical direction in line with some of the more philosophical rock artists of the day including Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix.

'Godfather of trance'

Tangerine Dream enjoyed a break when it caught the attention of John Peel, the British radio presenter who for years was one of pop music's premier tastemakers, and the band was soon signed by the then-upstart Virgin label of Richard Branson.

Virgin Records gave Tangerine Dream free rein in the studio and the result was 1974's "Phaedra," which became one of electronica's seminal works.

The album pushed the limits of the era's sequencer technology to create a psychedelic atmosphere that some critics likened to space travel.

The album — with an aptly abstract painting by Froese on the cover — entered the Top 20 in Britain. "Phaedra" initially gained little traction in Germany, although eventually Tangerine Dream became a face of Berlin as a global electronica capital.

While Tangerine Dream's airy, free-flowing sound gave birth to the trance scene, Germany in the same era produced a separate school of electronica in Düsseldorf where Kraftwerk took a starkly different approach – a tight, robotic sound that experimented with how far the human dimension could be removed from music.

Asked afterward in a German radio interview why he pursued the electronic sound, Froese said that he simply could not measure up to the rock and blues artists in the English-speaking world.  

"We had this typical German groove, which was terrible," he said. "They were better by far. They had all their heritage, and that mentality behind them."

Electronic equipment, however, offered a "completely new opportunity," he said.

Froese was the only consistent member of Tangerine Dream and remained prolific. The band released more than 100 albums and wrote music for numerous movies including Tom Cruise's breakthrough 1983 film "Risky Business".

MUSIC

Dancing like there’s no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig

For techno enthusiast Philipp Koegler, it almost felt like a normal Saturday night again as he joined 200 fellow revellers at "Distillery", the first German nightclub to reopen since the start of the pandemic.

Dancing like there's no Covid: first German nightclub reopens in Leipzig
A file photo of a disco ball in a night club. Photo: dpa-Zentralbild | Britta Pedersen

“Tonight, there are no rules,” the almost 30-year-old told AFP, whipping off his mask on his way to the dance floor.

Despite more than a year of closures forced by the coronavirus, it didn’t take long for the thumping beats, low lights and buzzing crowds to reawaken the much-missed club atmosphere.

“It feels like I’ve come back after being away on vacation for a week,” Koegler beamed.

But of course there are some rules to restarting the party, even in Germany where coronavirus infections have declined steadily in recent weeks as the pace of vaccinations has picked up.

The Distillery club in the eastern city of Leipzig, which bills itself as the oldest techno venue in Germany’s former Communist east, is taking part in a pilot project supported by scientists from the Max Planck institute and the local university hospital.

Just 200 club-goers are allowed in instead of the usual 600 and each person must take two different kinds of coronavirus tests earlier in the day, with entry granted only if they test negative both times.

Once inside, the masks can come off and revellers don’t have to socially distance.

Each participant also agrees to being re-tested a week later, to uncover potential infections despite the precautions taken.

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Organisers hope the project can serve as a blueprint for further club re-openings to help the hard-hit sector back on its feet after a devastating year.

Although several venues in Germany experimented with open-air parties, club-goer Konny said it “just isn’t the same”.

“In the club, you’re in a different world,” she said.

Growing influence

Distillery manager Steffen Kache expressed pride at being the first club in the country to reopen indoors.

“Everyone is jealous,” he told AFP.

Kache said that if there has been an upside to the pandemic closures, it was that politicians had woken up to the social and economic importance of Germany’s vibrant club culture.

Lawmakers last month agreed to reclassify nightclubs as cultural institutions rather than entertainment venues, putting them on a par with
theatres and museums to provide more protection and tax benefits.

Germany’s nightlife capital Berlin alone – home to iconic clubs Berghain, KitKat and Tresor – usually attracts tens of thousands of foreign visitors each year who generate over a billion euros in revenues.   

Many observers fear that when the pandemic dust has settled, not all of Germany’s clubs will have survived the lengthy shutdowns.

The collaboration with local authorities that made Distillery’s pilot project possible was “unthinkable before the crisis”, Kache said, and evidence of a “reconciliation” between underground club culture and the political establishment.

He said he hoped the next step would be “the nationwide reopening of cultural spots and clubs, without Covid restrictions”.

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