This weekend I’ll mostly be listening to…embryonic Munich disco March 9, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
Another very welcome guest post from Anarchaeologist…
The spiritual hauptstadt of modern totalitarianism is perhaps an unusual place to look for the roots of an ostensibly black musical genre, one imbued with notions of hedonism, abandon and the gay counter-culture. Yet it can be argued that the post-war settlement of Germany, and specifically the occupation of the southern part of the country by American forces, brought about the requisite conditions for the conception of a new music, one indeed which was to spawn much of what is considered dance or electronic music today.
Received narratives of the origins of disco music invariably reference emergent underground gay culture in the New York of the mid-1970s. While disco certainly emerged from this milieu and quickly gained cultural hegemony on both sides of the Atlantic, its early origins have left an archaeological trace in the suburbs of Munich, where the defining artefact, the mixing desk of a home-made recording studio, survives unused in a barn in rural Upper Bavaria.
The producer not generally accredited with the ‘invention’ of disco was a German-speaking South Tyrolean musician and disc jockey, Hansjörg Moroder; however, if disco was ‘invented’ anywhere, Munich was the city of conception. Moroder started djing to black American troops in the early ‘60s in bases throughout Bavaria, spinning imported r’n’b and soul before releasing music of his own as ‘Giorgio’ in 1966, singing in a variety of styles and indeed in several languages. Moroder came to international prominence in 1969 when he was awarded a gold disc for ‘Looky Looky’ released on Ariola Records. From this point onwards he concentrated more on production and moved from Berlin to Munich where Ariola had established a base.
In the unassuming northeastern suburb of Bogenhausen, Moroder developed Musicland, a studio in the basement of the Arabella-Hochhaus, a 23-storey, 170m-long apartment block designed by architect Toby Schmidbauer and constructed from 1966 to 1969. Moroder took an apartment in the then-fashionable apartment block just after it opened and seems to have quickly fashioned a small studio in the basement beside the massive boiler room with the assistance of his cohort, recording engineer Reinhold Mack. Although it was recognised later that the upper floors of the hotel provided petulant recording artistes an opportunity to throw TV sets at the most expensive cars parked below, this does not appear to have been part of the duo’s initial business strategy. However, the studio’s completion was only ensured by the unannounced appearance of Marc Bolan one afternoon in the basement as Moroder and Mack were still in the process of fitting it out.
From here his initial experimentation with proto-electronica was funded on the back of studio fees from T Rex, whose imperator brought in bookings from, among others, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Rory Gallagher. The Electric Light Orchestra and Queen were however to be the mainstays over the next few years, ably engineered by Mack, a self-effacing, reluctant raconteur of rock’n’roll lore began his career, as most studio engineers do, a humble studio tea boy.
Moroder’s combined interest in r’n’b and studio technology brought him in a different direction and where Musicland later boasted a Harrison console to accommodate more orthodox sensibilities, his early experimentation was undertaken on an adapted 16 track Helios desk boasting circuitry which could accommodate a simple drum machine and a basic early synthesiser. Working with producer/songwriter Pete Bellotte, Moroder’s recording of ‘Son of my Father’ was his first hit featuring a synthesiser; the song was a UK hit for Chicory Tip in 1972, who, by using the Musicland arrangement, thus introduced the machine to a mass audience. A few of the tracks below date from this period, which are probably worth a listen, if only to see where he was coming from with his later stuff.
The Munich Machine
Moroder was probably introduced to synthesised music production by the German classical composer Eberhard Schöner, then resident in Munich. Schöner was a proponent of musique concrète and had been experimenting with Bob Moog’s early synthesiser, a huge machine housed in a private studio elsewhere in the city. Elsewhere in Germany groups such as Düsseldorf’s Kraftwerk were also using technology to move away from traditional band set-ups. However they were not to capitalise on synthesised sound to the same extent as the team based in Musicland and their contribution to the development of electronic music has only been recognised by the mainstream over the past number of years.
Moroder was quick to appreciate the potential of the Minimoog, a more manageable version of the synthesiser released commercially in 1970, and he enjoyed a few minor hits from his desk, influenced as much by Marc Bolan’s boogie as the sound of Tamla Motown. However, what became the defining disco beat emerged more organically from a jam session in the studio in 1973 when the house band, the Munich Machine, came up with the then-unique four-on-the-floor bass drum pattern, played together with the dense hi-hat rhythm that drummer Keith Forsey had heard on the Hues Corporation hit, ‘Rock The Boat’. Enter Donna Summer, one of the cast of the European production of Hair, who was double-jobbing as a session singer in Munich at the time.
The first hit with Summer on board was a Munich re-recording of ‘Love to Love You Baby’, where the singer’s moans — which according to Time Magazine amounted to 22 simulated orgasms — had the record banned by certain radio stations including the BBC. Moroder has since admitted that his primary motivation lay beyond the production of art and his main influence on ‘Love to Love You Baby’ was the earlier commercial success of the Birkin/Gainsbourg hit ‘Je t’aime… (moi non plus)’. What differentiated this track however was the use of a simple drum machine channelled through Moroder’s desk, with tape editing (effectively early sequencing) enabling the band to record an extended 16-minute version, keeping everything in perfect time. Extending the length of the track to such a degree — taking up an entire side of a 12’ vinyl disc without there being any skipping at the deeper frequencies — ensured the success of the song on dancefloors across the Atlantic, where the more traditional r’n’b infused soul was starting to give way to other genres of dance music such as funk and go-go. The music recorded in Munich was thus a unique combination of European technological innovation and American soul; clever marketing and distribution brought it back across the Atlantic where it became equally successful in the charts, bestowing the title ‘Queen of Disco’ on its clean-living vocalist.
On the success of ‘Love to Love You Baby’ the team was further encouraged to investigate employing the MiniMoog in the same way the drum machine had been utilised before. By this stage the studio had expanded and now featured a state of the art Eastlake sound-room designed by Californian acoustic engineer Tom Hidley, which included a 32-track Harrison console. Robbie Wedel, who had brought in the Moog to the studio, simulated a hi-hat, snare and bass drum, recorded on a 16-track Studer A80 tape machine, simply direct-injecting the monophonic signal into Moroder’s mixing desk. Summer’s vocals were recorded on Neumann U87 condenser microphones (which are still used in professional studios today) with much less sound compression and reverb than usual for the time provided by an early Lexicon effects unit.
The result was ‘I Feel Love’ a massive hit which catapulted disco into the mainstream. The track was universally considered ‘future proof’ and again, extending the mix to fit on a side of vinyl without loss of sound quality, the powerful lower ranges combined with higher frequencies resulted in a music which could perhaps only be fully appreciated in a club atmosphere. This was however revolutionary music in another sense: if brought to its ultimate conclusion, this technology now rendered musicians redundant and the studio itself was now brought to the forefront of the creative process. Moroder had his own hit in 1977, ‘From Here to Eternity’ although by then the heat had gone out of disco and there were new heights to conquer, such as the soundtrack market.
Moroder’s 1975 lp Einzelgänger has been uploaded to YouTube in its entirety. It’s on this recording you can hear the direction his music might’ve gone had he not hit the jackpot with disco. His subsequent recordings made him a lot of money, but they lacked the experimental feel of his earlier stuff. Moroder and Summer subsequently decamped to the US and under the stewardship of Mack Musicland continued as the studio of choice for the UK’s rockistocracy, with Moroder’s original desk placed in storage in a back room. The studio closed when vibrations from the construction of the U4 in 1987 rendered further recording there impossible.
The missing artefact
When the studio was closed up, the most up to date equipment was transferred to another studio established by Mack in the outer Munich suburbs. The earlier analogue equipment stored in Musicland appears to have been sold off or given away, including the mixing desk used by Moroder to record ‘Love to Love You Baby’. Inquiries to date suggest that the desk was taken away by another producer associated with the studio, Jürgen Koppers, and that it survives today in a barn in Upper Bavaria.
Giorgio, ‘Looky Looky’ (1969)
Giorgio, ‘Mah Nà Mah Nà’ (1969)
Giorgio, ‘Arizona Man’ (1970)
Spinach, ‘Action Man’ (1971)
Giorgio Moroder, ’Automation’ (1972)
Chicory Tip, ‘Son of my Father’ (1972)
Giorgio Moroder, Einzelgänger (entire lp) (1975)
Donna Summer, ‘Love to Love You Baby’ (1975)
Donna Summer, ‘I Feel Love’ (1977)
Giorgio Moroder, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (1977)