RIP Klaus Schulze

by stephenpalmersf

I vividly remember buying my first Klaus Schulze LP. It was 1980 and I was a first year student at university, my mind opened at school a couple of years earlier to Tangerine Dream, Yes, Genesis and ELP. It was Tangerine Dream who drew me most though, and when I realised Schulze was making the same kind of music I sensed good omens. A friend of mine at uni who had attended the same 1980 Tangerine Dream gig in London that I was at spoke of music so repetitive and mesmeric you could see its patterns in the grooves. I was hooked! Already a fan of Steve Reich and Tangerine Dream, I knew Schulze had to be investigated.

One day in 1980 I walked down to my local record shop in Egham and spotted a blue LP called Dig It. I bought it, and was amazed at what I heard. This was music the like of which I had never heard before: ice cold, hypnotic, trailblazing. I loved it. Some weeks later I made one of my regular trips to Virgin Records in Oxford Street and there spotted an LP called Moondawn. This, even more than Dig It, was the album which told me Schulze was a rare genius indeed. To this day the track Floating in particular is a jaw-dropping listen, which has lost none of its power in the forty-six years since Schulze made it.

But an even more gobsmacking discovery lay in wait. One of the albums I bought next was Schulze’s magnum opus “X”, which surely must be in the running for greatest electronic music album ever made. And there was more! Between 1976 and 1982 Schulze released a series of albums each extraordinary in their scope, vision, musicality, originality and trailblazing qualities. It matches Tangerine Dream’s run of albums between those same years – music the like of which we’ll never hear again.

Those were ground-breaking days, when musicians of brilliance in the right place at the right time could make incredible music. Schulze was one of those. He followed his own unique vision, taking his fans with him wherever he went. Rightly is he called the Godfather of EM. Part of his brilliance came from his experience as a drummer, allowing him to bring the physicality of drumming into his music, a physicality which all his works of genius exhibit – even the relatively ambient Mirage, which at the end of side one freezes the listener’s body. Schulze said that he thought every electronic musician should drum for a while, that the strictures and compositional benefits be felt.

After 1982 and the extraordinary Audentity, there did not seem to be quite the same level of invention and progression in his music however. The music was good, often very good, but it lacked the magic touch. A brief resurgence at the end of 1980s suggested good things, but actually those two albums have not worn terribly well, and what followed through the 1990s – insipid collaborations and far too much sampling – turned me off his music. There was a return to form for Moonlake and in particular on the marvellous Kontinuum, but little else of note.

His death leaves electronic music mourning one of its true greats. Yes, he was the right man at the right time, and he was lucky, but there was nobody else like him, and they say the cream always rises to the top. Schulze was unique, remarkable, visionary, and the legacy of music he leaves, especially from that eight year run, will never be matched. I can listen to Trancefer today and still have my breath taken away by its sheer beauty. I still feel the hairs rise on the back of my neck when the opening notes of Friedrich Nietzsche hove into view, and I still adore the magic of his winter Mirage. That’s the mark of genius. It won’t be forgotten.

“X” – six musical biographies…