Saturday, 5 October 2013

The Sound of Geri Reig – The Original Tapes of 1979

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Der Plan’s “Geri Reig” was mentioned in these pages about a year ago when the fantastic Bureau B label reissued this debut album of 1980 along with other Ata Tak releases from the period. Now, are there any others on the way and are the next two Andreas Dorau albums, the ones he released on Motor in the nineties, going to get the same lavish BB treatment, one has to wonder, nay entreat. It’s turning into a long wait, this one, made all the more frustrating by there being no guarantee of an outcome. 

Anyway, to get to the point, a vinyl copy of the aforementioned album has made its presence felt at German Bite/Friedrich Strasse HQ for many years, its odd title serving to greatly perplex over time. OK, it’s a homemade genre of music, perhaps exclusive to the band, I gathered, but how do you pronounce these words? Geri with a hard ‘G’ as in “Du bist gegen Gegen” by Cyberbeatnix or with a soft beginning as in ‘Germany’ or “Jerry”, the wartime nickname given to those from whom Der Plan descend. In fact, is this latter word the origin exactly for the first of this confusing pairing and, as for its partner, is this a one or two syllable entity? Taken phonetically, are we being introduced to a post-punk, synthetic, LSD infused German interpretation of reggae? Certainly, amongst all the twisting, reversing, speeding up and slowing down, sometimes spooky, sometimes kindergarten-sounding madness of the album, the rhythm can get a little bit springy at times. Nowhere is this more obvious, actually, than on the album’s title track where the words “reggae reggae”, in true Levi Roots style, are repeated over and over in a kind of duet performed by what sounds like one of Alvin and the Chipmunks and an altogether less cutesy counterpart.

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Pulling to hand an English-German dictionary and doing a little research serves to shed some additional light. For example, scour the pages of Jürgen Teipel’s indispensible oral history of the punk and post-punk scene in Deutschland “Verschwende Deine Jugend” (to the uninitiated out there, it’s like a German “Please Kill Me”), for anything Der Plan related and a crumb or two mehr can be found. Here, in a little section midway through, all three of those who would eventually crystallise into the trio we know and love speak of their original intentions. Frank Fenstermacher goes first, talking about how they wanted to inject a humorous element into their music, this going against the grain of the prevailing “all must be earnest” doctrine of the day. Pyrolator comes next, explaining briefly how the band’s members committed punk suicide by publicly declaring their love of the music produced by 1950s/early 1960s teen film starlet Cornelia Froboess who’d had her first hit in 1951 at the age of eight with a song her father wrote called “Pack Your Swimsuit”. They’d also grown rather fond of things like airport and elevator music and decided that what they were going to produce would be completely different from the efforts of everybody else. Then Moritz R®, who it emerges was the main instigator of all this, speaks of wanting, like a lot of those on the scene over there at the time, to break away from the American tradition that had dominated pop music in Germany for so long. However, this didn’t just mean refusing to sing in English, as was the stance made by many, but also to try to produce music that sounded German, too. Dismissing the popular Schlager genre as too laden with transatlantic influences, he came to the realisation that only nursery rhymes fully reflected the nation’s traditions and that this, in fact, was no bad thing as it corresponded nicely with ideas he’d brought back from a visit, rather ironically perhaps, to America where he’d been involved in making primitive music using the likes of plastic bowls. This, he and friends had christened “jerry reeg”, to improvise through the use of makeshift, patched-up and temporary devices. So, armed with this philosophy, viele tabs of acid, messages transmitted to them by the dead during trippy midnight walks in local cemeteries and a little problem still to solve regarding which of them was going to sing, they set about recording their album. 

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Open up Moritz R®’s own autobiography, “Der Plan: The Splendour and Misery of The Neuen Deutschen Welle” and you will find a short chapter titled “Amerika, California and Disneyland” in which more detail of his aforementioned visit to the US of A is recounted. He begins by telling us that he’d travelled via London, where he’d visited Genesis P-Orridge at Beck Road and played him the earliest Der Plan recordings, hoping he’d agree to releasing them on Industrial Records. His host seems to have been reasonably receptive, but not that receptive, and a similar visit to Green Gartside of Shitty Politti revealed that his boat was definitely not floated by what he heard. A Residents badge was bought there, I’ve subsequently found out, and once stateside, courtesy of Freddie Laker, it seems our hero was spotted at San Francisco’s Deaf Club by a young couple who were impressed by this seemingly insider item pinned to his shirt and, introducing themselves, they invited him to stay with them in San Jose, an offer he summarily took up, seemingly to their surprise once her arrived. The story then goes that the initial frost caused by this faux-pas was melted when conversation turned to music and the Americans (Greg, Cindy, Pete and Sharon) were impressed by the first of the two visits Herr Reichelt told them he had made whilst in London. Greg, it seems, then rebounded the wow-impact by talking of Geri-Reig a new style of music he’d devised which was produced by using the simplest of means, the name deriving from the process of jerry-rigging, improvising or making use of something temporarily repaired. This struck a chord with their visitor’s already percolating ideas and when he returned back home to Germany he was keen proselytise. 
 
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This is all very helpful, indeed, and even more helpful was the recent release of an album “The Sound of Geri Reig”, on the brilliantly named Kernkrach label, which finally puts the mystery to bed and reveals a whole host more besides. However, before we get back on to the story and then the music, let’s get the definition straight, as casting your eyes to the top right-hand corner of the album’s back sleeve, you find two complimentary definitions which I make no apology, given the circumstances, for quoting in full.

1. Jerry-rig:
to fix or put together using non-standard or improvised materials. A derivation of jury-rig, from the nautical term jury mast. This term refers to a temporary mast raised when the normal mast has been lost due to storm or battle. This is probably a short form of injury mast. Not to be confused with Jerry-built, which refers to an original construction of poor quality.

2. Jerry-rig: To fix an object (usually mechanical) to a working condition in a haphazard way. Also known as doing a MacGyver on it. This can apply to any non working thing, to fix it in a nonconventional way. This term was created during WW2, in reference to the Germans who were referred to as "Jerries" as slang. Allies often came across hastily repaired objects left by the Germans hence the term Jerry-Rig came to be.

Relocate your peepers onto the other side of the back cover and below the head of a child happily entranced by the live sounds of Geri Reig, a panel of text tells the story from above with greater clarity and accuracy of detail, one assumes. It begins by stating: “When Greg Oropeza and Sharon Nicol coined the term ‘Geri-Reig’ in the hot summer of 1979, they were thinking of a music so totally home-made with the simplest of tools you could find in any kitchen and toy instruments from your still operational children’s room, that the result would be completely novelty(sic.) for its lack of musical professionalism. Performed by uneducated youngsters in virgin innocence it would also expose the unruliness of youth in its pure natural state.” It sounds a bit like Jean-Jacques Rousseau crossed with the punk d.i.y. ethos, to me. Listening to The Ventures, never a bad idea, says I, and banging cooking pots with wooden spoons became their order of the day. The Residents badge story is then re-told, although the location has now shifted from The Deaf Club to The Mabuhay Gardens. The Düsseldorf connection we’re then told was forged over “two kinky mind-boggling weeks” they spent together often “sitting on giant concrete bank reinforcement tetrapods of the docks of Santa Cruz, high on acid, eating a pineapple together and being surrounded by a surreal scene of nightly biker gatherings.” They vowed there and then to make the concept of Geri-Reig a reality and this they did, rather less ambitiously on one side of the Atlantic than the other, history suggests.
 
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“The Sound of Geri-Reig” gathers together sixteen examples of recordings surviving from the period, flip-flopping pretty much throughout from San Jose to  Düsseldorf  and back again as the listener progresses across the album’s two sides. They’re introduced, it at first appears, to six different bands plus one collaboration, some of the recordings rawer than others and, one assumes, often captured by basic means. However, read the small print and you’ll find that, really, there are just two bands featured as: Wonders of Science, The Prehistoric New Wave Singers and Der Swingerschnitzel are Greg Oropeza, Sharon Nicol, Pete Millman and Cindy Fahey; Der Karmann Ghias, Weltsaufstandsplan and Der Plan are Frank Fenstermacher, Moritz R and Kurt Dahlke.

So, what of the music? The American contribution is much more primitive, it quickly becomes evident, whilst the German one, unsurprisingly, is more technologically infused, through the inclusion of Pyrolator’s Korg MS-20, an instrument seemingly ubiquitous on the country’s new wave scene at the time. “54321” by The Prehistoric New Wave Singers is a short ditty which opens the shebang, combining Manfred Mann with a Three Stooges nerdiness, also bringing the efforts of the Wiggin sisters, released under the name of The Shaggs, to mind, as well as the spirit of the Kasenetz-Katz / Ohio Express / 1910 Fruitgum Co. empire. Then the rhythmic, shape-shifting squelch of the Germans first appears in the form of the instrumental “Dark Porno” which featured as a bonus track on the Bureau B re-issue referred to several paragraphs ago. “Gondo Jundi” by Wonders of Science could be the product of the same band, although pianos, a bass guitar, plastic-sounding drums and the contents of the cutlery drawer sound to have been brought together in its making. Like a lot of the songs on here, The Residents are clearly an influence, as it sounds as though it could be a nascent outtake from either “Third Reich and Roll” or any other of those early albums, this being unsurprising given the button badge which had brought these people together. Moritz R® also tells us in his book that he’d made a pilgrimage to his heroes’ San Francisco HQ prior to his San Jose sojourn. Weltaufstandsplan are a more tripped-out, less disciplined, if such a thing is possible, incarnation of what was to follow and tracks like “Heinz, Komm Zum Feuer” make for quite creepy, un-easy listening, this one probably resulting from those “trips” to the Friedhof previously mentioned, one assumes. Again, the darker moments of The Residents are echoed. Like some early Der Plan tracks, the music on “Two Kellys” by Der Schwingerschnitzel sounds sped-up, whilst over the top quite an accomplished, by these standards, song is delivered, the resulting distorted ditty reminding this listener a little of other American post-punk experimentalists from the period such as Monitor, Ki Di Me and Crash Course in Science. Weltaufstandsplan’s Resident-sy “Money Honey” then sounds like an electro-acidic Honey Monster playfully thumping his chest. 
 
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And on it goes. “Mary Mary” by The Prehistoric New Wave Singers, which opens the B-Side, like their first offering, brings a pop hit of yore to mind, this time The Monkees, although intentionally more naively and pre-pubescently executed, of course. Again, the outcome is more sing-a-long song structured than other offerings found on the album. The German variant is again more elektronische in delivery, both gloopy and spiky at the same time, “Es ist Hegel” by Die Karmann Ghias sounding how I imagine Dr. Who’s Daleks would have were they German, lysergically charged and let loose with a bunch of synthesizers and such like effect creating devices. Die Schwingerschnitzel then re-appear with another squeaky ditty. Unsurprisingly, a number of the tracks clock in at under two minutes (sometimes under one) as does the one just mentioned and the two that follow, by Die Karmann Ghias and Wonders of Science, and are sometimes more like sketches rather than fully-formed entities, all the while, though, supporting the spirit of the genre. “Why Don’t We Dance” by Weltaufstandsplan is longer, though, and reminds me a little of a track from the first Der Plan 7”, recorded when their line-up was more fluid, as was their sound, in its powerful, sinister abstraction. Sinister is also a word I would use to describe “Mommy Says” by The Prehistoric New Wave Singers, the swampy music rumbling and occasionally soaring whilst a childlike vocalist whines and laments a tale of pain, domestic abuse and death, the lyrics barely audible, even if you strain. Then the set (is it right to call it that?) ends with a genuine Residents connection, as the departure track “Abschied” is credited as a collaboration between Der Plan and N. Senada, the “Bavarian composer and music theorist”, who was conjured up, my research tells me, by those mysterious S.F. residents and rumoured in some parts to be none other than Captain Beefheart. It’s a valedictory, quite chirpy for these bedfellows, yet rather unstable, whistled piece of lightweight almost tunefulness, accompanied by what sounds like a piano and one or two other less classical elements, I assume. It certainly leaves everything hanging in a state of confusion which, of course, invites another listen to Side A and then Side B again.

Like so many releases on vinyl these days, “The Sound of Geri-Reig” is a limited edition, this time to five hundred numbered copies, and a short promo video exists in cyberland to whet the appetite of potential punters. Here it is.

 

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. You can get it directly from the record company: http://www.kernkrach.de/

      Ata Tak are also selling it: http://www.atatak.com/

      I got mine from Enfant Terrible: www.enfant-terrible.nl

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  2. Great video excavated from the vaults of Second Life!

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  3. happyhappyhappy... today i am the lucky recipient of this wonderful album... coloured vinyl and #ed... what can i ask more... happyhappyhappy... :)

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