Conny Plank Mixtape

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The formidable Konrad Plank at the helm in his studio. Last year saw the 25th anniversary since his untimely death from cancer in 1987. 

Described as the Phil Spector of Krautrock, Conny Plank was an innovative and influential sound engineer, producer and musician. He's been credited as helping to develop Kraftwerk's signature sound, and his own unique and covetable production techniques have helped to pioneer the 'Krautrock style', and shape electronic music production.

Hundreds of albums were recorded in Plank's home studios outside of Cologne, by diverse acts from various musical persuasions such as folk (Clannad), prog (Triumvirat, Eloy), Krautrock (pretty much everyone), New Wave (Devo, A Flock of Seagulls), and even post-punk/industrial (D.A.F., Killing Joke). His reach was so great that frequent collaborator Brian Eno had apparently suggested that Plank be the producer for the U2 album Joshua Tree instead of him. As the story goes, after meeting with the band Plank vehemently refused, the reason being 'I cannot work with that singer'.

The list of albums he has had involvement with is truly enormous. Below are a few highlights from his extensive back catalogue starting out with a couple of tracks from his early engineering days, and then moving on to works he produced/performed on, in a rough chronology. 

  • Hoelderlin - I Love My Dog (1975)
  • Kraan - Bandits in the Woods (1975)
  • Liliental - Wattwurm (1978)
  • Cluster & Eno - Selange (1978)
  • Eno, Moebius, Roedelius - Base & Apex (1978)
  • Ultravox - Herr X (1980)
  • Phew - Closed (1981)
  • Eurythmics - Sing-Sing (1981)
  • Gianna Nannini - Volo 5/4 (1982)
  • Moebius, Conny Plank, Mayo Thompson - Das Apartment (1983)
  • Gabi Delgado - Amor (1983)
  • Humpe Humpe - Can't Leave the Pool (1985)
  • Cluster & Eno - Fur Luise (1977)

 

Conny Plank Mixtape by Sleeping Thrills on Mixcloud

 
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Can: Slanted and Enchanted

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Check out Can's only Top of the Pops appearance for their song 'I Want More', from 1976.

Can may well be the greatest band in the history of bands, in terms of their influence and ingenuity. Stephen Malkmus is such a huge fan he recorded his own version of Can's 1972 classic album Ege Bamyasi to celebrate its 40th anniversary at the end of last year (see Malkmus' live rendition of 'One More Night' with band performing in Germany). Earlier this year he released the whole performance as an album to commemorate Record Store Day. This lead me to thinking of some other amazing covers/reinterpretions of Can's work.

First up is an incredible version of 'Spoon' (from Ege Bamyasi), screwed by Sonic Youth from 1997's Sacrilege, a compilation of Can remixes.

The Fall lovingly rib Can and lead singer in 'I am Damo Suzuki' from 1985. Mark E Smith's lyrics are referential and satirical ('What have you got in that paper bag / Is it a dose of vitamin C? / Ain't got no time for Western medicine / I am Damo Suzuki!'), while the rest of the band plays a riff based on Can's 'Oh Yeah' (Tago Mago, 1971), just not necessarily together at the same time.

Yugoslavian prog band Igra Staklenih Perli recorded this creepy psyched-out version of Can's 'Mushroom' (Tago Mago) for their 1979 debut album.

Sleeping Thrills favourite Ruth cover 'She Brings the Rain' (Soundtracks, 1970) in a raw and minimal style from their album in 1985.

Paul McCartney - Blue Sway

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McCartney II has got to be one of my all time favourite albums - I love it more each time I listen to it. And as evidenced here, even the tracks that got left off the album are amazing.

This previously unreleased version of Blue Sway (orchestrated by Richard Niles) was included in a bonus disc of the 2011 remastered release, and it's stunning clip was made by surf cinematographer Jack McCoy in the same year. Below is the much more stripped back and lo-fi version which also appears on the remastered release, and from the 'Lost McCartney Album'; an alternate test pressing version of the 1980 classic.

King Sporty and the Ex Tras - Do You Wanna Dance?

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Otherwise known as Noel Williams, King Sporty was a Jamaican reggae artist and session musician at the legendary Studio One. He went on to begin his own record label Konduko, recording and producing reggae, funk and disco tracks. After moving to Florida he turned to electro and Miami Bass, and founded the electro label, Tashamba, being the primary producer.

As versatile as he was tireless, Sporty co-wrote the mega hit Buffalo Soldier with Bob Marley, and not to mention he recorded this gem (with its incredible video). Respect.

  • Year: 1983
  • Release: Do You Wanna Dance 12" single
  • Label: Dancefloor
  • Producer: Noel Williams

Adrian Belew - Big Electric Cat

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Belew talks about his signature 'animal' sound and his many effects units in his guitar tutorial from 1984. 

Guitarist Adrian Belew is probably best known for fronting King Crimson in their 80's incarnation with his idol Robert Fripp, and if you grew up on Rage like I did, this track is probably forever burned into your cerebral cortex. He's toured and recorded with David Bowie and Talking Heads amongst many others, and guested on this Sleeping Thrills favourite. Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz asked Belew if he would replace David Byrne in Talking Heads when things got a bit tense in the band - he declined and chose King Crimson instead, but their musical association still continued when he recorded with them in Tom Tom Club.       

This track has the Eno stamp all over it. Although I don't think he had a direct hand in this track, Belew had worked with Brian Eno previously on Bowie's Lodger and Talking Heads' Remain in Light so the spectre of his influence still seems very present.  Recorded at the legendary Compass Point studio in Nassau.

  • Year: 1982
  • Album: Lone Rhino
  • Label: Island Records
  • Producer: Adrian Belew

Yello - Angel No

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Singer Rush Winters features on this track from avant-pop legends, Yello.

While the vocal hook makes this a bit more conventional sounding than their other works, alongside that abrasive horn stab, fast tempo and driving beat, it sounds like they'd accidentally stumbled upon a rough template for yet to be invented genre, drum n bass. Bo!

  • Year: 1985
  • Album: Stella
  • Label: Elektra
  • Producer: Yello

Doris Norton - Norton Music Research

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Italian producer of electronic and computer music, in the 80's Doris Norton was sponsored by Roland and Apple (her album Personal Computer even had a huge Apple logo emblazoned on the cover), and later she worked with IBM to write music software.

Norton wasn't always a computer music brand ambassador though - in the 70's she played various instruments in avant-garde bands Jacula and Antonius Rex with husband Antonio Bartoccetti, making dark and gothic prog-rock that wouldn't sound out of place in a horror movie. In the 90's she stayed relevant making techno and trance, and later even traversed generations by being heavily involved with the production and arrangement of son Rexanthony's hardcore/techno releases.

Below is my favourite track of hers, probably because the slower tempo gives it a really nice groove, and I love the playfulness of the vocal sample. Still sounds incredible nearly 30 years on.

  • Year: 1985
  • Album: Artificial Intelligence
  • Label: Globo Records
  • Producer: Musik Research (Antonio Bartoccetti, Mario Pinosa)