There’s something about the former Axis powers post-WWII that developed some of the strangest, most visionary, and most divergent music some three decades afterward. Both Germany and Japan were largely responsible for the music of the 70s and 80s that came out of nowhere and sounded like absolutely nothing else – everything from Kraftwerk to Merzbow. All of it is still as important and relevant today (perhaps even more so).
De Stijl Records dusts off and uncovers one such group out of late 70s/early 80s Hanover — 39 Clocks. While their timeline coincides with New York’s no wave movement, their Deutsche no wave is something else entirely. Amalgamating the dadaist cool and nervous energy of Suicide, their homeland’s motorik rhythm, the loud and detuned psychedelics of Spacemen 3 (whom 39 Clocks actually predate), the organ-as-diving-rod experimental pop ethos of Silver Apples, and a Nuggets-ready proto-punk punch, the mensch of 39 Clocks chew up kraut and psychedelic subsets and spit them out into a ball of drug-riddled prophecy and rock and roll shenanigans.
And like Suicide, who may still remain most infamous for the riot they provoked during 43 Minutes Over Brussels, 39 Clocks also enjoyed stirring trouble and inconvenience. De Stijl writes: “The first public appearance pairing Christian Henjes and Juergen Gleue was in 1976, at the Dada Nova (a space occupied by Otto Mühl’s AAO commune) in midtown Hannover, Germany. Dada Nova would be a space of enduring clash. From the subtlety of a shat upon organ to the ejection from communal meetings by bodily force, the AAO would display that the presence of the 39 Clocks was one of their constant grief. Known for pranksterism and the destruction of the clubs in which they would perform, friction in every form would continually follow the band. They created an outrage (they wrote a tune with the title “Art Minus Idiots”) at the Filmtage Hannover with their avant-garde Super 8 movies made under the disguise of director Zachius Lipschitz. Rumour claims that at a Hannover show at the Cafe Glocksee, they played the vacuum cleaner and a circular saw instead of guitars, and there was even a knife throwing incident in Bremen.” It’s hard to say whether 39 Clocks were going for legnedary status or if they just didn’t give a shit, but at least they wear their sense of humor on their sleeves. What, with song titles such as “Shake the Hippie” and “You Can’t Count the Bombs (It’s Zero),” you’d kinda have to be funny.
Antics aside, the 18 tracks on Zoned, an anthology of various releases between 1981 and 1987, are solid and, in my eyes, a total achievement. 39 Clocks perfected a no wave style sound they were far removed from while developing an original reiterpretation of ’60s garage rock and created a facet of neo psych rock that was about a decade ahead of its English counterpart in the shoegaze and Jason Pierce circles. But their cheif export is pure aural insanity. This is too fresh to be 23-30 years old. De Stijl really found a gem with 39 Clocks, and the remastered Zoned is a must have for any fan of mind expanding music.
Zoned is available now from De Stijl.
For fans of: Spacemen 3, Can, Suicide, Silver Apples