This is why we are so proud to welcome Tangerine Dream to Dekmantel Festival this year
The longevity of Dekmantel’s Opening Concert headliners Tangerine Dream – a band whose catalogue spans over 100 albums – is closely entwined with the mysterious nature of their music. From the spaced-out hypno-rock of their early records, through the groove-led proto-techno of their decade on Virgin Records, into the catchy melodies of their ‘80s movie soundtracks, the many facets of Tangerine Dream have confirmed them as one of the most singular and influential acts of the electronic era.
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From the beginning, their music contained flickers of sounds to come – ideas that would be explored by synth-pop composers Vangelis & Jean-Michel Jarre, trance and ambient DJs, film composers, contemporary synth fanatics like Oneohtrix Point Never, and even video game designers – Grand Theft Auto V features dozens of hours of music by the band’s late frontman Edgar Froese. A resurgence of interest in vintage synthesizers and “new age” music introduced Tangerine Dream to a new generation in this century, influencing musicians like Four Tet, James Holden, Donato Dozzy, Halal & Relaxer, Juju & Jordash and Karen Gwyer – to name just a few artists from this year’s Dekmantel lineup who count the chameleonic band among their influences. “They expressed the true essence of the ‘kosmische era’, going far into deep space like just a few could,” says Dozzy, whose trippy techno carries an echo of Tangerine Dream’s exploratory electronics. “They knew they wanted to expand their minds, they wanted to dream, precisely, in a country that was left without [dreams].”
Tangerine Dream formed in West Berlin in 1967 and were regulars at the Zodiak Free Arts Lab, a live venue founded by Conrad Schnitzler and Cluster’s Hans-Joachim Roedelius, two artists who were also exploring the new frontiers of electronic synthesis. Zodiak was home to several other acts, including Klaus Schulze and Ash Ra Tempel, who helped to define krautrock – the mesmerising metronomic synth-rock emerging from Germany in the 1970s. Tangerine Dream took on the role of a house band at Zodiak, with founder Edgar Froese and collaborators Christopher Franke and Johannes Schmoelling joined by a rotating cast of musicians.
Their early anti-rock experiments were followed by the beatless “cosmic music” of 1971’s Alpha Centauri, as the album’s liner notes presciently describe the sound. Characterised by droning organ and Mellotron textures, the compositions on their early records were boldly experimental but also deep and meditative. “Their early period is the most inspiring for me,” says Dozzy. “I can almost see them, young and strong, getting excited with their own instruments.” On 1972’s Zeit, they prefigure a whole new genre of instrumental music, making “dark and cavernous ambient that drives you into the abyss of your own consciousness," adds Dozzy. Oliver Ho, who channels industrial and cold wave electronics as Broken English Club, remembers hearing Dozzy play one of Froese’s early solo records, 1974’s Aqua, as the sun came up at Japan’s Labyrinth festival. “That felt like a perfect moment in time,” he remembers. “[The record] has a beautiful primitive quality to it, and the arpeggios that slowly change and build are amazing.”
Despite their avant-garde credentials, Tangerine Dream became synonymous with the era’s “New Age” movement, influencing a booming new scene of atmospheric relaxation music. Though Froese rejected the affiliation, his own explanation of the band’s musical roots hints at why his minimal compositions were adopted by hippies and free-thinkers. “'The Germans don't have basic roots in rock and roll,” he told the New York Times in 1986. “We learned a lot from New York minimal music, Philip Glass and Steve Reich, from the mathematics of Eastern raga music, from the North American Indians and from the aboriginal music of Australia. And if we are not sure about the dynamics a piece should have, we go back and listen to old-fashioned classical music, pieces by Stravinsky or Beethoven or Mozart.”
Tangerine Dream’s pioneering use of early sequencers, state-of-the-art modular synthesizers, and the game-changing Moog synthesizer also allowed them to devise a sound of their own: pulsing, melodic and otherworldly, yet with surprising commercial potential. In 1974 the band signed to Virgin and began a nine-year phase that produced some of their best-loved music, as the classic lineup of Froese, Franke and Baumann defined the hypnotic, sequencer-driven sound of krautrock on albums like Phaedra, Exit and Stratosfear.
The 1970s brought considerable acclaim, but the band’s most famous piece of music arrived in 1983 with their theme for the Tom Cruise romcom Risky Business, ‘Love on a Real Train’ – a timeless, twinkling synth masterpiece that carried the blueprint for a generation of emotional trance by the likes of Chicane, BT and Robert Miles, and is still a staple for adventurous DJs. “This track sounds what the ‘80s felt like as a kid: both magical and menacing,” says analog aficionado Karen Gwyer. “It still gives me the chills.”
“Looking back, Tangerine Dream soundtracking one of the dumbest ‘80s movies was like an Easter egg for little kids,” according to Halal & Relaxer, AKA Brooklyn producers Aurora Halal and Daniel Martin-McCormick. “Their melodies always seem to glint off reflective surfaces; the sound of night and possibility.” In 2005, deep house maestro Terre Thaemlitz released a spine-tingling cover of ‘Love on a Real Train’, a version that’s “extra heartbreaking,” the duo add, “because it’s really nostalgic for a lost time in ‘80s New York that her other work is often referencing, with radio wave interference and voices breaking through. We saw DJ Sprinkles [Thaemlitz] play a few years ago while tripping on mushrooms and went home and listened to this afterwards, and the next morning made our first collaborative music.”
In this period the band started experimenting with the new generation of digital synths, as heard on 1981’s Exit, recommended by Jordan Czamanski of techno improvisers Juju & Jordash. “The main reason I love this album is to listen to the wonderful PPG [Wave] synths – early digital monster synths – and a TR-808 in the mix with Tangerine Dream’s usual arsenal of gear. I really just want to play this super loud!” During the ‘80s, their delicate layering of melodies and minimal repetition also hinted at the oncoming generation of psychedelic trance and ambient house producers like Sasha & Digweed, and even the rock-meets-techno attitude of UK dance acts like Orbital. Yet despite the ascendant quality of the music and the connotations of psychedelic, chemically-enhanced experiences, Froese and the band were always vehemently against drugs.
Towards the end of the ‘80s, Tangerine Dream drifted from their electronic roots and began to reintroduce live instruments, continuing to release albums throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s. In 2014, however, the hiring of German producer Ulrich Schnauss signalled an electronic rebirth for the band – but Froese sadly passed away less than a year later. The band – along with Froese’s widow Bianca Froese-Acquaye, who has managed them for 15 years – decided to continue his legacy, now with a lineup of Thorsten Quaeschning, Hoshiko Yamane and Schnauss.
From the abyss of human consciousness to the distant reaches of deep space, Tangerine Dream’s music contains a mystery and a magic that feels as otherworldly as it did when they first got their hands on their future-making machines. Froese may no longer be with us, but as he memorably put it, “there is no death – there is just a change of our cosmic address.” Tangerine Dream’s music continues to ripple through our collective consciousness as each new generation of electronic artists finds fresh inspiration in their legacy.