By Michael Freerix
Although he belongs to the same generation as Klaus Schulze or Manuel Göttsching, Günter Schickert has never belonged to any group, or scene, nor has he had the success of the West Berlin Kraut-Rock wave. Schickert is a sort of outsider, playing his echo-guitar since the late '60's, and even today, he is still proud that he never used a sequencer or a synthesizer, but instead creates similar effective music by using his bare hands. Schickert's music is purely electric and eclectic.
Growing up among the ruins of WWII near the KaDeWe department store in the center of West Berlin in the fifties, Günter Schickert remembers these days quite warmly: "When I was like 12 years old, the kids from our street used to go to the movies together, usually on a Sunday afternoon, at Victoria-Luise-Platz or to the Metropol-Theatre at Nollendorfplatz. We saw films like Fuzzy2, White Feather3, Zorro4 or Laurel and Hardy5. After school, we used to re-enact these films, playing on the vast open sites left from the war, near Passauer Strasse. It was staged like real theatre. I used to be the first one to draw my gun, killing maybe 1000 of my play-mates," he says1.
Later in his life, self-staged theatre would become a big part of his work but first he got involved with music, playing classical and medieval music on his trumpet at age 13. The first record he bought was by The Rolling Stones at KaDeWe, "a big warehouse which was full of inspiration and things to see and feel, like Persian carpets and a big department with records."1 By this time, he had already left school and worked as a clerk. With rock music becoming more important for him, he decided he needed an electric guitar, so he bought himself a very expensive Fender Jazzmaster with a loan from a bank which his mother had to guarantee since her was younger than 18.
For a while he played in cover-bands, but the pure sound of his electric guitar turned him on. He bought himself a Dynacord Echomachine S 75, a microphone, a Marshall Fuzz Face, a Crybaby Wah Wah and recorded hours and hours of guitar improvisations with repetitive, sequencer-like guitar-clusters on his tape recorder. It just came out of him "without thinking or planning."1 He enjoyed recording on his own, developing a recording technique totally self-styled: "You take a G 2000 Dynacord guitar amp, which has a direct line-out for a mixer or another amp. I plugged in my little Uher-mixer, that transferred its signal directly to tape, recording the first track, then using another tape-recorder added the second track, recording a third track upon the first, then the forth over the second track, and continued like this. You have to have a good signal to avoid too much background-noise."1
“I needed a lot of experience to record this way, because right from the start you have to know your arrangement. After recording track after track you can't change a thing, otherwise you must start all over again from the beginning. I've always had a pretty loose attitude towards my mistakes, only if something really bad happens during recording I'd scrap it and start new."1
For the mix, he had to borrow a third tape recorder: "On the left side, there is tape recorder one, and on the right side, number two. Start recorder number three for the master, then roll tape one, then roll tape two, and mix these onto the master on the third recorder. Then rewind the master, change the tapes on the two tape recorders, and add the new tracks to the master-recording."1 It needed a lot of instinctive feeling, to get all these things accomplished and to finish just one song.
By this time, in the early '70's, he didn't really think about releasing a record. He just enjoyed his music, lying stretched out on his bed and listening to it on headphones. But that changed after a while. He felt it would feel good to put a record out, just to have it in your hands and as a give-away for friends, or for selling it privately. So without commercial distribution, he released Samtvogel in 1975. Somehow Günther Körber, founder of Brain-Records, got hold of a copy and liked it a lot, asking Schickert if he could re-release it, which he did in 1976. But Schickert did not tour to promote the album. He felt Samtvogel could not be properly played live: "You would have used computers, synthesizer and sequencers, and of course I didn't want to do that."1 Around the same time, Klaus Schulze asked him to help him on tour. They were friends since they had met in Conrad Schnitzler's Zodiak Club, when Schulze was the drummer for Tangerine Dream. Schickert was something like a roadie, and a "psychological aide," for Schulze, "because it is pretty hard to play on your own in front of several hundred people," Schickert adds1. The two became very close friends: "I'd sometimes take care of his house in Hambühren, near Celle, when he was away for longer, and we used to do sessions there."1 Klaus Schulze even wanted to release one of their sessions as a record, but out of the blue, "'Ricochet' by Tangerine Dream was released, and the sequencer on that record sounded like my guitar in the session with Schulze, so he forgot about this release."1 Well, maybe Tangerine Dream spoiled Schickert's career, but he wouldn't want to say that.
With Axel Struck (who had been a flat-mate and guitar-instructor for Schickert in the early '70's) as bass player and Michael Leske on drums, he formed GAM in 1976. They'd improvise over his guitar patterns, and even performed a short-lived tour in Bavaria. But by this time, Schickert was living with his wife and child, and the experience of being on the road was hard on his family life so he stopped touring, instead picking up a part-time job at a trade-information office. By coincidence, he met Hans-Georg Moslener6, the music producer. He invited the band to record some demos in a professional recording studio in the back of the CCC soundstages in Berlin-Spandau, hoping he might raise some interest among film or TV producers. GAM recorded there for several days but nothing came of these demos. They stayed in the vaults of Schickert until a small, American label released them in 2002 with the title Eiszeit. By the end of the seventies, Schickert had a small recording studio in the basement of the apartment he was living in. By producing demo tapes for many local musicians, he became quite a fixture for the music scene in West Berlin.
At the end of the '70's, Schickert was ready to release a new record, this time working with a drummer, Manfred Heuer. He approached Günther Körber with his new recordings. Körber had dropped out of Brain Records and formed a new label Sky Records, which focused more on electronic music. Körber liked the new recordings, and Schickert's second record, Überfällig was released in 1980, with very limited success.
Around 1983, he started to work at the SO36, which had a long tradition as a performance space. Opening up in 1861 as a beer-garden, it turned into a movie theatre in the '20's and a supermarket after the war, closing down right after the Berlin Wall had been built in 1961. It stayed empty until it re-opened in 1978 as an open house for every kind of cultural activity, with the first big festivals for the Berlin punk scene. "I had to take care of the musicians," Schickert remembers1. "The actors or dancers, who would get up on stage there. I had already done a one-man-show, something like a stand-up comedian, telling stories about my own life and playing my music." So, he felt quite comfortable working and finally even living at the SO36. Some artists invited him to accompany their stage plays with his music, which he did, and liked a lot. "Around this time I had several projects, I was working on, and we'd rehearse at the SO. I had written a 'Suite for 8 guitars, bass and drums,’ but I don't know where the recordings are now. It's a pity." But these 10 years, when he stayed at SO36, were "intense for me, and very inspiring. I've learned a lot there."1
While working at SO36, Schickert got in touch with a theatre project called '100 Fleck' (founded by Norbert Stockheim), who were an international theatre group that put plays by Paul Scheerbart and Antonin Artaud on stage. There he met Udo Erdenreich and Dieter Kölsch. Together, they started the band Ziguri, with the intention to renew theatre through music. With Udo Erdenreich on guitar, effects, hurdy gurdy, Jew's harp and Dieter Kölsch on percussion, Schickert recalls "we made something that could be called psychedelic rock. Basically Udo and I come up with ideas, but lately Dieter does a lot of singing. We arrange(d) everything all together, there was no leader in this group."1 He can not really say where the musical ideas came from: "music is a huge ocean and we are fishermen. Naturally I play my instrument, but the music comes from somewhere inside of me. We fool around with ideas, and if something is groovy, we stay with it. Basically, everybody has the right to veto, but we don't waste time with useless discussions anymore."1
Together with Udo Erdenreich, Schickert formed Hagel, a band that consisted of three guitars, bass, drums and singing, which was "pretty heavy stuff"1, and as a duo with Erdenreich, he accompanied silent films. But none of these bands or projects have ever released any recordings. It just didn't happen0 "maybe because these bands were too punky or psychedelic for the German market, but anyway, I've never been much of a business person."1 Even Klaus Schulze, who had started his own label Innovative Communication in 1979, didn't pick up any recordings Schickert had send him.
Today Günter Schickert focuses on Ziguri and on a wide range of musical projects, like writing incidental music or film scores (and collaborating with well-known painter Rainer Fetting), Schickert would release two solo records in the ’90’s- Somnambul in 1995 and Schickert 98 in 1998. And returning to his first instrument, he played trumpet in Die kleine Kapelle and performed regularly medieval, Baroque or Renaissance Music in a church, which is, in a way, music that has similarities to his own stuff. But was it ever an influence? "I don't know," he says. "You never know. But I know about the organic polyphony, and it's very important to me!"1
But maybe you can say that he worked his way out of his tiny bedroom, where it all began. Schickert is still proud that he never in his life used a synthesizer or a sequencer. "When I listen to my old tapes on a tape-recorder, I hear there's a minimal shifting in speed, so that the track is vaguely off of the beat. I always feel like that's the real deal, that is the vibe of the beat- no digital machine can create this kind of groove power!"1
NOTE: Samtvogel and Überfällig have been re-issued on CD by Bureau B. The Schulze-Schickert Sessions has been released on Miromir Music.
1. As stated in an interview with the author, as broadcast on 'Reboot FM.'
2. 'Fuzzy' was the actor Al St. John, who played minor roles in Westerns, but was very popular in Germany in the 1950’s. The films were recut, so that he became the leading man. Still today in Germany, 'Fuzzi' is a cuss.
3. The 1955 Technicolor version, directed by Robert D. Webb.
4. The films that had been shot in the USA between 1937 and 1944 had not been distributed in Nazi Germany. They became very popular in Germany in the 1950’s.
5. Many of Laurel and Hardy's films that had been shot before the war, were not shown in Nazi Germany, but they became very popular in Germany in the 1950’s.
6. Or 'George' Moslener, a producer of 'Schlager-Musik' in the '60's and '70's, a genre very popular in Germany, but totally unknown in the rest of the world.
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