The Notwist’s Markus Acher is having a little trouble concentrating. Talking about his band’s first American show in over two years, he says, “I forgot some lyrics, and it was a little bit chaotic … it’s hard to concentrate on the music, because we’ve been awake for so long.” It would be hard to blame him for the occasional mental lapse – the band’s latest album, Neon Golden, hit European shelves in early 2002 to rave reviews, both in America and overseas. The album eventually saw domestic release in February, prompting their current North American jaunt.
One listen to Neon Golden reveals a hodgepodge of styles: Glitch-techno percussion lays the base for whip-smart guitar pop augmented by brass and string sections. The Notwist’s formula, however, was not always so sophisticated. The band – Markus on guitar and vocals, brother Micha Acher on bass and drummer Martin Messerschmid – played a self described “hardcore punk-rock,” which was fueled by typical teenage discontent. “We grew up in a small town and we always looked for music that expressed what we felt … like aliens or outsiders. This is how it is when you’re 15 or 16 years old.” Though Markus and Micha were recruited by their father to play in his Dixieland ensemble, they drew their inspiration from a more unconventional source – American indie rock. “Even though it was from another part of the world, it totally was our language … it was something that really expressed our anger in all that we didn’t like about this small town and very conservative people.”
The band released two albums of abrasive punk music before laptop guru Martin Gretschmann joined the trio and changed their sound drastically. “(Martin) has his own style of making electronic music and electronic sounds, so it was very important to have someone who concentrates on that part of the music in our band.” Nineteen ninety-five’s 12 and 1998’s Shrink are indicative of the band’s progress: The punk’s trappings gave way to instrumental variation and increased songwriting craft, scattered over a bed electronic hum. Neon Golden makes an unabashed move towards melody and songwriting.
Despite the shift in styles, Acher warns that fans might be surprised by their live show. “It’s very important to remember where we came from and what we are. We don’t want to be a pop band. Some people just come for the electronic part or think we’re an electronic pop band, so they find it very primitive to hear us playing guitar-based drum songs. “We still like to play ultra-noisy songs,” he says, insisting that the band hasn’t lost its edge. “All these percussion instruments and piano and brass players … we could never play it live, so we cut down and re-arrange most of the songs … we try to find the energy and intensity.”
The Notwist will try to bring that energy and intensity to Detroit’s Magic Stick this Wednesday, likely playing to a much larger crowd than the 15 to 20 people that came out the last time they appeared. Acher worries that “for people here it’s not so interesting to hear a Bavarian band play American-influenced guitar music, but for us, it’s very important.” Despite these reservations, he’s not worried about the reaction. “I think it’s always different but most of the time people get connected.” Fans of intelligent, captivating indie rock would be ill advised not to make such a connection.