The Notwist - Biography
The evolution of Germany’s The Notwist is remarkable, given their beginning as hardcore, dreadlocked punks whose music—though employing a certain slant that could not be easily defined—was far more forgettable than memorable. How did a band so steeped in the sounds of metal and punk produce something as imaginative as Neon Golden 12 years later? That 2002 indie rock album showcased a classic sense of melody that was set apart from the pack because of its omnipresent and meticulously-honed electronic textures. The Notwist that appears on their 1990 debut could not be more different that the Notwist of 2002. As such, the slow but steady transformation makes the band’s new material all the more enjoyable. Over the years The Notwist has put out new material with decreasing frequency, primarily because the members dabble in more than a dozen side projects.
In the late 1980s, in the town of Weilheim in Oberbayern, Germany, brothers Markus Acher (vocals, guitar) and Micah Acher (bass) formed The Notwist with drummer Martin Messerschmid. They began with a sound similar to the grunge bands that were gaining so much notoriety on the other side of the ocean. Their self-titled debut came out in 1990 on Subway Records, which was big thrash metal. In April of 1992, they recorded their second album, Nook (Virgin), which varied very little from the debut—muscular metal with pummeling riffage. The band would release an EP in 1994 called Johnny & Mary, and then drop their third album, 12 (1995 Big Store) not long after.
12 marks the first time The Notwist flirted with electronics, and the first inklings of the later more popular version of the band can be heard in its infancy. Synth heavy and poppier than previous recordings, they were evolving from post-rock to an alternative band, thanks to the songwriting styles of Marcus Acher. The band was now drawing comparisons to Germany’s Oval and England’s Autechre, both heavyweights of the electronica scene.
The band gained an American distribution deal with Zero Hour, who reissued 12 the next year. In 1997, The Notwist added a new member in keyboardist and programming wizard Martin Gretschmann, a.k.a. Console. After recording and releasing the “Chemicals” single in 1998, they followed with the “Day 7” single. A fourth full-length, Shrink, surfaced in 1998 after being recorded the previous year on the Big Store label. This album was even more infused with electronic textures, thanks to the swaying presence of Gretschmann.
After some side project work, The Notwist came together for the painstaking recording process in making their opus, Neon Golden. The album would take 15 months to record, and a lot of money was being spent towards the studio they were using (owned and operated by Mario Thaler in Weilheim). This became a cause for worry, as the members weren’t playing shows or generating any income. In the end, the leap-and-the-net-will-appear approach with the sessions proved well worth it, as their creative process gelled and innovations were fleshed out. Micha Acher, for example, being a classically-trained trumpet player, added that element to the compositions.
When Neon Golden was completed, Marcus immediately began work on an album by his side project, Lali Puna. Gretschmann started work on the next Console album, and Micha decided to compose for his project, Tied & Tickled Trio. Neon Golden, preceded by the 2001 single, “Pilot,” was released in 2002 on Domino Records. Reviews for the album were unlike anything the band had experienced before. Marcus’ lyrics and gentle singing style earned praise for how well they complimented the fragmented, often-unsettling compositions. The music could be pleasant, at times even triumphant, and Marcus would hinder those momentums with sad, mournful lyrics. Critics raved about these juxtapositions, but what really stood out was Gretschmann’s swelling flourishes that pass through the mix, then fade away never again to reappear. A table scratch here, a heavily distorted drum sequence there, and throughout it all, there are his subtle soundscapes, which enhance and highlight the work of Messerschmid and the Acher brothers.
In 2003, The Notwist released Lichter on Alien Transistor (a label started up that year by the band themselves), which was the soundtrack to a film of the same name made by Hans-Christian Schmid. A remix EP called Different Cars and Trains followed in January 2004, on Domino, and they released “Pick Up the Phone” later that year as a single. An EP called Solo Swim came out on Alien Transistor in 2006, a vinyl-only release that was a collaboration between The Notwist and Sebastian Meissner (a.k.a. Klimek). It was also the soundtrack to Kanalschwimmer, a documentary by Jörg Adolph.
Messerschmid left the band in 2006, with the band tersely pointing out that things weren’t working out with him anymore. The group had toured heavily for about a year and a half after Neon Golden, and eventually took a two-year break from The Notwist to explore other projects. The new album would ultimately take a couple of years to record, an even longer amount of time than its predecessor. “Boneless” was issued as the first single for this new LP, followed by “Where in this World?” And finally, the single “On Planet Off” was released in June, the same month they released their long-awaited, long-labored over sixth album, The Devil, You + Me (2008 Domino). The album features the Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra, a 21-member ensemble that added emotional weight and intensity to several tracks, including “Where in this World.” The band recorded the soundtrack for the film Storm, which was released in 2009.