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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ashra: Sauce Hollandaise


1) Echo Waves; 2) Twelve Samples; 3) Niemand Lacht Rückwärts.

Late-period Ashra albums are more of a cult thing than anything else — but don't let that stop you from knowing that these old masters, even in an age when the ownership of «Electronica» had es­sentially passed on to an entirely new generation of select arrogant revolutionaries and swarming talentless hacks, were still able to kick some classic ass.

This here is the regular Ashra lineup (Göttsching, Ulbrich, and Grosskopf), augmented by Steve Baites on sampling and rhythm machines, playing live at the KLEMDag fest in Nijmegen, appa­rently one of those hot spots for cool electronic people who hate living in the past and are not af­raid to boldly proclaim it to each other. That said, when Ashra takes the stage, all these people are still forced to live in the past, if only for a little bit — leave it to the genius of Göttsching to be able to sound modernistic and trendy, and yet still convey the spirit of the 1970s at the same time.

Leave it to his genius, too, to come up with three titles, two of them running over twenty minutes and one over thirty, and make it not sound like overkill. Two components are crucial: rhythm, which only occasionally switches to «generic» techno, and is otherwise based on fairly traditional beats (not the least because a real live drummer is present), and build-up, which has always been Ash Ra Tempel's, and then Ashra's, greatest know-how. On a certain level, the thirty minutes of 'Echo Waves' end right at the same spot where they started, but on another level, it is a track that emulates growth and development, and by the time the thirty minutes are over, you've become a thirty years older. Figuratively.

Musically, 'Echo Waves' is all about... echo waves — like a long long tribute to 'Run Like Hell'. It is melodically simplistic and trivial; the fabulous thing is how this triviality keeps reproduced, over and over, on different instruments, with various tones and pitches, and how the band mem­bers steer these waves around each other, now interlocking, now coming apart, now with a slight delay, now with a slight speed-up. Twenty-five minutes pass that way before Göttsching picks the guitar up properly and delivers a mind-blowing «classic rock» solo. Is it «overkill»? Perhaps, but I feel that the trance-inducing goals of the track have been fulfilled. Once they catch you up on their «echo waves», the sense of time becomes blurred, and it may well be that many a person has emerged from this experience with a whiff of surprise, as in, «how come my beard is an inch lon­ger than I last remember it?»...

The lengthy version of 'Twelve Samples' from Walkin' The Desert is now stripped of its vocal overdubs (I like it better this way, actually), and gains a bit in energy and an almost carnivalesque attitude, particularly towards the end. The third track is more of a showcase for the drummer (in­cluding a long nearly-solo passage), but also picks up steam towards the end with another wall-rattling solo and a crazy noisy race-towards-the-end. Neither is as grand an undertaking as 'Echo Waves', hence the relative «shortness», yet both are still atmospheric monsters in their own right.

Although all three of these would be later reprised on @Shra, making the acquisition somewhat redundant, Sauce Hollandaise still stands out on its own. For the live shows of @Shra, the band would be adopting a more techno-oriented sound; here, the keyboards sound, on the whole, live­lier and juicier, and the human-dominated drumming is a major plus as well. This arguably makes the album the most representative and the most enjoyable Ashra experience in the 1990s, so how could it not get a massive thumbs up?


  1. 'Echo Waves' is actually anterior to 'Run Like Hell', as it was first released on Göttsching's 1975 solo album 'Inventions For Electric Guitar'. Anyway, Pink Floyd had already experimented this kind of sound in 1971 on 'One Of These Days'.

  2. I do live in Nijmegen and I didn't know we were the place to be for cool electronic people. :) But then, most I hear of the music scene here is various so-so student bands and I do know there is a semi-popular underground rave scene, so maybe that plays into it.