The Notwist

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Morphing from a post-hardcore outfit into one of indie electronic’s definitive acts, the Notwist have continually evolved over their decades-long career. Though their 1990 self-titled debut paid homage to the American hardcore and grunge bands they fell in love with as kids, their growing fascination with electronic music made its way into efforts like 1998′s Shrink, which was informed by trip-hop, post-rock, and IDM. The Notwist put all the pieces together on 2002′s breakthrough Neon Golden, an album that perfected their organic blend of heartfelt songwriting and live and electronic instrumentation, and defined the sound of indie electronic music for years to come. Though it took a while for the band to hit upon their signature sound, they continued to challenge themselves. Whether they worked with an orchestra on 2008′s The Devil, You + Me or nodded to their lifelong love of jazz with the rolling, improvisatory feel of 2021′s Vertigo Days, the Notwist always stayed true to their experimental roots.
Before forming the Notwist, brothers Markus and Micha Acher were raised in a musical family in the small town of Weilheim, Germany. Their father was a multi-instrumentalist whose dream was to have a Dixieland band with his sons, so after the brothers learned to play the recorder at an early age, Micha moved on to trumpet and Markus graduated to drums. In addition to performing with their father in the New Orleans Dixie Stompers, they also played in other bands, but the Achers felt confined until they discovered American underground rock acts like Dinosaur Jr., Minor Threat, and Jerry's Kids. They started the Notwist in 1989, with Markus on vocals and guitar, Micha on bass, and their friend Martin Messerschmid on drums. The trio conceived the band as a heavy rock outfit on 1990′s The Notwist, which incorporated elements of grunge, metal, and hardcore. They continued in a similar vein on their next album Nook, which arrived in 1992. That year also saw the release of the self-titled debut from Markus Acher’s Village of Savoonga, a post-rock outfit that issued albums into the 2000s. The Acher brothers’ collaborations expanded in 1994 with the formation of Tied +Tickled Trio, which merged elements of electronic music with contemporary jazz.
The Notwist began adding electronics into their music on 1995′s 12, their first collaboration with programmer/keyboard player Martin Gretschmann (who also records as Console). A former schoolmate of Markus Acher’s, Gretschmann’s facility with his Akai sampler helped them add more textures to their sound. He became a full-fledged member of the Notwist in 1997, and the electronic aspects of their music, along with the jazzier side of post-rock, came to the fore on the following year’s Shrink. The Notwist’s members spent some time pursuing their other projects — such as Markus’ work with Lali Puna and Micha’s work with Ms. John Soda — before returning in January 2002 with their fifth album, Neon Golden. Fifteen months in the making, it reflected the organic integration of live, sampled, and electronic instrumentation the band introduced on Shrink. Hailed for its emotional songwriting and subtly expressive blend of indie rock and pop with electronic elements, Neon Golden became the band’s breakthrough album in America and helped kickstart the indie electronic movement of the early 2000s.
The Notwist followed Neon Golden’s international success with several short-form releases. The band’s soundtrack to director Hans-Christian Schmid’s Lichter arrived in August 2003 on their own Alien Transistor label. Different Cars and Trains, an EP of Neon Golden remixes and B-sides, also appeared that year, while Solo Swim, a collaboration with Console and Klimek that served as the soundtrack to Jörg Adolph’s documentary Kanalschwimmer, came out in September 2004. Alongside work on their other established projects, the members of the Notwist also formed 13 & God with the underground hip-hop act Themselves, and released the project’s self-titled debut album in May 2005.
In 2007, Messerschmid left the Notwist, with Andi Haberl replacing him as drummer. Haberl made his recorded debut with the band on May 2008′s The Devil, You + Me. For their sixth album, the Notwist took a different approach than they did on Neon Golden, taking inspiration from French movie soundtracks from the ’70s as well as mosaic-like albums such as Cornelius’ Fantasma and J Dilla’s Donuts. Co-produced by Olaf Opal, The Devil, You + Me also featured the Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra (of which Haberl was a member). The following year, they reunited with Schmid for the soundtrack to his film Sturm. Once again, the Notwist’s members spent a few years working on their other projects, including albums from Lali Puna and 13 & God. In 2012, they provided the music for another Schmid film, Home for the Weekend, and began playing new material live late in the year. The Notwist resurfaced with February 2014′s Close to the Glass. Boasting some of their most accessible songwriting and experimental instrumentation, the album was nominated for European Independent Album of the Year at the 2015 IMPALA Awards. Gretschmann left the band later in 2014, with producer/multi-instrumentalist Cico Beck joining the fold. Early in 2015, the band issued The Messier Objects, a collection of instrumental tracks written in the years between The Devil, You + Me and Close to the Glass. The live album Superheroes, Ghostvillains & Stuff appeared in 2016, capturing the second of the band’s three consecutive sold-out shows in Leipzig, Germany in late 2015.
The members of the Notwist took some time to work on other projects that ranged from Beck’s output with Joasihno to curating Alien Disko, a Munich-based indie rock festival. It was through the festival that Beck and Markus Acher connected with Tenniscoats’ Saya and Takashi Ueno and formed the band Spirit Fest with Jam Money ’s Mat Fowler. The group quickly released three albums of improvisation-based indie pop: Spirit Fest (2017), Anohito (2018), and Mirage Mirage (2020). During this time, Micha and Markus Acher also formed the instrumental folk-jazz ensemble Hochzeitskapelle, who also issued a number of albums in rapid succession (2016′s The World Is Full of Songs, 2018′s Wayfaring Suite, and 2019′s If I Think of Love). The Notwist reemerged in 2020 with the soundtrack to the Bastian Günther film One of These Days and the Ship EP, which featured Saya on vocals and provided a preview of the band’s next album. Arriving in January 2021, Vertigo Days was a flowing, suite-like set of songs that included contributions from Juana Molina, Ben LaMar Gay, Angel Bat Dawid, and the Japanese brass band Zayaendo. ~ Heather Phares