Modern music would sound a lot different today if it weren’t for three self-confessed nerds messing with machines in a West Berlin theatre. Those three names were Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Christopher Franke, who formed Tangerine Dream in the late-60s and early-70s. Their experimentations in electronic music went on to influence new forms of youth culture, from new wave and hip-hop to techno and boogie, but their origins are much more humble.
Tangerine Dream was founded by Edgar Froese in 1967, named after a lyric in The Beatles’ ‘Lucy In the Sky With Diamonds’. Froese was a regular at the Zodiac Free Arts Lab, a West Berlin haunt that proved a fitting environment for him in the late-1960s. Filled with modular equipment and abstract electronic instruments that resembled a NASA control board, the Zodiac Club, as it came to be known, was a haunt for German avant-gardists and chain smoking teens to dance to otherworldly music. This time and place later became the birthplace of krautrock, with acts like Ash Ra Tempel passing through in their early years.
But no Zodiac Club alumni would be as important as Tangerine Dream, who became almost like the club’s house band. The first incarnation of the band, formed by Froese, drummer Klaus Schulze and Berlin club promoter Conrad Schnitzler, played largely improvised sets that regularly spanned over six hours almost every weekend.
But the Zodiac Club was short lived, existing only for a few months before being kicked out by their disgruntled landlords. Still, by that point the Zodiac Club had already birthed a new form of counterculture that continues to this day. We can thank Tangerine Dream for that, whose career spans five decades, multiple members and over 100 albums.
Tangerine Dream appear at bluedot festival 2020 from 23-26 July at the Jodrell Bank Observatory. Before then, we chart the defining early works of one of electronic music’s most influential acts.
TANGERINE DREAM – ELECTRONIC MEDITATION (1971)
Electronic Meditation was the debut release from Tangerine Dream, and the first time anyone beyond the West Berlin avant-gardist circles had heard of them. Brimming with gargled basslines, improvised synthesised bleeps and cosmic sound effects, Electronic Meditation was an extension of the experimental tendencies they honed at the Zodiac Club, yet became an early indicator of what Tangerine Dream were capable of.
Tangerine Dream – Zeit (1972)
1972’s Zeit was a typical Tangerine Dream album. Synthesisers oscillated over tracks that lasted 19-minutes and singles like ‘Nebulous Dawn’ took listeners on a voyage into space, but with Zeit Tangerine Dream had found new members in Peter Baumann and Christopher Franke. This toasted what many fans consider to be the golden-era of Tangerine Dream, and Zeit continues to inspire today, with Burial sampling the lead track on 2013’s Come Down to Us.
Tangerine Dream – Atem (1973)
Until the release of Atem in 1973, although Tangerine Dream boasted a small but loyal fanbase, the band weren’t exactly appreciated by the wider public. General listeners weren’t interested in instrumental space-operas and it wasn’t uncommon for the band to be pelted with fruit during live performances, particularly insulting given the band’s citrus inspired name. But Atem changed that after being picked up by the UK’s most cherished tastemaker John Peel who made it his album of the year for 1973. Soon after, Tangerine Dream signed with Virgin Records.
Tangerine Dream – Phaedra (1974)
1974’s Phaedra was the album that made Tangerine Dream, hitting the British Top 20 albums chart and reaching gold status in seven countries. Today, it remains one of the band’s most influential works and is hailed as a blueprint album for ambient, something all the more impressive given it was released four years before Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.
Tangerine Dream – Stratosfear (1976)
The lead track of Tangerine Dream’s Stratosfear is one of their best-known, a 10+ minute long planetary prog-rock epic that upon its release hit number 39 in the UK charts and eventually reached silver status. However, the album proved to be the last one from the original Tangerine Dream trio, with Peter Baumann leaving after the band’s first US tour in 1977.
Tangerine Dream – Tangram (1980)
After the departure of Peter Baumann fans were worried that Tangerine Dream would become more like a typical rock band. They adopted live drums and wailing guitar solos became more prominent on albums such as Cyclone, but this didn’t last long as in 1980 came the jazz-infused album Tangram. Tangram was more accessible than previous albums but, crucially, it preceded the electronic-era of the 1980s, where synth-pop, new wave and boogie would rule the airwaves.
Tangerine Dream – Risky Business OST (1984)
The years between 1982-85 were a golden age for science-fiction in cinema, producing Blade Runner, Escape From New York, Dune, The Terminator, Back to the Future and many more modern classics. The music of Tangerine Dream should be perfectly suited to these landscapes, but until 1984 the band had only produced a handful of scores, including 1981’s Thief and 1983’s The Keep. It took a film about capitalist greed for Tangerine Dream to make their big screen debut with Risky Business, a mega-hit that made a star of lead actor Tom Cruise and introduced Tangerine Dream to new audiences.
Tangerine Dream – Legend OST (1985)
After the success of Risky Business, Tangerine Dream’s phone was off the hook with directors requesting they add some magic to their movies. 1984’s Firestarter, 1987’s B-movie horror Near Dark and 1986’s The Park is Mine were all given the TD treatment. Amongst fans, though, their best work is found on 1985’s Legend, a Ridley Scott directed dark fantasy where Tom Cruise faces off against the Lord of Darkness played by Tim Curry. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the film flopped, but at least the soundtrack lives on.