I spent a fair chunk of time last week on Twitter having a back and forth with other music fans and writers about how Portland is, in the eyes of some touring artists, a flyover spot. Bands, particularly those from overseas, and hip-hop acts tend to skip right over our fair city and either head directly to Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., or don't even bother with the northwest at all.
For fans of less accessible sounds, this can be especially frustrating. Even the most renowned experimental artists from outside the U.S. only hit the bigger spots on the map—San Francisco, Chicago, New York—where arts foundations and venues are more willing to take chances on funding performances of pure noise or free jazz.
This dearth, however, gives those moments when a big name does pop up on the concert calendar extra depth and shock. Take, for example, when the folks at the Yale Union Contemporary Arts Center brought noise icon Keiji Haino to town. The show itself was almost (almost) a let down compared to initial gasp and thrill of just knowing that he was going to be in our city.
Schuster is not the post-punk icon so many of his fellow German musicians ended up being, but it can be argued that his influence is far more apparent in the current strain of minimalist synth-driven pop. Listen to a track like "Ritual IV" (released in 1981) and follow the thread that connects it to groups like Coil, Nine Inch Nails and the xx.
Over the course of Schuster's career, he has moved between solo electronic efforts and recordings with his long-running bands Geisterfahrer ("Ghost Rider") and, more recently, Im Namen Des Volkes ("In the Name of the People"). What connects these individual approaches is a brooding darkness that underpins almost all of his work. For his part, Schuster passes the buck on to the groups that made him want to start making music.
"I was always inspired by Joy Division and Nico," Schuster said via e-mail. "So these dark emotions are coming directly out of the composition. It's never planned."
Planned or no, the sinister edge of a track like "Ich War Da, Leergebrannt" ("I Was There, Burnt Out"), recorded with Im Namen in 1980, leaves a palpable acidic burn on the tongue and chills along your shoulder blades as it pulses forward.
What brings Schuster to the U.S. for the first time was actually an invite from Troy Wadsworth, a music obsessive who runs Medical Records, a label that specializes in "classic synth, cosmic disco, wave (old/new), and future music." Wadsworth has not licensed any of Schuster's work yet, but coaxed him overseas to Seattle with the promise of a welcome audience of open-minded music listeners. Local promoter Dawn Sharp caught wind, and invited the artist to Portland for his first ever Stumptown performance.
For Schuster, this is also a rare chance to finally experience some of the music that he has influenced.
"I must confess I nearly never hear music from the past or today," he writes. "But I think it's great to see young bands who are inspired by music from the '80s but creating it in their own style with much more of today's equipment."
There are still more chances for the world to find some inspiration in Schuster's work. He just recently released a new album with another of his ongoing bands, Bal Pare. A new Im Namen LP is in the works, and the film Fraktus is still in German cinemas boasting a soundtrack that he produced.
"I never work too long on one project," Schuster writes. "If I get bored making electronic music, I change back to Geisterfahrer playing guitar and bass. So I feel more like an artist than a musician so my instrument was always my studio. And that's exciting still today!"