Underwater by Harry Thumann
What the f*ck is that? Is it a remix of the theme tune from Dynasty? No, it’s fu*cking Underwater by Harry Thumann! So went the brief conversation in my head when I heard this over the thumping sound system at Plastic People a couple of years ago, having only been introduced to the track by my ladyfriend the previous evening (somehow it passed me by completely). If being over the top was an Olympic sport, Harry Thumann would be an undisputed champion up their on the podium as Underwater blasted out - the national anthem of The People’s Republic of Ridiculous. The wailing guitar solos, the sudden lurches in intensity, the absolute army of synthesized sound - it’s all a little bit too much at times, but behind it all is a driving, pulsing intensity that propels Underwater out of the bargain bins of lunacy and into the upper echelons of electronic music genius.
Harry Thumann was born in Germany in the early fifties and started his musical journey as a drummer in his teens, before getting involved as an audio engineer working in German broadcasting. He jacked in the drumming and started to build his own home studio, getting deeper and deeper into electronic music production as he helped to develop various synthesizers and consoles, including the SSL 400 console - which he pioneered. Basing everything around a commodore 64, he went to work like a mad scientist - building an elaborate, interconnecting web of midi linked devices that gave him absolute control over his musical palette. With an obvious fondness for disco and funk, he went about recording his first LP, American Express, in the late 70s, from which Underwater was released as the first single. The track did well in the clubs, with it’s ultra precise breathtakingly good production lighting up discos throughout 1979, helping it break into the top 20 of the US Dance chart and only narrowly miss the top 40 of the UK Pop chart.
Harry continued beavering away with his electronics like a man possessed but never again achieved the same level of success as he did with Underwater. Second LP Andromeda came out four years later in 83 (back then that was a looong time between albums) and flopped out, pretty much ending his solo career. Between the two solo albums he did put out a few more bits and pieces, under his alias Wonder Dog. No need to go into that, though! Thumann’s studio went on to make tele movies as his career ebbed away, and he passed away in 2001, at the tender age of 49.
Underwater represents a high water mark (sorry), specifically in production, Thumann was ahead of his time and achieved a clarity and sharpness in his music that set the bar, but this is overlooked because he showed such poor musical taste. He’d build a furious groove with amazing sounds, and then blow it all with a horrid musical abomination of some sort which he’d lather all over the good work he’d done. So, a flawed genius, who produced one (flawed) classic, but nevertheless made a deep mark on the future of production in electronic music - good old, mad as a box of frogs, Harry Thumann.
By Joe Evans