BY Claus Richter | 25 AUG 16 | Features
Featured in
Issue 25

Kai Althoff Dossier: Claus Richter

Claus Richter on attending an early concert by Workshop

BY Claus Richter in Features | 25 AUG 16

I’ve never met Kai Althoff personally, but I do know many of his old friends. For some years now I’ve had the pleasure of living in Cologne – and part of the reason I live there is Althoff. Along with the music of Workshop. And perhaps, most of all, the Workshop concert at a party organized by Cosima von Bonin that I snuck into as a shy wallflower in the mid-1990s.

At the time there was short article in Spex magazine about a Cologne-based band by the name of Workshop. The text was accompanied by an unassuming picture of four or five, appealingly odd-looking people in an underpass near Cologne’s main railway station. They looked strangely out of step with the times: their collars slightly too long, their trousers slightly too straight, a woman with delightfully old-fashioned, pinned-up hair. They stood there and one of them looked sideways into the camera with a stern look. So this was Workshop.

Sometimes you fall in love instantaneously – that’s what happened to me with the world conjured by this photograph. A sense of the ‘different’ that some part of me had long waited for, without being really aware of it. I rushed to the record shop and bought Welcome Back The Workshop (1991). There was no internet and one had to rely on information gleaned from the cover while listening. The cover showed young carefree people, looking perhaps Australian, apparently from the late 1980s, and the musicians had English names and may not have been what they seemed. Or were they?

Songs like ‘Love By Men’ and ‘Counter-Culture Also Very Good’ sprang from some secret hangout with a warm, yellow, flickering glow like fairytale creatures, and someone with a casual, shimmering voice sang over ornamental, heated, floating music with guitars and violins, sometimes with backing vocals that almost sighed with pleasure. All of this was hard to place, and not at all boring or silly. From then on I was truly a fan.

And then just a few years later, in the mid-1990s, I was walking through Cologne, a city I didn’t know, and somewhere on the street I found a crumpled flyer for a party. In among many acts I’d never heard of stood the name: Workshop. By then I had also bought their first album, released in 1990, and was delighted and confused by the even stranger names on the cover, and stared at the wonder-ful painting by Joey Engelhardt. I knew I had to go to this party: it would be my only chance to stick my nose into this world that I regularly had on my turntable and in my head.

I – quite shy already – didn’t know anyone, but showed up to a basement club on the Cologne Ring anyway. I went down the stairs, nerves on edge. I timidly paid to get in. And then I stood in a corner, spellbound and invisible – in a world which, amazingly, was exactly how I had imagined it. That happens very, very rarely. I remember that after the brilliant performance by Workshop, Kai Althoff wore an incredibly long scarf, like a precious mink stole wrapped round his arms and shoulders, and in retrospect he looked like a figure out of his paintings of the time. And I have a clear mental image of his long arms and angular movements as he danced with a leather-clad rocker, totally relaxed and merry in this crowd of people who were so agreeably different but obviously friends. And I stood there and thought to myself: This is exactly how the world should be. Just like this.

It may seem overly emotional to talk about utopia here, but I don’t care. At that moment it was a utopian world that briefly became real, simply claiming its right to exist among so many times and stories, between imaginary things and things that suddenly materialize. ‘Here we are!’, they said, with one foot in an idealized, progressive 1970s world, the other in a realm that existed only in people’s heads and in pictures, and if a third foot existed, it'd be right in among you with a defiant determination to bring these pictures back into your world with all their inherent euphoria and melancholy.

Perhaps those who were there at the time would contradict me and tell of problems, realities and abandonment, but I was only present as a ghost and from that perspective it was a tableau vivant of thrilling beauty. This party was like a Joey Engelhardt painting from a Workshop cover, and of course Joey Engelhardt was actually a character channelled by Althoff. He was followed by Hakelhug who made ceramics and watercolours ‘in lieu of’ Althoff, and by many others with whom I, the curious ghost, was to become acquainted over the years.

And suddenly I understood all this so well, far better than many other things that were attracting far more attention at the time. And from then on, I wanted to move to Cologne. Two decades later, I’ve actually done it – and I brought my own little world with me, a world that it is probably friends of friends with the world I was lucky enough to experience back then. I’ve met many people who helped make it the way it was back then and I would like to say thank you to Kai Althoff from afar. It was a great evening!

Translated by Nicholas Grindell

Claus Richter is an artist living in Cologne.