A guide to krautrock...
The release and ecstatic reception of Can's Lost Tapes a few weeks ago proved there is a lot of love out there for krautrock. That's not just among listeners either, its legacy has lived on in some of the best underground music since it reared its head in the late 1960s. Here is all you need to know about arguably one of the most significant subcultural movements of the 20th century and how its mantle has been taken up.
We also just spent some time with the legendary Jean-Hervé Péron of Faust, so check out our interview with him tomorrow...
Faced with a post-war identity that they were wont to reject, and a ubiquitous British/American music scene that didn't represent them, German youth got busy with self reinvention in the 60s and 70s. Often born from anarchist communes, groups were approaching music and life in a genuinely new and innovative way, building new instruments being one. We take a look at the otherworldly music from that cultural bubble - stuff that could have been forgotten but for the relentless archiving of Julian Cope - and trace its influence on the artists of today.
The protégées of avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, Can were among the first to use studio editing and sampling as key songwriting tools, and the result was free-form rock that was both precise and experimental, based around a mechanical, Teutonic groove. From the Kanye West-sampled ‘Sing Swan Song' to the Happy Mondays-like chorus of ‘I'm So Green', Ege Bamyasi sees Can at their most tuneful and accessible. Quite something considering the ten-minute freakout ‘Soup', and the trans-language howling of Damo Suzuki that dominates the album.
Standout song: ‘Vitamin C'
The first ever band to be released on Virgin records, Faust were launched, to the bemusement of the British public, with the release of an album for the price of a single. Despite Richard Branson's marketing gimmicks however, Faust would fail to find commercial success, and Faust IV was their last album with Virgin before being dropped. It is however, their masterpiece. Opening with the sardonically titled, drone-rock blitzkrieg ‘Krautrock', moving on to agit-funk ‘The Sad Skinhead' and dream pop ‘Jennifer', it's an album that seems to have birthed countless genres and has aged remarkably well.
Stand out song: ‘Jennifer'
Harmonia were born of the collaboration between ambient pioneers Cluster and Michael Rother of the much-imitated Neu!. Cluster created vast emotional soundscapes that embodied a desire to escape from the Motherland's recent past - Hans-Joachim Roadellius had even been forced to act in Nazi propaganda films as a child. Rother however, brought the fabled ‘Motorik' beat to Harmonia, leading to a focused-sounding debut for the group. Recorded in isolation in their self-built studio in rural Forst, it caught the attention of Brian Eno, who would join them on subsequent releases.
Standout song: ‘Watussi'
Michael Rother had quit an early line-up of seminal electronic band Kraftwerk on the grounds that they were too unimaginative. But by the time fourth album Autobahn arrived, the Kraftwerk machine had become self-aware. Gone were the long hair and flutes of previous albums, replaced with a new streamlined image and a sound entirely synthetic. The symbolism of the autobahn represented their vision of a new Europe, and their music reflected that ideology: pulsating, endless rhythms of the everyday, punctuated by loops of ambient traffic noise, somehow turned into pop. Their style on this album would bring international acclaim, but the group have maintained an element of mystery, treating journalists with playful hostility (see here).
Check out this great article in Frieze about Kraftwerk's retrospective.
Standout song: ‘Autobahn'
The influence lives on...
After Brian Eno recorded with Harmonia in 1976, he immediately went to work on David Bowie's influential ‘Berlin' trilogy, and albums such as Heroes (the title a homage to Neu!'s ‘Hero') and certainly Low sport a big debt to the above groups. The cult of krautrock gathered pace throughout the 1980s and seemed to flower in the late-90s with groups like Stereolab, and the use of the ‘Motorik' rhythm as a standard in alternative and psychedelic music.
Deerhunter's Cryptograms is a perfect example of the krautrock influence. Flitting between ambient grooves and full-blown psychedelia, it explores the seeds sown in the 70s in an updated contemporary style. Also pertinent is their stream of consciousness writing process, similar to that of Can. Initially derided (though named) by the British press, krautrock now rules the underground.
In the spirit of all things transcendent and experimental, check out a new remix by The Horrors of a track from SIINAI's krautrock influenced debut "Olympic Games" here.
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- Opera & Dance