Sunday, March 17, 2013


The Wire, February 2013

by Simon Reynolds

Radiohead got their name from a Talking Heads B-side. That told you something about where they were coming from (angsty artpunk) and it helps explain where they went (Kid A as the group’s Remain In Light peak, subsequently backed away from). Atoms For Peace’s name comes from a track on Thom Yorke’s The Eraser. That also tells you something.  Although widely characterised as a supergroup, Atoms isn’t a meeting of equals. It’s a Yorke solo album in disguise, the singer and Nigel Godrich (Radiohead’s producer since forever) in total control.  

The scenario here is actually slightly reminiscent of Remain In Light:  Byrne & Eno style, Yorke and Godrich reworked a mountain of material generated during a three-day jam session with Red Hot Chilli Peppers bassist Flea, percussionist Mauro Refosco, and drummer Joey Waronker (who’s worked with Beck). Those musicians had originally come together as the backing group for Yorke’s short  US tour of The Eraser.  Another Remain echo: the idea for the project hatched during a drunken evening listening to Fela Kuti at Flea’s Los Angeles home, where the muso buddies grooved on what Yorke has described as “that idea of trance-ing out.”

In ye olden days, the supergroup ideal entailed distinctive instrumental voices coming together to make sweet music at the convergence of their discrete histories. But listening to Amok, there’s absolutely no way you can tell Flea is involved (arguably just as well, given his slap-happy bass signature).  Flea, Waronker and Refosco are even less discernible presences as musicians than all those prog virtuosos on Eno’s solo records forced out of their comfort zones by the balding one’s oblique strategems.  Characterlessness seems to have been an end result actively sought by Godrich and Yorke during the two years of restructuring and studio-morphing they applied to the raw material generated by their content-provider pals. As Godrich told one interviewer, “one of the things we were most excited about was ending up with a record where you weren't quite sure where the human starts and the machine ends."

Once upon a time that might have been a provocative mission statement, a productive goal.  The severance of musical sounds from their origin in embodied human actions, the privileging of treatments and production processes over playing: these did indeed seem like radical propositions when mooted in the early Nineties context of UK postrock outfits like Seefeel, Disco Inferno, Techno Animal. They still seemed fairly exciting and promising circa Kid A/Amnesiac in 2001. But in 2013?  Virtually the entire radioscape of contemporary music is constructed on these terms, from the ProTooled illusions of modern rock to the Adorno-dystopia of AutoTune dancepop, with assorted middlebrow options (Muse, TV On the Radio, et al) in between.  When the methodology is so widespread and normative, as to be unremarkable, then what radicality can really be claimed for “cyborg music”?  

Sometimes the inbetween places are the most interesting zones in which to operate. But sometimes it just makes for neither fish nor fowl. Godrich, again: “This is the eternal battle with Thom. He's like 'I really want to make a dance record. But I have to sing on it, or nobody's going to fucking care." Amok, apparently, “is his compromise”.  Well, exactly: you said it, Nige.  The cross-purpose impulses (dance versus song, machine versus human) generate neither thrilling friction nor intriguing irresolution, but a smoothed-out stalemate.  Residues of the desire to make physically involving music persist:  nervous percussion passim (presumably derived from Refosco),  the energetic boppy beat on “Dropped”  (think Outkast’s “Hey Ya” but with a scowl).  But again and again, rhythmic thrust is subdued by Yorke’s all-enveloping vocals.  He is simply not a particularly rhythmic singer.  His style, a sort of postpunk bel canto that owes virtually nothing to black music or even to American music, is highly original but it is suited to long aching melody lines.  Draped across the music, Yorke’s harrowed croon invites you to wilt into his sonorous folds of melancholy mood-texture.  Now and again on Amok he attempts a more groove-oriented, syncopated delivery, sounding almost American on “Stuck Together” and even a tiny bit like “black”-era Joni Mitchell on “Judge Jury Executioner”. The rhythms on that track suggest handclaps and fingerclicks, but thanks to overdone echo, the ultimate effect is “Anglican Gospel”.

But overall, there’s little respite from the canopied dolour of his singing.   Blending into the pillowy synths, Yorke’s smudged enunciation seems to actively discourage attention to the lyrics. “Default”, the single, has the sharpest definition: there’s real crunch and sizzle to the rhythm, the hook is insidious,  and certain lines snap into focus (“the will is strong/the flesh is weak”,  “I avoid your gaze,” “ I’ve made my bed/I lie in it”) while remaining emotionally opaque. I’ve never fully understood the term “passive-aggressive” but that feels like it might be the place Amok is coming from.  As with most of Yorke’s song writing, in Radiohead and solo, the terrain is anomie, hollowness, uncomfortable numbness, political-is-personal unease. But the place where bleak and oblique meet is over-familiar territory for him: at this point the most startling and powerful thing Yorke could do is come out and say something directly, even crudely, like the Lennon of Plastic Ono Band or even Some Time in New York City.

Ironically titled, surely (since it never does run amok; in fact it feels more like a plushly padded cell), this album is not a completely barren listen. There are plenty of good bits: the backwash of looped and processed murmurs on “Unless”,  the hornet-muezzin synth part that rears up on “Reverse Running”, the melted glimmer of instrumentalized vocal on the title track. But they never quite add up.  Listening, I found myself repeatedly wondering: what is this record for? You can’t dance to it. The song-structures forestall the full-blown disorientation of experimental electronic music.  It doesn’t offer solace or healing resonance (the lyrics are at once private and depersonalized, stripped of concrete detail).  Amok is neither one thing nor the one other, but not in a way that plays challenging havoc with categories or expectations.  In the end, it’s another cautious portion of well-made, moderately-experimental not-quite-rock.

Friday, March 15, 2013


MANTRONIX, Music Madness (10 Records)
Melody Maker, December 6th 1986.

by Simon Reynolds

Mantronix don’t quite fit. Hip hop is getting to
be more and more of an assault, more and more hyper-compressed
and minimal in its search for harder and higher hits. But
Mantronix are loosening up their music, bringing in a suppleness
and textural luxury. Hip hop daily exceeds new levels of
megalomaniac viciousness. But Mantronix are gradually squeezing
the SELF out of their music, letting the music stand on
its own madness.

Compare what Mantronix are doing with a track that
represents some kind of zenith in current hip hop
trends--“The Manipulator” by Mixmaster Gee and The Turntable Orchestra
(off Electro 14). Here skill on the turntables becomes a
twisted, bloated metaphor for omnipotence. The voice shoves
itself RIGHT IN YOUR FACE--you can practically feel the spittle,
smell the breath. It’s a voice intoxicated with power, quaking with
rage. MC Tee from Mantronix, in comparison, has a refreshingly
adolescent voice, almost sweet--words are slurred, there’s the
tiniest suggestion of a lisp.

“Manipulator” style hip hop is given its impetus by being focused
on the tyrannical charisma of the rapper, but with Mantronix the
raps seem almost superfluous. There are several instrumentals. With most
hip hop the very sound of the music is a MASSIVE COCK waving about
in your face. Mantronix erase every trace of the pelvis, every last ditch of humanism in hip hop. Their music isn’t weighted down by the
heaviness of masculinity, but glides, skips, even frisks at times, rather
than thuggishly stomping us weaklings underfoot. Mantronix sound
disembodied, dislocated, out-of-it.

They are far out, a long way from firm ground. Mantronik marshals
a host of uprooted fragments and abducted ghosts into a dance. He
thieves indiscriminately, without prejudice, enlisting anything
from Benny Goodman to The Old Grey Whistle Test theme tune.
On “We Control the Dice” they even indulge in self-kleptomania (or perhaps
simple thrift is at work), re-using the bass motif from “Bassline”.

Their greatest influence, though, is European electropop--the
scrubbed, spruce, pristine textures and metronomic precision
of Kraftwerk and Martin Rushent’s Human League. While the brainy British
bands of the day dedicate themselves to noisy guitars, it’s up to Mantronix
(and House music) to uphold the spirit of 1981, to cherish the bass sound
and the electronic percussion of “Sound of the Crowd” as a lost future of pop.

They have moments close to wildness-“Big Band B-Boy” commandeers
a jungle of percussion--but I prefer it when Mantronix sound stealthy.
“Scream,” with its curiously muted delivery of a party-up lyric
(the word “scream” is almost whispered) is as eerie as Suicide lullabies
like “I Remember” or “Cheree”. The title track has a roaming, furtive
sense of space, the phrase “music madness” sampled, stretched and
melted into a series of beautiful belches. Best of all is the closing
“Megamix”, in which everything you’ve been listening to for the last
half-hour is regurgitated inside out and upside down, flashing before
your ears like a drowned, garbled life. Sublime pandemonium.

Music Madness is the kind of music you’d hoped The
Art of Noise would go on to make after “Close (to the Edit)”.
Fleshless, soulless, faceless and fantastic.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Melody Maker, September 19th 1992

By Simon Reynolds

Morrissey's recent flirtation with jingoism really shouldn't have been that surprising. Insularity has always been his thing, from his nostalgic resentment of foreign/futuristic influences on English culture, to his denial of the truth that "no man is an island". For me, even more revealing than the "black and white will never mix" bit in the Q interview, was Morrissey's admission that he'd taken Ecstasy, twice, and each time by himself. The first time was, apparently, the most amazing moment in his life: he looked in the mirror and saw "someone who was extremely attractive".

Now, along with freaky-dancing, E promotes empathy, tactile affection and intimacy. The idea of Mozzer using the "interesting drug" to bond more closely with himself is so tragi-comical, so perfectly attuned to his image and his pathology, it's not true. In fact, I've begun to wonder if it really isn't true, but rather a tale spun by Moz as part of a strategic policy of disinformation. Because Morrissey knows that his aesthetic, his career, his financial future, depend on the idea that he is unloveable and unloved. He has to keep on insisting that he's charmless and untouched by human hand, in order to sustain his appeal to his mostly heterosexual, love-lorn following.

These feelings were amplified when I read the US Morri-zine Sing Your Life. In North America, the Mozzer cult is bigger than ever (amazingly, these kids were hooked by the lame solo stuff rather than The Smiths), and Sing is just one of a dozen, including one computer 'zine. By far the most interesting thing about Morrissey now is the devout ardour of his fans. S.Y.L. makes it clear that their main concern is strategies for getting onstage in order to kiss and hug their idol. So there are letters from readers thanking S.Y.L. for showing that Morrissey "is not untouchable", that "with unrelenting determination, our dream will one day be realised". There are innumerable testimonials of what The Moment was like. "The most emotional scenes I have ever seen... I just wanted to stay there forever", "I saw God coming down", "a lord up there, his music savagely attacked me", "Morrissey is my life; Morrissey is my death", "the utmost feeling of ecstasy", "Morrissey makes reality seem unreal".

I could never dismiss these people as sad individuals, but their stories make me sad. I can remember living that adolescent intensity, where the love you owe yourself or other flesh-and-blood humans seems like it can only be expressed through an idol or an Ideology. For these fans, touching Morrissey is an electrifying sacrament in which all their repression and passion is orgasmically released. Reading S.Y.L., it's also clear that it's crucial for the fans to believe that Morrissey is as shy, awkward, and starved of touch as they are. What's unique about Moz is the way he's codified the themes of loneliness and fan projection in his work, and exposed the circularity and ultimate sterility of the syndrome. He must know that his teen belief that he was engaged in "an absolute tangible love affair" with his idols, leads nowhere (unless they're all supposed to become idols, with fans/phantom lovers of their own - the argument of the song "Sing Your Life"?). A Pied Piper of teen angst, he's knowingly led his fans into the cul-de-sac of loving only the pristine images of distant (or dead) icons, rather than risking the messy compromises of real-life close encounters. What makes Morrissey such an increasingly grotesque phenomeon is the age gap between idol and fans; his audience hasn't grown with him because his art hasn't grown up. Instead his flock is endlessly re-stocked with each year's harvest of sensitive souls.

You can't live 'here', and the brighter writers on Sing Your Life know it. Hagop Janoyan observes how all Moz's US fans are in their late teens, how the Smiths-era fans have moved on, and worries that he too will out-grow his ardour and become a member of "the Ordinary World". Mark Sirard writes in "The Morrissey Equation" that "it is our desire to bridge this distance that keeps us in a state of eternal attraction". Fandom is an ultra-intense state of suspension and deferral that allows the fan to live in the ideal, unrequited but thus never dis-illusioned. But to give up illusions needn't mean a come-down to banality, it can mean affirming limits and finding an object worthy of your passion. Perhaps Hagop should start a spinter zine called Start Your Life.


On racism and multiculturalism.

"I don't want to sound horrible or pessimistic but I don't really think, for instance, black people and white people will ever really get on or like each other. I don't really think they ever will. The French will never like the English. The English will never like the French. That tunnel will collapse."

On the death of Englishness

"It's a part of my overall psyche. It's not unique to [Your Arsenal]. I supposed a few years ago I would have spoken more morosely about this great, dying tradition. Well, now it has died. This is the debris, now.... I don't want to be European. I want England to remain an island. I think part of the greatness of the past has been the fact that England has been an island. I don't want the tunnel. I don't want sterling to disappear. I don't want British newscasters to talk in American accents. I don't want continental television.

On Ecstasy

"I've taken it a couple of times. The first time I took it was the most astonishing moment of my life. Because - and I don't want to sound truly pathetic - I looked in the mirror and saw somebody very, very attractive. Now, of course, this was the delusion of the drug, and it wears off. But it was astonishing for that hour, or for however long it was, to look into the mirror and really, really like what came back at me. Now even though I had that wonderful experience, and it was a solitary experience - there was nobody else present - I'm not actually interested in drugs of any kind."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Melody Maker, July 1996

by Simon Reynolds

The way out sounds of Krautrock are currently way "in". The evidence: a deluge of CD reissues, the publication of Julian Cope's enthralling pocket-size handbook "Krautrocksampler", a comeback LP by Faust, and a legion of contemporary bands, from Stereolab to Tortoise to Mouse On Mars, pledging fealty in word and deed. There's even a Krautrock club in London called Kosmische, which in turn inspired The Face to run a piece--complete with comically contrived and completely bogus photo-tableau of foxy young things grooving to Harmonia--on how the hippest thing in modern music was a bunch of aged German hippies.

So why Krautrock, and why now? Maybe it's simply because contemporary guitarpop on both sides of the Atlantic is unusually lame and conservative, and Krautrock beckons as a beacon indicating just how much can be done with the basic rock format of guitar, bass and drums. Seizing the possibilities of the recording studio, the German kosmische bands of the early '70s produced results as otherworldly and rhythmically sophisticated as today's "sampladelic" music (techno, drum & bass, hip hop, ambient etc). Today's Britpop and American corporate grunge'n' punk are overtly pre-psychedelic and anti-experimental, merging playsafe 1966-meets-1978 power-pop aesthetics with radio-friendly production. Krautrock--as the missing link between the tumult of the late '60s and the anti-rockist vanguard of 1979 (PiL etc)--is therefore a crucial resource for any contemporary band who resists the reductive notion that (pre-psych) Beatles + Buzzcocks *= the Essence, the Way and the Truth, for Ever and Ever.

Immerse yourself in Krautrock--and this is the immersive, engulfing music par excellence--and you'll find a paradox at the music's heart: a combination of absolute freedom and absolute discipline. Krautrock is where the over-reaching ambition and untethered freakitude of late '60s acid rock is checked and galvanised by a proto-punk minimalism. Krautrock bands like Can, Neu! and Faust unleashed music of immense scale that miraculously avoided prog-rock's bombastics, its cult of virtuosity-for-virtuosity's-sake. Where progressive rock boasted "look at me, look how fast my fingers can go", Krautrock beseeched "look! look how VAST we can go'. Or as Can's Michael Karoli put it: "We weren't into impressing people, just caressing them'

Alongside Tim Buckley's "Starsailor", Miles Davis' circa"On The Corner", Yoko Ono circa "Fly", Krautrock was true fusion, merging psychedelic rock with funk groove, jazz improvisation, Stockhausen-style avant-electronics and ethnic flava in a way that avoided the self-congratulatory, dilettante eclecticism that marred even the best of the '70s jazz-rock bands, like Weather Report. Krautrock's primary inputs, and urgency, came from late '60s rock: Velvet Underground's mesmerising mantras, Hendrix's pyrotechnique, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd's chromatic chaos, plus dashes of West Coast folkadelic rock and the studio-centric experiments of Brian Wilson and the later Beatles. Equally significant is what they didn't draw on, namely the blues-bore purism sired by Cream and the Stones.

Tweaking this Anglo-American legacy, the German bands added a vital distance (coming to rock'n'roll as an alien import, they were able to make it even more alien), and they infused it with a German character that's instantly audible but hard to tag. A combination of Dada, LSD and Zen resulted in a dry absurdist humour that could range from zany tomfoolery to a sort of sublime nonchalance, a lightheaded but never lighthearted ease of spirit. Although they occasionally dipped their toes into psychedelia's darkside (the madness that claimed psychonauts such as Syd Barrett, Roky Erikson or Moby Grape's Skip Spence), what's striking about most Krautrock is how affirmative it is, even at its most demented. This peculiar serene joy and aura of pantheistic celebration is nowhere more evident than in the peak work of Can, Faust and Neu!


If the triumvirate of Can/Faust/Neu! has gotten so cliched as a hip reference point, it's for a good reason. Despite being quite dissimilar and lacking any kind of fraternal, comradely feelings towards each other, Can, Faust and Neu! are the unassailable centre of Krautrock's pantheon-- its Dante/Shakespeare/Milton, or Beatles/Stones/Dylan, if you will.

CAN's core was a quartet of lapsed avant-garde and free jazz musicians (bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and drummer Jaki Leibezeit) who--blown away by the VU and the Beatles' "I Am The Walrus"-- decided rock was where it was at. Can were the most funky and improvisational of the Krautrock bands. Recording in their own studio in a Cologne castle, they jammed all day, then edited the juiciest chunks of improv into coherent compositions. This was similar to the methodology used by Miles Davis and producer Teo Macero. As Can's band's resident Macero, Czukay deployed two-track recording and a handful of mikes to achieve wonders of proto-ambient spatiality, shaming today's lo-fi bands. Can's early sound--spartan, crisp-and-dry trance-rock, like the VU circa 'White Light' but with a smokin' rhythm section--peaked with the 15 minute mindquake of "Mother Sky". As the influence of James Brownian motion kicked in, Can began to fuse 'head' and 'booty', atmosphere and groove, like nobody else save Miles Davis. After the shamanic avant-funk of "Tago Mago" and the brittle angst-funk of "Ege Bamyasi", Can's music plunged into the sunshine with "Future Days", "Soon Over Babaluma" and "Landed", their mid-'70s 'Gaia trilogy'. A kind of mystic materialism quivers and pulses inside these ethnofunkadelic groovescapes and ambient oases, from the moon-serenade "Come Sta, La Luna" to the fractal funk and chaos theorems of "Chain Reaction/Quantum Physics". This is music that wordlessly but eloquently rejoices in Mother Nature's bounty and beauty.

Despite an almost utter absence of input from black music, NEU! were probably the closest to Can, in their sheer hypno-groove power and shared belief that "restriction is the mother of invention" (Holger Czukay's minimal-is-maximal credo). Devoid of funk or swing, Neu! is all about compulsive propulsion. Klaus Dinger was an astoundingly inventive, endlessly listenable drummer who worked magic within the confines of a rudimentary four-to-the-floor rock beat. Together with guitarist Michael Rother, he invented motorik, a metronomic, pulsating rhythm that instils a sublime sensation of restrained exhiliration, like gliding cruise-control down the freeway into a future dazzling with promise. That 'dazzle' comes from Rother's awesomely original guitarwork, all chiming radiance and long streaks'n' smears of tone-colour. Something like Germany's very own Television, Neu! bridged Byrdsy psychedelia and punk. They also did ambient texturescapes (e.g. the oceanside idyll "Leb' Wohl") and weird noise (after fucking up their recording budget, they filled the second side of 'Neu! 2" with sped-up and slowed-down versions of an earlier single!). But it's motorik excursions like "Hallogallo", ""Fur Immer" and "Isi" that constitute Neu's great legacy, one that's only now being fully exploited.

FAUST similarly combined proto-punk mess-thetic with acid-rock's galactic grandeur. But instead of Neu! streamlined symmetry, Faust oscillated wildly between filthy, fucked-up noise and gorgeous pastoral melody, between yowling antics and exquisitely-sculpted sonic objets d'art. Above all, Faust were maestros of incongruity; their albums are riddled with jarring juxtapositions and startling jumpcuts between styles. Heterogeneity was their anti-essence. This cut-up Dada side of Faust was explored to the hilt on 'The Faust Tapes', a collage album of some 26 segments, and it's a methodology revisited on their brand-new comeback LP album "Rien", which was assembled by producer Jim O'Rourke using live tapes of the band's recent reunion tour of America. But for all their avant-garde extremities, Faust were also great songwriters, scatttering amid the zany chaos such gems as the bittersweet psychedelic love-song "Jennifer" and the tres third Velvets Album acid blues of "It's A Bit Of A Pain".

Once you've immersed yourself in the best, what about the rest? ASH RA TEMPEL took The Stooges' downered wah-wah rock ("We Will Fall", "Ann', "Dirt") way way out into the mystic (but beware guitarist Manuel Gottsching's subsequent New Age dotage as Ash Ra **). AMON DUUL II were the most baroque and bombastic of the krucial Kraut kontenders: imagine Led Zep produced by John Cale with Nico on vocals and a crate of magic mushrooms to hand. They had a fab line in lysergic song titles too: "Halluzination Guillotine", "Dehypnotised Toothpaste", "A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain Surgery". Their estranged sister-band AMON DUUL I pursued a similarly drug-burned rock, but were more primitivistic and sloppy. After Can/Faust/Neu!, CLUSTER were probably the most innovative and ahead-of-their time. After a spell as the purely avant-garde Kluster, the two-man soundlab of Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius hit their stride with the mesmeric dronescapes of 'Cluster II' and "Cluster '71". Later, they traded in their armoury of FX-pedals and guitar-loops for synths, knocked out a bunch of bewitching albums with Brian Eno, and chalked up a mammoth oeuvre (as Cluster, but also solo and as Roedelius and Moebius) with the odd gem lurking amid much New Age mush. Hooking up with Neu!'s Michael Rother, the duo also recorded as HARMONIA, producing two albums worth of serene and soul-cleansing proto-electronica. Meanwhile Rother's estranged partner Dinger formed LA DUSSELDORF, peddling a pleasing punk-rock take on the Neu!-rush. POPOL VUH rival Cluster for creative incontinence; their vast, diverse discography ranges from meditational, Mediaevalist reveries to primordial, percussive freak-outs.

Although they were only "rock" for an instant, KRAFTWERK ought to be mentioned around about here. For three fascinating albums (and an interesting prequel as ORGANISATION), Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider jumbled the New York minimalist school (La Monte Young, John Cage, Steve Reich etc) with German avant-electronics (Stockhausen). Then they staked everything on the idea that the synthesiser was the future, and won, becoming godfathers of Eurodisco, New Romanticism, Electro and Techno-Rave, not to mention a big influence on Bowie's "Low" and Spacemen 3's "Playing With Fire". 'Kraftwerk: the most important band of the 1970s' -- Discuss. TANGERINE DREAM followed a similar trajectory, shifting from their early transcendental rock (which produced four terrific albums) to synth-based proto-trance tedium ***. Early T. Dream associate KLAUS SCHULTZE also did a few interesting albums of early electronica noir.

Featuring Schultze and Ash Ra's Gottsching, COSMIC JOKERS/COURIERS were something of a Krautrock supergroup; their six elpees of hallucinogen-addled studio-shenanigans range from Gong-style buffoonery to Hawkind-like hurtles into the remotest reaches of der kosmos. Also treading a tightrope between sublime and ridiculous were BRAINTICKET and GURU GURU; both erred on the side of prog but still afford a fair amount of amusement.


In their own day, the German kosmische bands were hip but not especially influential. Oddballs in Britain and America took similar sources as their launch-pad, but generally ended up in less appealing places (e.g. Henry Cow and the Canterbury school of jerky jazz-influenced art-rock). In the early '70s, only the Eno-era Roxy Music, Stooges' offshoot Destroy All Monsters, and Robert Fripp/Brian Eno's guitar-loop albums ("No Pussyfooting" etc) really picked up on German ideas. But in the immediate aftermath of 1977-and-all-that, bands were looking for ways to expand on punk's sonic fundamentalism without bloating up into prog-rock indulgence, and Krautrock provided a host of pointers for the post-punk vanguard. Can especially offered a fertile source of rhythmic ideas, not just for avant-funkateers like PiL and Pop Group, but also The Fall. Their early anthem "Repetition" ("repetition in the music and we're never gonna lose it") expressed Holger Czukay's creed of 'self-restriction" in word and sound; Mark E. Smith would later pen "I Am Damo Suzuki" as a tribute to Can's second and most barmy vocalist.

The pan-global panoramic trance-dance of Talking Heads' "Remain In Light" owed a lot to "Soon Over Babaluma", and yet more sincere flattery came in the form of David Byrne and "Remain" producer Eno's "My Life In The Bush of Ghosts" (1981). Its use of ethnic vocal samples was unfavourably compared with Czukay's recent "Movies", whose "Persian Love" recontextualised an Iranian ballad; in actual fact, Holger had got there 12 years earlier with "Canaxis", which used Vietnamese boat-woman's song! Meanwhile, the then freshly reissued Faust were impacting the burgeoning "industrial" scene (Cabaret Voltaire, Zoviet France, This Heat, Nurse With Wound, etc), their collage aesthetic paralleling the in-vogue cut-up techniques of William Burroughs.

In the late '80s, Krautrock's influence shifted from rhythm & structure, towards texture & sonority. Loop covered "Mother Sky", then mutated into the"Cluster II" tribute band, Main. Spacemen 3 reached Kraftwerk-like Elysian fields on "Playing With Fire", while its sequel bands often have an uncanny resemblance to Neu! (Spiritualized) and Cluster (Spectrum, E.A.R.). A single Neu! track, "Negativland", prophesised Lee Ranaldo & Thurston Moore's "reinvention of the guitar" and harmonic dissonance on "Sister" and "Daydream Nation". Sonic Youth paid homage with the silly filler track "Two Cool Rock Chicks Listening to Neu!' on their silly Ciccone Youth side-project.

In the '90s, Krautmania blew up big time. First, there was American lo-fi: Pavement, Thinking Fellers Union, Mercury Rev, F/i, Truman's Water (who covered not one but TWO Faust songs), Soul-Junk. Then came the international drone-rock network (Flying Saucer Attack, Labradford, the Dead C/Gate, Flies Inside The Sun, Third Eye Foundation), and the neo-Neu! motorik maniacs (Stereolab, Trans-Am, Quickspace Supersport), and the nouveau kosmonauts (Sabalon Glitz, Telstar Ponies, Cul De Sac) and the post-rock groove collectives (Laika, Tortoise, Pram, Moonshake, Rome), and even the odd art-tekno outfit (Mouse On Mars). Inevitably, the referencing is getter more arcane: Cluster & Eno with Labradford, Popol Vuh with Flying Saucer and Sabalon, Cosmic Jokers with Telstar....

Why is the Krautrock legacy being embraced so fervently, at this precise point in time? Firstly, Krautrock is one of the great eras of guitar-reinvention. Expanding on the innovations of Hendrix, Syd Barrett, the VU, etc, the Krautrock bands explored the electric guitar's potential as source of sound-in-itself. Fed through effects-pedals and the mixing desk, the guitar ceased to be a riff-machine and verged on an analog synthesiser, i.e. a generator of timbre and tone-colour. As such, the Krauts anticipated the soundpainting and texturology of today's post-rock, while still retaining the rhythmic thrust of rock'n'roll.

Second, Krautrock brought into focus an idea latent in rock, from Bo Diddley to the Stooges to the Modern Lovers: that the rhythmic essence of rock music, what made it different from jazz, was a kind of machinic compulsion. Pitched somewhere between Kraftwerk's man-machine rigour and James Brown's sex-machine sweat, bands like Can and Neu! created grooves that fused the luscious warmth of flesh-and-blood funk with the cold precision of techno. There was a spiritual aspect to all this, sort of Zen and the Art of Motorik Maintenance: the idea that true joy in life isn't liberation from work but exertion, fixation, a trance-like state of immersion in the process itself, regardless of outcome. Holger Czukay declared: "Repetition is like a machine... If you can get aware of the life of a machine then you are definitely a master ... [machines] have a heart and soul... they are living beings'." . Taking this idea of the 'soft machine' or 'desiring machine' even further, Neu! created a new kind of rhythm for rock, bridging the gap between rock'n'roll's syncopation and disco's four-to-the-floor metronomics. As Stereolab's Tim Gane says, "Neu!'s longer tracks are far closer to the nature of house and techno than guitar rock."

Beyond all this, Krautrock is simply fabulous music, a dizzy kaleidoscope of crazily mixed up and incompatible emotions and sensations (wonder, poignancy, nonchalance, tenderness, derangement), an awesome affirmation of possibility that inevitably appeals in an age when guitar-based music appears to be contracting on a weekly basis. Listeners are turning to it, not as a nostalgia-inducing memento of some wilder, more daring golden age they never lived through, but as a treasure trove of hints and clues as to what can be done right here, right now. Krautrock isn't history, but a living testament that there's still so far to go.



* No slight intended to the very wonderful Buzzcocks (whose Shelley was a Krautrock fan and it shows in some of the later B-cocks B-sides, plus Neu-y side project The Tiller Boys w/ Eric Random, plus his pre-Buzz solo album, the all electronic Sky Yen). And no slight to the pre-psych Beatles either. But definite slight to those who think music should have never evolved beyond 1966 and 1978.

**  Come to have quite high regard and fondness for the late Seventies Manuel Gottsching and Ash Ra (had I even heard them properly when I wrote this?), in fact I probably prefer the Inventions for Guitar and New Age of Earth and Belle Alliance etc stuff to Ash Ra Tempel circa Join Inn.... it's on the way to the untouchable sublimity of E2-E4.

***  Again, have a kinder opinion of the Phaedra-onwards Tangerine Dream plus Froese solo albums... and a substantially higher estimation of Klaus Schulze.  The big ommission here is Conrad Schnitzler.  Should also have had more to say about Cluster, especially the sublime Zuckerzeit.  But you know, in those days you had to pay for music, remember? And also, Melody Maker word-counts, which I was pushing to the absolute limit with this double-pager.

****  Originally there was a side-bar with a mini-interview with David Keenan, then of Telstar Ponies, representing current bands influenced by K-rock.  But the MM editor cut it for space. Shame as he had some interesting stuff to say.  

'Silver Surfer' column, Melody Maker, sometime in 1995 or 1996

by Simon Reynolds

Marginal in its own time, Krautrock can now be seen to have invented the future we currently inhabit.  Can's pan-global avant-funk anticipated many of the moves made by sampladelic
dance genres like trip hop, ethnotechno and ambient jungle; Kraftwerk and Neu!'s motorik rhythms paved the way for trance techno and trance rock; Faust and Cluster's drone-ological
experiments contained the germs of lo-fi, post-rock and isolationism. The boom in Krautrock reissues offers a great opportunity to go back and hear this future's birth-pangs. 

Easily the most exciting of the current spate of reissues are the three albums Kraftwerk recorded between 1970-73, prior to their global pop smash "Autobahn". "Kraftwerk 1", "Kraftwerk 2" and "Ralf and Florian" (all Germanofon)  are fascinating because you can hear both where
the band are headed (techno) and the experimental tradition from which they gradually extricated themselves (late '60s New York avant-gardism).  Despite the fact that its robotic riff is played on a flute rather than a synth, "Ruckzuck" prophesises the hypnotic rush of "Trance Europe Express" and
"Tour De France"; the Elysian electro-pastoralism of "Klingklang" looks ahead to the heavenly shimmerscapes of "Neon Lights", or even Spacemen 3's "Playing With Fire". Elsewhere, Kraftwerk's avant-classical and psychedelic roots are showing: there's John Cage-like gamelan chimes, clusters
of woozy guitar-harmonics and droopy, almost Hawaian-souding bottleneck-glissandos, echo-chamber freak-outs, Beach Boys/barbershop harmonies and even Byrdsy backwards-guitar.

 Krautrock's ancestral links (via the Velvet Underground) to New York's school of drone-minimalism were spelled out when Faust hooked up with Tony Conrad, who'd played (alongside John Cale) in La Monte Young's legendary if little heard "dream music" ensemble. The result was the 1972 LP
"Outside The Dream Syndicate", now reissued by Table of The Elements: three twenty-minute-plus tracks of magnificent mantric monotony, with Conrad's severe violin rasping across Faust's strict and symettrical rhythm section.  Don't expect Faust's kooky wit or surreal caprices: "Outside The Dream
Syndicate" is an essay in the Zen-power of repetition and restriction.  If it's Faust's daft side you're after, check  out "The Faust Concerts Vol. 1" and "Vol.  2" (both Table of the Elements), which document the band's '90s reformation, alternating between a pointless 'Greatest Hits' revue and
'old-Dadaist-farts-at-play' cacophony. Still, Faust have a brand new studio LP out later this year, produced by Steve Albini and Jim O'Rourke, which should be at very least intriguing.

Anyone interested in tripped-out weirdshit should hunt  down the awesome "Cluster II" (Tempel). Cluster--the two-man sound-laboratory of Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius--
deployed treated, processed and looped guitars to weave drone-tapestries that seem to waver, bucklee and crinkle before your ears, like the sonic equivalent of Op Art. Later, Cluster went synth, collaborated with Brian Eno, and dwindled into sporadically interesting but increasingly New
Agey solo careers. That said, their brand-new, percussion-oriented LP "One Hour" (Gyroscope) is actually well worth a listen.  Back in the mid-70's, Roedelius and Moebius hooked up with Michael Rother of Neu!  to form Harmonia, whose second LP "Deluxe" (Bebe) has just been reissued. Harmonia's aura of serene exultation is actually closer to Neu!'s gliding propulsion than Cluster's locked-groove claustrophobia. With its twinkling Rother guitars and naively pretty, early Orchestral Manoeuvres melodiosness, "Deluxe" is like some weird fusion of kosmic rock and Test Card muzak.

Of the latest bunch of Can-related reissues, the most interesting solo item is "Canaxis" (Spoon/Mute), a 1968/69 collaboration between Holger Czukay and Rolf Dammers that consists of two side-long "acoustic sound-paintings".  The title track and "Boat-Woman Song" (which is based around
tape-loops of haunting Vietnamese folk music) are pioneering examples of ethnological sampling. Much later came Jon Hassell with his "Fourth World" music, Brian Eno and David Byrne's "My Life In The Bush of Ghosts", and contemporary ethnodelic magpies such as Loop Guru, Trans-Global and Jah Wobble.  Once again, those crafty Krauts got there ahead of the rest.