Wednesday, August 10, 2016



Melody Maker, 1995?

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

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, buckle 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

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 krafty Krauts got there ahead of
the rest. 

KRAUTROCK a survey
Melody Maker, 1995 (also appeared in the book Modulations)

by Simon Reynolds

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. 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 clich├ęd 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 Velvet
Underground 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
on classic jazz-rock albums  such as Bitches Brew, Jack Johnson and On
the Corner. As Can'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 Velvet
Underground circa White Light White Heat but with a smokin' rhythm
section and black American vocalist Malcolm Mooney--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--both featuring their
psycho-surreal second singer Damo Suzuki--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

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 Brian Eno's My Life In The Bush of Ghosts (1981). Its
use of ethnic vocal samples was unfavourably compared with Czukay's
contemporaneous 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!

 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 and smears of
tone-colour.  Like the New York band Television  a few years later,
Neu! bridged Byrdsy psychedelia and punk. They also  wove  ambient
texturescapes (e.g. the oceanside idyll "Leb' Wohl") and  experimented  with weird noise (after  blowing 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 by
admirers like Stereolab and Trans-Am.

Faust similarly combined a proto-punk mess-thetic with acid-rock's galactic grandeur. But instead of Neu!'s 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 they revisited on
their late Nineties comeback album Rien, which was assembled by
producer Jim O'Rourke using live tapes of the band's reunion tour of
America.  Paralleling the in-vogue cut-up techniques of William
Burroughs, Faust's collage aesthetic impacted the early 80s' burgeoning
"industrial" scene (Cabaret Voltaire, Zoviet France, This Heat, Nurse
With Wound, etc). 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 wistful 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. Guitarist Manuel Gottsching's
subsequent solo records have their moments  but veer too often into
beatific New Age wispiness. An exception is  Gottsching's astonishing
E2-E4,  an album-length electronic track that paved the way for the
ambient techno watercolors of Carl Craig, The Black Dog, and The Orb,
and even became a Balearic rave anthem when remade by Sueno Latino.

Another, less acknowledged precursor to Nineties techno--especially
the metronomic and Teutonic sound of trance--was Tangerine Dream, who
evolved from the transcendental guitar  tumult of their first four
albums to a synth-dominated, hypnotic style  not far from the silvered
rush of  English neo-hippie outfit Hawkwind.

Amon Duul II were the most baroque and bombastic of the krucial Kraut kontenders: imagine Led Zeppelin 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 and  more politicized sister-band Amon Duul I
pursued a similarly drug-burned rock, but were more primitivistic and
sloppy.  Also on the acid-soaked, kosmische tip, Popol Vuh  recorded  a
sprawling, diverse  oevre ranging from meditational, Mediaevalist
reveries to primordial, percussive freak-outs. 

After Can/Faust/Neu!, Cluster were probably the most innovative and ahead-of-their time of the early Seventies German bands. 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 in collaboration  with Brian Eno, and chalked up a
mammoth discography (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. Cluster's Zuckerzeit, the Harmonia records, and the
Neu! sound were a big influence on Eno and his pal David Bowie during
the latter's mid-Seventies sojourn in Berlin; you can hear it in the
lustrous guitar canopies of "Heroes" and  the glum, pensive
synth-strumentals on side two of Low. 

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".

But Kraftwerk  was the group that really bridged the gap between rock
and electronic dance music.  (In fact, Rother and Dinger were briefly
members of Kraftwerk, before going off to do their own thing as Neu!).
On their  first three albums,  Kraftwerk's creative core 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.  The  band's pop
breakthrough was "Autobahn", the 24 minute title track  of their fourth
album:  a synth-and-drum-machine  symphony that evoked  the  Zen
serenity  of gliding down the freeway. The track combined Beach
Boys-style harmonies with musique concrete sound effects --a
celebration of the car as "a musical instrument,"  proclaimed Hutter.
In  edited form,  the song became a global hit in 1974. But Kraftwerk's
aesthetic pinnacle  was  1977's "Trans-Europe Express, an awesomely
minimal slice of "Industrielle Volkmuzik" that did  for the locomotive
what "Autohahn " did for the motor car. With its Doppler Effect synths
and indefatigible beats, the  album's "Trans-Europe Express/Metal on
Metal" segue captured the spiritual passion behind technological
progress--"all the dynamism of industrial life, of modern life," as
Hutter put it.  Two further albums--1978's The Man Machine and 1981's
Computer World--consolidated Kraftwerk's achievement, and sealed the
staggering enormity and sheer pervasive range of their legacy: in the
Eighties and Nineties, they were reknowned and revered as the
godfathers of  (just count 'em!) Eurodisco, New Romantic synth-pop,
electro, Miami Bass, Detroit techno, and  North of England
bleep-and-bass (LFO, Sweet Exorcist, Forgemasters).

Why is the Krautrock legacy such a touchstone for contemporary
musicians. 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 that characterises today's computer-based
music,  while still retaining the rhythmic thrust of rock'n'roll. 

 Simultaneously kinetic and cinematic, Krautrock is one of the golden
phases in a continuum that runs through rock history: the textured
groovescape. It's a  thread that runs from Hendrix, Sly Stone, Miles
Davis, dub reggae, and Parliament-Funkadelic, through the early
Eighties avant-funk of PiL, The Pop Group, A Certain Ratio, et al,
right up to the more ambient  and atmospheric forms of electronic dance
music (Orbital, Seefeel, Basic Channel/Chain Reaction, Mouse On Mars).
Whether they're live bands jamming in the studio then editing and
resequencing their improvs, or  solitary computer boffins constructing
digital mosaics  using a mouse, a VDU, and a library of samples and
synth-tones, all these artists create pulsating, vividly textured
soundscapes through which the listener is gently transported.

Krautrock belongs on a  continuum of psychedelic dance music based
around the intensification of  rock's three most radical aspects:
groove, space, and timbre/texture/chromatics.  "Groove"  relates  to
repetition, to the loop, to timelessness--the  dream of escaping
History by getting back into the body.  Conjured on the mixing board
through  echo, reverb and delay,  "space"  induces  a stoned way of
listening,  hallucinatory  eyelid movies.  Created through  effects
pedals,  analog synths, or  sampladelic treatments,   "timbre"  is
trippy, paralleling the synaesthetic effects of drugs like LSD, where
sound is tactile or immersive.

Beyond all its claims to radicalism, though, 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 Krautrock, 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.

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