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From the late 1960s to the mid-1970s, German underground bands were
allowed to flourish in glorious isolation from their American or British
counterparts, and issued forth a mighty clang that was equalparts
educated, intelectual experimentation and instinctive, primal
Cologne's Can were thirtysomething Stockhausen disciples who, on
hearing the Beatles' I Am a Walrus in 1968, abandonned classical
composition for a self-consciously minimalist rock'n'roll rush; Ash Ra
Tempel allied the collosal garage-band riffing of Iggy Pop and the
Stooges to the free jazz of Sun Ra.
But the Krautrock bands are by no means museum pieces. Tonight and
tommorrow , Faust, who in their heyday were as much at home backing New
York's avant-garde violinist and composer Tony Conrad as they were
creating strangely catchy deconstructed pop, play two more reunion gigs
at Londons Garage.
This summer Virgin records thought it commercially viable to release
Unknown Deutschland - The Krautrock Archive Volume I, an album collecting
the work of hopelessly obscure Cologne-based third-division German
My Krautrock curiosity was aroused by seeing the name Amon Duul II written in felt tip on the wattle-and-daub of a 16th-century Suffolk cottage three years back, but this cannot be by any means a typical experience. So what accounts for a Krautrock revival?
The apparently innovative sounds of British indie pop group Stereolab
seemed without precedent. Then they cited the chugging futuristic
motorised pop mantras of the then unknown Neu as an influence, and then
the secret was out.
Certainly, the collective unconscious has been softened up for Krautrock's elliptical drones by rave music, perhaps the most determinedly abstract sound ever to be popular enough to feature in soft drinks commercials. But even Amon Duul II themselves lay the blame for the music's resurgent poularity squarely at the feet of one man, former Teardrop Explodes vocalist and professional English eccentric, Julian Cope.
Cope's 1995 book, Krautrocksampler, is already on its third reprint. Written with an unashamed and infectious enthusiasm that blows the cobwebs off any tendency to overintellectualise, Krautrocksampler is both a field guide that steers the curious record buyer away from the less inspired areas of his subjects' later efforts, and a lively history of a fascinating period, half encyclopedia, half psychadelic detective story.
Read Chapter 8 and thrill as record producer Rolf-Urich Kaiser
assembles the then fugitive acid guru Timothy Leary and the cream of
Krautrock's musicians in a chalet in the Swiss Alps, and makes them
perform endless free-form jams in return for all the LSD they can eat.
The Faust and Amon Duul II reunions have little to add to the Krautrock legend. Faust's Rein, though admirable for its determined originality of sound and relentless experimentation, offers little of the more conventional pop sensibility that once made them such an irresistable proposition. Amon Duul II, despite having the utterly distinctive banshee howl of Renate Knaup to the fore, seem to have mutated into just another showy technically sophistocated progressive rock band.
As for Krautrock's influence over modern music, via rock groups Stereolab, Quickspace Supersport or the techno acts that have sampled it, perhaps it is ironic that a genre that prized originality above all else might be reduced to the sum of its keyboard sounds and metronomic onbeats alone. But for now Krautrock is back in common currency, daring contemporary musicians to raise their game.
Stewart Lee | The Sunday Times | 12/96