KRAUTROCK MASTERS + ECHOES
Germany – at the end of the sixties. Things were beginning to bubble on the underground music scene. Kraut-Rock was known as the bastard. It fed on anything and everything that haunted young heads at the time, reworking influences from Hendrix through to student protest leader Dutschke, from LSD sounds through to Free Jazz, from ethnic elements to a touch of modern E-music. Kraftwerk, Can, Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Neu!, Faust – the music of these bands was raw and experimental, it sounded different from that of Velvet Underground, Jefferson Airplane, Zappa, Cream or Pink Floyd. Inspired by psychedelics, sci-fi and religion, the cosmic couriers were intent on diving into new worlds and galaxies, as far removed as possible from the burden of recent German history and the predominant Anglo-American trends. Klaus Schulze, trailblazer of electronic Pop and part of Tangerine Dream's original line-up recalls that 'whereas, previously, we'd seen a guitarist, a bass player and a drummer, suddenly there's someone sitting there, all alone, surrounded by a thousand cables. Lights are blinking furiously – and he's doing it all on his own. Playing one piece for a whole hour. And that puts you in a trance, of course. That's the truth – although, for us, there was nothing highly mystical or meditative about it. It was simply our new musical groove, our new chance to make another type of music. And we had a lot of fun with it'.
In 1968, amid student riots, protest marches, rebellion and street fights, Tangerine Dream played its first gig at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin. In the same year, a Munich-based political commune performed wild freak-out sounds at the 'Song Days' in Essen while in Cologne, Stockhausen students Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay joined forces with Rock guitarist Michael Karoli and Jazz drummer Jaki Liebezeit to found Can, a band whose impact has reverberated worldwide ever since. In Düsseldorf, thanks to avant-garde band Kraftwerk, there emerged a pure form of synthetic electronic music that was to prove more crucial than any other Pop made in Germany, and later served as a springboard for Hip-hop, New Wave and Techno.
Right next door, Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger – the legendary Neu! duo – were busy conjuring a unique hypnotic groove that still inspires cool Rock bands today. Under the name Faust, meanwhile, a bunch of flatmates beavered away at oil drums and scrap metal in a remote corner of the Lüneberg Heath, creating a radical form of Kraut Rock that first hit the charts in the UK, before inspiring bands such as The Residents and Einstürzende Neubauten. Jean-Hervé Peron, Faust's bass player at the time, describes the group's defining attitude in its heyday: 'We were young and our motto was 'no compromise'! Ha! – Fuck it all! An inner fire was eating us up and nobody – either with money, or without money – could put it out! Or with drugs, or whatever else, for that matter! There was nothing hard about it; it was as plain as day: the world belonged to us and the world was waiting for us alone!'
In the idyllic Weser Uplands of Germany, Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius – who played under the aliases Cluster and Harmonia and at times in collaboration with Brian Eno – elaborated magic moments in electronic music, the influence of which can still be felt in today's sound laboratories. And these are only a few examples of the German bands and musicians, whose personal musical visions created a sensation in the early 1970s, not only in Germany but all over the globe. Michael Rother, a former member of Kraftwerk, Neu! and Harmonia sums up the feeling: 'The overriding feeling of optimism that existed back then, from '68 onwards, certainly made all that possible, and also helped us establish [our music] on the scene. It was a new beginning: looking back, one can call it that without any reservations. Some people were more courageous, more radical, others more traditional. But in either case, it was an era when people's eyes were fixed on the future, when people tried, also in Germany, to create a cultural identity, in the widest sense of that term, from this modern, forward-looking music'.
Since the 1990s, Kraut Rock, the soundtrack of revolt or, as Die Zeit wrote, the 'testament of a visionary explosive desire for liberation' has been enjoying a revival, particularly in the UK, Japan and the USA. In the progressive sounds of major bands such as Sonic Youth, Radiohead, Flaming Lips, Stereolab, LCD Soundsystem or Portishead one can sense its spirit and pulse, its echoes; and likewise, in the work of a whole new generation of sound experimentalists such as Fujiya & Myagi, Gravenhurst, Cloudland Canyon and White Rainbow or, here at home, Mouse on Mars, To Rococo Rot and International Pony.