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An Introduction to Krautrock

Written by Philippe Blache

1.A revolutionary spirit

2.The musical roots: in search of krautrock sound

3.The first years (1968-1972)

4.The Golden years (1973-1976)

5.The decline (1977-1980)

6.Krautrock today/ its musical legacy

7. Krautrock influence

1.Krautrock maybe most undervalued and least listened subgenre of progressive rock. In a rather short history (from late 60’s to the end of 70’s) this German underground rock scene features consistent works with a really distinctive aesthetic and musical philosophy. Krautrock views on sound and cultural/ political freedoms make his movement unique, in reaction against both commercial and mainstreams. Krautrock was born in German counter culture whose interest was to destroy a cultural, artistic imported context dominated by the merciless ideology of the United States since the re-construction of Europe after the World War II. War’s children from Germanywanted to have the control of their collective destiny without suffering under the memory of Nazis dictatorship. They didn’t want anymore to have the feeling that their culture were robbed. During the hippie 60’s, the young generation estimated that art was the best manner to express its anger, worry to gain itscultural freedom. In music, the rock scene will highly represent this adventurous, revolutionary spirit. This was encouraged by free form rock bands, entirely devoted to experimentation and improvisation in order to create something unique.

Musical formations as Amon Duul (first, original line up), Floh de Cologne, were openly engaged in politics, so much that the music press created the term polit-rock. Rather anarchists, communists they were determined to “bomb” underminethe old system. With their concept of “Machine music”, orientated to the development and technology capacities of control, Kraftwerk also mentally worked against the traditionalism. They made connections between technologies, the experimental science, robotic music and new consciousness. Can’s members also tried to express around the intention to rebuild the German culture on an new background. The producer Rolf Ulrich Kaiser with his “kosmischen Kuriers” label brought radical ideas with the pretension to develop world’s consciousness thanks to LSD, cosmic music and sideral energies.

2.First of all, the free form rock music developed by Krautrock was inspired by the psychedelic, hippie movements emerging during the 60’s in the “Anglo-American” world with the music of the Grateful Dead, 13th Floor Elevator…The difference appeared in the way of composition and arrangements. Bands as Faust, Guru Guru, Neu!, Can deconstructed rock standards, making parodies, augmenting their own work with a constant use of experimentation with electronic collages, weird tape manipulations (inspired by the "musique concrete” , minimalismand electro-acoustic), monotonous pieces, mystical atmospheres, precise rhythms, efficient melodies constructed next to improvisations. In their respective styles, bands as Amon Duul, Embryo, Agitation Free, Popol Vuh rapidly found their own combination, providing a strange, mantra-like rock music inspired by the East and ethnic instruments. The typical German sound can be described as a clever, original mix between experimentation, avant-garde, contemporary music, weird, psychedelic rock, jazz, folk and mysticism.

3.The scene first rises to public attentionin the end of the 60’s with very atypical bands, attached to endless drug-inspiredimprovisations and anarchist experimental rock. Among the most notorious bands we can quote:

-The initial Amon Duul formation with their long 68’s chaotic, folk “trippy” jamming, published later in four cult albums (“Psychedelic Underground”, “Disaster”, “Collapsing”, “Paradieswartsduul”). Amon Duul II and their acid folk/ space rock compositions in the two epic & classic “Phallus Dei” (1969), “Yeti”.

-Guru Guru and their strange bluesy/psych jamming experience (“UFO”, “Hinten”)

-Annexus Quam delivers a solid cosmic/ jazz item with “Osmose” published in 1970. In early days of kraut/ jazz we can also quote a few others major albums: "Wake up" (1970) recorded by a fusion/ brass psychedelic band called Out Of Focus, the jazz / ethnic rock "opal" (1970) released by Embryo, Kraan and their self title album (1972). All these bands came from Munich.

-Popol Vuh started their spiritual adventure in the esoteric, shamanic “Affenstunde” composed for ethnic percussions and Moog synth.

-From Berlin, Tangerine Dream (“electronic meditation”, “Alpha Centauri” /1969-71) Kluster (“Zwei Osterei,” “Klopzechein”/1969-70) took an interest for embryonic electronic manipulations applied on standard rock instruments. In 1972, one year after the seminal “Alpha Centauri” which introduces “cosmic music”, Klaus Schulze writes in solo his hypnotic cosmic “orchestration” (“Irrlicht”). With their original album “Malesch”, Agitation Free explores psychedelic/ acid rock improvisations with the add of acoustic, eastern influences. Mythos recorded their self title album in a rather similar interest for space rock, weird sounds, exoticism and spirituality. Ash Ra Tempel go further than Tangerine Dream’s “electronic meditation” in their two first efforts (“ART”, 1971 / “Schwigungen”, 1972). These are largely made of instrumental psych/rock compositions and pre-electronic arrangements. Wallenstein also signed their two dynamic symphonic space rock albums “Blitzkrieg” & “Mother Universe” with the astonishing Bill Barone on the guitars.

During this period, all major albums have been signed on the ohr, Pilz & Brain labels. The producers Conny Plank, Rolf Ulrich Kaiser, Dieter Dierks had a great importance on the development of krautrock, German “acid” music.

4.In 1973, Krautrock knows a peak of popularity thanks to feeback from specialized music press. Bands as Amon Duul II, Guru Guru, Kraftwerk start a successful career outside Germany. In 1974, Kraftwerk releases “Autobahn”. This classic electronic/ experimental synth pop album will have a highly popular recognition everywhere. Brain records, Sky records continue to publish memorable “alternative” krautrock albums, notably with the pre-ambient Harmonia side project by Roedelius & Moebius (Cluster’s members). In 1973, the producer Rolf Ulrich Kaiser founded his own label “Die Kosmische Kuriere” for numerous nice space rock / cosmic synth recordings, his “Cosmic Jokers” project (several improvised sessions in studio with ancient krautrockers as Klaus Schulze, Manuel Gottsching, Jurgen Dollase…). For his prolific production in intergalactic rock music, Rolf Kaiser has constituted a small community around personalities of the 60’s psychedelic, esoteric philosophies (Timothy Leary and his collaboration in Ashra Tempel’s “seven up”, the Swiss esoteric writer Sergius Golowin in “Lord Krishna von Goloka” and the gypsy folk artist Walter Wegmuller in “Tarot”). The Virgin label founded in 1973 by Richard Branson is for a large part responsible of Can, Tangerine Dream, Faust’s commercial success. After a promising success with their first album, Faust rapidly reiterate with “So Far” (1972). This album had a wide success outside of Germany, notably in England . This album is a fascinating collection of short avant garde “pop” sketches with a nice technical /musical background. Thanks to the success of this album, Virgin signed the famous “Faust tapes” (several recordings from 1971 to 1973). Really appreciated by different public from England, France , Germany, the successful second Can album “Tago Mago” (1971) is a very efficient work of strange, “acid” rhythmical rock with a few humorous ballads.

In 1974, Manuel Gottsching records his first solo album “Inventions for electric guitars” under the Ashra Tempel name. With simple electronic effects, he creates a unique trancey, space minimalist essay for guitar. In 1975-76, Klaus Schulze publishes two of his most popular analog synth efforts with “Timewind” and “Moondawn”.

5.In the second half of the 70’s, as for the most part of the progressive rock scene, Krautrock will gradually loose the attention of the public to finally disappear. This is mainly due to the coming of new musical scenes as Punk (in cold with complexity , musical’s technicity), heavy metal and new wave. Numerous krautrock bands as Amon Duul, Agitation Free, Guru Guru split up. Only very popular bands as Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream success to stay alive. In solo, several artists as Holger Czukay (Can), Conrad Schnitlzer (Tangerine Dream, Kluster) counts on faithful fans and the interest of a specialized public. Klaus Schulze, TD, Ashra (with “New Age Of Earth”, “Blackouts”, “Belle Alliance”, “Correlations”) pursue their works in a more accessible, ambient synth genre but partially failed to renew their genre.

A second wave of German prog bands chose to develop their music on a more conventional , harder and symphonic rock such as Grobschnitt , Novalis , Jane Anyone's daughter , Birth Control etc.... These groups will reach their apex of popularity in the later 70's.

6.After one decade in the wilderness, Krautrock comes back to life thanks to the rediscovery of ancient classics. This was possible thanks to the expanded reissues of new independent labels as Garden of delights, Spalax, Captain Trip and more recently SPV. Several bands will reform for special occasions during festivals and for the publication of box sets (Guru Guru, Faust, Can…). Young generations of musicians with Stereolab, Sonic Youth…speak about their admiration for Neu!, Can, sometimes working with glorious old figures (the multimedia artist Luigi Archetti and his collaboration with Manni Neumeier for the project Tier der Nacht…). Other bands such as Cul De Sac are overtly influenced by Krautrock groups such as Can and Kraftwerk. Today, Krautrock, space rock from Germany is considered as a pioneer style in the development of musical subgenres which emerged during the 80’s until now.

7. During the seventies, German bands were not alone to explore distinctive musical ideas, experimenting drugs with music, free jazz and electronic. German first releases received a percussive feedback from the 70’s underground rock scenes born in France, Swiss, Italy, England…almost everywhere in Europe. In France, Lard Free is one of the worthy representative answer to Krautrock’s melting pot of jazz, psychedelic and electronic influences. The spacey rock of the band in their three first albums obviously resonates with Krautrock (especially with the Berlin electronic rock scene). Still in France, the innovative guitarist Richard Pinhas (both in solo and with his group Heldon) also explored electronics, molecular machines in an hypnotic repetitive mood (“Un Rêve Sans Conséquence Spéciale”, “Electronic Guerilla”…). The french folk rock band Tangerine published peaceful, dreamy compositions that have discreet similitudes with Emtidi, Langs’yne beautiful acoustic music. In their album “Cottonwoodhill (1971), the Swiss of Brainticket made an evident connection between schizo-bluesy improvisations and psychedelic space rock to create a jointy, freak out atmosphere that wouldn’t deny most part of krautrock bands. In England, the glam rocker Brian Eno reaches his music into a cerebral, aquatic ambient style (“On Land”, “Apollo”, “Music for films”…) during and after his collaboration with the German musicians of Cluster (“Cluster & Eno”, After the heat”) and Harmonia (“Harmonia 76 tracks & traces). David Bowie also moved in Berlin to get impregnated with this special ambiance to produce his Berlin Trilogy (with Robert Fripp at the production).

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