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Published on February 25th, 2015 | by Graylien

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10 Mind-Shattering Moments in Krautrock History

Germany, 1970s. The sound is unmistakable—pounding drums and throbbing, hypnotic bass supporting layers of guitar riffs and ethereal synthesizers, beckoning you into the void.

For the uninitiated, the word “krautrock” (originally coined by the British press) describes the otherworldly sounds coming from West Germany during the late ’60s and early ’70s. Blending psychedelic freak-outs with progressive rock and electronic machines, Germany was at the forefront of rock, ambient, and electronic music. Rejecting the influence that American blues had on the UK music scene, these young artists began constructing their own musical language. Borrowing elements from classical, jazz, and avant-garde music, they created new forms of artistic expression and cosmic revelation.

Julian Cope does a great job of tracking the scene’s historical and artistic explosions in his book Krautrock Sampler. Check it out for more info.

Amon Düül II & The Post-Psychedelic Landscape

It’s the end of the ’60s, and a group of radical West German commune members begin experimenting with rock music. Combining blues-saturated guitar and violin riffs with freeform, it was Europe’s answer to the Grateful Dead. Amon Düül became known for their extended, improvisational cosmic jams and their freethinking philosophies. According to guitarist John Weinzierl, “The band played almost every day. We played universities, academies, underground clubs, and every hall with a power socket and an audience.”

The group steadily gained notoriety and released their first album Phallus Dei in 1969, which allowed them tour all over Germany while still living together as a commune. The lineup seemed to be a constant revolving door with some ex-members joining such influential acts as Hawkwind and Embryo. Here’s a live television clip showing the band’s core lineup at the start of the ’70s.

Zodiak Free Arts Lab

This important club was established in the large backroom of a Berlin theater in 1969. One half of the room was painted white and the other was painted black with instruments, speakers, and amplifiers placed all around.

Founded by artists Conrad Schnitzler and Hans-Joachim Roedelius, their club promoted the ideas that “all art should be free” and “songs are considered bourgeois”. Artists were invited to come and experiment with alternate forms of music, drawing from avant-garde minimalism, primitive electronics and free jazz. While this club only existed for a few months, it gave birth to numerous influential electronic artists such as Tangerine Dream and Cluster. The following clip shows footage of parties held there in 1969 with music by Human Being.

Early Kraftwerk (1970–73)

Before they became the superstars of electronic music, Kraftwerk performed as a live electro-acoustic ensemble. Blending guitars, drums, electric piano, and flute with large arrays of electronic effects, they created the framework for a new school of emerging German electronic artists. Led by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, the group worked with numerous other musicians over the course of their first three albums and sporadic live appearances.

The clip below shows a particularly unique version of their lineup including guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger who would both later find fame with their band Neu!. Here is Kraftwerk live on Beat Club Bremmen in Germany 1971 with a sprawling tune called Kakteen, Wüste, Sonne (Cactus, Wind, Sun). Check out all that gear they dragged into the studio!

Can’s Free Concert, Cologne

When Can released their single Spoon in 1972, it was used as the theme for a popular German TV show Das Messer. The single quickly shot up to #6 on the German charts selling an upwards of 300,000 copies. In February 1972, due to the extreme success of the single, Can decided to put on a free concert at Kölner Sporthalle in Cologne, Germany. The brave attendees were treated to the most amazing spectacle, including a tuxedo-wearing juggler, musical saw players, and acrobats while the band stoically played their rhythms.

Vocalist Damo Suzuki is in rare form with his pink velvet jumpsuit and knee-length jet-black hair, hopping around like a madman. A DVD of this concert was released in the late 2000s and also includes footage of the band recording their incredible album Tago Mago. Highly recommended! Here’s Can performing their hit Spoon at the concert.

Ash Ra Tempel and Timothy Leary’s Album Seven Up

In September 1970, LSD guru/advocate Timothy Leary escaped from a California prison and had radical student group The Weather Underground smuggle him out of the United States. Fleeing to Switzerland, Leary started to collaborate with the psychedelic rock group Ash Ra Tempel. The title Seven Up refers to an incident where the band was given soda spiked with LSD before a performance.

Taking source material from a few studio sessions and combining them with a metaphysical live performance at the 1972 Bern Festival in Switzerland, this trainwreck of an album delivers on all facets of krautrock. Ranging from acid-fried blues riffs, stoned incantations, out-of-body ambient sequences, and pulsating rhythms, both sides of the album are sure to clear your head.

Ash Ra Tempel’s Mannuel Göttsching said, “Tim Leary lived in Switzerland in 1972, and Hartmut went with our producer to meet him and to talk about a common project. Tim liked a lot our album Schwingungen, our second album, which we had released shortly before we met him. Tim proposed to work on his theory of the ‘Seven Levels of Consciousness’. We hired a few guest musicians and in summer ’72 we all went to Berne/Switzerland for the recording. We had a great time, Tim really enjoyed it. He even started singing in some parts.”

If you enjoy this one, make sure to check out Göttsching’s solo albums, especially the game-changing Inventions for Electric Guitar.

Walter Wegmüller’s Tarot Card Deck

Wegmüller was seen as something of a mystic in German art circles, mostly being known for his paintings. In the early ’70s he had painted a new deck of Tarot cards that had attracted interest among numerous Berlin-based musicians.

In 1972, producer Rolf Ulrich Kaiser rounded up a group of cosmic musicians including Manuel Göttsching (Ash Ra Tempel) and created a double LP focusing on this new Tarot deck. Some critics complained of the filler in the middle of the album, however the last half of the album holds some of the heaviest-hitting space-rock ever committed to tape.

If you enjoy this, then definitely check out the Cosmic Joker’s LP Galactic Supermarket. It’s full of weird and wonderful riffs, complex synthesizers, and of course lots of hallucinogens. Here’s a standout track from the first half of the Tarot album.

Popol Vuh & Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu

Being hand picked by one of film’s most provocative auteurs can often bring a newfound legitimacy to your work. This was certainly true for Popol Vuh when they were asked to score films by Werner Herzog.

After experimenting on their own with ambient orchestral sounds and complex synths, the director took notice and their collaboration took off with 1972’s Aguirre, Wrath of God and continued with numerous other films throughout the decade. A standout was the soundtrack created for a remake of the German horror classic Nosferatu the Vampyre. Atmospheric, hypnotic and often tense, their soundtrack gives the movie a hazy quality that paralyzes the audience.

Being their 11th studio album, the group—composed of Florian Fricke and Daniel Fichelscher—hired guest musicians (including an entire chorus from Munich) to round out their orchestral sound. What’s even more amazing is that the band produced so much music during these sessions that Herzog only used about a quarter of it for his film.

This particular scene from the film stood out—check out the ambience about halfway through for the cloud shots.

Embryo — Live at Kalkutta Jazz Festival 1979

Towards the end of the 1970s, music began to change. After nearly a decade of mind-expanding sounds, the notion of rock music had shattered into numerous different sub-genres as groups continued to evolve and explore.

Embryo began as a jazz-influenced krautrock band that quickly earned a reputation for eclecticism as they began integrating their music with various sounds from around the globe. In 1979, the band took a nine-month tour through India by bus, notably performing at Kalkutta Jazz Festival. The tour was documented in a film called Vagabunden Karawane, which contains the following clip of the band live at Kalkutta Jazz Festival.

Faust Meet Omar Rodriguez Lopez

Julian Cope once wrote that there is no band more mythical than Faust, and he’s probably right. Their mysterious recording sessions in the schoolhouse in Wümme during the early ’70s paved the way for industrial, noise and electronic music for years to come. The band split up around ’75 when their label (Virgin Records) rejected their 5th album, however the group’s notoriety had already spread across the world.

Following a 15-year hiatus, two members of Faust (Zappi and Péron) played some reunion gigs. In 1997, Faust toured the U.S. for the first time with a lineup of Péron and Diermaier assisted by Steven Wray Lobdell and an opening act consisting of Sonic Youth members.

The band stayed active throughout the rest of the ’90s, however another split took place in the 2000s. There are now two bands called Faust, one led by Péron and Zappi and another led by Hans Joachim Irmler and Steven Wray Lobdell.

Here is a live clip of Zappi and Péron performing with Omar Rodriguez Lopez in the 2000s. Note the use of power tools (drills, chainsaws, flamethrowers) used throughout the set… at one point Péron takes the chainsaw to his bass and later chants “this is not music…” Top-quality stuff!

Ricardo Villalobos, Max Loderbauer, and Conrad Schnitzler

The effects and ideas of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab were powerful enough to travel far into the future, continuing to inform and inspire generations of artists and musicians. In 2012, Conrad Schnitzler’s Zug was remixed by minimalist electronic artists Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer. Their album Zug (Reshaped & Remodeled) contains multiple alternative mixes to the original classic showing that Villalobos and Loderbauer have done their homework and have truly been inspired by the source material.

The mixes bump and bounce their way through a foreign audio spectrum of strange textures and patterns, proving these artists are at the bleeding edge of electronic production work.


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