I'll start my very crude thoughts with a notoriously pompous section on...
KO(S)MISCHE MUSIC FROM GERMANY
Was Krautrock really that important? And the Teutonic kosmische musik subgenre, now in worldwide acclaim, in particular? Given the current, somewhat unexpected, popularity of all things krautrocky, e.g., The Red Hot Chilli Peppers touring with former Cluster members; Primal Scream shooting speed/killing light while xtrmnating all Kowalski hippies on Autobahn 66; Fujiya & Miyagi Can-canning it all retroNew, and myriads of other copycat tributes and homages paid to acts like Can or Neu!; Düsseldorf-based outfit Stabil Elite continuing reverentially and referentially where Kraftwerk had put the analogue towels in; all those wonderful acts like Electric Orange, Electric Moon, Krautzone, Papermoon, Papir, Øresund Space Collective, Camera, Interkosmos, The Spacelords, Nazca Space Fox, Lamp of the Universe, Vibravoid, et al., that take the psychedelic/prog experience ever further on, up and into space; mind-bogglingly soaring prices sought and paid for old Krautrock vinyl fetishs (My advice: stay away from Discogs!); the almost franctic reception (by hi-fi otakus and regular museum-attending folks) of Kraftwerk's remastered, intensely lukewarm classic remix and re-remix box sets, etc., etc. ─ then I would say: Yes. Somewhat. Maybe. Krautrock is part of what music journalist/historian Simon Reynolds has termed "Retromania": the kind of nostalgia, or longing for the forms and formats of previous decades, that has been dominating so much of popular culture since the late 1990s/early 2000s. And for "all its ubiquity across culture, retro-consciousness ... seems most chronically prevalent in music" (Reynolds 2012, p. xviii) ─ which might explain Krautrock's very contemporary appeal to so many musicians and consumers worldwide. Krautrock gets remade, quoted, sampled, or should I say: plagiarized, to death these days. It's Neu! all over, but hardly ever New.
Krautsourcing: Terms and Conditions
But what really is "Krautrock"? Originally it was a pejorative term coined by the British music press, invoking the US/WWII slang word for anything German (derived from a short form of "Sauerkraut", or fermented cabbage). The 1960s Krauts, however, eagerly adopted the catchphrase: they probably felt honoured to be taken note of internationally, had a good sense of humour (yes, they have ─ but Don't Mention the War), and, funnily enough, not everybody in Germany was aware of the insulting origin of the term due to a limited command of the English language. In fact, "Kraut" was widely understood as a colloquial reference to hashish, as that word, in German, literally means "weed". Local alternative terms were coined soon, opting for "space rock" or "kosmische Musik" (cosmic music) in lieu of "Krautrock" ─ but much of that discussion was largely a marketing device on the side of eager record companies and producers. "Progressive rock", as vague as that concept may be, would be a fitting term as well; "Krautrock" is simply its local German variant: "... an offshoot of psychedelia oriented largely around synthesizers ... unfurling trance-inducing pulse rhythms and amorphous swirls of texture across long tracks that often took up the entire side of an LP. Stoner music designed to trigger eyelid movies..." (Reynolds 2012, p. 390). But there is a darker side underlying the term. "Krautrock", when it started out, was largely a British phenomenon. And inherently, the term is a xenophobic, Anglocentric categorisation whereby music originating in non-English-speaking countries is placed in the position of the essentially Other. And that might explain its continuing special appeal worldwide, even in Germany where it's a cultural re-import of sorts.
However, not all Krautrock was made by Germans, and not all Krautrock stuff is, strictly speaking, rock 'n' roll. Kraftwerk in particular never had much to do with rock, sticking to the avant-garde side of Weird. Bands like Tangerine Dream started out as rockers but abandoned screeching guitars pretty soon ─ to my ever-lasting regret, if I may add ─ and started their psychoelectronic cosmic soundscapes, as did Cluster and a couple of others. Can could never be labeled anyway (were they jazz?, rock?, experimental?), and what genre or style exactly did Guru Guru, Ash Ra Tempel or Xhol Caravan belong to? None, one can only surmise. They all existed on their own small, weedy planet. The only thing not to do ─ that is, never to do ─ is to confuse Krautrock with "Deutschrock". (That is convential poseur ersatz rock music with German lyrics or, more generally, any other sort of Teutonic re-interpretation of what they think is a fusion of rhythm, melody and harmony but is in fact just a ragged bunch of scoundrels' wilfull neglect of the true essence and purpose of music which manifests itself as a detriment to one's aural system, etc., etc. ─ in short: bundesrepublikan elevator oompah yuck.) Just Say No To Drywank. ____________________________________________________
We sometimes use harsh words on DAS PLUMPE DENKEN. We do not apologize.
Krautrock all started out in West Germany around 1967
and '68, amidst a period of experimentation, musically and
otherwise. The students revolted, hair grew longer, substances were in
rampant usage. Frank Zappa & The Mothers freaked out, Pink Floyd were piping at the gates of dawn, while
the Beatles went helter-skelter. Emblematic of these new directions in both society and music was the formation of Amon Düül, a counter-cultural commune of artists and musicians set up in Munich. Beloved revolutionary glamour sweetheart Uschi Obermaier was the commune's most prominent member, hanging around with many a well-known performer and probably sucking up, er, lots of new creative ideas in the process. Amon Düül's first album, "Psychedelic Underground" (eventually released in 1969), was a mayhem assemblage of rock, folk, world music, defying traditional laws of musical craftmanship. Let the square fat-cat burghers learn how to handle those instruments! The outcome was liked by some, hated by many. But in any event it was a Break with the past ─ something just so important for the revolting youth of Adenauer's restaurative, born-again democratic West Germany.
Mama Düül's Sauerkraut Essen: a phallic experience
"The 1968 Essen rock festival was the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end" (Davide Tosi, quoted in Asbjørnsen 2008, p. 11). Yes, indeed. Just before the decisive "Internationale Essener Songtage" music festival of September 1968, largely organized by impresario-mastermind Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser (later the marketing überfather Darth Vader of kosmische musik) and singer/songwriter Bernd Witthüser (of Witthüser & Westrupp), Amon Düül had split up. While the original commune members were to record another three albums, the break-away Amon Düül II line-up started a career that was to last for a decade and that would inspire other musicians (among them UK acts Hawkwind, Gong and Planet Gong, or, later in the 1970s and up to this very day and New Age, eternal hippie Steve Hillage). Amon Düül II's first album, "Phallus Dei" (1969), and their follow-up "Yeti" (1971) are two psychedelic freak-out attacks in full battledress that stand out as some of the most innovative experimental rock albums ever. Enter Organisation ─ an outfit that was, only a year later, to become Kraftwerk. Organisation's
first (and only) album, titled "Tone Float" (1969), featured free-flowing,
semi-structured experimental noises: flutes, percussion,
electronica and lots of feedback; something seemingly fashionable at that time (viz., Xhol's brilliant "Motherfuckers" album ), and also something to resurface, in 1970, in Krafterk's
first, eponymous album (the one with the now famous red roadworks pylon
on the cover), albeit differently organized and more structured.
That album starts with what may indeed be called the invention of
techno pop in a nutshell: "Ruckzuck" features looped flutes and
organ sounds, and Klaus Dinger's 'motorik' style of super-precise
drumming, at times phased, but always strictly to the beat, which all
gets beaten to a pulp in the track's mid-section ─ almost an outburst
of deconstructive proto-punk. ____________________________________________________
Web design's Law No. 1, "Thou shalt not scroll (too much)", is broken a lot on DAS PLUMPE DENKEN. We delight in it. ____________________________________________________
"Kraftwerk 1" 's finale, "Vom Himmel hoch" (From the Sky Above), with its liberal use of airship battle and alarm siren sounds, is a painful reflection of WWII air-raids (still almost a taboo topic at the time in Germany) and predates Pink Floyd's s famous bombastic "On the Run" piece from their "Dark Side of the Moon"album (1973). The Floyds must have heard some of Kraftwerk's experimental noises on the BBC's John Peel Show indeed ─ just listen to those air-raid sounds that Kraftwerk had first. "Vom Himmel hoch" not only features an implicit commentary on what was then still a taboo topic in Germany, it also comes across as an astoundingly daring and vanguard commentary on contemporary music, finishing with a jazz-rock-punk fusion explosion that shatters your ears even 40 years on. Wow!, what a start for a virtually unknown band from Düsseldorf, Germany!
And on they went. Kraftwerk's second album, "Kraftwerk 2" (a.k.a. Green Pylon), nonchalantly invented a prototype of experimental trance music ─ a musical path the band would rarely ever follow up on in the future. But ground was laid for extremely reduced and long-winded, relaxing bass lines that, along with a couple of analogue noises from electric guitars and distorted organs and other cheap paraphernalia, would stick out and simply not fit in. It is still a surprise discovery for everybody's pop music education to listen to Kraftwerk's first two albums: outbursts of a jolly refusal of everything that was before and would ever come after, avant-garde music in the truest meaning of the word. Call it Krautrock, call it electronica, call it jazz, call it weird ─ it is. ______________________________________________________
Journalism's golden rule, "Do not bore the reader with (too many) mind-numbing details", is equally ignored on this dubious web site. ______________________________________________________
If you think Kraftwerk were somewhat wild (at least for a while), then Cluster were truly far out. Their first album, "Cluster '71", released in (try to guess:) 1971, featured a rough assembly of seemingly disharmonious, non- and anti-rhythmic patterns that will give you a cold sweat when listened to while alone in a dark forest. Freeze! Amazingly, the three pieces of soundscape contained on this album foreshadow hard-core house and techno of an ilk to resurface some 30 years later, albeit in different rhythmics, in Primal Scream's dystopic dance track "Swastika Eyes" (2000; blacksabbattically and appropriately renamed "War Pigs" for the German market). Cluster were there first, and they rocked. This duo consisted of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius. When they were, for a while in the mid-1970s, performing/recording together with Michael Rother (of Neu! fame, earlier a member of Kraftwerk), they called themselves Harmonia. Sometimes this outfit recorded with Brian Eno, who had been with Roxy Music and would later be summoned by David Bowie, as Harmonia & Eno. To add to this (in marketing terms) confusion, this boys' club also made quite a pile of groundbreaking albums as Cluster & Eno (eponymous); Eno, Moebius, Roedelius ("After the Heat"); and as Moebius and Plank ("Material", "Rastakraut Pasta"), to name but a few. No wonder nobody bought their albums at the time. Conrad "Conny" Plank was a highly influential sound engineer and producer who sound-engineered/produced a great many Krautrock albums. Perhaps he should be called the true father of the genre. Conny Plank is also featured, as a contributing musician, on a rare album, "Zero Set" (1982), released by the Moebius - Plank - Neumeier outfit (with Mani Neumeier of Guru Guru). Names, names names, and I drop them as I please.
Where are they now? (Heroes Just For One Day)
After his stint with Harmonia, Michael Rother embarked on a very successful solo career. Guru Guru still exist, though with a different line-up. Brian Eno continues to be a sought-after producer. Avant-garde geniuses Moebius and Roedelius have been rediscovered lately, churning out album after album; and they still perform. In the UK, a tribute album to Neu! has been compiled recently, and Neu!'s 4th album, demo sessions from the 1980s, has been finally released (as "Neu! '86") in 2010, though it is fairly disappointing. Conny Plank sadly died in 1987. He is still revered by many and remains a producer-wizard-as-legend. And beyond Germany? David Bowie's album "Low" (1977), with its heavy Eno influence, is a truly interesting footnote to Krautrock. The latter should be regarded as a monument to its international exploitation, the hipster's fad-of-the-century, at least for a while. Certainly Krautrock is a prime example of the "malaise of postmodern pop: there is a profound connection between meta-ness (referentiality, copies of copies) and stasis (the sensation that pop history has come to a halt)" (Reynolds 2012, p. 140). In other words: the whole thing has become slightly boring. __________________________________________________
On DAS PLUMPE DENKEN it always takes a while before any conclusions are reached. This web site is long-winded and will be hated by the quick-witted. We hope that you choke. __________________________________________________
In a historical perspective one might conclude that Krautrock was West Germany's wake-up call, a musical modernization that went in line with the country's post-WWII Westernization ─ the old Bundesrepublik at that time (late 1960s/early 1970s) still being plagued by older generations' conservative and often reactionary views and policies. And also being plagued by the evil shadows of Nazism that were being overlaid by, or rather being tried to be forgotten through, shallow orgies of mindless consumerism. As British author Julian Cope writes in his fabulous book, Krautrocksampler: 'If I had been a young German in the 1960s I would have played Krautrock or died. No way could I have lived with the knowledge that my parents' generation had had dealings in a crime beyond Biblical proportion' (Cope 1995, p. 2). It was a fresh start, a departure, perhaps even a flight ─ not least from the well-sheltered wasteland that were W. Germany's fine suburban homes, their manicured lawns, and their respectable, born-again democrat inhabitants and neighbours who wouldn't even want to remember what the shoa was, and who was responsible for it. "Rock and roll might have been 'foreign', but at least it had nothing to do with fascism", as media/culture researchers David Morley and Kevin Robins write in their book chapter "No Place Like Heimat" (in Spaces of Identity, London/New York, 1995, p. 96). Krautrock was Germany's first genuine innovation in the area of pop music that freed itself of rock 'n' roll as a mere U.S. import, and freed a new generation of having to think about an evil past. It was strange, and it was new. Krautrock was, and remains, a musical expression in its own right. It was a Declaration of Modernism.
A Case Study on Modernization: The Model on "Hitparade"
It's 1978 and conservative, oompah-craving and toe-tapping Germany is mostly sneering at Kraftwerk and their latest single release, "Das Model" (The Model) from their recent "Menschmaschine" a.k.a. "Man-Machine" album. O My Soul!, these weirdos look strange and they even use synthesizers! This is not good ol' jolly hand-made music known as Volksmusik or Schlager, the Teutonic variants of Country & Western or Easy Listening croon-a-thon pop with its insistence on clap-along easybeats and nostalgic lyrics featuring the Happy Life of Simple Folks. But: Kraftwerk's "Model" was on the charts then, and the lyrics were indeed German: the two prerequisites for appearing on ZDF TV's then highly popular and influential "Hitparade" show (hosted by a dieter named Thomas Heck, if you allow me that merry prank). So one day, after some public debate about whether those Kraftwerk weirdos should even be allowed onto the show (aren't they just a nuisance/bunch of freaks/parody?), rebutted by the band's own dignified refusal to even consider appearing there, here they were, eventually: Kraftwerk performing "Das Model" (playback though). A memorable event with an aftermath. To put it crudely: a dam gone bust. What Kraftwerk initiated was the use and, over time, wide acceptance of the synthesizer and other evilly outright electronic instruments in the somewhat aging and ailing genres of Volksmusik and Schlager. An infusion of fresh blood, as it were. Within a few years one could witness those 'new' instruments everywhere, resulting in the arrival of the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle (New German Wave) fad starting in 1982 (and fading out into mainstream Schlager fatherland ca. 1983/84). And it stayed that way until this very day: a march through institutions, as Germans would call it. A technological innovation, the synth, led to an innovation or rejuvenation of a traditional musical-mythical form and paved the way for its survival. The myth clings on. Modernization? Yes, crudely speaking. And this is what this web site is all about.
A KRAUTROCKER'S HITPARADE: THE BEAUTY OF THE BE(A)ST
What follows was intended to be my personal Top 20 of "Krautrock" albums or individual tracks. Well, it really made me go and dig up some old vinyl from the vaults of my record collection. Gosh, what did I rediscover!!! Stuff I though sucked and now sounded so good! Other stuff that bobbed and throbbed so cheerily in my rancid imagination but that, upon re-examination, sounded so trite and disposable that I put it up on eBay (Liquid Modernity's recycling dump): "so begins the cycle of inflation ... whereby albums achieve a 'lost classic' status that's quite undeserved. Original copies of third-rate records go for astonomical prices", as Simon Reynolds (2012, p. 103) puts it matter-of-factly.
So, anyway, it's now a Krautrock Top/Bottom 20+20. I'll start with the top-of-the-pots 20 teardrop-exploding crackers of my fave Krautrock round things, only to top it up with 20 rightfully forgotten, or simply shitty, specimens of flotsam and jetsam sadly washed up in my psychedelic basement's bottom.
My sample is not representative, my selection is highly idiosyncratic, and my interpretations are all off the mark, so please do not bug me with complaints. I will add, reconsider and reposition constantly. Relax.
HERE'S MY TOP 20, Or: a weird caravan of tangerine-kraftwerk popol xholed harmonia-clusters from wolf city that can ash ra 2:
1) Tangerine Dream: "Ultima Thule Part 1" (7-inch single, Ohr Records, 1971) Still my #1. What a tune! Tangerine Dream have invented punk music, really! They open this 3-minute track torturing a guitar, stomping on with with banging drums, and then laying over it a theme of awkward organ-cum-mellotron sound. The drum really is a machine gun salvo mowing 'em down, executing all of them without cease. 3:30? Feels like mind-blowing 10 minutes. Raw power! And has very little to do with any TD stuff that came before or that came after. It's a full-frenzied freak-out! (Try to get the original 7-inch single: the reissued version on a compilation CD with the same name that came out a few years ago is heavily remixed and sounds extremely dull.)
2) Amon Düül II: side 2 of "Yeti" (their second album, Liberty/United Artists, 1971) Another of those freak-outs. Five tracks, all different in ambience, structure and sound, yet beautifully made to fit. "Archangel's Thunderbird" rocks it to heaven while the other tunes gnarl at your intestines and gulp you down like a bunch of Martian fire flowers. The closing track, "Pale Gallery", is a chilling premonition of Joy Division a few years before their formation. This album will reward you with many such discoveries. (Yes, they all listened to the BBC's John Peel over there in the UK.)
3) Neu!: "Hallogallo" (from their first LP, "Neu!", Brain Records, 1971) A guitar lick fades in, soon accompanied by a stoic 4/4 drumbeat. Double-declutchingly they propel the track forward, ever forward, shiveringly cool, dingerdrumming till the comet cometh. This is "Hallogallo", the first track on the first release by Neu!, the duo formed by Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother after their fallout with Kraftwerk. And this 10-minute track gave birth to a genre of its own, motorik, perhaps being Krautrock's greatest achievement, copycatted to death by later bands both sides of the Atlantic. "Hallogallo" feels like an endless ride on a cosmic motorway, where nothing begins and nothing ever ends. Hand yourself over to it and your journey will be a breeee:e::e:::e:::zzz::::e. 4)
Kraftwerk: "Kraftwerk" (their first LP, Philips Records, 1970) The opening track, "Ruckzuck", is yet another of those glorious, toe-tapping
classics. The one that some say is the nucleus of 'techno' music to
surface 20 years later. And there's not even a synthesizer in this
track. But begin with the beginning, which is: a harmonious flute opening. Two flutes competing with each other in time-lag, looped, then quieting down. Florian Schneider is tailoring his own private looped flute-garment to be worn for evermore until the autobahn cometh while Klaus Dinger is dinger-drumming himself into Dingerland, phasing, phasing, phasing, whooosh! The whole structure
gets beaten to a pulp in the track's mid-section when a childish joy of destruction sets in and smolders everything in an outburst
of proto-punk. "Ruckzuck" is a technoid carnage, endlessly recycling, hitherto unbeknownst to popular music and hence a premature excursion into things yet to arrive. Daring and refreshing to this very day. After so much individual praise for "Ruckzuck" opening track, it's time for a reassurance that the rest of Kraftwerk's
first album is awe-inspiring just as well, albeit in a less structured
way compared to "Ruckzuck". Tracks 2-4 take the concept of kosmische
musik much higher but are formally less rigid. This was the proto-punk
phase of the Düsseldorf duo. Track 2, "Stratovarius" (the Latin
version of Italian violonist Stradivari's name), sets the pace with a
developing free-flow mêlée of bits and pieces: a violin, a bass-line,
drums ready to rock and roll, a guitar waiting to be let loose. They
battle it and want to take you higher sly as sly can be, before being
cut off abruptly by the ending of (LP) side 1. Many a jolly good idea
has been plunged into this track although EXPERIMENTAL is writ large
across it. Kraftwerk were a young band then, but their sound is full of strength and neglect for all that had been before them.
While Track 3, "Megaherz", is a cosmic/ambient piece well in line with
other Krautrock stuff of the time, Track 4 shows everyone the middle
finger. "Vom Himmel hoch" ('From The Sky Above' ─ the
title alludes to a popular Christmas tune) is a jazzy, wicked air-battle
reflecting those days when "a thousand British bombers were attacking
Germany one at a time", as an old billboard poster from good ol' Blighty
so graphically sums up. Drums attacking electronically-wired acoustic
or semi-acoustic instruments that are fighting each other, culminating
in a full blast that shatters the earth (and your ears) that makes Pink Floyd's famous "On the Run" (from "Dark Side of the Moon", 1973) sound like a boiled-down K-Tel version of crafty Kraftwerk's recollection of war-time memories. This remains one of the Düsseldorfers' strongest tracks of all. Footnote: It's a pity the band didn't follow up on this energetic
free-your-mind jazz-punk concept. The famous and fabulous bootleg "K 4:
Bremen Radio 1971" documents a concert with Kraftwerk's unique
trio line-up of Schneider/Rother/Dinger with the notable, yet
temporary, absence of Hütter. What would have become of them had Hütter
not returned and had Rother & Dinger stayed with the band? If this
Top 20 had a position 21, "K 4" would be right there. It is witness to
music beyond control. And so is Kraftwerk's first album in its entirety.
5) Faust: "Mamie Is Blue" (from their second album, "So Far", Polydor Records, 1972) Side B's opening and the album's title track, "So Far", a melodic carpet of harmonies, suddenly segues into quite something else, slowly becoming "Mamie Is Blue", a brutal concrete slab of a harsh, proto-industrial rhythm, a fist (hence Faust) that will grab you, stomp you, eat you and churn you out when it's done with you after five minutes or so. You have been warned. "Mamie Is Blue" actually is the original sin (or perhaps the Ursuppe) of what a few years later would eventually be called industrial indeed and would become a genre of its own. Throbbing Gristle in the UK must have listened closely and adoringly. The almost completely instrumental track builds its rhythm pattern by slowly, but disconcertingly, changing and tampering with its regularity, inserting ever more painful, yes: painful, and very dramatic noises. These reach a climax, but the pent-up power is so large that the re-emerging rhythm pattern that follows the coital frenzy is even more intense, and will leave the listener shattered. Mark my words: this is among those Teutonic tracks that Will Change Your Life. But do not put up the volume too much: these noises are prone to seriously wreck your mind and damage your sense of hearing. Seriously. Wümme, Wümme, we've all been there. ____________________________________________________________
This "Krautrocker's Top 20" gets a bit too long and nerdy, doesn't it, darling? Well, consider yourself lucky that it isn't a Top 50 (but stay tuned for my fav list of Argentinian "Pamparock" classicos). ____________________________________________________________
6) Klaus Schulze: "Neuronengesang" (side 4 of his second solo LP, the double album "Cyborg", Kosmische Musik/Ohr/Brain, 1973) Cyborg, namesake of this double LP, is "a partly
electronic, partly organic existence ... waiting at the gates of the
acoustic psychopharmacon for the millennium of its birth", some obscure
liner note on the original cover sleeve informs us. This note has been
omitted in subsequent editions. Out loud I wonder, why? Think of an unpresent pitcher of a day-glo colourless spiked liquid in a four-dimensional dimlit room: cool, foamy, bittersweet, waiting to be digested, to touch your deepest stemcells and work among your most ferocious dreams in a black sweltering desert of ebony while all around are horror, and darkness, and thick gloom. At least for 26 minutes. This is "Neuronengesang", or Neuronal Singing. It's a drone-a-thon with synthesizers and celli, the latter distorted across the spectrum. It's an extremely relaxing journey to a mind-phasing Bliss. Send Quadroklaus money and flowers for it. He deserves it.
7) Cluster: "15:33" (from their first LP, "Cluster" a.k.a. "Cluster '71", Philips/Brain, 1971) While we're talking of weird, somewhat frightening soundscapes, this is the one to really blow your mind and send you shivering with fear and paranoia: Cluster's opening track from their first LP after the break-up of Kluster (which left sonic geniuses Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius to pursue their own visions and had Conrad Schnitzler embark on ways of his own). It lasts for 15 minutes and ─ try to guess ─ 33 seconds. These 15 minutes won't leave you unchanged. Chilly, dark, evil, with no way out in sight. If some critics have complained about the unstructredness of this music, indeed here it is taken to the max. But allow yourself to go with the flow and it will be a highly enjoyable experience. You'll actually discover things in the deep of your brain that you didn't know were there. Stay away from forests.
8) The Cosmic Jokers: 3 out of 5 of their albums (Kosmische Kuriere Records, 1974) The eponymous "The Cosmic Jokers" and follow-ups "Galactic Supermarket" and "Planeten Sit-in" are legendary and mythical LPs. But some material on these, er, compilation albums is fabulous, but was premature. This is none of your prototypical Krautrock space-daze muck. This is more like a look into the future of music like I've never heard one. (Dare I ask if, for example, the "In Dust We Trust"-era Chemical Brothers ever listened in, 20 years onward?) And, ah, those fabulously modernistic album covers so full of colours, shapes, and substances! We should all lay a wreath in honour of Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser, impresario-producer-manager who made these albums (and so many more) possible, but who also *** ******* ********* *** ********* *********** **** ****** ****** ***** *** ******** ***** ********** *** * ******* ****** ***** ***** ******* ** ********** [Note: Rest of paragraph censored at the request of my big fat Chicano lawyer and other parties, in particular the musicians who were involved in the making of the Cosmic Jokers albums. - R.I.P., R.U.!]
9) Ash Ra Tempel: "Ash Ra Tempel" (their first LP, Ohr Records, 1971) Exceptional and timeless, well, ah, yes ─ this one is too. And cosmic. Beyond. All. Proportion. There are only two tracks on this album, "Amboss" (Anvil) and "Traummaschine" (Dream Machine). Both tracks come a-floating like endless trips to the moon's surface and back. "Amboss" is created around thick guitar patterns and is drum-heavy, with Klaus Schulze (then still bereft of any synthesizer monsters) banging away like a burning paper lantern. "Traummaschine" is the calmer track, waving, undulating, unfolding as an ancient palimpsested parchment awaiting its reading. Both pieces will make the listener lose himself in time and space. A phenomenal experience. (Check out the Ash Ra Tempel Experience's "Live in Melbourne" album from 2017! All that creative flow is still alive. Sri Manuel Göttsching, we'll dedicate a temple to you in India.)
10) Guru Guru: "Känguru" (their third LP, Brain, 1972) Imagine three long-haired freaks jamming jamming jamming. Surf-frenzy guitars, groovy bass-lines, and wicked drum pomp-and-circumstance from here to eternity, all of it phasing in and out of your state of ear-alert. "Immer lustig" (Always Funny), a wild roller-coaster ride of musical ideas beyond the pale of traditional notions of decency, is the most far-out of the album's four tracks. It's a true mind-blowing explosion of rhythm and sound, with the other tracks not lagging behind much. This is the giant Electric Turd wired to the European Grid of musical paranoia. I'd rate "Känguru" as Guru Guru's best release. The boys never got funkier than on this LP, and perhaps never any higher since their "UFO" and "Hinten" days (two of their likewise brilliant LPs). Aw, c'mon, buy all these three records and you'll be a happier person ─ if you dare to be experienced. Are You Experienced?
11) Tangerine Dream: "Ricochet" (their seventh LP, Virgin, 1975) and 12) Tangerine Dream: "Stratosfear" (their eighth LP, Virgin, 1976) Two TD albums that I cherish although they do have their flaws. Both take a very easy approach ─ quiet, toned-down, even mellow at times. "Richochet" is the jazzier of the two, a live recording (heavily re-recorded though), with Christoph Franke demonstrating his credentials as a true jazz drummer, giving the album's two themes structure and an energetic pace. Keyboards and guitars follow up on melodies; the sound is dense and tense; the atmosphere is slightly dark and reeks of impending evil. This is being taken to an even higher level on the follow-up album "Stratosfear", a somewhat eerie, moody album and yet, paradoxically, full of light, and air, and a sense of the mind's liberation, coming very close to what the Greek philosophers called ataraxia, or a state of ultimate peace and balance of the soul. It feels like a ride across a vast heath just before a midsummer night's dream, an atmosphere which the individual four track titles seem to evoke (e.g., "3 a.m. at the Border of the Marsh From Okefenokee" or "The Big Sleep in Search of Hades"). "Ricochet" and "Stratosfear" are examples of
approachable, flowing, even stylish kosmische musik, minimalistic
and opulent at same time, as paradoxical as that may seem. Both albums, however, are riddled by the influx of those slightly too happy-go-lucky and sweet melodies that come creeping into their soundbeds like unwanted sleepover guests -- tunes that reek of those TV-commercial or soundtrack ditties that Tangerine Dream were to become famous (or infamous) for in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, these nuisances are only in their infancy, as mere glimpses of things to come, and they don't ruin these otherwise cool albums.
13) Can: "Hallelujah" (side 2 of their third LP, the double album "Tago Mago", Liberty/United Artists, 1971) This is an 18-minute funk heaven. One bass-line, lotsa waka-waka guitars, and some of Damo Suzuki's weird holler-a-long. This pattern is stretched out across a whole LP side and is getting more intense as it is developing. The rhythm never lets go of its dominance, thanks to the late Jaki Liebezeit's extremely disciplined and yet free-flowing drumming. (Allow me just a short statement: He clearly was the best drummer in the world. A Man-machine With a Soul.) Can's funk is a restrained version of the trans-Atlantic original, but it's a valid and relevant re-interpretation. It's not dirty, and yet some. It's pure energy. "Hallelujah" is proof of the fact that Can were at their best when they were performing experimental, long-haul tracks. This track is a mega-funky impersonation of the band (other glimpses of it can be found on their equally brilliant "Ege Bamyasi" album). Strong, pounding and orgasmic. A hardon of musical intensity that promises to never go limp on you. This web site is, in its entirety, dedicated to the memory of Jaki Liebezeit.
14) Kraftwerk: "Kraftwerk 2" (their second album, Philips, 1972) This is Kraftwerk's odd one out: their quest for a new musical direction that almost ended with the band splitting up. What you hear on this album are the left-overs played by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider; all tape tracks featuring the recorded material of Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger (who went on to form Neu!) had been erased. Given this in flux state of "Kraftwerk 2", it is an amazing accomplishment although it was probably not seen like one at the time of the record's release. It may well be called the first instance of a popular ambient concept album. "Klingklang" (Dingdong), the album's opening track, starts with an assortment of bell chimes and gongs that make it the forerunner to Pink Floyd's "Time" piece on their "Dark Side of the Moon" LP two years later. What follows are a good 15 minutes of looped and overlaid e-piano, flutes, mellow bass lines, all watering a fairy-tale's garden of bewildered elves and gnomes. It's a bit fuzzy, but very relaxing. Other tracks are highly college-band showcase-experimental and less convincing. "Strom" (Current) features a heavily distorted punk guitar ─ a stylistic left-over of the short-lived Michael Rother influence which had otherwise been erased and purged from Kraftwerk's cosmos (see footnote 2, above). "Wellenlänge" (Wavelength) is the ultimate ambient track, the Mother of All Ambience Still to Surface on the Music Industry's Horizon. A child in its mother's womb couldn't feel any more cozy than here with Ralf & Florian. Soothing sounds for babies indeed. Throbbing Gristle and many others made a living out of it. Footnote: "Kraftwerk 2" is at times, in style and ambient feel, reminiscent of Kluster's largely forgotten 1970 album, "Zwei-Osterei" (side 2, the 22-minute track "Kluster 4", in particular). Cluster (now with a 'C', i.e. Moebius and Roedelius minus Schnitzler) plus Michael Rother (once kicked out of Kraftwerk) as a trio recording/performing as Harmonia may have reciprocated with a tune called "Dino" on their LP "Musik von Harmonia" (1974) slightly reminiscent of the sunnier parts of the title track of Kraftwerk's best-selling "Autobahn" album released the same year. Call it all respectful musical quotes as musicians do them all the time. The Kosmische community was a small place. People still listened to each others' releases. Krautrock should rather be labeled "Quoterock". A small scene like West Germany's progressive club didn't only consist of mothers of invention. But read on.
15) Cluster: "Cluster II" (their second album, Brain, 1972) A very wonderful and mind-blowing album. More accessible than their first album from 1971 (see above), but still avantgarde in many respects. Helicopters will be hovering over you, or at least you'll think they will. They'll crash later. A gleeful experience. However, 1972 wasn't prepared for these sounds. Perhaps 2002 eventually was. And 2022 certainly will regard this album as a true classic.
16) Harmonia: "Musik von Harmonia" (their first release, Brain, 1974) Here you have the whole story of electronic proto-pop packaged into just one LP. Timeless. Will leave you wandering. And wondering. Why. This. Mission. Was. Aborted.
17) Amon Düül II: "Phallus Dei" (their first LP, Liberty/United Artists, 1969) Really not 'pop' music at all. Had this album not been released on a mainstream/pop label, it would be considered 'modern classical'. And it is. The same holds true for so many other releases form the ill-named 'Krautrock' genre. We're talking about art music here, not funtional consumer music.
18) Xhol: "Seide 1 First Day" (last track on the A-side of their LP "Motherfuckers GmbH & Co. KG", Pilz Records, 1972) Totally underestimated. Weird. But give peace a chance and you'll be swinging to this album. It will transport you to universes beyond your troubled imagination.
19) Popol Vuh: "In den Gärten Pharaohs" (Pilz, 1970) Just sit down and relax. Your life will be wonderful. Om.
20) Michael Rother: "Katzenmusik" (his third solo LP, Sky Records, 1979) Not
everyone's favourite, but surely mine. I first heard this album when I
was eleven (more than 30 years ago), and stayed faithful to it ever
since. Michael Rother (ex-Kraftwerk, ex-Neu!, ex-Harmonia)
magicianed 12 beautiful tracks full of intricate melodies and wickedly
beautiful harmonies that, combined with the late Jaki Liebezeit's (of Can
fame) precise drumming, make for some stunning instrumental tunes that
aspire to be otherworldly. And they are. Beaming you back to spheres of
innocence and delight. Beware: this is not "easy listening". This is
exceptional and timeless music. Footnote: If there were a position 20b) (but rest assured there isn't),
it would be held by Mr. Rother's track "Zyklodrom" from his first solo
LP, "Sterntaler", of 1977. This is perhaps his most elegant piece of
music of all: simplistic-sounding and yet highly complex, with Mr.
Liebezeit giving ─ as always ─ his best. It's an interstellar overdrone
bursting with phasing cosmic love. And while we're at it, I might just
as well have placed his entire previous solo albums, both "Sterntaler"
and "Flammende Herzen", on this position. It's truly difficult to pick
just one of these. They're all pretty close to lead anyone up their
hairway to steven. Yes. End of footnote.
But there wasn't only genius around in Germany 1968-78. Shops are full of platters that didn't age too well, or that were never meant to be. Never mind they probably get reissued while you read this. Even lost rehearsal tapes now do find their way onto Wah Wah Records et al.'s vinyl and CDs. So, to give you a completely personal, amateurish and plump assessment of what I find more or less lousy, here's:
A KRAUTROCKER'S SHITPARADE, OR: THE WURST STUFF(ED) a.k.a. My personal Bottom 20 (wandering sound-shadows of gloom, the butt-end of the genre):
[Reading hint: The lower the number, the (relatively) better the stuff is. Higher numerals indicate an intensified level of whimsy and ineptitude, i.e., really the 12XU of it all. It might be rare, it might be expensive, but don't waste your money.]
1) Difficult. Where to start? OK, perhaps with an album that became a cult classic 25 years after its original release, thanks to Julian Cope's well-received and oft-translated book, Krautrocksampler (1995). Topping Julian's personal top-50 list of kosmische albums (and I'd like to disagree) is: Amon Düül: "Paradieswärts Düül"(Ohr, 1970), sometimes referred to (by me) as 'Paradise Warts Dull' although, naw, c'mon, it's not quite so bad. It's actually quite ... nice and therefore perhaps the best of my personal Bottom 20 heap. It's light and airy and it's got that jolly debonair hippie quality of a bunch of freaks happily chanting along and developping tunes of blissful harmony with the earth, and the cosmos, and you and me, babe. If you're in the right mood this album will grab you. "Paradieswärts Düül" was Amon Düül (I)'s only somewhat professional studio recording ─ their other three LPs, all stemming from the same home session, are really just mindless bongo-clapping exercises. "Paradieswärts Düül" at least has some coll sound effects and a bit of structure that makes for relaxed listening. But don't pay too much for it, no matter how fiercely it's being advertised on eBay.
2)Sergius Golowin: "Lord Krishna von Goloka" (Die Kosmischen Kuriere, 1973) Yes, he was Swiss, but Golowin deserves a mention on my Krautrocker's shitparade nevertheless. He's an honorary member in a class of his own. If you like mellow kitsch, then don't miss out on this album. It is vaguely beautiful though. Truly cosmic and yet easily gets on your nerve. Sergius took himself, and his listeners, to the highest alms of heavenly bliss, but, if you ask me (and you won't), he overdid it dramatically. It's just too much to bear as Sergius did indeed bare too much. "Lord Krishna" is pure exploitation: Krautsploitation, if you will. And of course: the original vinyl is worth hundreds of euros/dollars. I once saw it on a flea market for a tenner and didn't buy - 'cause really I didn't want to. Save my soul otherweise instead.
20) Amon Düül II: "Rattlesnakeplumcake/Between the Eyes" (7-inch single, Liberty, 1971) What hath God wrought? This - is - truly - the - bottom - End.
[...to be continued...]
Krautrock Beyond Kraut Control
While the above section on Krautrock is steadily being worked on and expanding,
for your convenience here's a look at an upcoming article on the Argentinian
version of 1960s/1970s progressive rock, "Pamparock" (my term, my
quotation marks), featuring acts such as Almendra, Arco Iris,
the ever hippy Color Humano, Invisible, Manal, Pescado Radioso, Claudio
Gabis y la Pesada, and those good ol' rock 'n' roll boys Vox Dei. The subtext of Argentina's
prog-rock, as is the case with Krautrock, is very deep and touches upon
topics such as modernization, national identity, oppression and
dictatorship. Eager to please as ever, I promise I won'tmention
the Falkland Islands (Las Malvinas) dispute.
Staying in South America, Brazil,
a musical continent of its own, is definitely worth more than just
briefly tapping into. That country is blessed with vibrant musical
traditions and innovations colourful and unique. The recordings of the
"Tropicalia" movement of the late 1960s/early 1970s (to mention just but
one of Brazil's fine contribution to musical expression) certainly had a
psychedelic feel to them, but lesser-known bands from that era should
not be overlooked. From the prog-rock vaults I have recently unearthed Som Imaginário, Spectrum, O Têrço, and Módulo 1000's only album, the legendary "Nâo Fale Com Paredes" (Don't Talk to Walls) from 1970. A Continent of Its Own? That album is.
Gleeful accounts of the Italian
psychedelic rock scene of the late 1960s/early 1970s are galore. Bands
like the truly stunning Il Balletto di Bronzo, the fabulous Delirium, Osanna, Metamorfosi, Murple, Osage Tribe,Museo Rosenbach, E. A. Poe, Capitulo 6 or Exploit
are legendary; their vinyl artifacts fetch lots of dough (and
consider yourself a lucky bastard if you find any original pressings, no matter whether
north or south of the diarrhea equator). Never mind that the pressings
are Italian. They crackle, shake, rattle and roll.
My French connection is a bit loose and sketchy (not to say Jarred, if you allow me that equinoxial pun), but I have recently discovered the very fine album "Paradoxe" by the schnitzlerclusteresque duo Spacecraft, recorded 1975-77, released as a private pressing in '78 and re-released by the fabulous Wah-Wah label in 2012. It's superb! And of(f) course there were Magma änd thyr "Mekanïk Destruktïẁ Kommandöh" et al. whu whyr not dëh Hündïn, mais c'est la vie qui les a menés là. I guess there'll be more to dig up from vaults à l'ouest du Rhin soon, given the influence of Eric Deshayes' highly informative and reverential book Au-delà du rock: La vague planante, électronique et expérimentale allemande des années soixante-dix (Marseille: Editions Le mot et le reste, 2007). Crêpe it won't be!
also for future insights into the short and tragic history of South
Korean psychedelia (shouldn't I simply call it ROK music?). But,
sadly, my collection is small and I can't read or understand any of it. Great stuff it is though (with deep political undertones that any
South Korean born before ca. 1985 is able to decode). Those fantastic
distorted shamanistic guitar, drum and oboe solos by Shin Jung Hyun
& The Men! Modern classics world-famous between Seoul, Pyeongchang and Busan,
but unheard of in other necks of the worldwide wood.
East Asia, ah! I surely must mention Japan, Land of the Rising Noise, Temple of Tranquil Bliss! Acts like the superb Flower Travellin' Band, Far Out and Far East Family Band, Speed, Glue & Shinki, experimentalist Masahiko Sato or more recent kosmische apparitions like The Boredoms or the shock-deconstructivist Ruins, well, there is a link to the rest of the world (and harking back to Germany's kosmische musik/Krautrock). To make a long story short: Grab a copy of Julian Cope's brilliant popular music sociology, "Japrocksampler: How the Post-war Japanese Blew Their Minds on Rock 'n' Roll" (UK: Bloomsbury, 2007), and ... wait. It'll come to you. "Determined am I now to live all in flame / till nature snuffs it out to rest" (Flower Travellin' Band: "Unaware", 1972). This wisdom cannot be further emulated. ____________________________________________________________
This page will get very long ultimately. It is (plumply) designed for a reading public. We hate iPads. ____________________________________________________________
However, my ultimate
aim (in life and elsewhere) remains to present you with a connoisseur's
survey of Austrian progrock featuring Eela Craig, The
Almdudlers and Frozen Fritz & The Yodelling Haystacks. But
that's another story, morning glory!
Once this will be finished, I'll follow suit with my
pompous section on...
... possibly to begin with musings and rumblings about Ernst Bloch, my compatriot Marshall McLuhan, and Jean Baudrillard. Le cyber-monde n'a pas eu lieu, but the medium is the message! We better take heed because Hope is our Principle. _________________________________________________________
What hath philosophy wrought? What next? Infinite jesters, y'all! _________________________________________________________
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