Krautrock – Part 1 is the fourth musical documentary film from Zeitgeist Media, and a long-running labour of love for its founders, writers, and directors Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder.
I have always been slightly uncomfortable using the term “Krautrock”, as it seems a somewhat derogatory term to describe a country’s rock scene. You wouldn’t call English rock bands Chiprock, would you? However, in the introduction to this, the fourth Romantic Warriors film, current day exponents of the genre, the very Kosmische group Electric Orange, seem to have no problem with it, and in fact own it from the off, saying “An English band cannot play Krautrock. That doesn’t work”. Fair enough, that settles any uncertainty on this particular Anglo’s part! Not to mention Faust’s early claim of the label with their song of the same name.
Krautrock was a revolutionary approach to music forged by like-minded young West Germans from all over the country at the tail end of the 60s. They set out to make a music that drew on their own musical traditions, along with influences from modern European classical music, jazz, and the avant garde, rather than the all-pervading rhythm and blues based music they were subjected to on the radio from the UK and the USA. Naturally enough, Can is the first band featured as they are the musically most important, and are arguably the most influential, not just on their countrymen, but worldwide. Kraftwerk have a claim as the most influential too, but their recorded legacy is much smaller, and it took them longer to find their groove than Köln’s finest. Anyone with an interest in the scene will probably not have known that Malcolm Mooney, Can’s first singer, returned to America because he couldn’t find an equivalent to his favourite Louisiana hot sauce… or alternatively that the band, according to Mooney “was better with me not singing”. I prefer the first explanation.
Stockhausen, Damo, Tago Mago, it’s all here, including lots of archive footage and photos, and like all the previous Romantic Warriors documentaries, it is put together professionally and with an obvious love for the subject matter. In 1972 Can undertake their first English tour, playing over 20 concerts all over the country. A virtually unknown European band playing 20 gigs over here, how times have changed! The bands and the audiences were lucky to have lived through the Rock Era, we will never see such times again.
Featuring interviews with Irmin Schmidt primarily, and also Jaki Liebwitz, who sadly died not long after the film was made, Malcom Mooney, and Damo Suzuki, the story of the band evolves into the story behind Damo Suzuki’s Network, with clips from a concert in Lima, Peru. A very good start to the film.
Between the main chapters there are what might be termed interludes, mostly featuring the political humourists Floh De Cologne, and a more German band you couldn’t imagine. It’s a shame I can’t speak German as their project Profit Vulture, credited here by one of the band as “the first German rock opera” sounds intriguing. All the Floh De Cologne interviews are in the band’s native language, which reveals a small technical shortcoming of the film. You have to turn the subtitles on or off as you require them, for if you leave them on all the time, even the English spoken sections get the subtitle treatment. You soon get used to it though, and I suppose it was a budgetary consideration.
For those who didn’t know already, the avant-garde art scene beginnings of Krafwerk might come as a surprise, and this is a good example of why this film is a good introduction for the beginner, as well as a thoroughly entertaining diversion for any Krautrock disciple. You all knew that Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger of Neu! fame originally joined forces in Krafwerk, I take it? Rother and Dinger soon left, and film of the first line up you would recognise as Kraftwerk, from a 1971 arts TV show in Berlin called “Aspekte” is utterly fascinating.
Kraftwerk, with their pioneering use of synthesisers, electronics, and Wolfgang Flür’s early drum machines make them responsible for important innovations that developed into what became dance music, ambient music, and even techno. Ironically, Wolfgang’s pad-hitting explorations were eventually made superfluous by the advancing technology involved in sequencers, and he left the band in 1987.
I remember the first time I saw them on the Computer World tour emerging from Leicester De Montfort Hall thinking I had just watched a band of aliens, it was that far removed from rock norms. And utterly brilliant of course! Shame they soon faded away, seemingly more interested in racing bicycles than making music.
The next interlude is provided by Harald Grosskopf & Eberhard Kranemann, who continue Kraftwerk’s legacy as Krautwerk, whom I have never explored, and they sound like they’re worth investigating.
The following chapter, on Neu!, also mentions the importance of producer Conny Plank, not just to the band, but to the whole scene. Drummer Klaus Dinger took Jaki Liebezeit’s motorik rhythms and made them his own within the setting of Neu!, a band of opposites. Guitarist Michael Rother is the personification of the humble studious musician, while Klaus Dinger was the mercurial rock star, and an anarchistic character who powered the songs along a hypnotic autobahn.
Rother’s describes the rushed side two of Neu! 2, a cobbled together cut-and-paste job, using sped up and slowed down tapes of the proper songs from side one, as “very bad”. He’s not wrong, but listening to it still makes me smile. The post-Neu! projects of the yin and yang of Krautrock are then described, and Rother has been far more productive, as you probably know. Japandorf continued Klaus Dinger’s legacy from La Düsseldorf, with Klaus as guitarist. Sadly, he passed away suddenly during the recording of an album that was completed posthumously. Well worth a listen if you’ve not heard it.
Then comes Faust, one of my favourite bands of any genre, let alone Krautrock. Like most rock fans of a certain age in the UK, my introduction to Faust was seeing an advert in the music press from Richard Branson’s fledgling Virgin Records label, whose adventurous A&R man Al Clark was sourcing all kinds of weirdness for his straight-laced boss, who, despite what you might think of him now, must be given credit for the free reign he gave his right hand man. One of Al’s musical outliers, and the subject of said advert was the band Faust, from an obscure rural backwater called Wümme in what was then West Germany. The album being advertised was The Faust Tapes, available for the price of a single, then 49p. Well, I had to buy that, being a cash-strapped early teen! Bought unheard, it remains permanently in my top 5 albums of all-time.
The story of Faust’s rescue from the clutches of the German branch of the Polydor label, who thought that by paying for a home studio for the band that they would be repaid by something akin to the German Sgt. Pepper is well-known. What were these label execs snorting?!
The story of the band includes fascinating footage from the Wümme studios where they recorded many hours of improvised material in technically innovative ways, from which the first three albums were assembled. Organic and intuitive, their music is timeless and captivating. I actually prefer Faust to Can, the other major experimentalists in the scene, as I find Faust’s music somehow more human, and it makes me smile, whereas Can sometimes seem a tad too intense, and frown too much. All totally subjective of course!
The film includes fascinating explanations of Faust’s musical processes, including the collaboration with Tony Conrad, by Jean-Hervé Péron, a man I could listen to all night. The modern band, including Péron, still tour. You should catch them, you won’t have seen anything like it before. Oh, and take some safety goggles.
And there the main part of the film concludes, and after a brief chat with American duo Wume, the film ends. Part 2 is awaited with much anticipation. I thoroughly recommend Krautrock Part One to both fans of the genre and the uninitiated alike, as it is entertaining and informative in equal measure, and the music is out of this welt!
03. Damo Suzuki’s Network
04. Floh de Cologne
07. Floh de Cologne
09. La Düsseldorf
Total Time – 129:00
Record Label: Zeitgeist Media
Date Of Release: 15th April 2019