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Krautrock is a generic name for the experimental music scene that appeared in Germanymarker in the late 1960s and gained popularity throughout the 1970s, especially in Britain. BBC DJ John Peel in particular is largely credited with spreading the reputation of krautrock outside of the German-speaking world.

Origin of the term

The term krautrock was originally a humorous one coined by the UK music press (such as New Musical Express and Melody Maker), where "krautrock" found an early and enthusiastic underground following (it derives from the ethnic slur "Kraut", which had been used to refer to a German person in World War II). As is often the case with musical genre labels, few of the bands wished to see themselves pigeon-holed, and tended to eschew the term.

The book Krautrocksampler by Julian Cope (generally regarded as an opinionated primer on the subject), opines that "Krautrock is a subjective British phenomenon", as it is based rather on the way the music was received in the UK than on the actual West German music scene it grew out of. For instance, while one of the main groups originally tagged as krautrock, Faust, recorded a seminal 12 minute track they titled "Krautrock", they would later distance themselves from the term:

It might also be added that the UK availability of critically-touted "progressive" records at discount prices did much to popularize them among British teenagers.

Characteristics

Krautrock is an eclectic and often very original mix of Anglo-American post-psychedelic jamming and moody progressive rock mixed with ideas from contemporary experimental classical music (especially composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, with whom, for example, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of Can had previously studied) and from the new experimental directions that emerged in jazz during the 1960s and 1970s (mainly the free jazz pieces by Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler). Moving away from the patterns of song structure and melody of much rock music in America and Britain, some in the movement also drove the music to a more mechanical and electronic sound. The key component characterizing the groups gathered under the term is the synthesis of Anglo-American rock and roll rhythm and energy with a decided will to distance themselves from specifically American blues origins, but to draw on German or other sources instead. Jean-Hervé Peron of Faust says:

Typical bands dubbed "krautrock" in the 1970s included Tangerine Dream, Faust, Can, Amon Düül II, Ash Ra Tempel and others associated with the celebrated Cologne-based producers and engineers Dieter Dierks and Conny Plank, such as Neu!, Kraftwerk and Cluster. Bands such as these were reacting against the need to develop a radically new musical aesthetic and cultural identity for the post-WWII. Many of these groups began their musical careers with little or no awareness of (or interest in) rock and roll: exposure to the increasingly radical and innovative music of the Velvet Underground, the Silver Apples, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix and the Beatles, for example, led members of groups like Can and Kraftwerk to embrace popular music for the first time.

The signature sound of krautrock mixed rock music and "rock band" instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums) with electronic instrumentation and textures, often with what would now be described as an ambient music sensibility. A common rhythm featured in the music was a steady 4/4 beat, often called "motorik" in the anglophone music press.

History

By the end of the 1960s, the American and British counterculture and hippie movement had moved rock towards psychedelia, heavy metal, progressive rock and other styles, incorporating, for the first time in popular music, socially and politically incisive lyrics. The 1968 German student movement, French protests and Italian student movement had created a class of young, intellectual continental listeners, while nuclear weapons, pollution, and war inspired protests and activism. Avant-garde music had taken a turn towards the electronic in the mid-1950s. The avant-garde minimalist music current which emerged in the beginning of the 60s with the works of La Monte Young, Terry Riley and Steve Reich started using drones and loops (often with synthesizers and tapes) in a kind of psychedelic and space-oriented music.

These factors all laid the scene for the explosion in what came to be termed krautrock, which arose at the first major German rock festival in 1968 in Essen. Like their American, British and international counterparts, German rock musicians played a kind of psychedelia. It was however, strikingly innovative as a fusion of psychedelia and the electronic avant-garde. That same year, 1968, saw the foundation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlinmarker by Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Conrad Schnitzler, which further popularized the psychedelic-rock sound in the German mainstream. Originally krautrock was a form of Free art, which meant that krautrock bands gave their records away for free at Free Art Fairs.

The next few years saw a wave of pioneering groups. In 1968, Can formed, adding jazz to the mix (and in that way the krautrock scene can be seen to parallel the emerging Canterbury scene in England at the same time), while the following year saw Kluster (later Cluster) begin recording electronic instrumental music with an emphasis on static drones. In 1970, Popol Vuh became the first krautrock group to use an electronic synthesizer, to create what would be known as "kosmische musik". The bands Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, and Cosmic Jokers (all linked by collaboration with Klaus Schulze), would follow suit in the years to come. Faust also made use of synthesizers and tape manipulation in a way foreshadowing the noise rock of the future.

In 1972, two albums incorporated European rock and electronic psychedelia with Asian sounds: Popol Vuh's In den Gärten Pharaos and Deuter's Aum. Meanwhile, kosmische musik saw the release of two double albums, Klaus Schulze's Cyborg and Tangerine Dream's Zeit (produced by Dieter Dierks), while a band called Neu! began to play highly rhythmic music. By the middle of the decade, one of the best-known German bands, Kraftwerk, had released albums like Autobahn and Radioaktivität ("Radio-Activity" in English), which laid the foundation for electro, techno and other styles later in the century.

The release of Tangerine Dream's Phaedra in 1974 marked a divergence of that group from krautrock to a more melodic sequencer-driven sound that was later termed Berlin School. In that same year Klaus Schulze delivered one more LP of pure krautrock, Blackdance, and began to release more hypnotic versions of what TD was doing.

East Germany

By the early 1970s experimental West German rock styles had crossed the border into East Germanymarker, and influenced the creation of an East German rock movement referred to as Ostrock. On the other side of the Wallmarker, these bands tended to be stylistically more conservative than in the West, to have more reserved engineering, and often to include more classical and traditional structures (such as those developed by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht in their 1920s Berlin theatre songs). These groups sang in German, often featuring poetic lyrics loaded with indirect double-meanings and deeply philosophical challenges to the status quo. The best-known bands representing these styles in the GDRmarker were The Puhdys and Karat. Krautrock must generally be regarded, however, as a primarily West German phenomenon; the East German musical avant-garde may be argued to have been more genuinely represented by, for example, political singer-songwriter Wolf Biermann, whose work more aptly bears comparison to Woody Guthrie or early Bob Dylan than to any progressive rock artists.

Influence on later generations

Krautrock was highly influential on the development of post-punk, notably artists such as The Fall and This Heat. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, with the resurgence of electronic music and a new generation rediscovering much of the early work of German music in that period, krautrock came to be considered a style in and of itself. Artists such as Stereolab, The Mars Volta, Deerhunter,Wilco, Laika, Mouse on Mars, Bowery Electric, I Am Spoonbender, Tortoise, Coil, and Fujiya & Miyagi working under the post-rock and electronica rubrics have often cited bands in the krautrock canon as being among their more significant influences. Radiohead has done a cover of Can's song "Thief" and cite Can, Neu! and Faust among their influences, while The Secret Machines not only covered Harmonia's "(De Luxe) Immer Wieder" on their The Road Leads Where It's Led EP, but have also played live with Michael Rother. Porcupine Tree has also covered Neu!'s Hallogallo as a demo for their album Signify. The band Wilco has shown a growing krautrock influence in their music, specifically on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and several songs on A Ghost Is Born, especially on songs like Spiders (Kidsmoke).. In interviews Jeff Tweedy (the band's lead singer/songwriter/guitarist) has often spoken of his admiration for bands such as Can and Neu!. Current 93 covered "When the May Rain Comes", a song by the krautrock band Sand, on their album Thunder Perfect Mind. Julian Cope has always cited krautrock as an influence, and wrote the book Krautrocksampler on the subject. The Kosmische Club was founded in London at his suggestion in 1996, with the motto "Music from the Future", and did much to promote the genre on the underground music scene, including promoting gigs featuring many of the original German musicians and through a weekly radio show on Resonance FM since 2002.The Legendary Pink Dots claim heavy influence from krautrock - naming in particular Can, Faust and Neu!, with one of their few cover songs being Neu!'s "Super" on the Cleopatra Records album A Homage to NEU!, which featured covers and remixes by bands including Autechre, Dead Voices On Air, Khan, Sunroof, System 7, James Plotkin, as well as an original track from Michael Rother.

Notable artists



See also

References

  1. Julian Cope, Krautrocksampler: One Head's Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik - 1968 Onwards, p.64. 1995, Head Heritage, ISBN 0-9526719-1-3
  2. A brief summary of German rock music

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