BERLIN (Reuters) - The wave of experimental music that began emerging from West Germany in the late 1960s known as “Krautrock” has long enjoyed great influence abroad yet often been overlooked at home. This is now changing.
Following is an overview of ten of the leading bands.
AGITATION FREE - The West Berliners specialized in experimental improvisations incorporating psychedelia and Middle Eastern influences on their two original studio albums. “We got bored of covering songs pretty quickly, and we couldn’t do them as well as the originals anyway, so we quickly developed our own style. I think (1968) was a watershed (for self-expression), but it also had to with drugs. I fear it’s not so special to make music today for (young bands). Everything is about money now” — guitarist Lutz Ulbrich.
AMON DÜÜL II - Built around a group of musicians in a Munich commune, Amon Düül II released a series of records ranging from searing garage psychedelia to extended folk-tinged mantras.
“We saw things couldn’t continue as they were (in society). In time, the movement was commercialized, and once that happens, death is never far away. There were many more people who could create then. There are plenty now too, but they’ve got computers which can copy everything for them” — guitarist John Weinzierl.
ASH RA TEMPEL - Famed for the monumental scope of their explosive and haunting soundscapes, the short-lived instrumental trio featured drummer and electronic pioneer Klaus Schulze. Guitarist Manuel Goettsching later went solo and was hailed as a seminal influence on techno for his 1981 recording “E2-E4.”
CAN - Cologne-based Can combined insistent, stripped-down rhythms with innovative editing and use of samples. Original U.S. singer Malcolm Mooney left in 1970 to be replaced by Japanese Damo Suzuki, who was discovered busking in Munich.
“Although (keyboard player) Irmin Schmidt and I had studied (under Karlheinz Stockhausen), we had real trouble counting to four. In that sense Can was an extremely bad band to begin with. We only learnt over time. We had what the English called this ‘Teutonic rhythm’ — a machine that became unstoppable once it got going. (For us) to do something that no one had done before...meant musicians coming together and leaving behind them what they had done until then” — bassist Holger Czukay.
CLUSTER - Formed from the ashes of Kluster, a trio that included experimental maverick Conrad Schnitzler, the electronica of duo Cluster ranged from cavernous minimalism to early synthpop. The pairing of Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius later formed Harmonia with Michael Rother of Neu!.
FAUST - Faust set themselves apart from peers with a jarring blend of musical styles and angular tape cut-ups. Signed by Virgin Records, the band broke into the British market in 1973 when their third album was sold for the price of a single.
“We had almost no contact with German bands in the ‘70s. We spent the first three years living alone on the Lueneburg Heath. Music was something we lived more than made. Back then we almost only improvised. Very early on, Faust used the sounds of our environment — demonstrations, industrial products — as a basis for music” — Drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier.
GURU GURU - The evergreen outfit formed in 1968 around Mani Neumeier, one of the country’s top free jazz drummers. Arguably best known for several distortion-laced albums of pounding acid rock the band cut as a trio in its 1970s heyday. “We wanted to create electric music with a central European sound that didn’t copy the British and American models. I had winged feet then, I was the Mercury that brought all the bands together. I’m a stage man. At a Kraftwerk gig there’s almost nothing going on: a couple of guys twiddling knobs around. When Guru Guru play, all hell breaks loose” — Mani Neumeier.
KRAFTWERK - Global trailblazers for synth-pop in the mid-1970s, the Duesseldorf group centering on Florian Schneider and Ralf Huetter initially bridged the gap between psychedelia and garage electronica on their 1970 debut.
NEU! - Pioneers of the motorik beat who attempted to capture “the sound of heading straight for the horizon” said guitarist Michael Rother. He and fellow ex-Kraftwerk member Klaus Dinger put out three stripped-down albums before parting company.
“Outside the studio I wasn’t friends with (Dinger). It was impossible. We were like fire and water. German bands (from the Krautrock era) get thrown into a pot, but once you get up close, we’re worlds apart. It may be that I have more in common with Simon and Garfunkel than with Agitation Free” — Michael Rother.
TANGERINE DREAM - Emerging as exponents of scratchy, avant-garde rock, the trio went on to explore the outer limits of minimalist electronica. The group adopted a denser sound as the ‘70s progressed and scored several film soundtracks.
Reporting by Dave Graham, editing by Paul Casciato