Hallucination on Sustain: 25 Years of Amon Düül II

AS AN ESTABLISHED trend of musical non-adventurism became the keynote of the early ’70s, an alternative motif of sonic exploration became necessary and was provided in a most timely fashion by the German vanguard bands, Amon Düül II in particular. Unlike the other great Teutonic entities, Amon Düül II was slightly more accessible to Amerikana, if for no other reason than the fact that they had domestic releases, the first of which was the incredible Dance Of The Lemmings.

Upon hearing this landmark double album of sci-fi space rock, their two previous import albums became a necessity, as did those of Ash Ra Tempel, Guru Guru, Faust, Tangerine Dream, Can, Neu!, Cluster and Kraftwerk.

As the ’70s gradually evolved, Amon Düül II progressed along with it, eventually replacing free-form acid jams and sci-fi manifestations with a more streamlined Indian-jazz influenced sound highlighted by an increasing political conscience. Fantasy was yielding to reality, and a whole new danger zone became their next excursion.

The transformation was smooth, as the hallucinations of ‘All the Years Round’ juxtaposed nicely with the anti-secret police content of ‘CID in Uruk’. The continuing endeavor became nonetheless risky as cosmic intermingling grounded in earthly woes were now the focus of Renate, the former flower child/solar princess, who was taking a much more prominent role as the group’s most inspired and talented vocalist. Highlighted by Chris Karrer’s weaving gypsy-like sound tapestries with his John Cale-like electric violin, the rest of the group contributed the remaining pieces of the sonic puzzle.

In the interim astral zone, an import only, titled Live In London, was released, destined to appeal greatly to their cosmic clients who weren’t quite ready to succumb to the more earthly outputs.

By the time of their sixth studio album, Viva La Trance, the Amon Düül II spaceship had now landed, but not crashed. Their most melodramatic political statement yet came in the anti-racist ‘Mozambique’. In her most heroic vocal to date, Renate makes the astute observation “…better to die as a free man than to live as a slave.” Her sentiments veer toward unaccomplished yearnings in the tender ‘Jalousie’, but venture into the opposite realm of the spectrum in ‘Trap’, an angry escape-route manifesto.

What was to come next was confounding beyond belief to the diehard lysergic crowd who had locked into a sonic texture not likely to be abandoned. Hijack was to these ears at least the only good disco album of the ’70s. Taken at the face it reduced the rest of the genre to the lamentable muck history has proven it to be.

Made In Germany, a double LP overseas, was castrated into a single release domestically. The massive rock opera was left with little more than one good song sung by Renate, and unfortunately she and the majority of the group split afterwards. The two follow-up efforts had next to none of the original members, resulting in little more than disposable debris with only the name intact.

Now we are heading toward the late ’70s, and signs of its demise were evident throughout the entire space rock contingent. Kraftwerk and Nektar each had AM radio hits. Can and Guru Guru had both become much more accessible to a wider audience. Klaus and Edgar were producing long suites of neo-symphonic electronic pomp that was already foreshadowed by Manuel’s New Age Of Earth. Little did he know at the time how that title would become the musical and philosophical fad of the ’80s. Don Robertson saw it coming, too.

To make matters worse, Cluster, Neu! and Faust all seemed dormant. It appeared that the best of ‘The Drone Zone’ was now a lost art, like the ‘Free Your Mind’ of the ’60s. Befuddled and grief-stricken, I knew for me, at least, the time was ripe for a departure. To what, I did not know.

Ceaselessly grasping the desert dry lands, the lowlands, the rain forest wetlands and ultimately the highlands, I at last settled in at the high country, conducive to my whims of fulfillment via the “higher” elevation.

By the time of the early ’80s, my interest in atmospheric treks was undergoing reactivation. It seemed as though groups influenced by Amon Düül II were arising everywhere. Tuxedomoon played neo-psych gypsy mini-symphonies relying heavily on electric violin meandering. The Fibonaccis were excellent musicians that excelled in mutant funk that at times compared favorably with Renate. Seventeen Pygmies conjured up a vision of a stateside Amon Düül II, and their sister band, Savage Republic, brought to mind primal Amon Düül I remembrances.

Simultaneous with these developments was a growing curiosity as to what had transpired with Eurock. Having entered into oblivion with only the void as hindsight, I had no idea until paging through the Sunday LA Times, stopping at an electronics review in the music section and picking up on a passing reference. Several years passed by and in the back pages of a monthly alternative source was a name I recognized at a new address. Sure enough I wrote and garnered a response and even contributed a small perspective piece for the 20th anniversary.

I was headed back toward the light, but the fact remained that I was leading a remote backwoods existence and was by now unfamiliar with nearly all the acts being lauded in the pages of Eurock. To complicate matters further, I had no CD player or plans to acquire one, being a retro vinyl junkie. To the best of my limited knowledge, there either wasn’t anything new I wanted to hear, or nothing of an older vintage (Krautrock) putting out anything now I needed to have. The last I knew, Kraftwerk was dabbling in high-tech dance rock, and Edgar was manufacturing soundtracks for sleep extravaganzas. It wasn’t like there was an Amon Düül II regrouping in the works — just yet.

Along about the summer of ’96, a fellow record collector with a computer informed me that “Archie is on the internet selling 6 packs of Ash Ra Tempel CDs.” By the time that pertinent info had sunk in, I’d finally come to grips that the time was now to get a CD player. Even if I heard next to nothing new, I could at least re-capture in recorded form some of the great cosmic treks of bygone eras. As winter of 1996-97 ever so slowly (up here) wound down, the guru of electronics once again contacted me, this time in regards to the 25th anniversary of Eurock. He reassured me that I’d be delighted to hear all the old Amon Düül II and Ash Ra albums in the new sound format.

That brings us to what I perceived would never happen — an Amon Düül II reunion. Renate, Lothar, Chris, Peter and Falk-U. Rogner (art and ambience) were combining their extraordinary resources for two astonishing mid-’90s releases, Live In Tokio, and the studio complexity, Nada Moonshine #.

Not knowing what to expect after some 20 years, I approached Nada Moonshine # with an open mind, which apparently some others did not have. Its aggressive hip-hop beats, mutant disco and techno pop all seemed to be a far cry from the intergalactic echoes of the archive ecstasy of two recently released retrospectives, Eternal Flashback and Kobe Reconstructions. But let’s face it — 25 years later, it could hardly remain the same. Amon Düül II was always far too progressive and unpredictable to time-warp into yesteryear nostalgia like the latest 50 Foot Hose, which sounded like it got lost in a time vacuum.

In actuality, under closer scrutiny Nada Moonshine # is one supreme accom-plishment. The lyrical content is so prolific you’d have thought they took off 20 years just to amass so much material. Fantasy and to a lesser extent politics still dominate the occasion, with some of the best musicianship attainable, especially Chris Karrer, who plays Spanish acoustic and waling siren electric guitar often in the same song. Renate no longer spews out childlike musings, instead personifying a much more mature expression with a few surprising Streisand-like nuances. We’re older and wiser now, so it is just as well we sound like it. After all, we were fortunate indeed to have encountered and survived the first round of hallucinations.

In the words of Chris, off “Castaneda-da-Dream” from the grandeur of Live In Tokio: “Mercy for us, ’cause we conquered the world, we may conquer the universe too.” Let’s just hope that event can become a reality for their upcoming 30 year reunion!

© Scott FischerEurock, 2000

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