Krautrock: Germany Calling #3

From Amon Düül to Faust’s new sound-world

IN LAST WEEK’S issue IAN MACDONALD closed with the arrival of Amon Düül II on the German scene. Since 1969 this band have recorded five albums and four singles, and established themselves as a bold, inventive or ganisation. In this final article MacDonald continues his appraisal of the band.


DANCE OF THE Lemings crystallised the dual leadership of the band in the Chris Karrer composition ‘Syntelman’s March Of The Roaring Seventies’ and John Weinzierl’s ‘Restless Skylight-Transistor-Child’, both sidelong strings of continuous ideas, neither of which are totally convincing, if readily distinguishable, stylistically.

Of the improvised tracks, the freeform ‘Marilyn Monroe Memorial Church’ stands out as beating Tangerine Dream at their own game, whereas the remainder sinks without memorable trace.

Carnival In Babylon was recorded soon after the group moved out of Munich into the adjoining countryside and, whilst sweetness and light only by comparison with the three preceding records, it is certainly a more relaxed album, showing the Düül, for better or worse, trying to marry certain Anglo-American compositional ideas with their uniquely Germanic sound.

The end-product, partly the result of shaky ensemble work (German rhythm-sections tend to be either inflexible or very wobbly, and Amon Düül’s can manage the extraordinary feat of being both simultaneously), leaves one wondering whether the group have any clear idea of what they want to be. Personally, I’d prefer they opted for the harmonies and time-signatures of Weinzierl numbers like ‘C.I.D. in Uruk’ and ‘Kronwinkl 12’ rather than open-ended rambles like ‘Hawknose Harlequin’ and, on the evidence of their latest and most successful release Wolf City, that’s just what they’re doing.

Amon Düül II are a bold and inventive organisation, and Wolf City shows them gaining in confidence and ability with great strides. The only reservation I have is that they may be striding towards a point at which it will no longer be possible to hear them unawares and identify them instantly as German, but this modest tendency may just be the outward manifestation of a long-deserved holiday from having borne the cause of independent German rock these five years.

Still, one can’t help wishing that some of their better
titles (‘Gulp A Sonata’,
’Flesh-Coloured Anti-Aircraft
Alarm’, ‘Rattlesnakeplumcake’, ‘Overheated Tiara’,
’Sleepwalker’s Timeless Bridge’, and ‘A Short Stop At The Transylvanian Brain-Surgery’) concealed music of comparable inspiration. By world standards, a group to watch, even so.

The best, you’ll be relieved to hear, has been reserved for last.

Faust, a five-piece organised 18 months ago by avant-garde producer Owe Nettelbeck, are a single-handed justification of all the ballyhoo that’s been kicked up about krautrock in recent years.

Operating from their
homemade studio at Wumme, they have issued two albums of their work-in-progress of which the second, So Far, is currently only available in Germany. The third, a double, is projected for release early next year and advance hearing of some of the tapes that might form sections of it have convinced me that it could be a masterpiece.

Suspicions that there was a whole new sound-world somewhere on the far side of ‘Cold Turkey’ were confirmed by hearing ‘Meadow Meal’ from Faust’s first album earlier this year.

Using only self-designed equipment (no synthesizers), the group have, in this track, produced the first genuine example of rock that Britain and America could not only never have conceived (although The United States Of America came within spitting-distance of the same territory in 1968), but which they would, at present, find technologically impossible to emulate.

This is truly avant-garde music, played with a panache and an amiable humour duplicated by no other German band.

This then, is the German rock scene to date.

Future directions are already being determined even though the German press is largely refusing to take notice of its own country’s music; two lines, hinted at in this article are being taken up, firstly that of the new “cosmic” bands such as Popul Vuh, Os Mundi, and Eruption and, secondly, a wave of performers of “Romantic” rock, based on nineteenth century modes, and including such names as Hoelderlin, Emtidi, Walpurgis (whose album, Queen Of Saba, is shortly scheduled for release), Golgotha, and Wallenstein, whose leader, Jurgen Dollase, claims to be a reincarnation of the famous general of that name and clothes himself accordingly.

Both camps may well be barking up the wrong tree, since the true dilemma of German rock lies in the so-far unbridged gulf between revolutionary ideas and inadequate techniques, a problem only entirely solved so far by Faust.

German rock groups are particularly anxious to reflect their social rather than their cultural situations, making music, in the words of Holger Czukay, “that doesn’t try to show the world better, but makes it better.” 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: For their help in compiling this survey, Simon Draper (Virgin Records). Uwe Lencher (Metronome Records), Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser (Ohr Records), and Martha Laurie (United Artists).


LATE ARRIVALS

A BRIEF glance at the very newest releases and imports from Germany does little to alter the generally gloomy view of the scene portrayed in the preceding article. There’s no date given for Amon Düül‘s Disaster double-album, recently released on BASF, and it could have been recorded at any time between 1968 and this year. Sounding no better than Collapsing and Paradieswaarts, it lives up to its name.

Duisberg’s Broseknachine, believe it or not, are a kind of Teutonic Steeleye Span and, listening to their reading of the traditional ‘I Once Loved A Lass’, you could be forgiven for putting them down as one more English folk-rock band. They do what they do with skill and restraint, but the final aim of the exercise eludes me.

Wallenstein‘s Blitzkreig (Pilz) is a tasteless exhibition of flash-rock in the manner of ELP, Gash sound like a rather grandiose German Wishbone Ash, and Os Mundi, on their Brain album 43 Minutes, present a stodgy evocation of early Colosseum and Graham Bond.

Stuttgart’s Kraan don’t sound like anybody in particular, not even themselves – but their record company, Spiegelei, is new to me and has a fried egg for a logo. I’m quite partial to fried eggs.

From what I’ve heard of it, Popul Vuh‘s debut album, In Pharaoh’s Garden is conceptually par for the “cosmic” course, if rather more subdued in sound than its stablemates. Synthesizer-player Florian Fricke fails to live up to his reputation and Holger Trulzsch is a boring and clumsy percussionist on this showing.

Canaxis 5 by the Technical Space Composers’ Crew is an Inner Space Production dating from 1970 and released on the private Music Factory label. It features Roland Dammers and Can’s Holger Czukay playing with loops, electronics, and field-recordings of Vietnamese peasant-songs – which could have beer very interesting but, through self-indulgence, isn’t.

© Ian MacDonaldNew Musical Express, 23 December 1972

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