Saturday, 26 July 2014

“THE SCRAWL HE WROTE...” (ANOTHER SPOTIFY PLAYLIST)


Lucky is the reader who clicks on this link to find another of my celebrated Spotify playlists.

While previous examples have almost exulted in the eclectic this one seems to stick on post-punk for most of its running time. Even if it doesn't start that way. And ends in a squall of feedback, like being caught out without a mac. But then post-punk was pretty eclectic in and of itself. I'd tell you why any of this was if I knew myself...

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man: Resolve
Tunng: Sweet William
Morgan Fisher (aka RW Atom, aka Hybrid Kids): You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling
The Flying Lizards: Summertime Blues
The Pop Group: Thief Of Fire
The Slits: So Tough (John Peel BBC Radio 1 Session)
Blurt: The Fish Needs a Bike
The Drones: The Minotaur
The Fall: Craigness
The Tiger Lillies: The Story of the Man Who Went Out Shooting
Alternative TV: Nasty Little Lonely
Can: Deadly Doris
The Jesus And Mary Chain: Head (Single Version)
Kyuss: Writhe
Mission Of Burma: Einstein's Day
Fugazi: 23 Beats Off
Gang Of Four: Love Like Anthrax
Cannibal Ox: Ox Out the Cage

”Writer in bed insane
Clutches pen in hand
The scrawl he wrote...”

As ever some tracks remain unspotified. I wanted to use this New Age Steppers track and what I would think of as one of Throbbing Gristle's best-known numbers. Imagine them embedded in there somehow, if you've a will to.

Friday, 18 July 2014

THE SIXTIES UNDERGROUND IN FRANCE... YES, FRANCE!

A sequel of sorts to these posts on the scenes in Germany, the UK and the USA.


Never heard of the radical underground music scene going on in Sixties France? Well that's probably because there wasn't much of one. If, as I keep suggesting, the music was tied with the social and political upheavals of the time, then France should have been a contender of Brandoesque proportions – it had more upheavals than any other developed nation. Yet, while these did tie in to artistic movements, such as New Wave cinema, music made for something of an exception to the rule. (Check out Italy from the same era and you might come away with a similar story.)

Opinion remains divided whether France produces popular music which simply doesn't export, or whether it simply doesn't bother with the stuff at all. But that matters little here, for both point us in the same direction.

On the other hand, of course, there never was a rule that wasn't made to break. So let's home in on a couple of notable exceptions...

Gong

Reader, please indluge a personal digression...

When you're young, you can be very sure of yourself. The two or three things you know line up neatly in your head, free of tangles. So, to my mid-teen mind, music was a pretty clear-cut affair. Hawkwind were quite clearly the highpoint of everything which had happened since the onset of recorded sound. Which left Gong (pictured up top) to pick up the silver. Simples.

Not that my schoolmates were always easy to convince of this, and sometimes pearls fell before swine. I remember showing the colourful, handwritten cover from 'Live Floating Anarchy' (below) to one of my few remaining associates. He stood looking at it in some bemusement, before finally handing it back. “Is it music?” he asked hesitantly, “or is it just messing about?” “I'm really not sure,” I beamed back. But he seemed unaware that this was actually an advantage.


Yet, while I love Hawkwind to this day, over time I lost a lot of interest in Gong. It was partly hearing the later albums (from 'Shamal'), after instigators Daveid Allen and Gilli Smyth had left, which were quite definitely music without the messing about. While the old Gong had been the soundtrack to patching your jeans, things had turned to swish Euro-prog. They even had... I can barely manage to type the words... proper covers. Ugh!

But somehow, like capillary action, such sheer competent awfulness seemed creep back into the earlier stuff. Concept album trilogies on the theme of hippies getting stoned? It stopped sounded appealing. With Hawkwind aiming squarely for the systematic derangement of the senses, Gong seemed by comparison mere blissed-out whimsey.

Yet, as this clip demonstrates so perfectly, sometimes they really could go off. It makes an advantage of the very thing that would later rip apart Gong, that the French never really took to being hippies. Allen and Smyth blow in among those neat beards and button-up shirts like foreign weeds. But here the two sides blend so perfectly and effortlessly it creates a whole new thing – for which I'm not sure we even have a name yet.

Their “just messing about” is grounded and given shape by the more skilful and disciplined playing of the musicians; while the free-form zaniness gives the players a focus and an edge which keeps them away from their more noodly tendencies. It's really not so far away from how the Magic Band worked with the Captain. Plus I also love the way the backdrop isn't some lava-lamp effect but Vertov-style silhouettes of the band setting up. C'est superbe!


Magma


These young people of today. With their I-pods, their apps and that Spotify business on their mobiles. Just try telling them this, and they won't believe you...

...but in my school library there were precisely two books on rock music. Given the absence of anything similar on the shelves at home, they represented the sum total of knowledge on the subject in my world. There was the one with words in it and the one with pictures in it. Ever the English whizz, I went for the one with words in, the 'NME Book of Rock'. Then, in what seemed the logical next move, I read it.

But of course the school library was expecting that book back. In fact, from previous experience they were likely to show a strange vociferousness on that sort of subject. And another of the many things lacking in my world was a photocopier. But, in an unusual modernist gesture, I had been permitted access to my Mum's manual typewriter. So if I came across an interesting-sounding entry, I'd preserve it for posterity by copying it out verbatim.

I kept the resultant sheets of A4 in a battered red binder. My typewriter permissions didn't extend as far as being allowed to change the ribbon, a piece of maintenance now some years overdue. But provided you squinted hard at the increasingly greying text from under bright light, you could make out most of the words. Well, most of most of them.

That red binder was like my lo-fi, Babbage engine version of Wikipedia. Only with less sound files and edit wars.

It was a bit like a hungry man copying out menus from restaurants he couldn't get to. Or afford to eat there even if he could. I dreamt... I dreamt of the day when I would track down the musical sources of those sacred entries. Those strange and enthralling names – Captain Beefheart, King Crimson, the Velvet Underground – so different to the day-world of school, where things had names like Dr. Neville, Mr. Murgatroyd and Further Maths. That voyage of discovery, it would be my mission, even if it took me a lifetime.

Which is pretty much the way it worked out.

Now one of the most enticing names contained in that red folder was Magma. They were French. Which was pretty strange to start off with. Music was English. Or American. Except for the Germans who liked heavy metal. But French?

For some reason the book didn't even mention what's normally considered Magma's killer app, singing in an imaginary language that supposedly came from another planet. But it did say this:

“Formed to perform enormous, megalomaniac oratorios concerning Earth's future... Magma fall by their humourless and irredeemably pretentious concept.”

Well, naturally I was desperate to hear more.

Which required some exertion of patience. In time I'd come to hear Captain Beefheart, I'd come to hear King Crimson, I'd come to hear the Velvet Underground - and yet Magma remained elusive. Of course I'd continue to hear their name, scattered like breadcrumbs along a young music aficionado's path. The people who liked the maddest stuff, who got interested in a band just at the point everybody else was giving up on them, they always seemed to rate them. John Lydon was rumoured a fan. There was a brief rush of excitement when they played London some years ago. But all the while without my ears ever striking pay-dirt.

Today of course the instant hit of the interweb means I can hear them any time I want, without having to get up out of this chair. And of course it's correspondingly harder to find that time. So I've pretty much just dabbled in the odd YouTube link.

Added to which, they're not particularly YouTubeable. Listening to Magma clearly isn't an instant hit. You're supposed to get into them the old way, the way I got into Captain Beefheart or Pere Ubu, slowly and piecemeal, gradual acclimatisation. It's like the way LPs had a natural pause between sides, where they'd wait for you to come and turn them over. While CDs just run.

Their videos can look like you'd stumbled across the rituals of some strange cult, with no clue what it all means to initiates. For which I suppose the word is “apt”. It's not like Frank Zappa in any particular, but it is like Frank Zappa in terms of breadth and scope. Dip into two bits of Zappa from two different eras and you'd have no idea how those dots joined up – it's like that. In terms of what they do, what sort of music they make, it seems bewildering. In, you know, a good way.

Their whole other-language schtick, however grandiosely absurd, is actually kind of fitting. Discovering a new band like thisis like hearing a strange new language. At first all you could hear was the sheer otherness of it. But after a while you could pick out phrases, and even start putting them together...

But one thing I have found and do enjoy is the way they'll blend rock and classical styles so unselfconsciously, unlike the self-important look-at-me ostentation that so beset their era. And the way they don't use classical elements for ornamentation, sporting string sections like bling, but instead take up the power and force of classical music. Their name, I would guess, was chosen to combine monumentality with fluidity. And just like the magma layer oozes on with no heed paid to time and tide, they remain active to this day!

If anyone reading this is an initiate, who can speak that other-world language and could suggest a good starting point for full-album immersion, I'd be grateful for any pointers. Which wouldn't necessarily have to come on typewritten sheets in battered red binders. Just preferably.



Coming soon! The Sixties underground in Luxembourg. (Only kidding…)

Friday, 11 July 2014

THE SIXTIES UNDERGROUND: THE USA



“Total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.”

Of course everyone reckons America to be the epicentre of the Sixties Underground, while Britain just had designer hippies prancing down Carnaby Street in variously off shades of paisley and Germany not even in the picture. Totally wrong on both counts. (See the supporting evidence here and here.) But there's no denying it was a centre.

America at that time was like a cultural Hadron Collider, all sorts of things crashing together, the ensuing explosions creating new particles which didn't even have names yet. Inevitably the particles collided with each other as much as they did 'The Man', which we'll try to convey too...

The Velvet Underground



Of course we have to start with the Velvets – it's just hard to figure out where. They're so direct, so confrontational, and yet simultaneously so elusive. After some head-scratching, I came up with this...

Famously, John Cale first worked with pioneering minimalists the Theatre of Eternal Music, and brought his viola drones with him to the band. But crucially, they didn't so much combine them with rock'n'roll drive as convince you the two had belonged together all along. They were savagely primitive and furiously intellectual, out-there and street-level, at one and the same time. Their sound's like being set on simultaneously, a knife blade to the gut while a thesaurus whacks you round the head. A lucid frenzy if ever there was one.

I've never liked the linear notions of the term 'avant garde' all that much. But perhaps this is the one time it can be justifiably used. They weren't kidding with that word 'underground'. And sometimes notoriety does have greater currency than fame. Their lack of commercial success really was counterposed by their massive influence – it's no exaggeration to say they changed everything. Suffice to say that the long-running alternative music festival All Tomorrow's Parties is named after one of their tracks.

Despite their involvement with the Factory and its multimedia Exploding Plastic Inevitable events there isn't much actual footage of the band in full flight. You'll find with this clip of 'Venus in Furs' the visuals don't synch with the music. But it's still cool...


Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention


Inhabiting the contrary coasts to the existential New Yorkers and their opposite in about every respect were their perennial arch-foes - the Mothers of Invention. While the Velvets took up sunglasses and icy cool, the Mothers donned frocks and mugged and gurned. While the Velvet's universe was black-and-white, the Mothers erupted with dayglo colour. While the Velvets were darkly realist and from-the-streets, the Mothers couldn't have been more surreal. Ructions were to ensue.

Lou Reed described Frank Zappa as “the most untalented musician I've ever heard. He can't play rock'n'roll because he's a loser.” The only thing the could agree on was that they both hated hippies. Which in the context of the times meant absolutely everybody else.

'King Kong' kicks off with Zappa explaining the band's mission statement. Which was basically “annoy people. For both personal and political reasons.”
Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

But if the Mothers were the Velvets' primary antagonists, the Magic Band were their opposite number. Against the Velvets' crushing nihilism, the Magic Band's default sound was a resounding joyousness. Instead of held drones, their music bounded along like strangeness on springs. The band have a reputation for befuddling difficulty, for setting listeners sonic puzzles, appealing only to chin-strokers and ponderers. Nothing could be further from the truth! The good Captain's maxim was “I play music. Too many work it.”

Which makes it all the more bizarre to hear about the scarily 'cult-like' way much of that music was recorded. You hear some of it, and worry whether you can listen and keep to the ban on slave produce.
But anyway, just check 'em out! Running through 'Electricity' on Cannes beach in 1968



The Jefferson Airplane



In the punk era the two big Californian cities, San Francisco and Los Angeles, competed to create great bands. The Dead Kennedys, for example, were from SF while X hailed from LA. Which makes sense, of course. Approximately the distance between London and Glasgow, the cities are close enough to be aware of one another, but distant enough to have their own identity.

Which makes it passing strange that the same wasn't true in the Sixties. LA produced Zappa, Beefheart, Love and the Doors. SF... well, even if you take flower-wafting dippy hippies like Scott Mckenzie out the equation, it's still pretty much the side of Sixties music I don't like to listen to. It's heresy to some, but I've never seen the appeal of the Grateful Dead. To me its just meander, music to wave joss sticks around to.

Perhaps at the time SF's focus was simply elsewhere. The city was such a cultural and political hotspot that the music became (to coin a phrase) instrumental to it all. It wasn't primary. There to be the soundtrack to the love-in or the riot, but not the stuff calling the kids out on the streets.

But there's an exception to every rule. And the scene's other major band, Jefferson Airplane, were as unlike the Dead as the Stones were to the Beatles. Okay, their output was uneven. The Sixties were uneven. And when it worked...

This clip of them performing 'White Rabbit' and 'Somebody to Love' on American TV perhaps best sums up the difference between them and the Dead. That crazy psychedelic stuff worked best when stuffed inside actual songs. It's the way it then fights to get out, makes the song strange, misshapen and unpredictable. Like one of those giant bubbles which stop being perfectly round but undulate weirdly and throw up loads of odd reflections. Without the song for it to contend with it's like the bubble's burst, and you're left with hippy noodlings all over the floor. And unlike the Dead the Airplane could write great, massively memorable songs, and had Grace (“what, me, not English?”) Slick as a fantastic declamatory singer. Perhaps even as great as Amon Duul's Renate Knaup.

And to all those who still indulge those tired stereotypes about “mellow” hippies, this was the band who sang lyrics like “all your private property is target for your enemy!”

Oh, and the videotape does warp at one point. That's not the bananas kicking in...



MC5



The MC5 were of course associated with John Sinclair's White Panthers, a kind of rise to the dare of the Black Panthers, and source of the manifesto quoted up top.

They were a Detroit band when Detroit was on fire. And, as mentioned in the earlier Krautrock piece, that's not a metaphor. They're a reminder there was a time when rock'n'roll wasn't just something to wash a Coke down with, and as such they're another band whose massive influence well exceeded their reach. While The Velvets were punks before their time, the MC5 are the missing link which proves there was no fracture point between punk and hippie music at all.

Okay, this is strictly the start of the Seventies... who's counting? Welcome to 'Kick out the Jams', played to a home crowd at Wayne State University, Detroit. Apparently filmed for local TV, which is why the last word in the infamous title line is conspicuous by its absence. (Though all the annoying logo stuff scrawled across the screen has been added by some subsequent self-publicist.)




The Fugs



The term rough music fits the Fugs the best. By popular tradition, enemies of the community were subject to a barrage of song and noise, the sonic equivalent of throwing rotten vegetables. Raucous and free-form, they didn't sound so much like the MC5 - a band always up for playing after a protest rally - as the music you hear bashed out on bin lids during the rally.

They took to this most literally by attempting to exorcise/levitate the Pentagon as a protest against Vietnam. Then included it as a track on their next album. The FBI was later found to have kept a file on them, listing their songs which they found to be "vulgar and repulsive and most suggestive”. (It was quite a long list.)

And, despite those who stick to the lazy slur “the hippies sold out”, they always stuck to their (metaphorical) guns. In the mid-Nineties, learning that for the anniversary of the Woodstock festival someone was planning a commercialised event, they countered by organising the Real Woodstock Festival. Their activities were constrained by the sad death of Tuli Kupferberg in 2010. (Though not ended, and I even got to see them live in London the next year.)

'CIA Man' (unfortunately without visuals)...


David Peel and the Lower East Side



David Peel was either the last word in self-parody or above and beyond the whole thing. I was never sure which, and I don't suppose he was. He's seen here treating the David Frost show to 'Hippie From New York City', with John and Yoko in tow. I always imagined he made the words up on the spot, but here he gives every indication of reading them. What he can have been up to, to screw with his short-term memory like that, I simply can't imagine. Is it any good? I'm really not sure. But what it is, is great...


...and to play us out

Iggy and the Stooges

This is the celebrated “with added peanut butter” clip from the Cincinnati pop festival. Perhaps more of a demonstration of what an out-there performer Iggy was than the Stooges as a band. (In the unlikely event you've never heard the Stooges before, go here.)

Perhaps what really makes it is the slightly clueless commentary, “well, the kids really seem to go for this stuff... whatever it is.”


Coming soon! We're not done with that Sixties business yet...

Saturday, 5 July 2014

THE SIXTIES UNDERGROUND IN THE UK

(A sort of sequel to an earlier post on Krautrock.)


“It's not just some sort of scruffy club you can join, you're in or you're out... it's like being a criminal.”

Okay, the Sex Pistols song gave the late Seventies a catchier title. But in the process it's baseless year-zero rhetoric burnt the bridges to an equally great era of music, for which Britain was an epicentre. Punk didn't happen as a reaction to this music, punk was more an attempt to get back to it.

Hawkwind


You couldn't overstate the importance of Hawkwind if you tried. They're a credible candidate for the most important band in the history of everything, ever. Not just through defining the Sixties underground sound but by heavily influencing punk, post-punk and dance music.

Like the Velvet Underground they had a huge visual element to their live performance. But, also like the Velvets, sadly very little from their classic era was filmed. This is a video they made of their token hit 'Silver Machine' as an alternative to having to appear on 'Top Of the Pops'. (You can tell it's made for TV because Stacia keeps her clothes on.) Lemmy took the lead vocals, according to him because he was the only one who could hit the high notes.

Though covering 'Silver Machine' with the re-united Pistols, when asked to present a Radio Two show more recently John Lydon demonstrated his hardcore fan status by choosing the far freakier 'You Shouldn't Do That' instead. As would I, if YouTube had yielded any actually visual videos for it. 'Silver Machine' bears about the same place in the heart of Hawkfans as 'She Loves You'does for Beatles buffs - you like it, sure, but you think of it as an entrée at best.


Black Sabbath


Accept the linear notion that the Sixties Underground was nothing but prog, and another bridge burnt is its role in the genesis of hard rock and metal. Black Sabbath were of course the instigator of Seventies hard rock (which like all influential bands led to results both good and ill), but in their early days were very much seen as part of the underground. This bio is surely right to state “they still are a heavy underground band.”

Having gone for the obvious with 'Silver Machine', I feel obliged to follow up with the scene's other great unexpected hit - 'Paranoid'.(Which the band always claimed they speed-wrote to fill an album deemed otherwise too short for release.)

Like Hawkwind they actually excelled in longer tracks. But unlike Hawkwind their schtick was not sensory overload so much as pulverizing force, down-tuned guitars providing riffs so ponderous and droney they almost stop time in its tracks. If Hawkwind sought to hurl you up into the heavens, like some shaman cosmonaut, Sabbath strived to bury you alive under layers of sound.

But 'Paranoid'... somehow it manages to be more representative than 'Silver Machine'. Teenage angst writ large then hammered home with a piledriving riff – isn't that what it's all about? And check out the video…


Pink Floyd


it's a bit like Blake's famous line “did he who make the lamb make thee?” Is this really the same band who subjected us to 'Division Bell'? 

Well technically yes, but actually not. 'Set The Controls For the Heart of the Sun' borrows its title from a Ray Bradbury short story, and bears about the same relationship to generic rock music as he did to standard SF. It simply does what it says on the lid. You can hear its influence on trance-out acts like Om to this day.



Soft Machine


History perhaps wasn't kind to Soft Machine. There was a period they were seen as the central band of the British underground, the lot that would not just headline the UFO club but almost define it. They were to London what the Velvets were to New York. Alas, the candle that blazes twice as bright burnt half as long. The key members left early and they fell into becoming a boring proggy jazz-rock outfit, the sort of thing music buffs listen to on expensive hi-fis.

But never mind that – let's talk about their heyday! If Faust were the Dadaists of the Sixties underground then Soft Machine were the Surrealists, less assaulting music than undermining by infecting it with strangeness and wry wit. Though of course their name came from the Burroughs novel it also suggests at the soft, morphing forms of Dalian paintings.

Above all, their music's funny, in and of itself - just as the Magic Band's output was. A humour amply conveyed by this track being named 'Eamonn Andrews', after the evening TV presenter. Or by Robert Wyatt's tale (told on the back of their third album) of the first time they played the Albert Hall. A diligent doorman resolutely refused the scruffy hippy admission. (“'I've got to play in there', I said. 'You must be kidding, son', he said, 'they only have proper music in there'. Not that night they didn't.”)


Caravan


As any fule kno, many Sixties underground bands were actually a huge influence on punk. But were they just exceptions to the rule? What for example of Caravan? With their softly spoken laid-back pastoralism, were they the very thing punk sought to destroy? After all, their subject matter tended to be sly-wink innuendo about getting stoned and shagging, neither of which seem terribly transgressive today.

But so what? We shouldn't let the battle lines of the past define where we can go now. And sometimes what you want to eat's a flaming chilli burger, at other's it's some soft-flavoured home cooking.

It's clear enough by now that the prog that has dated, that can just be sealed up and consigned to history, is the bombastic, technocratic, look-at-me indulgences of ELP and the like. Caravan, conversely, were made from English understatement, droll whimsical humour (they sing like they have the permanent hint of a smile), a love of indolence and (yes really) a fine gift for melody. Their music sailed rather than being driven by any kind of engine. And, fittingly for the band that most epitomised the Canterbury sound, what could be more English than their rolling numbers? A Caravan track always seem so redolent of the soft undulations of the South Downs I live among.

King Crimson


This was the beginning of the end, really. King Crimson were definitely the start of prog, if more genuinely strange and deranged than that term normally connotes. But history is never neat and '21st Schizoid Man' from 1969 (supporting the Stones in Hyde Park) couldn't be a more classic Sixties Underground track – heavy riffing, sticking it to the man – just delivered by those who were ending it in that very same moment.


And to play us out...

The Social Deviants 


...were also known as the Deviants, or the Pink Fairies whenever the band fell out with singer Mick Farren (he of the quote up top). They were essentially the British MC5, even down to the stick-it-to-the-man shock politics, the White Panther connection and (above all) the wild Afros.

Unlike the MC5, however, they may be best remembered historically rather than musically. This one's described by the band themselves as “fairly long... and loud.” Both are true. It's a fuzzy clip of a free concert in Hyde Park. (Yes, another one. How did they avoid double-booking them?) And such a thing probably does sum up the era best. For better or... you know, the other one. (Skip at the very least the first minute.)

However, while long and loud it is, those with enough powers of endurance to click through to the second part will be reassured to find the thing ends with the reassuring sight of a British bobby.

(NB While the 'revolutionary' rhetoric of the times can have a naïve charm today, it's a bit harder to smile indulgently at the suggestion that you “grab the tit of the chick next to you”. Not against that part of the power structure, then, Mick?)


Coming soon! More of this sort of thing...

Friday, 27 June 2014

A STARTER'S GUIDE TO KRAUTROCK


”"We were trying to put aside everything we had heard in rock 'n' roll, the three-chord pattern, the lyrics. We had the urge of saying something completely different."

To those who think Krautrock was made up of Kraftwerk plus a few answers to pub quiz questions, read on and grow wise...

When asked how the Sixties came to be such a vibrant era for music, many of it's practitioners have commented they simply had no choice. The times dictated it, press-ganged them into becoming sonic and social revolutions - ceaselessly racing to keep up with events and with one another. Bliss it must have been to to be alive in that very dawn. But listening to some of the music now on your home CD player – that's not too bad either.

But out of everything that was happening in those heady days, which scene was fairest of them all? London was, cliché though it might be, truly swinging. New York was as cutting-edge as a scalpel blade. Los Angeles was... actually, its pretty hard to sum up what was going down in Los Angeles. San Francisco was throwing music so deeply into the counter-cultural firmament it was getting hard to tell one from the other. And Detroit... Detroit was on fire. (Not a metaphor.)

Given all that, to then claim that one music scene was more important than all the others - that might sound like hyperbole. And to suggest that the fairest of them all was actually West Germany - that haven of careful drivers in reliable cars - that might sound like insanity. And yet its true! The only people who think otherwise are those who imagine you can measure music history by who got to Number One in any particular year.

Germany was the place where rock music morphed most into free music, where the musical rulebook was ripped to the smallest shreds. Krautrock took the American influence of rock'n'roll, reassembled it in a different order and launched it back upon the world – like the crazy neighbour kid in the 'Toy Story' film who reworks toys into freakish Frankenstein creations. Bands gravitated towards counter-cultural arts spaces over conventional venues, where they eschewed set-lists, refused curfews and charged at most a few marks on the door. Quite often bands weren't really bands at all but collectives, living and playing together in communes.

In the process it became like the stem cell of modern music - influencing punk, post-punk, hip-hop, dance and electronica. (One strand of Krautrock also fed into New Age music. Nobody's perfect.)

One day I might give release to my conjectures as to how that time and location became such a hotbed. But for now let's just say... fur jetzt und immer, Ich bin ein Krautrocker! (Und das is alles das Deutsche Ich weiss, das nachste bit kommt nur von Google Translate.)

But just in case you're not quite convinced just yet, here's a few vidclips to clinch the case...

Can


Like any great music scene, the concepts, the stories about Krautrock are as important as the music itself - and Can are no exception. Formed from impresarios out of the classical and free jazz worlds and (mostly) older than rock outfits of the time, they were kind of like zen masters. Exceptionally skilled musicians to the point where they could play pretty much what they wanted, they decided whatthey wanted was to play endless trance-out metronomic riffs - often for hours at a time. There's film of Irmin Schmidt hunched intently over a bank of keyboards, concentrating intensely, then deciding he needs to play one single note over and over. They moved into a castle, and set it up as their own studio so they could play all the time. I mean, what's not to love?

'Mother Sky' is imbued with an awesome guitar riff and swirling keyboard pattern. Highlights include the singer Damo looking like Sadeko from the 'Ring' films, only more possessed, and the girl who doesn't let the presence of TV cameras put her off her hash pipe. Lowpoints include discovering that Sixties audiences really did sit down. (Jungs and Madchen, you're watching Can, one of the grooviest bands in history, and you decide to sit down - wass???)


Faust


Faust were (and remain) a legendary band in about every sense. The striking, stark modernist design of their LP covers (so at odds with the gaudy prog sleeves of the time), the stunts they performed, the tales about them, all are as important as their music.

If Can were the Beatles of Krautrock, Faust were the Stones. If Can were linear and purposeful, able to distill their myriad influences through the blender of their smooth pulsing groove, Faust were abrasive, cacophonous and ultimately Dadaistic. They must make the most pranksterish anti-music of any music act, and to this day can achieve utter derangement on stage. (I have seen, I have witnessed.)

One of the (many) stories behind their name is that they regarded record contracts as Faustian pacts, and took a proto-Pistols glee in taking labels' cash without ever delivering marketability. Despite the band being actually very good at this, somehow there doesn't seem much film of them back in the day. But this is one of their classic tracks, 'Rainy Day Sunshine Girl,' assembled before your very eyes until it reaches Tatlin Tower heights, in Manchester in 2007. (And, for anyone who's never been to Manchester the clip's title, 'It's A Rainy Day in Manchester'.. that's that English humour thing you hear about. You get it if you live here. Which admittedly is a price to pay.)


Neu!


Originally a kind of offshoot from Kraftwerk, Neu! would be an essential band merely for having invented the motorik beat, one of the few beats to have it's own Wikipedia entry.

Though by no means ubiquitous to this scene (as we'll see) motorik did function as both heartbeat and signature. Much music soars and crests, climbing scales. Motorik glides, as if it's sound was so pure a thing as to be untroubled by the lumpen world of gravity. It's pulsing drive sounds organic and mechanical at once, repetitive yet so propulsive it always seems to be stretching ahead of you. It's like the car that always seems to stay in front of you on the motorway, seemingly sailing ahead without burning up any energy.

Alas best I could find for back-in-the-day footage was not just a short but an edited clip of 'Hero' (though with cool white dungarees and a bubble machine)...


...but as this is Neu! we're talking about let's have a double helping! Here's more recent footage of 'Hallogaloo' from 2010, with none less than Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley on drums...


Kraftwerk


Ever the contrarian, I have to admit when it comes to the most famous... okay the only famous Krautrock outfit I've never been that keen on them. I seem to rate their output in the very inverse to the way the band do. They've effectively disowned everything before the first all-electronic offering 'Autobahn' (keeping their first three albums out of print), while for me it's everything after 'Autobahn' which pales. All that “we are robots” stuff? Just a gimmick past its sell-by.

'Ruck Zack' is about as other-end as you can go without falling off - the opening track off their first album, where Florian Schneider was still playing a very un-machine-like flute. (Though not as we know it.) They obviously had a lot of stage sets in Seventies West Germany, this is exactly the same as the Can clip!


Popol Vuh


What was the difference between Krautrock and Kosmische? It's there in the names really, the ironic tag Krautrock was a proto-punk sonic assault on everything you thought you knew about music while Kosmische (German for 'cosmic') is spacier, less beat-driven, feeding into both to electronica and world music. Everything listed from this point on might better be called Kosmische. (Read Wikipedia on the Kosmische Music label, which many of the bands had releases on.)

Popol Vuh (chiefly known today for their Herzog film soundtracks) were perhaps the archetypal Kosmische outfit, seen here on 'Bettina' taking synthesizer and tabla drums into outer space. Dig those far-out groovy Sixties graphics!


Kluster/Cluster


I don't know this outfit as well as I should, to be honest. Almost the very inverse of Neu!, their trademark was not to bother with beats at all. Their style was more proto-industrial electronic ambience, like the soundtrack to the coolest SF show in the world. After all, why bother with music when you can get so far by just making sound?

Despite... or more likely because of... a distinct lack of commercial potential, not overcome even by a later Anglicisation of their name to Cluster, their influence extended far beyond their sales. They recorded an album with Eno and echoes of them are all over Bowie's Berlin-era sound.

The clip below claims there's no actual footage of them back in the day and uses instead some old TV doc. (During which we learn the German for “trendsetter”. Its “trendsetter”.) But while slideshow vids are normally dull, here the photos of piles of lead-trailing DIY electronic equipment and pop-art album sleeves are awesome! (Even though there's noticeably not enough of them to fill even a scant two minutes.)


Agitation Free


This band's monicker could quite possibly sum up the whole scene. Inevitably enough, it refers both to free music (playing what you felt like, impervious to custom or constraint) and free concerts (no door tax, no commercial venues, no curfew). Anyone who thinks this enormous, epic music is “mellow” mistakenly shot glue into their ears during their punk rock youth and is welcome to stick to their Anti Nowhere League.

There seemed to be no actual video footage of Agitation Free for the longest time. (Though thankfully plenty of live audio.) Then this longish clip from French TV came to the rescue...


Tangerine Dream


And there was a time when even Tangerine Dream... yes, Tangerine Dream were good! Not for long, though, judging by the brevity of clip of 'Sing All This Together'. (They actually sound quite Doorsish here. Which is generally a good thing.)


Amon Duul II


Some Krautrock purists complain Amon Duul II were more of a straight rock band than their contemporaries. Which is a restrictive view of their sound, and anyway overlooks the fact that even when they were a rock band they were a great rock band. (Okay, they became increasingly generic as the Seventies rolled on. So did most people.) Here they're punching and kicking their way through 'Eye Shaking King.'


Brainticket


Though often labelled a Krautrock band, Brainticket probably stretch the definition. Formed by a Belgian, with an American singer, they mostly operated out of Italy and only drummer Wolfgang Paap was genuinely German. And they sound at times like an American band, with a strong psychedelic soul influence. On the other hand, they normally recorded for German labels. Oh - they sound great! Who cares about the categories?

They were one of those Sixties bands who were always been censored or condemned for their drug references, despite never really making any. It was more something that permeated their look and sound. They reeked of derangement, inviting some and infuriating others.

I vowed I'd only link to authentic and contemporary footage. But this seems in short supply for Brainticket and, though post-hoc, this accompanying film is supremely fitting.


And to play us out...

Ash Ra Tempel


Everyone seems to talk in hushed tones of the Grateful Dead, like they were free-form jam pioneers and sonic cosmonauts. But they only ever sounded like over-indulding noodling hippies to me. Luckily though a band did exist which matches their description – the awesome Ash Ra Tempel! Listen as, knowing neither rules nor limits, they bend and reshape music much the way Salvador Dali did clocks. And reflect that Richard Branson has taken to space tourism too late, and gone the wrong way about it. Mellow hippies? They had a track called 'Flowers Must Die', and I could let my attempt to describe them rest just there.

Given their preference for free form, live was where the band most excelled. (The story goes that, even with some of their studio releases, the band had no idea they were being recorded as they worked out.) I even like the drum solo part on this one! Their live performances seem to come and go on YouTube. If the link below no longer works, just search by their name. You really can't go wrong.


Should your appetite be whetted at this point, might I suggest checking out my YouTube playlist for further sonic offerings? I'd also welcome suggestions of anyone I may have missed out. I lay not claim to be an expert, just an enthusiast.

Krautrock ist nich tot! Krautrock lebt ewig, aber für jetzt, das ist alles...

Coming soon! Maybe checking out some of those other scenes...