GUEST POST: Krautrock? WTF is Krautrock?
Today’s guest post is from Amy aka Flamgirlant, “you know flamboyant, but with boobs”. Amy comes to us via the frozen tundrea of the north, from the Good Lands of Milwaukee, WI [which is host one of my favorite movie scenes]. Amy is a good go to for nuggets in the fuzzed out world of garage rock and if you need anyone to tell you beards and mustaches are awesome and not creep. Matter back she loves so much she puts them into cross-stitch. Be sure to give her a good old fashion tumblr follow and download her radtastic mixtapes at her Mixtape Hub.
I have a secret. It’s a shameful secret and one that I feel threatens my cred as a music snob. It’s embarrassing to admit, but here goes: I don’t know what krautrock is. I know it’s German and likely involves some sort of electronic music, but so does Sprockets. I’m pretty sure a vision of Dieter saying “Now’s the time on Sprockets when we dance” is not what should come to mind when I hear “krautrock”. After all, bands such as Wilco, Deerhunter and Fujiya & Miyagi have been accused of krautrock influences and they just don’t jive with vogueing in black body suits.
It was high time Iremedy this situation and learn about krautrock; fill in the gaps of my mental musical reference library, if you will. I want to be able to know exactly what someone means when they use krautrock as a way to describe a band. Somehow, I stumbled across a BBC Four documentary on YouTube called Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany* which quite literally rocked my world.
Krautrock was a term coined by the UK music press as a way to categorize the experimental music coming from Germany in the 70’s and was more a slur on the origins of the music rather than the scene that it came from. Remember this is after WWII and the Germans (“Krauts”) were the butt of many jokes of the day (think Monty Python).
In actuality, the seeds of krautrock were planted in the 60’s and grew with social revolution happening at the time. Imagine it - a generation born into post-war rubble with a country split into two and those in power were the same folk that were in power during the war. They needed to damn The Man. They needed their own identity. Music was their weapon of choice. So they take what they know from their history (classical, folk) and mix in what they’ve gleaned from others (rock, jazz, blues) and a dash of the unknown (space) and in a fit of experimentation and radical politics make something that is their own. Enter krautrock.
The beauty of krautrock is that it isn’t one specific sound. Experimental, avant-garde and progressive, yes, but full of so many flavors. Can, one of the first krautrock bands, wove jazz improvisation and a touch of psychedelia into their jams. Tangerine Dream was one of the first bands to use the newly invented synthesizer in their music adding a spacey, ambient feel to their experimental rock. Neu! stripped down the traditional rock song into a continual, minimalist beat layered with harmonic drones best described by Iggy Pop as “pastoral pscychedelicism”. Faust was incredibly avant-garde crafting a cacophonous sound that was like cut-and-paste of musical fragments. Kraftwerk was the breakout krautrock band and one that ditched the guitar and drums to go completely electronic in 1974. Strong rhythmic structures and minimal lyrics were used to convey modern urban life - celebrating the joys of modern technology while also experiencing a sense of alienation.
So yeah, now I get it. Later Wilco material pulls heavily from krautrock. Take “Spiders (Kidsmoke)” for instance. Constant, repetitive beats, the “noise” bits peppered throughout. It falls a bit under that Can and Neu! umbrella. Deerhunter’s “Slow Swords” channels a bit of Faust, don’t you think? More avant-garde and experimental with lots of looping and layering of sounds. Just listen to “Hundreds & Thousands” by Fujiya & Miyagi – totally catch the Neu! and a bit of Kraftwerk in there.
I never knew that the ambient drone and repetitive rhythms that I love so much in the music I listen to now has krautrock to thank. Do yourself a favor and watch this BBC krautrock documentary* – you’ll learn something. Maybe even find a new favorite band to explore. As for me, I’m gonna dig into the Can and Neu! catalogs before dipping my toes into Prog Rock Brittania.
*Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6