My review of the BBC4 documentary, which tried to explain the whole entire Krautrock phenomenon in just one hour. I point out some tragic missed opportunities and mistakes. The only saving grace was that they at least featured Amon Duul II – though I’m maybe a tad harsh here, as it wasn’t that bad an effort!

 

Amon Duul II today
Amon Duul II still touring today.

BBC4 Documentary first aired Friday 23rd October 2009, and later as part of BBC4 Germany season, 2010.

The programme’s title seems at first to be an attention grabbing headline, though it makes perfect sense, as this was indeed period of turmoil that resulted in year one for the generation growing up in the aftermath of the war.

It’s difficult to convey how it must have felt being the offspring of World War II’s losers, with the victorious west on one side rebuilding the ruins and importing their own brand of consumerism ideology, whilst the Communist controlled eastern block begrudgingly skulked behind their side of the Berlin wall waiting in anticipation to strike.

The late Sixties political charged riots and the fight for social change were rather more real for teenage Germans who had to deal with their society still being governed by former Nazis. From protests in the street to the eventual bloody terrorist acts of such groups as Baader Meinhof, our German brothers and sisters didn’t have the luxury of sitting on the fence. Flirtation with Marxism was rather more hardcore, just adorning a Che Guevara T-shirt and adopting a beret didn’t cut it.

With all this in mind the BBC 4 documentary started off well enough, filling in the background. A quick sound bite interview with Amon Duul II’s John Weinzierl (who I must thank for answering my queries and many questions on the history of Amon Duul II) and Renate Knaup-Krotenschwanz proved both an insight, and went towards explaining the radical beginnings of the scene.

Unfortunately we never really got time to hear the music, or to touch on their influences. They did indeed create a new cosmic, acid, drenched brand of psychedelia that was Gothic and dark in contrast to both the UK and American west coast but they took some inspiration and notes from a number of bands, including  Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd and Hendrix.

Moving on swiftly the programme went from Amon Duul and filmmaker Wim Wenders and Fassbinder to Werner Herzog in the blink of an eye, before we suddenly got to meet former Popol Vuh member Danny Fichelscher, who evidently was in AD II for a while.

Sadly Popol Vuh  founder Florian Fricke passed away so Fichelscher took on responsibility of spokesperson, lighting up at least twice in the short interview. Again an all too brief introduction that never really touched on their influential cinemascope ambient music – poor Danny could hardly touch on the bands history or importance to ambient and soundtrack music.

I feel that anyone unfamiliar with this music scene would be a little perplexed so far watching this programme as the pace never let up, moving between artists as though shuffling through an ipod play-list.

Giants of both experimental music and krautrock, Can, came across as a mere afterthought. The good old recollections seemed slightly foggy, I mean fancy old Holger Czukay forgetting to even mention fellow founding member Irmin Schmidt! Actually a good point should be raised here, where was Schmidt? After all Can was as much his group as Czukay’s. It’s like interviewing the Beatles without mentioning McCartney.

One-time former loose member and vocalist Damo Suzuki, can always be depended on  to be bundled out for these occasions, but there was scant evidence or any mention of poor Malcolm Mooney ,who sang on the bands material before the Japanese busker arrived.

Another good point was missed. Can, apart from Damo and guitarist Michael Karoli, were already in their early thirties before they made the debut LP Monster Movie in 1968, and so were moving between two worlds: the classical and new age. Both Schmidt and Czukay already had form in the avant-garde  movements of Europe as well; with  Schmidt dropping out from a composers competition in the US to hang out with Warhol for a summer. None of this really came across or was mentioned.

Faust, the studio project that was instigated to hopefully produce a German equivalent of The Beatles believe it or not; proved a highlight. I’m sure they were playing up for the film crew, moving an industrial sized cement mixer across the studio floor and singing into it as the monotonous drums kept pounding away. Anecdotes of meeting Richard Branson and complaining about English food, which to be honest probably did taste like shit in the early Seventies, made for some amusing if trivial insights, but only that, trivial insights.

Moving on at breakneck speed to Neu! we had the well-preserved and fresh faced looking Michael Rother reflect in an ambivalent mood on joining the first version of Kraftwerk and his work in the band Harmonia. His tales of meeting Brian Eno and jamming with him in Moebius and Roedelius’s medieval old barn studio, , were rather rough on the former Roxy Music star. Of course Eno took inspiration back to the UK but he was already quite a pioneer and talent in his own right. To be fair Rother never received the recognition he deserved but then where have we heard that before!

Eno brought over some nice expensive blank tapes for recording, to, which an impoverished Rothar, Moebius and Roedelius welcomed with gusto, as they didn’t have a proverbial pot to piss in at the time. It’s possible these tapes may have become the backdrop to Bowies next two LP’s ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’, though former Neu! member Klaus Dingers band La Düsseldorf, could also lay claim to have had a helping hand in influencing the sound too. Neu! did record a track named ‘Hero’ which bares some interesting resemblance to Bowies own same-titled tome.

Whatever the truth Neu! is a name that is causally bandied about by bands through the 80’s to now, mostly with no real reason other then to sound cool. It has to be said that if most of the synth groups of the 80’s were honest they would admit their first taste of German bands came from Bowie, I mean most of the music in this programme was unheard of even in Germany. As most fans know it’s been difficult until recent times to find the records or information, in the mid nineties when I first became a fan and advocate it was like being in a secret society. You either found a bargain or were totally ripped off. I for one relied heavily on Julian Cope’s ‘Krautrock Sampler’ for my education.

Now its entirely democratized and anyone can find a download of most of these tracks, even the more rare material from the period is somewhere being released.

Another mute point as we move on through the documentary was poor old Wolfgang Flur, the only representative on hand for Kraftwerk.

Well they had some strange talking head type thing going on with Ralf Hutter, though this looked like old footage and didn’t really give any insights.

Believe it or not but for the progressive and ever looking future ideology of Kraftwerk they started to stumble in the late 80’s and started to repackage and bring up to date their older back catalogue, Flur wasn’t up for that. None of this came out, possibly for legal reasons though he had a sad and at times emotional moment or two when discussing the good old days.

Showing us the old Kling Klang studio from outside seemed to be a touching if not pulling apart the myth of the group itself.

Don’t get me wrong their were some really positive points and they managed to feature a good many musicians like Roedelius, Moebius and Klaus Schultz. There was a general warmness and some touching moments that you could be forgiven for thinking would feature much more embitterment. I mean not many of these guys made any money or received attention; it was up to a small group of fans and heads that really brought them to a bigger audience. These old boys and girls now in they’re late fifties and sixties can look back with fondness as they continue to keep on playing and experimenting.

Our rock aristocracy should take note; there are no lords and sirs amongst this lot, no cosying up to new Labour or being part of the establishment. I hardly think you’ll find Rothar producing a Coldplay or U2 LP do you.


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