The following back story and album reviews ran consecutively as parts 1 to 8 of my German Music Odyssey series in 2009.

Part 1 included my outline of the entire series and the initial beginnings of the band, with their debut album Phallus Dei being meticulously reviewed.
Thanks go out to founding father of the band John Weinzierl, who filled in a few blanks for me and cleared up some queries.

 

One Man’s Thoughts And Observations On Krautrock’s Golden Age.

By Dominic Valvona


PART 1 Introduction to the series and Amon Duul II.

‘Krautrock’, what a term, I mean when have we ever used this suffix to denote anything other then in spite or ridicule?! Lets just say, it’s hardly a term of endearment. No. Krautrock was coined in the sneering adolescent hotbed of British music journalism, back long ago when they needed to group all those interesting German chaps, who were busy changing the very landscape and boundaries of music, into a catchy title; a pigeon-hole categorisation was needed, and one particular journo did just that.

Hell, the Germans didn’t mind too much, they even included it in some of their song titles – though I’m pretty sure it was meant in the same context that contemporary German artists would use during the 70s and 80s – artists such as Martin Kippenberger whose legendary piss taking show titles and puns openly ridiculed his country’s dark past.
Any term is difficult as it’s impossible to lump all the many different bands and musicians together. As well as style, ideologies, even their ages…  Can for example, included three men already well versed and in their thirties and the one-time music student, Michael Karoli, almost a generations difference, there’s a notable chasm between most of these bands.

We can not understand enough the vast differences between these groups. Amon Duul II were socialist based and came from the communes of Munich, while Can were respected music composers and teachers, already in their mid thirties by the time they even made a record, in 1968. They picked up on the Situationists and Marxism movements’ rhetoric.

Neu! kept their heads down, moving ever forward with their subtle digs at the language and graphics of consumerism whilst Faust openly made an anarchic stand and chaotic disruptive chorus of dissent.

From manifestos to just a group of guys making some serene sublime soundtracks, I refer to Popol Vuh here, there were many reason why they shouldn’t even get on and indeed some didn’t.

The only real common thread was that some time in 1968, an explosion of collective minds spawned forth the first seeds of a German sounding musical phenomenon that pushed the very idea of what rock, pop, electronics, folk and World music could be. An unbounded energy, which was borne of its time; it was music made for the first time inherently by Germans without having to cover or rely on the UK and US.

 

By 1970 these groups had ploughed their very own furrow and it was everyone else who then copied and took notice. Make no mistake; these Teutonic sonic druids and cosmic composers changed the very fabric of music, they took your West coast Californians like the Jefferson and the Grateful Dead added your Cream, Hendrix, Mothers, Beefheart and then ran with it, ran with it till they’d had enough. And so they began to sprinkle some Pink Floyd and Hawkwind into the mix.

They added electronics to the equation and made themselves at home in the great classical composers of German folklore, whilst taking tea with Stockhausen. In fact so many of these musicians were taught or brought up with old Stocky that he could be said to have been the chief instigator of Krautrock: Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, both of the already mentioned irreverent Can, studied with him as well as its believed Kraftwerk (who evidently are not really a Krautrock group as such), among legions of other German musicians, who would go on to form the key bands of this period.

 

OK so what we are looking at is the golden period between 1968 to 1975, anytime after and we’re at the dog-eared end of the scene where God knows what some of them were thinking.
I also want to concentrate on these groups in particular who are:-

AMON DUUL II
CAN
FAUST
GURU GURU
NEU
POPOL VUH

The great Julian Cope has extensively covered most of these, and has written the ultimate tome on the genre, The Krautrock Sampler, which had a limited couple of runs and is not to ever be reprinted again due to Cope’s own wishes. So you may have to search high and low, otherwise there are a multitude of great little sites dedicated to particular groups worth finding.

Before we go any further just a few points.

1. This is not meant to be the most comprehensive guide ever to ,either, the genre or the bands themselves. In fact it’s more of a guide to the most enjoyable and best LPs of this period ,and it is also a personal series of my thoughts and reviews on these very records, which I hope you can in turn share with others. If you’re new to this then it acts as a beginners guide of sorts, if not you may find it a useful reference.

2. There are bound to be people and stories missing, as I said it’s a personal set of reviews and writings on my favourite music of this genre. Cope does a sterling job of mentioning some obscure acts so if you need to delve deeper he’s your man. Though deeper and obscure is not always good, in fact when you get into people like Edgar Fosse or Brainticket you start to tire.

3. Hopefully you will be able to find these LPs yourselves, most never sold heavily when they came out but I have been able to come across these records in second hand shops quite regularly, the only problems are usually Amon Duul II Yeti and Phallus Dei which really are like finding hens teeth. Spalax and Spoon do great reissues of many seminal Krautrock groups on vinyl.

On CD you should now be able to find most LPs no matter how obscure.
Each issue I will feature one LP, with a piece on its content, musicians who played on it , label, track list everything in fact that is worth mentioning.

The first 8 parts will be dedicated to Amon Duul II (my particular favorites).

Amon Duul II in all their glam.
Amon Duul II in all their glam.


AMON DUUL II

Overview:-

Borne of the Munich political arts commune, brought up on the lingering transatlantic hashish smoked coattails of the acid west coast scene, the quasi Egyptian and Germanic etymological entitled Amon Düül II spilt (with almost immediate effect) from their ephemeral and omnivorous bedfellows when they decided to put to tape all those previously untethered freeform experimental jams, and to whittle out all the stragglers and less talented musicians from what was an unregulated love-in. Two versions of the band co-existed for a while, before, as one of the latter’s founding fathers Chris Karrer had already sussed out, the more languid, free-spirited and amorphous Amon Düül fizzled out (but not before recording their own musical peregrinations; releasing a number of albums over the course of five years, but all recorded at roughly the same time as their debut in the late 60s).

Sharing both a sense of mystical cosmological fantasy, and for a time, a bass player (former Kippington Lodge roadie holed up in West Germany, Dave Anderson) with England’s own psychedelic acid flight crew Hawkwind, the Düül’s own career mirrored that of their counterparts. A politically-charged kool-aid band of ‘heads’ carving out their own mythology; journeying way beyond their own Earthly prism for sonic adventures in space, yet articulating all the ‘shit’ that would threaten to crush their well-meaning attempts to escape the lines being drawn in West Germany by the radical left and the hung-over ex-Nazi’s and their sympathiser authorities, during the late 60s and early 70s. Close personally to the Baader-Meinhof members, but appalled by their actions, the group’s ‘make love not war’ mantra of resolution through revolution didn’t cut it: too slow, too forgiving and too bourgeoisie; a hangover from the Woodstock era that promised so much but delivered so little. Sparked by ‘black power’, women’s liberation, generational alienation, the continuing horrors of Vietnam, calls for disarmament and the removal of Allied army bases from West Germany’s soil, and one of the main catalyst for a change in tact from protest to guerrilla war, the shooting of the student Benno Ohnesorg by a policemen as he attended a rally orchestrated by the exiled Iranian Marxists, against the Shah of Iran, the mighty Düül articulately forged their own folkloric ascetic.

An ever rotating cast of the extremely talented and miscreants joined, left and then on some occasions, rejoined the ranks during the band’s reign as one of Germany’s experimental rock music titans; even swapping and picking up members from their sibling counterpoint MK I. The founding hardliners, Karrer, drummer Peter Leopold, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist/vocalist John Weinzierl and school teacher turn Valkyrie siren Renate Knaup were joined by UFO sound effects organist Falk-Urich Rogner, the already mentioned Dave Anderson, another drummer, Dieter Serfas, vocalist/percussionist Christian Thierfeld and, the bongo/violinist, Sharat on their first outing.

The band’s inaugural Phallus Dei outing would be their most cosmically loose and primal. Channeling a esoteric Gothic totem and piqued by the alien siren vocals and haunting morose of Renate, the band attempted to break away from Germany’s past Prussian and Nazi dominated history and culture to found a ‘new hope’. They at least succeeded in lifting off, and certainly produced an unworldly evocative atmosphere, one that seemed on the surface a light year away from the mounting social unrest, student demonstrations and dawn of armed political insurrection – carried out to a destructive end of misconceived martyrdom by the original members of the Red Army Faction.

Finding a narrative through the uninterrupted passages of exploration and Gothic dream weaving, the band was already enervating the original freeform blueprint and honing their songwriting skills. Their mythical, Tibetan esoteric follow-up Yeti (a musical and lyrical theme the band would return to again and again, especially on Wolf City) was tighter with the emphasis on transcendental west coast psych and acid rock trips. Yeti would prove to be the band’s compass and feature heavily in their live sets for the years and decades to come; if the band ever strayed too far, the lure of this, one of their most acclaimed and venerated albums, would act as a returning beacon.

Accessible is a trite word and can’t possibly justify the band’s most accomplished – in both the eyes of many dedicated fans and Krautrock connoisseurs – grand outings, Wolf City.  Arriving at the end of an extremely volatile period, the group losing certain friends and members after their fairly experimental progressive soundtrack Dancing Of The Lemmings in 1971 – which failed artistically and commercially; an ambitious if amorphous and at times somewhat directionless double album -, yet things picked up again the following year with the release of their most folk rock heavy song collection, Carnival In Babylon – which even made it onto John Peel’s radio show at the time.

In the upper echelons of Krautrock folklore (thanks in part to the talents of Popol Vuh band member Danny Flichelscher’s short term transfer to the Düül team) the keys to this majestic kingdom high above a panoptic dreamscape viewed from one of the ‘chariots of the gods’, would be tarnished slightly as the Düül embraced a weird concoction of Roxy/Bowie glam and earnest sincerity bordering on whimsy for their next two outings, Viva La Trance and Hijack. Utterly disingenuous, both albums if of their time also featured the odd highlight and glimpse into the future, especially Viva’s almost debauched Weimar Republic punk hysterical ‘Ladies Mimikry’ and Renate’s prophetic Kate Bush performance on ‘Jalousie’. Hijack would be their most schizophrenic album of all, with a cast of returning band members from the days before the Düül I & II schism, and a musical direction that tended to work the art school pop sound into a cul-de-sac, with prog, jazz, strings and a vague boogie glam Mott The Hoople mish-mash.

Caught up in the burgeoning ‘Krautrock’ phenomena, with the major labels now taking a cash incentivised interest in signing up any half-decent band from West Germany, the band shook sweaty palms with Atlantic Records. The first release of that fatal US deal – though the band would also continue to release material on other labels in their homeland, principally the Nova imprint – Hijack was followed up with the highly ambitious Valkyrie rock opera Made In Germany. A kaleidoscopic pop, rock and glam misadventure through the country’s history (from the eve of German unification in 1871 through to more recent events), taking in various misdemeanours, including the drowning/suicide of the disney castle crowned King Ludwig and a satirical ‘shock-jock’ radio spot interview with Hitler, the eventual double-album (though it was initially released in both the States and UK as a condensed single version) would meet with hostility from label boss Ahmet Ertigon who was unimpressed with the mockery and Germanic political hubbub. Coupled with an extravagant, if misguided, PR stunt from the band, who wished to fly a Zeppelin across the Atlantic to launch their grand opus on the unsuspecting American audience – remember this was still only 30-years after the war –, the album was almost suppressed by Atlantic. The Marlene Dietrich homage cover masterpiece would eventually drop in 1975 and prove to be their most diverse if derisive outing, splitting opinion on the band and marking the end of a golden period.

Of course they would still carry on meeting under the banner, releasing a handful of albums until the beginning of the 80s before breaking up into various fractions, yet touring every now and then to feed the faithful’s hunger. Returning with their first original material in nearly 28-years in 2010, de facto band job-sharing leader John Weinzierl announced publicly that surviving members of the band would release a new album, Düülirium. Packaged alongside a number of live dates, the 21st century, internet savvy incarnation would take the caravan back out on the road. In correspondence with Weinzierl during this period, he was constantly drawing me away from the band’s past to concentrate on the present and future; sometimes dissuading me from eulogising the band and dismissing the whole ‘Krautrock’ mania – he also launched a few criticisms and dismissive broadsides at a certain past producer, the Baader Meinhof Complex film’s director and the whole nostalgia industry.

Give me the Bavarian soul, passion and faith of the Düül any day over the cold motorik monotony and steely futurism of Dusseldorf and endless improvised Cologne recordings.

Now join me in taking a closer look at the group’s inaugural album Phallus Dei.


Phallus Dei
Phallus Dei


 

Year: 1969
Label: Liberty/United Artists – Sunset (uk)

Line Up:

Dave Anderson – Bass
Chris Karrer – Guitar
Renate Knaup – Vocals
Peter Leopold – Drums
Falk Rogner – Keyboards
Dieter Serfas – Drums
Christian Thierfeld – Vocals, Percussion, Violin
John Weinzierl – Guitar, Vocals, Violin

Track List:

1. Kanaan (4:01)
2. Dem Gutem, Schonen Wahren (6:11)
3. Lucifer’s Ghilom (8:33)
4. Henriette Krotenschwanz (2:02)
5. Phallus Dei (20:43)



Grabbing your attention with some inspired bongo and tabla enchantments, ‘Kanaan’ is halfway between the Stones ‘Sympathy For The Devil’ and George Harrison’s spiritualism left unchecked; all being demonically sowed beneath the bedrock, which will eventually form heavy metal.

The first vocals announce some pseudo black rites initiation ceremony before the most beautiful ascending guitar hook and accompanying bass riff seep into the following track ‘Dem Gutem, Schonen Wahren’, or for those who don’t speak the German tongue that’s: “To The Good, Beautiful And Genuine”. This is a melodic touch of class, which stands as the first proper hint of ADII unraveling musical manifesto. Renate’s first vocal echoes can just be made out as Weinzarl’s almost hysterical and goofball outpourings burst forth like some escaped loon whose been let loose on Dr. Caligari’s medicine cabinet; a cabinet that includes just as much uppers as downers. I have no idea what they’re singing, it could be some jolly ditty on the benefits of eating yogurt or some Third Reich era workers swan song, whatever it is I’m convinced it’s interesting and slightly exotic (I say exotic but it’s actually possibly because it’s delivered in thick German accents almost bordering on authoritative Prussian).

As soon as you get used to this vocal barrage someone steals a megaphone and this is where the rites of passage campfire ritual really kicks off as the swirling sounds of the mellotron announce an otherworldly presence with a layer of oscillating effects that are notched up to a factor of ten, a fitting end to the second track indeed.

Next up is ‘Lucifer’s Ghilom’ an amazing title if nothing else, but as you may find yourself chuckling, a break beat drum intro and Turkish epic theme on the bongos rolls up to invade your personal space.

The backing is a full on groove that sounds almost like the first glimmers of heavy rock. This is broken by the narrated vocals, which err towards the ludicrous though this is soon brought to a halt as a second jamboree of drums descend us into the prehistoric worlds of Conan Doyle and the primordial soup at the beginning of time.

Side one is brought to an end with the curio ‘Henriette Krötenschwanz’, a short two-minute piece for the vocals of Renate, who swoons delicately over the military opening. Kind of a forgotten tune but it has some interesting aspects, which reflect the main undercurrents of the LP so far, yet it feels almost like its been shoehorned in, like an extra hidden track rather than a flowing continuation of the tracks thus far.

Side two is made up entirely of the album title track “Gods Cock”, sorry I mean its Latin name ‘Phallus Dei’. The first murmurings and moaning bars bring us a twenty-minute abstract and soundtrack like opus, which features the eerie sound of doors creaking, and the band members standing on a cacophony of musical instruments, all before the very first beating drums of a tune appear slowly from the background. Like Beefheart jamming on Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention if they’d stole aboard a boat to Hamburg, we find ourselves hurtling towards the Californian freak-out of The Grateful Dead or even The Fugs. I swear that there’s the merest hint of banjo that brings to mind the Monks, who spent their US air force years based in Germany barracking anyone who would listen with jilted, awkward psychedelic hillbilly fucked-up rock’n’roll. All of this takes up the first half of the epic freeform jam. Along the journey so far we’ve heard progressive, heavy metal, ambient and psychedelic threads and there’s more to come!

The next section has a respite with some exquisitely enchanting violins, which are fed through some reverb and echo, a harmonious delicate little two minutes before we are interrupted by those ever familiar drums, though this time its tribal drumming ala Adam Ant or Bow Wow Wow, though it brings to mind those corny old movies that show some white hunter type tied to posts in some far flung savages village in darkest Africa, all waiting for their fate as a boiling cauldron menacingly bubbles away in front of them. The savages are Amon Duul II who’ve worked themselves into a fever and have gone completely native.

Again we find the old Beefheart influence coming back in as a riff not too unfamiliar to his Safe As Milk period meanderings rumbles along while fiddles preempt a brave attempt at a conventional song. Weinzierl warbles to great effect, a precursor to his work on Dance Of The Lemming, an unsettled melodrama nonsense that could be pushing it a little too far now. The last few minutes goes from the intricate bedrock of guitars, chimes and beats to a unsettling chord change that summons up the unholy army of the night before we are slowly left with nothing, the music is faded out and we come to the end.

Amon Duul II’s debut delivers a real classic of the genre and has been used as the stick to measure all others. To be honest I think it’s both been heaped with too much praise and importance, the later records are an improvement as Phallus Dei is really a cut and paste job that shows some positive seeds for future tunes but also luckily losses some of the more random noodlings that go nowhere.

Critics point to the vocals as problematic, but at the burgeoning of their career it’s still all commune obsessed outpourings which probably felt right at the time, but once recorded for posterity it sounds a little goofball and you never know if the old tongue is firmly in check.




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