To celebrate the return of Bavaria’s number one psychedelic acid rock export to UK shores next month we’ve put together our very own ‘choice’ appraisal of the band’s most fruitful musical period (1969-1975). For the first time in aeons the group will be performing at The Village Underground in Shoreditch, London on June 12th; no doubt sharing the golden moments package from their most coveted albums Phallus Dei, Yeti and Wolf City, alongside more recent material – though performing together in various outfits and versions of the band over the years, they took 28 years to release an original album, 2010’s Düülirium. Announced almost out of the blue and with scant news on the horizon, who knows what to expect. Which makes it all the more exciting. Grab your chance to catch one of Germany’s rock music titans before it’s too late.
The Amon Düül II in brief: a short essay.
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 affect) 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 Kipperton 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 hang-over 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, both infamous reaper shearing band logo silhouette and bongo/violinist, Sharat (whose image would of course grace the cover of their second album Yeti) 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.
Already 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 failed artistically and commercially – an ambitious if amorphous and at times somewhat directionless double album -, yet picking 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 – they would also record their transcendental zenith. 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 Hopple 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.
This latest, and if my memory serves me correct, their first performance in London since 2010, is a mystery. Will they perform the hits package or try out new material? Or both perhaps. Whatever happens on that June night in Shoreditch, it will prove to be an enlightening, evocative and transcendental mind fuck.
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.
Words & music selection: Dominic Valvona
Full in-depth fanboy reviews and such can be found on all the above albums. Just click the image below…