Krautrocksampler : One Head's Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik - 1968 Onwards

Julian Cope

Head Heritage, 1995

Some of the points raised by Cope are addressed in an interview with Jochen Irmler. Renate Layne had things to say about the idea of 'Krautrock'

The Greatest Gimmick of All

"The idea was not to copy anything going on in the Anglo-Saxon rock scene - and it worked... "

Uwe Nettelbeck, 1973

The Sound of Yourself Listening

There is no group more mythical than Faust. I bought my first Faust record over 22 years ago, but I could not tell you the names of the group members off the top of my head. And I could not tell you the names of all their songs, though I know them all better than almost everything else in my record library. I saw them live on their legendary 1973 tour, but you could show me 10 photos of Krautrock musicians, and I could not pick out the five members of Faust.

Faust worked under a conscious veil of secrecy akin to, and inspiring to, San Francisco's The Residents. They were a conceptual band, and in isolation is how they were conceived. By the end of 1970, it became clear to Kurt Enders, an A&R man for German Polydor, that there was a place for the extreme new West German rock music in the international rock'n'roll sphere. But no-one had yet attempted an entirely new sound that broke all of the imported rules of the British and American scenes. He told this to the music journalist, Uwe Nettlebeck, who was extremely impressed and wanted to lead just such a project.

And so Faust was born - as cold and antiseptically as that. No, not really. It was a fabulous challenge and showed how, very occasionally, visionaries in record companies have been seen to get it absolutely right. Faust means 'fist', and a fist they were. Who the hell knows what their rehearsals were like in the Spring/Summer of 1971. Uwe Nettlebeck had spent Faust's large advance on building a studio at Wümme. This old converted schoolhouse, between Hamburg and Bremen, became their place of learning (and de-learning) a style which was fuzzy, funny and extremely uncommercial, yet busted out with weird hook lines and extraordinary sounds. But when they made their debut at the Musikhalle in Hamburg, the press hated it. The audience didn't know what to make of it, and so the whole public thing started very badly for them in their home country. And when the LP was released in late 1971, the sales were so poor as to be as legendary as the group would some day become. Some sources quote under one thousand records sold in the first months of Faust being released.

But Faust were good. In fact, they had made a very special first album. It just took time to get it. And when Polydor released Faust in Britain, the strongest appeal of their LP was that it was produced in clear vinyl, with a clear lyric sheet and a clear jacket, emblazoned with a fist in X-ray. The effect was dramatic. And at a time when a hype could kill a new band stone-dead, even John Peel wrote that when he first saw the album ". . . regardless of the music within, I had to acquire one." Peel played the album all the time, and my Krautrock mates and I would all bore ourselves stupid, re-enacting the beginning of it, whenever we hung out together or took the train into Birmingham. It was such a catchy bizarre sound. It sounded like music from some parallel universe suspended in time and played through the oldest radio.

Extremely overloaded over-recorded synthesizers and radio static begin the album as fractions of "All you Need is Love" and "Satisfaction" burst in, followed by a vocal calling from another room, then a pretty schoolhouse piano (of course!), into a very arranged Zappa-esque horn piece which comes over a bit Teutonic, a bit "Lumpy Gravy"-ish. Julian CopeAnd in two minutes of music Faust has taken you into the most inventive editing territory rock'n'roll has seen. Faust's unexpected success in Britain prompted them to focus themselves here, and the second LP, Faust So Far, was actually released here first. Again, it was a gimmick record - all black this time, with a black inner sleeve, raised black lettering on the record-label, and a set of 12"x12" prints that illustrated each song. But this album was somehow far more confident that the first one. So Far opens with my favorite ever Faust song. It's A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl is a Temptations call and answer chorus over a boom-boom-boom-boom Mo Tucker one-chord trance-out. The rhythm guitar is on the same level as the Velvet Underground's "Live 1969", and the sax solo is my favorite on record. The production is clean and wants to be heard. It's the same throughout the album, and proved that Faust cut it as an un-straight pop band, the same way early Roxy Music did. Polydor also thought so, and released So Far as a single. The B-side, It's A Bit of A Pain reminds me of something from the third Velvet's album. So where were Faust coming from? Though their influences are ultimately unimportant, when a group is as original as Faust, it's impossible not to be overtly inquisitive as to how they came to this fabulous sound. And so to catch certain glimpses of other people's attitude in their music is to heave a sigh of relief that, yes, they were human after all.

The Clear Album

Listen to the Mothers of Invention's concert recordings from 1966 onwards and it's just trash. Musical bollocks of the most merely capable variety. Faust live? This is a different thing entirely. Like all the greatest Teutonic groups, Faust were brought up with middle-European dances and a staple of folk and tradition which was not 4/4. As a consequence, German bands could get far more complex than U.S. and British bands would ever dare and it still sounds rocking and crazy, rather than a bunch of Twee Smug Gits. Find an old Caravan,Man or Henry Cow LP for 50p somewhere and compare it with this. I'm joking of course.

Four years ago, I had dinner with a very successful journalist who told me that he'd had to review Love's "Forever Changes" for Q Magazine now that it was available on CD. Wow, I shouted. You lucky fucker! Yes, he said. But I know it so well I couldn't summon up any real energy, so I just gave it 8/10. "Forever Changes" is a dark achievement. Were it an ancient text or a document it would be hidden from view and spoken of in obscure circles, But because it operates through the medium of Pop Music, it gets tarts like said Journalist giving it 8/10. This is a classic case of a man sleepwalking through life.

So now I have to set to and tell you about the first Faust album, and I will not let you down. For a start, its a big 10/10. No, make that 11/10. It defies categories. It's a horrible noise. It's cut-ups to the Nth degree. Part of it is just like Frank Zappa's "Lumpy Gravy" (a funny bit, thank the Goddess.) It is super-gimmicky, syrupy in the weirdest places, and never outstays its welcome. But probably the strangest thing of all is just how good Faust sound when they are creating on the spot moments of rock'n'roll on the epic Miss Fortune. Here they transcend all studio trickery and here they come alive.

So Far

... As classic rock'n'roll album openers go, few beat So Far's It's a Rainy Day Sunshine Girl. Tom-tons bom-bom-bom-bom for a few bars, then a low bass piano copies it in the thud-thud-thud-thud. Then the Krautrock Temptations coo to each other: "It's a rainy day, sunshine girl, it's a rainy day, sunshine baby." Talk about a smart bloody opening. The best sax solo in the world chases the fade. It's my favorite ever Faust song. Have I said that enough times, yet? I'll be honest about it. I really like Krautrock.

Faust So Far was released in an all black sleeve. The album has a shiny blackness to the music. There's an ominousness in the gross image that depicts the song No Harm, a small woman being attacked by a gargantuan man, which is disgusting and questionable. But I'm sure that it was intended to displease, though I can't say that is any great reason for an artist to do such a thing. Elements of the Velvet Underground acoustic third album scene is picked out by Faust around this time. Also, the brass fanfare of the title track has a tough instrumental skank, pre-dating Can's Teutonic reggae excursions. Mamie is Blue is yet another rip off of the Soft Machine's "We Did it Again", but the drumming/synthesizer playing duel is truly astonishing music, especially those electric drill funk noises. Side 2 also contains more of the typical Faust semi-cut-up-threatening-to be-a-song-any-moment trip.

I think they intended to record a Typical Rock Album as a basic standpoint, but they tried not to make the songs typical at all. Certainly, It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl is the classic opener, and In the Spirit closes So Far the same way "America Drinks and Goes Home" ends the Mothers' "Absolutely Free", the same way "Jugband Blues" ends "A Saucerful of Secrets", the way "Something Happened to me Yesterday" ends the Rolling Stones' "Between the Buttons". Maybe I need a couple more examples. This is a great album. Search it out.

The Faust Tapes

It well befits the Myth of Krautrock that what became the figurehead of the genre originally bailed out of the shops at 49p! And even more incredible is the recent revelation that Virgin Records lost no money on the campaign. Steve Lewis, the man behind the scam, claims to have taken very few risks for what appeared at the time as an Heroic release. Whilst the master tape of Faust's home-recordings was bought cheaply from Uwe Nettlebeck, the album sleeve was a glorious Warholian pre-punk mess. One side was press clippings that revealed just how freaked-out their home country had been when the Faust LP ('Clear') had first appeared in 1971. The other side was Brigit Riley's monochrome op-art trip called 'Crest'. And even this was an obvious and risk-free winner. Five or so years earlier, Leonard Bernstein's out there "Music for our Time" LP had employed Riley's 'Current' to fabulous effect. That the two different paintings could have been details of one larger work ensured in advance that The Faust Tapes would look great.

The album fades in slowly in a cacophony of rainy city blues, droning synthesizers and tonelessness. An abrupt edit cuts suddenly to a call and answer vocal and drum groove and. . . bang! A savage edit into. .. a ballad. Piano, drums, acoustic guitar, Eno-ish synthesizer and voice. A ballad. Except that the vocals were intriguingly trans-Atlantic and sounded insightfully psychedelic in a badly-translated way. It was charming: "When you leave your place and walk in someone other's garden, Suddenly you see, it's a woman's colour in your mind to be."

Most surprising about The Faust Tapes is the number of truly wonderful pop and rock songs hidden within the cut-ups and experiments of the album's tangled grooves. And halfway through Side I is their most defining Krautrock riff of all. It's another of Faust's Krautrock/Family Stone/Temptations trips in the tradition of "It's a Rainy Day". A scientific German-American voice makes pronouncements over the groove and Gunter Wüsthoff's sax tears along over a loopy breakneck driving beat, as the call and answer of life kicks in: "Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz. Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz Chet-vah Buddha, Cherra-loopiz."

UK Tour 1973 - Birmingham, with Gong and Daevid Allen50,000 copies of The Faust Tapes were sold in 1973 and the night they played at Birmingham Town Hall, it seemed as though those words could become a football anthem. The Heads were taking over. Soon after, as we lay in my friend Cott's caravan listening to The John Peel Show, out of nowhere the DJ began to read out the names of the 20 or more songs from The Faust Tapes. The sleeve and label of the LP had showed no titles to any of the songs and Cott raced around trying to find a pen. It was all over in half-a-minute and all I could remember was some title about Humphrey Bogart. It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that John Peel was in on Faust's intended wind-up of its audience - that we were only meant to hear the titles fleetingly and race around like half-wits. And Faust were right.

. . it was their persistence in the Entirety of their trip that makes them so legendary now. Even better, The Faust Tapes was the social phenomenon of 1973, and it finally brought the true avant garde into everyone's living room, for a short while at least. But most of all this LP revealed just which side of the fence everyone was really standing. In April 1980, Jim Kerr, leader of dinosaurs Simple Minds, gleefully told me how he and his mates had all chucked their copies of The Faust Tapes off the roof of a Glasgow tenement. Enough Said? I'm sure that's the phrase.

The Faust Tour

"In the midst of Faust-mouzik time ticks like a bomb."

From Faust's free 1973 Tour-handout.

It's hard to explain the excitement that the Faust tour brought. In mid-1973, nobody had a clue who they were, or even if they existed at all. The name Uwe Nettlebeck was constantly heard, and rumour's in the press abounded. The tour took on a sort of 'underground event of the year' vibe and even some of my hard-rock mates came to Birmingham Town Hall to see them. In the foyer were free Faust manifestos handed to everyone, and free Henry Cow posters. It was ironic, but perfect really, that Virgin had chosen such a lame bunch as Henry Cow to support. They played their wacky Cambridge University Degree music on bassoons and time-changes galore, and the guitarist ran to the side of the stage and put headphones on, and pretended to listen to the band in a jolly way. Ho-hum.

But then it was all change as the road drills and hand-painted upright piano came on stage. And the two pinball-machines, one on each side of the stage, facing outwards and connected to synthesizers. And the lights were all intense white, with extremely directional strobes that lit up the high ceiling of the Town Hall. It was 1973, and musicians usually soloed and looked to the audience for applause, and great ugly guys danced around in cheese-cloth singing about fucking nothing at all. And then Faust walked on - longhairs without flares, wearing those pale European straight-legs you'd see on hip German students over here in the early '70s. I couldn't believe it - they opened with "It's a Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl)". One played the drums, one played the piano and sung, one played acoustic guitar and sung, and the two others played pinball machines that triggered synthesizers - backs to each other on either side of the stage, as strobes caught the strings of the finest rhythm guitarist since Lou Reed. It was epic, it was brilliant, it had attitude enough to raze cities and it ruined every show I went to for at least two years after. At times they caught snatches of their songs and flung them about a bit, but they had concrete on stage and big road drills and their very Stooges' Ur-punk presence awed me and shocked me.

Faust IV and the End of the Line

... After that, Faust were inevitably in a corner. They had become a part of mid-teenage British culture and The Faust Tapes was subjected to Monty Python-like rituals in the schoolyard, to see how much of it we knew and sort out the real Heads. When Faust IV came out it was an enormous letdown. I can't think of anyone who bought it. The packaging was weak. The songs had real riffs, and there was a reggae song on it! That song, The Sad Skinhead is now one of their best, but I couldn't see it at the time. And neither could anyone else. Faust IV, certainly as great as all but The Faust Tapes, was given the thumbs down. In truth, Krautrock, the classic 12-minute epic that opened the album, is really just a continuation of their whole trip They followed it with amazing songs; Jennifer and Giggy Smile are Krautrock classics. But I suppose Faust IV didn't have the innate sense of Moment that all their previous events/releases had. With hindsight, the sleeve was vastly inferior to all the others and maybe they should have stayed in Wümme instead of recording it in the Manor, in Oxfordshire. But hindsight does no one any good, and when Faust 5 was rejected by Virgin, Uwe Nettlebeck lost interest and Faust disappeared just as mysteriously as they had first arrived.

But the story did not end there. Faust were guaranteed immediate legend status for what they had achieved and, like Neu! and Can, were highly inspirational to the soon-coming British punk-scene. New albums of old songs have surfaced from time to time, Münich & Elsewhere, The Last LP, and 71 minutes of Faust all contain unreleased songs in various configurations. But, greater than all their records, Faust tell of an heroic time when reaching for the stars did not have to include getting the stars in order to be successful.

Julian Cope, "Krautrocksampler", Head Heritage 1995, ISBN 0-9526719-1-3, © Julian Cope