Krautrock : The Music That Never Was

Renate Layne

The Faust Pages, Aug 1998

Renate Layne had some strong things to say about Faust and the Faust site when she signed into the guestbook. Here she explains her reservations about so-called 'Krautrock'

Mr. Wilson,

Yes, I too made very impulsive and uncalled for remarks in the guestbook. If it is possible to do I would wish that you can just erase my commentary there, because I know how wrong it was and it would really be so awful if this will cause controversies among the people who enjoy the site. Today I took a long look at your site and I now see how good it really is. It seems that i have been having an automatic reaction to things about the German music of that time. You present good info and so many others do not. I made the mistake of believing that EVERYONE was distorting things. I am again sorry for this.

I do not really know what to say about those days. When someone had first showed to me the Julian Cope book I found it very strange that anyone would be writing about this music today. I was not quite so bothered by all of his errors at first. He is very enthusiastic and I liked that. The problem is not Julian Cope, it is the people who read his book and will not think for themselves. I myself do agree with many of the things he says. The specific info in his book is just his opinion: no one else has to agree with it. I believe that it is his telling of an overall picture that is distorted.

I think that there was no real scene back then. There did not appear to be much unity with the different groups and I think most of them had no idea of the size of the German rockscene. Julian Cope writes that all of these groups were creating a specific German music but I don't think that's what they were really trying to do. Yes, the music came out that way perhaps, but the groups thought they were sounding like the Velvet Underground and other American bands. That is what they wanted to be. And the audience, which I was one, seemed to feel the same way.

You see, the most important part of this and what is so hard to explain to people today (even to the younger Germans) was the feelings of that time in Germany. Our generation was the first one after the War and I think we all felt almost ashamed to be Germans. We did not want to be part of that culture and its traditions. The world hated Germany (but maybe not as much as we thought they did) and how would you feel being a young German and always having to feel the blame for something which you also despised?

This is, I think, the real story behind that music. We wanted to be anything but German. Rock and roll and the psychedelic experiences seemed to be, to us, the farthest thing from something German we could imagine. Our generation was called the "fatherless" generation because nobody wanted to claim their own cultural traditions. This is hard to understand, I know.

There was a feeling then among almost everybody that anything German was no good. And that is why those bands did not have much success in Germany. Can, Amon Düül II and especially Faust were much more successful in England. Most Germans didn't know these groups at all and they still do not! They thought the music was very strange and just stupid. I had many friends who loved the Velvet Underground and Hapshash and the coloured Coat but could not believe that I would listen to any German groups. "They are just the bad copies" they would say. Those people didn't listen. They couldn't. They only had to know that a band was German so that they would not even bother with it. And those groups felt the same way. They didn't want a "German rockscene", they wanted to be thought of like the Velvets or a British group. They all knew that in Germany nobody respected a german band.

Yes, one can look back now and see that the music does seem very German somehow. One aims to create one thing and still comes up with something else. That is how art is. But why do you think almost all of these bands sang in English? It seems very silly today that people would deny their own language to sing in one that they are not even very familiar with, does it not? You do not see that so much in German music today. I do find it extraordinary that a band like Blumfeld does such good lyrics-writing in German. None of us would have dreamed of doing that back then! If the culture had a curse, we thought, then also does the language.

I realize these things today, but I did not at the time. None of us really did. This all might sound incredible or impossible to believe but this really was the situation then.

I don't really know how one can really understand the music if she or he does not understand this context. Maybe it is better not to know this. At least the people today just hear the music for what it really is and do not bring these culture questions into it. That is what prevented the music from being accepted at the time - yet it also is what helped to create the impulse of it. Do you understand?

We had no great utopia. I think Julian Cope likes to imagine that we did. Sometimes I wish that it was really like he said, but it was not. At least this is my experience of those days. Others may remember things in a different way so don't take my story as the truth!

I did see Faust a few years ago in San Francisco. I thought that they were very good, still crazy. I also heard the Nosferatu album and I think that Faust without Jean-Hervé is not much. He is the soul of the band it seems to me. The record is not bad, but it sometimes sounds like one could be listening to anybody.

I have not a lot of nostalgia feelings of those days. I was surprised to find that there was so much interest now about this music. I am happy that the music now receives the kinds of attention which it should have gotten back then. That is good. Yet I take it personally when I read all of the lies and fantasies of people who were not there at the time. They mean well, I know! But it sometimes seems like someone is saying to you - "You! Your life that you went through did not really happen like that! Here is the new truth!" It seems that this revival brings attention to good things but it also gives the record companies excuses to release again horrible German records from then that should never have been made in the first place!

Yes, let people decide, but I would wish that they would be more objective about things and to think for themselves. There are many wonderful records from that time but a lot of bad ones also. We had no real unity. We should have.

I would tell people to think for themselves. And not what they think Julian Cope, Faust, you, me, anyone else says.

Renate Layne

Keef Roberts replied to Renate....

I think Renate is missing quite a bit of what Faust seems to be about here, in her complaints of how she sees Krautrock versus how Julian Cope or anyone else sees it... There's always going to be some sort of "grass is always greener" thing when talking about other cultures' music. Chris Cutler has written entire dissertations on how his nationality gave Henry Cow access to the whole of Europe as somehow being better. For years, though, in the States, you were looked upon very strangely if you preferred the Velvet Underground. Most Americans have never heard of Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. One of the beautiful things about Faust to me is that I don't have a chance of understanding it fully unless I were to be in the exact same place they were at the time they made the music. It is so foreign in its approach that I find it incredibly intriguing. Somehow I think Julian Cope must feel the same way, and that's why he glamourises it as much as he does. Someone gave me a videotape of Faust's performance in Hartford, CT, at Real Art Ways, at a time when I'd seen one picture of the band... the one on the reverse of ReR's reissue of The Faust Tapes. It dispelled a lot of that glamour, because I was seeing a video that someone I knew made at the show, and that he was there in the flesh with them. They became real people for me. Then of course, due to my friendships with other combos who've played at Real Art Ways, I had the opportunity to have dinner (and talk at length about the Faust performance) with the curator of the museum. He painted Zappi and Jean-Hervé as rather ordinary people with a sense of mischief about them. Some people would be very drunk with excitement over meeting Zappi or Jean-Hervé ... I would, because I do have a romantic vision of Faust's music. I do see them as musical untouchables. Hopefully that would wear off before I embarrassed them. The point of all this is that if the Faust manifesto is to create the sound of yourself listening, why can't that include a romanticised view of Faust (and indeed other Krautrockers)? I see it as Faust gives us some sort of stimulus and we respond... that's the focus... the more unexpected the better. We as individual members of the audience are going to respond in a different way, and in no case are any of us wrong, as you can't be wrong about a human emotion.

Renate Layne, "Krautrock", The Faust Pages 1998