Krautrock (also called kosmische Musik, German: cosmic music) is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in West Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s among bands that blended elements of psychedelic rock, electronic music, and various avant-garde influences. These artists largely distanced themselves from the blues influences and song structure of traditional Anglo-American rock music, instead utilizing hypnotic rhythms, tape music techniques, and early synthesizers. Prominent groups associated with the krautrock label included Neu!, Can, Faust, Kraftwerk, Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Popol Vuh, Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream, and Harmonia.
|Cultural origins||1960s West Germany|
The term "krautrock" was coined by British music journalists in the early 1970s as a humorous umbrella label for the diverse German scene, though many so-labeled artists disliked the term. The movement was partly born out of the student movements of 1968, as German youth sought a unique countercultural identity and popular music distinct from American pop and traditional German music. The period contributed to the development of ambient music and techno, and influenced subsequent genres such as post-punk, new-age music, and post-rock.
Origins and influences
Krautrock is a broad label encompassing diverse sounds and artists that emerged in West Germany during the 1960s and early 1970s. The music was partially inspired by broad cultural developments such as the revolutionary 1968 German student movement, with many young people having both political and aesthetic concerns. Youth rebelled against both dominant American influence and conservative German entertainment like schlager music, seeking to liberate themselves from Germany's Nazi legacy in World War II and create a new popular culture. Dieter Moebius of the bands Cluster and Harmonia explained that "as young people we were not very proud to be German. The reason why this movement of 'Krautrock' was born was because we were all tired of listening to bad German music and imitations of American music. Something had to happen." Jean-Hervé Peron of Faust said: "We were trying to put aside everything we had heard in rock 'n' roll, the three-chord pattern, the lyrics. We had the urge of saying something completely different."
The style saw artists unify elements of varied genres such as psychedelic rock, avant-garde forms of electronic music, funk rhythm, jazz improvisation and "ethnic" music styles. Core influences on these German artists included composer Karlheinz Stockhausen and bands the Mothers of Invention, the Velvet Underground, and Pink Floyd, according to writer Jon Savage. According to John Peel, the only American or British band to "clearly influence" the genre was Pink Floyd, particularly for their "spacey music". Radio presenter Jim Backhouse contrasted the genre's "genuine sense of awe and wonder" to the more cynical approach of influence Frank Zappa. Other influences included American minimalists such as Tony Conrad, Terry Riley, and La Monte Young, as well as the late '60s albums of jazz musician Miles Davis. Some artists drew on ideas from 20th century classical music and musique concrète, particularly composer Stockhausen (with whom, for example, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of Can had previously studied), and from the new experimental directions that emerged in jazz during the 1960s and 1970s (mainly the free jazz pieces by Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler). Moving away from the patterns of song structure and melody of much rock music in America and Britain, some in the movement were drawn to a more mechanical and electronic sound.
Until around 1973, the word "Deutsch-Rock" ("German Rock") was used to refer to the new groups from West Germany. "Krautrock" was originally a humorous term coined in the early 1970s either by British disc jockey John Peel or by the UK music newspaper Melody Maker, in which experimental German bands found an early and enthusiastic following, and ironically retained by its practitioners. The term derives from the ethnic slur "kraut", and its use by the music press was inspired by a track from Amon Düül's Psychedelic Underground titled "Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf" ('Mama Düül and her Sauerkrautband Strike Up'). According to author Ulrich Adelt, "kraut" in German can refer to herbs, weeds, and drugs. Other names thrown around by the British music press were "Teutonic rock" and "Götterdämmer rock". West Germany's music press initially used "krautrock" as a pejorative, but the term lost its stigma after the music gained success in Britain.
Its musicians tended to reject the name "krautrock". This was also the case for "kosmische Musik". Musicologist Julian Cope, in his book Krautrocksampler, says "Krautrock is a subjective British phenomenon", based on the way the music was received in the UK rather than on the actual West German music scene out of which it grew. For instance, while one of the main groups originally tagged as krautrock, Faust, recorded a seminal 12-minute track they titled "Krautrock", they would later distance themselves from the term, saying: "When the English people started talking about Krautrock, we thought they were just taking the piss... and when you hear the so-called 'Krautrock renaissance', it makes me think everything we did was for nothing."
Krautrock has been described as a broad genre encompassing varied approaches, with Shindig! summarizing it as "avant-garde musical collages of electronic sounds, rock music, and psychedelia", and noting the style's "characteristic improvisation and hypnotic, minimalistic rhythms". Los Angeles Magazine summarized the genre as "where American psychedelica meets icy Germanic detachment". Critic Simon Reynolds described the style as "where the over-reaching ambition and untethered freakitude of late '60s acid rock is checked and galvanised by a proto-punk minimalism ... music of immense scale that miraculously avoided prog-rock's bombastics". AllMusic described it as expanding on the musical explorations associated with art rock and progressive rock, but diverging from American and British groups' emphasis on jazz and classical elements in favor of "a droning, pulsating sound that owed more to the avant garde than to rock & roll".
According to The Line of Best Fit, some typical characteristics include "steady 4/4 beats, hypnotic, droning rhythms, and shimmering keyboards". Artists used early synthesizers and experimented with tape music techniques. Pitchfork stated that the genre "in its platonic ideal should be basically instrumental; it should seamlessly meld electronics and rock instruments; it should favor long, drawn-over structures over short dynamic shifts, and steady-state rhythms over syncopation". Los Angeles Magazine describes it as a "hypnotic, piston-pumping genre [...] where drummers pounded out tightly-wound beats, bassists thumped pulsing notes, and zoned out singers warbled over it all in an absurdist drone". The Stranger called krautrock an "innovative reconstruction of rock and electronic music".
The "Motorik" beat is the 4/4 beat often used by drummers associated with krautrock, characterised by a kick drum-heavy, pulsating groove, that created a forward-flowing feel. The motorik beat was used by Can in the song "Mother Sky", and by Neu! on their debut album, later being adopted by other krautrock bands. It has been widely used in many different styles of music beyond krautrock. According to XLR8R, the term krautrock is often used by critics to signify the "mesmerizing motorik rhythms pioneered by Can and Neu!", but contested that "they represent merely a tiny fraction of the music that emerged from Germany during Krautrock's Golden Age". Matt Bolton of The Guardian makes a similar point, arguing that "Neu!'s streamlined instrumentals [...] certainly have little in common with Can's eclectic experimentalism, Amon Düül II's improvisational space rock or Faust's cut-and-paste sound collages.
|Cultural origins||Early 1970s, West Germany|
Kosmische Musik ("cosmic music") is a term which came into regular use before "krautrock" and was preferred by some German artists who disliked the English label; today, it is often used synonymously with krautrock. More specifically, it may describe 1970s German electronic music which uses synthesizers and incorporates themes related to space or otherworldliness; it is also used as a German analogue to the English term "space rock". The style was often instrumental and characterized by "spacy", ambient soundscapes. Artists used synthesizers such as the EMS VCS 3 and Moog Modular, as well as sound processing effects and tape-based approaches. They largely rejected rock music conventions, and instead drew on "serious" electronic compositions.
The term "kosmische Musik" was coined either by Edgar Froese in the liner notes of Tangerine Dream's 1971 album Alpha Centauri or by record producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser as a marketing name for bands like Ash Ra Tempel, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze. The following year, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's Ohr Records released the compilation Kosmische Musik (1972) featuring tracks by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh. Kaiser eventually began referring to the style as "cosmic rock" to signify that the music belonged in a rock idiom. German producer Conny Plank was a central figure in the kosmische sound, emphasizing texture, effects processing, and tape-based editing techniques. Plank oversaw kosmische recordings such as Kraftwerk's Autobahn, Neu!'s Neu! 75, and Cluster's Zuckerzeit.
Several of these artists would later distance themselves from the term. The style would later lead to the development of new-age music, with which it shared several characteristics. It would also exert lasting influence on subsequent electronic music and avant-garde rock.
Legacy and influence
Krautrock has proved to be highly influential on a succession of other musical styles and developments. Early contemporary enthusiasts outside Germany included Hawkwind and in particular Dave Brock who supposedly penned the sleeve notes for the British edition of Neu!'s first album Faust's budget release The Faust Tapes has been cited as a formative teenage influence by several musicians growing up in the early 1970s such as Julian Cope (who has always cited krautrock as an influence, and wrote the book Krautrocksampler on the subject). The genre also had a strong influence on David Bowie's Station to Station (1976) and the experimentation it inspired led to his 'Berlin Trilogy'.
Krautrock was also highly influential on the late-'70s development of British new wave and post-punk, notably artists such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds and This Heat, and on Galloping Coroners' shaman punk. Kraftwerk in particular had a lot of influence on American electronic dance music of the 1980s: electro, house, techno and especially goatrance. Ash Ra Tempel was strongly influential on the later development of 70s ambient as well as post-rock.
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