years ago, in germany....

bbc four's rather super krautrock documentary was (at an hour) necessarily a bit sketchy. a six part series would have been more like it but hey....what was particularly great was seeing these beautiful, mad old geezers still at it some 40 years later. it was especially lovely to see danny fichelscher (guitarist with popul vuh and drummer with amon duul 2 and one of my particular heroes) still around, and confirm once more that michael rother is probably the nicest and best looking 59 year old bloke on the planet. even faust came across as rather likeable. and renate knaup is clearly the thinking man's nico.

my first exposure to, er, german indigenous rock ('krautrock' has always struck me as a dodgy term) was to can as a feckless teen in the late 70s. when my parents were out i would lie on the floor with my head between the speakers of our dodgy old decca 'music centre' and blast 'yoo doo right' at silly volume. can and faust seemed much more radical, dangerous and fun than punk, and obviously for a nascent muso snob they had the required exotica value. wandering around school with a copy of faust's first album (clear vinyl, clear sleeve, clear insert) became a habit.

but it was the much more low key stuff put out by the neu!/rother/cluster axis, early kraftwerk and especially popol vuh that really got me. many of the musicians in the documentary spoke of their determination to avoid sounding english or american - to make it year zero for music. to me it's these bands that managed to do that best. even neu! seemed to have much less to do with 'rock' than can, amon duul or faust, whose music still bore traces of american or british psychedelia (or the velvet underground's dystopian throb).

the music that harmonia, cluster and rother put out in the mid 70s is both distinctively european and seemingly not much to do with anything else that ever went before it. it seemed to be more about marvelling at the world rather than grabbing it by the balls and giving it a good kicking. more organic than kraftwerk, less kosmische than t. dream or ashra or schulze, their music was benevolent without being merely 'pretty'; iggy pop summed neu! up in the doc as 'pastoral psychedelia'. certainly looking at the view from harmonia's (and now rother's) studio in forst puts that music in some kind of context.

what was interesting too was the slightly ambivalent attitude from moebius and co towards their collaborations with mr eno in 1976. brian was at a creative impasse at the time and after a week of improvising, recording and hanging out in forst, eno disappeared with the tapes (even using one track for his next album). as rother said rather ruefully - 'we couldn't afford blank tapes - we were poor'; moebius was less circumspect; 'eno told me we would be rich one day - he was not right'.

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