photo & text by nacrowe
when you look back at the nascent HIP HOP scene in THE BRONX in the late 1970s, there was a lot of EXPERIMENTATION going on. the form itself was justing coming into being and the sonic possibilities that came with remixing one's record collection on turntables with a clever DJ running copilot was seemingly limited to one's imagination.
what is INTRIGUING about going back to the source, of which AFRIKA BAMBAATAA & SOULSONIC FORCE's EPOCHAL release PLANET ROCK: THE ALBUM (TOMMY BOY, 1986) is how informed his range was of the musical AVANT-GARDE, even going so far as to sample KRAUTROCK contemporaries KRAFTWERK for the LEGENDARY title track. in his hands (along with collaborating co-producer ARTHUR BAKER), the consciously RIGID and MACHINE-LIKE efficiency of "NUMBERS" off of KRAFTWERK's COMPUTER WORLD (KLING KLANG, 1981) became something totally unexpected: FUNKY. in the MODERN lexicon of HIP HOP as it has develop over the ensuing decades, "PLANET ROCK" has one of the DEFINING samples of the genre. so much so that the song helped provide the impetus for the ELECTRO movement that followed.
sometimes genres become more CALCIFIED over the course of their development as a form and there is this fallacy that develops that the early FORBEARERS somehow held onto this UNADULTERATED, UNALLOYED, PURE DISTILLATION of the TRUE SPIRIT of the genre. you see that type of incorrect thinking and mythologizing with everything from PUNK ROCK and the BIBLE to BASEBALL and the UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. its a very human thing to distort the past. the further you go back, often what becomes apparent is how in flux and undetermined all these later DOGMATIC parameters were at the time of formation. HIP HOP is no different and "PLANET ROCK" is a PRIME and INTRIGUING example of such.
i would be remiss if i didnt mention the other STANDOUT track, which is "RENEGADES OF FUNK," decades later MEMORABLY covered by BAMBAATAAA acolytes RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE. lyrically the song celebrates all these BLACK EMPOWERMENT and is a bit of history lesson of such, listing past THINKERS and REVOLUTIONARIES that pushed the ball forward in terms of the LIBERATION and FREEDOM of the AFRICAN DIASPORA. in fact, BAMBAATAAA headed the UNIVERSAL ZULU NATION, an international HIP HOP awareness group he initiated while still in high school that promoted PAN-AFRICANISM and BLACK EMPOWERMENT. later NOTABLE affiliates include Q-TIP (A TRIBE CALLED QUEST), KOOL MOE DEE, BIG BOI (OUTKAST), KURTIS BLOW, IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE and ICE-T among many others.
i should also state that in recent years BAMBAATAAA has become something of a CONTROVERSIAL figure, with many allegations surfacing of his alleged involvement in the molesting of young boys going back to the 1970s. BAMBAATAAA has vehemently denied these charges and to date no charges have been leveled against him. all the same it goes without mentioning that these allegations have complicated his legacy as a HIP HOP ORIGINATOR and CULTURAL INNOVATOR of the first order.
parodies by nacrowe
the late 1960s and early 1970s was an interesting time for creativity across the arts in WEST GERMANY. you had this whole generation of visual artists, writers and musicians that came of age in the wake of WORLD WAR II and their parents involvement to varying degrees with the NAZI regime. its a very interesting sociopolitical situation whereby in essence you have a whole cohort of peers that have roundly rejected wholesale the traditions of previous generations. AMERICAN history and culture is complicated enough, but art and music (from BLUES to JAZZ to ROCK 'N' ROLL to HIP HOP and beyond) is somewhat of a unifying force that delineates an evolving national identity.
but what if you started over completely. from scratch.
that "year zero" mentality is largely what is at heart with KRAUTROCK, or the experimental WEST GERAMANY music scene of the late 60s and early 70s. previous classical and folk musical traditions were now tainted and sullied by their association with NAZISM. bands associated with the KRAUTROCK movement included the likes of KRAFTWERK, NEU!, FAUST, CAN, HARMONIA, AMON DUUL II, POPOL VUH, TANGERINE DREAM and CLUSTER among others. some of these bands employed JAZZ FUSION popular at the time in the UNITED STATES, but most sought a new tone, musical lexicon and identity in the emerging world of SYNTHESIZERS and SEQUENCERS. these new instruments had less of a history and understand "proper" usage tradition like say guitars or brass instruments. and they went after such with gusto creating new textures and sonic juxtapositions that influenced everyone over the years from DAVID BOWIE, DAFT PUNK and AFRIKA BAMBAATAA to DEPECHE MODE, SWANS, STEREOLAB and the POST-PUNK movement in general (JOY DIVISION, THE FALL, PUBLIC IMAGE LIMITED, etc.).
with the rise and ever-present existential threat posed by TRUMPISM in the current AMERICAN political climate i really wonder what traditions will be abandoned by their association with this failed demigod should he gain power again. his reemergence to power is a frightful but very real concern almost two years out from the next presidential election. i could go on about all the loser musicians that have supported him over the years but im not trying to provide them any oxygen, they should drown in permanent cultural irrelevance. what interests me is the possibility that some future REPUBLICAN-led FASCIST state will bend our cultural traditions to its will, leaving later generations having to parse through the rubble since at that point the legacy of such will be irreparably warped. will a generation of artists need to adopt a "year zero" mentality and adopt new AMERICAN traditions?
just a thought.
also definitely check out this embedded episode of DEER GOD RADIO from january 2020 on the nonprofit radio station MAKER PARK RADIO with a playlist celebrating KRAUTROCK and all said bands associated with the movement. i am ever fascinated by the experimental nature of the music and what it meant to the emerging consciousness of a new nation that sprang forth from the darkest recesses and indignity of human imagination.
photo by nacrowe
as we are quite possibly reaching our own cultural YEAR ZERO with the ever-present threat of a future TRUMPOCALYPSE, its more timely then ever to consider the example of the former WEST GERMANY and the dilemma its artists felt when working on new projects in the 1970s. for them it was paramount to culturally start from scratch, literally.
the stellar documentary KRAUTROCK: THE REBIRTH OF GERMANY (BBC, 2009) deftly examines how progressive bands like CAN, NEU!, KRAFTWERK, FAUST AMON DUUL II, TANGERINE DREAM and CLUSTER went about creating music who no direct antecedent in GERMAN folk or music traditions. In the process they influenced a whole wave of BRITISH and AMERICAN POST-PUNK bands as well as peers like DAVID BOWIE and IGGY POP, who specifically sought out BERLIN and the scene for some of their most fruitful collaborations.
basically the KRAUTROCK bands grew up in the post-WWII generation, meaning that they were born with the guilt of knowing that the generation before them had either tacitly consented or directly participated in the war effort of the NAZIS. for them, understandably, everything before their generation was tainted. this included famous composers celebrated by the NAZI PARTY such as LUDWIG VON BEETHOVEN, RICHARD WAGNER, WOLFGANG AMADEOUS MOZART, JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, JOSEPH HADYN, JOHANNES BRAHMS, RICHARD STRAUSS and ANTON BRUCKNER. even GERMAN folklore was a no go because of its perverse transformation by the NAZIS. to save GERMAN culture they had to essentially rip it up and start again.
what came out of that was a music rooted in the lexicon of AMERICAN BLUES, R&B, JAZZ, FUNK and ROCK & ROLL traditions but with a sense of experimentation and abandon yet unexplored previously. to my ears the music of CAN or NEU! is a about sonic textures and group improvisation, not too unlike the FREE JAZZ of someone like ORNETTE COLEMAN, just more intense. there is a real aggression there. even in the case of KRAFTWERK, who went the other direction sonically with a sound constructed specifically to be devoid of humanity, there was still a tension.
i definitely recommend this documentary if you are unfamiliar with KRAUTROCK or the bands associated with the scene. in my estimation, it is a storied music scene both because of its sonic experimentation and its political consequences. WEST GERMANY was very much in the process at the time of self-determining into something new. the KRAUTROCK scene being backed by the STUDENT PROTEST MOVEMENT of the time was very much a part of that process. beyond interesting and worth watching.
parodies by nacrowe
tonight starting at 8PM on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC there will be a double-bill of two separate DEER GOD RADIO episodes showcasing both the progged-out master riffage and sonic mayhem of MASTODON and the innovative, creations of post-war GERMANY now commonly referred to as KRAUTROCK. gonna be an intense night. enjoy!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST, THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW and CLASSICAL-ISH WITH NUTMEG are available here at the DEER GOD website.
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