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.
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