Los Angeles

An Aural History of Krautrock

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This Friday, L.A.'s music collective Dublab and the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles will present "Krautrock Classics, An Evening of Cosmic German Music." The first showcase of the minimalist electronic music of Germany will offer some original sounds alongside well-regarded musicians covering Krautrock staples. L.A.'s Nite Jewel will team with Peanut Butter Wolf, Secret Circuit, Nedelle Torrisi from Cryptacize, and Cole M. G. N. performing Kraftwerk's "Computer World" in its entirety. Also performing will be Carlos Niño, Pharaohs, Dntel w/ Hrishikesh Hirway, ESP, Daedelus, Sun Araw Band, and more.

Still not quite sure what Krautrock is? Artbound teamed up with Dublab to produce a aural history of Krautrock, assembled by Michael Stock of Part Time Punks. Stock also provided some insights on where Krautrock came from and where it's going.

So, why "KRAUTROCK"...?

It was a pisstake, really. British tongue lodged firm and far in cheek anyway. After all, "Kraut" was probably the word most muttered in the trenches of 1918 (the British ones) about the soldiers on the other side of the barbed wire who were trying to kill them. By the early/mid 1940s, the word proliferated freely in U.S. pop culture, largely thanks to Hollywood's FDR-fueled onslaught of propaganda films. (By then, the British had moved onto "Jerry" or "Fritz" as their preferred ethnic slur.)

In Germany, the term had always simply meant "herb," and was rarely used alone. Rather it was part of a larger compound word, typically indicating the leaves and stem of the plant (as opposed to the root); and oftener still, cabbage. So. "Weisskraut" (white cabbage)...yes.

"Blaukraut" or "Rotkraut" (blue and red cabbage, respectively), also yes.

And "Sauerkraut" (fermented white cabbage), surely and most obviously yes. (The simplistic stereotype of the sauerkraut-eating German dating back well into the 19th century.)

So, while "Unkraut" is "weed" and "Bohnenkraut" is "savory," the resuscitation of the term's usage by the British music press in the case of "Krautrock," was most decidedly not.

And really, that was the point.

Firing from a rock-centric entrenchment dug in by the late 1960s for nearly twice as many years as both of the so-called Great Wars combined, these were rock journalists who began firing in denial, disengagement and disavowal.

Just as they would later do with "Punk" in the late 1970s and "Shoegaze" in the early 1990s, the term "Krautrock," too, was initially the British music press's attempt to dismiss a large and varied body of musical works by a large and varied group of German musicians. "Punk," after all, was originally a word used to describe either a prostitute or someone you may want to avoid in prison -- depending on whether you were talking to Shakespeare of Legs McNeil. So too was "Shoegaze," only a slightly more benign term, accusing a talented group of musicians of being equally absorbed in self and effects pedals.

However, unlike both Punk and Shoegaze, "Krautrock" is less an attempt to summarize a style or genre and more a historicization of musical output originating primarily from southern Germany -- Cologne and Dusseldorf mostly -- for a 15 year period starting in 1968. A term which represented in its inclusive definition bands as disparate as Amon Düül, Can, Cluster, Faust, Neu, Popul Vuh, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk.

Maybe this is why many of the German musicians involved in the movement eventually embraced the term, turning it on themselves, tongue most deservedly in cheek as their innermost explorations sent them scurrying from inspirations as disparate as The Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, Ornette Coleman, Brian Eno, Terry Riley, Karlheinz Stockhausen, William Burroughs and the sounds of first generation home computers.

And while the bands above are the first names to check when discovering and referencing "Krautrock," the tracks on this mixtape are the sounds of digging deep in the soil under the powerplant (or "Kraftwerk," as it's known in German) and electronic evocations from the outermost aether of the Komische.

Guten appetit.
Langsam verdauen.
Bohnenkraut.

"MENSCHEN MASCHINEN MELODIEN"
(a Part Time Punks Krautrock/Komische Mix for Dublab)

01) SASKIA CZCHOCH - Untitled (1980)
02) KRAFTWERK - Radio Sterne (1975)
03) KRAFTWERK - Die Roboter (1978)
04) JELLE FARGO - Untitled (1980)
05) ASMUS TIETCHENS - Räuschlinge (1981)
06) JURGEN HEIMES - Untitled (1980)
07) CON - Noc & Illig (1982)
08) WALTER THIELSCH - Taken (1980)
09) ROLF JUNGKLAUS - Wave (1982)
10) EMAK - Allein Zu Haus (1983)
11) CONRAD SCHNITZLER - Tanze Im Regen (1981)
12) HARALD GROSSKOPF - So Welt, So Gut (1980)
13) BAUMANN/KOEK - Where (1979)
14) TRANCE - Soma (1979)
15) HARDY KUKUK - ...So (1981)
16) LA DÜSSELDORF - Tintarella Di... (1980)
17) THOMAS DINGER - Alleewalzer (1982)

About the Author

Drew Tewksbury is Managing Editor and Producer of Artbound. He comes from a diverse media background, having worked as a producer for NPR show News and Notes, a regular music columnist for L.A. Weekly’s West Coast Sound, and Senio...
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