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How Krautrock’s Influence Echoes In the Los Angeles Underground

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Faust members Werner "Zappi" Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Péron. | Photo: Petra Glaeser.

The way music influences other artists can be just as powerful as the music itself.

Krautrock -- the heavy, weird, intense and joyous music created throughout Germany, Austria and Switzerland from the late 1960s through the mid-’70s, roughly the period of time during which the Summer of Love was assassinated by the "Me Generation" -- is a type of music that’s affected a certain breed of adventuresome musician in L.A., in turn spurring them to make their own take on the weirdness they’ve heard. Krautrock is also known to the more expansive heads amongst us as "Kosmische" music; a music of cosmic importance. Throughout the past five decades, the artform has brought comfort to the strange, given hope to the freakish, and imbued a certain ur-swagger to those fortunate to be caught in the continuum of its otherworldly groove.

The German band Faust experiences a homecoming of sorts with a recent performance in L.A. at Union, the newly-revamped iteration of Jewel’s Catch One. Best of all, the Krautrock musicians that have visited Los Angeles over the years have also been affected in various ways.  

Here follows an oral history of the effects of Krautrock on Los Angeles, (and vice-versa).

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Hans-Joachim Roedelius with Dieter Moebius
Hans-Joachim Roedelius with Dieter Moebius at More Ohr Less festival, 2015. | Photo: Hans-Joachim Roedelius on Facebook.

Hans-Joachim Roedelius (Cluster, Harmonia)

“The first concert with Moebius in Los Angeles we played in 1985. I was there again with Moebius and several times solo or with others. It’s always great fun to be there to meet up with fans; to feel the appreciation and love of the people who attend the shows. Once I was there with my daughter Rosa -- I played a solo-set at a benefit show to support HIV-infected people. Tom Hanks and many other famous U.S. actors and actresses came. Everybody fell in love with Rosa. They didn’t listen to me -- ha ha! Once I played with an Italian colleague, pianist Alessandra Celletti, at Zipper Hall; great place, great grand piano by Fazioli -- one of the best grands in the world.”

As far as his perceptions have changed over time regarding L.A., Roedelius says: “The city itself was interesting insofar as I was mostly invited to stay in friends’ houses, mostly at Tommy Greñas’ (of Farflung). I met The Edge in his house in Malibu. I’m not so much interested in big cities like L.A. I rarely visit museums and such places -- but the food is very good downtown. I love all my friends! I hope to be able to come once again in the future to finish a record about Rumi the Sufi master.”

Listen to Harmonia's "Watussi" here.

Germs performing in Madrid: Lorna Doom, Don Bolles, Pat Smear
Germs performing in Madrid in 2009. Pictured from left to right: Lorna Doom, Don Bolles, Shane West, Pat Smear. | Photo: Héctor Esteban Menéndez/Flickr/Creative Commons License.

Don Bolles (Germs)

“When I moved here, people would ask who my favorite band was -- and of course, it would be Faust. I was totally into Krautrock. That’s how you could tell which people were cool. In my old band Vox Pop, we did three or four Faust songs.”  

Was playing Faust songs how he could tell who the real weirdos were? “Kinda, yeah!,” he laughs, adding, “Of course, the L.A. Free Music Society guys knew about Krautrock. I was pals with them -- the first thing of mine that got released on a record was on the Blub Krad compilation. My band was The Yvonnes; my name on it was Scary Como. I played bass.” As for what about Faust that was so appealing, he answers quickly, “I just liked them. I liked the whole Krautrock ideal; noise, avant-garde stuff. I was really into Stockhausen. I liked LSD and I liked Stockhausen a whole lot! [laughs] When Autobahn came out, and all my friends found out about Kraftwerk, I thought, “These guys? Yeah, they sold out. Neu! is where it’s at!” I’d hitch-hike down to the record store, check out the latest stuff, read Melody Maker. Krautrock was kind of becoming a thing in the English music papers. They had everything that would come out -- all those Cosmic Jokers LPs, any Klaus Schulze, or Tangerine Dream. I liked the Beach Boys and the Mothers of Invention, too -- that’s what the Krautrock guys liked.”

Listen to the Germs's "Lexicon Devil" here.

Egrets on Ergot.
Egrets on Ergot.

Adam Brooks (Egrets on Ergot)

Lead fuzz ranter Adam Brooks had this to say during a recent rushed, hushed telephone call about the effects of Krautrock on his burgeoning L.A. band Egrets on Ergot: “Faust and the contemporaries were layering unlikely textures one another, and thus allowing a person to step outside, from a third-person point-of-view and take a look at how their character analyses or perceives the music. I think that music becomes a form of therapy for anyone on the spectrum of music knowledge.” Apropos Faust, his favorite album of theirs is "So Far." “Right off the bat: the lack of rules,” he says. “What I felt was happening was that they were playing something that was complex -- but maybe if you took each part and isolated them, they weren’t all that complex. It’s very different from any other music genre down the decades. It’s got its own unique appeal. It’s just there.”  

Listen to Egrets on Ergot's "Mangkukulam" here.

Mitchell Brown (Nanny Cantaloupe)
Mitchell Brown (DJ Nanny Cantaloupe). | Photo: Dublab.

Mitchell Brown (Nanny Cantaloupe -- Dublab, KXLU)

“You could say that they affected other artists who affected everybody. Especially Roedelius and Moebius, who affected Brian Eno, who affected everybody; Brian Eno wouldn’t be who he is without his mid-’70s meetings and collaborations and inspiration from Roedelius and Moebius. And you can extend that influence to Bowie’s Berlin years, too.”  

So is there a perfect Krautrock band? “Cluster, and Harmonia,” he laughs, adding, “I don’t mean to keep drawing to just them. I feel like I should be standing by the Krautrock section of my library while we have this conversation, so I’m going to do that,” he says, walking over to his record collection. “Let’s see… Amon Düül… definitely the first three Kraftwerk records are the highlights -- and I want to make sure it gets noted that the first Scorpions album should absolutely be put in the canon of fabulous Krautrock records. Even though The Scorpions were not known for being Krautrock, their first record, Lonesome Crow, which came out in 1972, was produced by Conny Plank, and if you ask me, Conny Plank was the nucleus of the studio sound that Krautrock albums had. And there were a lot of other bands in Germany that didn’t have the quintessential Krautrock sound, but if Conny Plank produced them, you could definitely hear the studio sound of Krautrock even in a rock album that didn’t necessarily have the motorik rhythms that we know Krautrock to have -- like Grobschnitt, and Kraan, and bands like that.”  

When asked to recommend a Faust album for someone to get into, his answer is unequivocal. “Uh, all of them. My favorite is probably 'The Faust Tapes.' All of their records have so many elements in each of them that you could not just listen to one track and know how the record was going to be. 'Faust IV' is a perfect example of that -- but all of their records are. 'The Faust Tapes' is the craziest, awesomest hodgepodge of heavily-spliced things that are so different from one another.”

David J (Bauhaus and Love and Rockets)
David J. | Photo: William Landers.

David J (Bauhaus, Love and Rockets)

“The first time I became exposed to Krautrock, I heard a track on 'The Old Grey Whistle Test' TV show. So, they played this track, 'Dizzy Dizzy' from Can’s 'Soon Over Babaluma' record -- and it just blew my mind [laughs], I just loved it so much. It was a single, and I went out and got the 7-inch single, which I still have. It was 1974 and I used to play it incessantly in the art school club room. And then I got into that album, and the album before -- 'Future Days' -- and I really was fascinated by that band. I think they were quite ahead of their time and really interesting, with their juxtaposition of different styles and using tape loops and all of that. And right about the same time, I discovered Faust. I was in a second-hand record store and I saw a record and it was 'The Faust Tapes,' and what drew me to it was -- I didn’t know anything about the band -- but it was just the cover, the Bridget Riley Op art cover. I was intrigued by that and I just bought it on the strength of the sleeve. Kraftwerk came on the scene, and the first thing I heard from them was 'Autobahn.' I have quite a vivid memory of the first Bauhaus tour of Germany, driving down the Autobahn and listening to 'Autobahn' and it being something of a spiritual epiphany. It was joyous -- the Bauhaus bandwagon, just driving down the Autobahn.”

Listen to Love and Rockets's "Ball Of Confusion" here.

Brad Laner (Medicine, Steaming Coils)
Brad Laner. | Photo: Syd Kato.

Brad Laner (Medicine, Steaming Coils)

“There was an amazing record store named Slipped Disc in Sepulveda where I grew up. They just had amazing records in there; Don Van Vliet was a regular customer; I guess The Magic Band rehearsed around the corner from there. I picked up a couple of 7-inch singles by Faust and I didn’t know what the hell they were, but singles only cost a couple of bucks, so it wasn’t that much of a risk. It was the 'Faust Party' material that came out later on the 'Münich and Elsewhere' record. So I bought those when I was like 11 or 12. They were my first introduction to minimalism and droney synthesizer stuff. After having the Faust singles, I went through a phase of only wanting to hear noise -- Whitehouse, SPK, Throbbing Gristle -- I thought it was the death of music! That was it! No more rock’n’roll! Only noise! (laughs) I had a gift certificate for Licorice Pizza and a friend of mine went with me and made me spend it on 'Tago Mago' by Can. And that changed my life because I heard there was a band playing rock instruments -- and hearing how beautiful and subtle and painterly they were with traditional rock band gear made me turn to drums, bass and guitar. It gave me hope for music after thinking the likes of Whitehouse and Boyd Rice had killed music in an interesting way. Can changed my life. What I love about Faust is 'So Far' -- it’s pastoral and gorgeous and musical.”

Listen to Medicine's "Time Baby III" here.

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Faust at CalArts's Wild Beast concert series. | Photo: Steven Gunther.

Jean-Hervé Péron (founding member of Faust)

Speaking over the telephone after having driven down to Los Angeles from the greater metropolitan Felton area, Péron remarked: “We are a bit shaken at this very moment, but we have arrived at CalArts -- where we played before in 2012 -- so we’re back here to make a recording. Lauren Pratt and Braden Diotte were so nice to invite us to use their studio, which is top-notch quality. I mean, it’s crazy -- it’s fantastic! They are setting up all the gear and it looks like dreamland. At 12 o’clock we have a 'tune in' lunch, where we meet with all the guests we are going to play with tomorrow and also to record a session today: Barbara Manning; we met her in 1994 when we did the first Faust tour invited by Jeff Hunt of Table of the Elements. That was a showcase with AMM -- they were so good! -- and Keiji Haino, Thurston Moore, Gate. Ulrich Krieger, the saxophone player, is also coming, playing effects machines; he used to play with the late Lou Reed. His mind should rest in peace. Ulrich will be jamming with us in studio and also jamming with us on stage. We have two more guests in the studio: Michael Day, a local drummer who was kind enough to loan us his drums and all kinds of timpani and gran cassa and all kinds of fancy percussion, so that’s very promising. We had an amazing gig, somewhere in the mountains near Santa Cruz.  A village, a little town called Felton, just outside of Santa Cruz. That was great because the audience were so fresh, sort of thankful to have a new kind of music -- so they were not demanding, they were not expecting, they were just enjoying the show. We had the occasion to do an abstract piece where the participation of the audience is needed -- and it worked just great, fantastic.”  

This isn’t Faust’s first trip to Los Angeles: “We have been in Los Angeles three times -- we played Death Valley in 1994, which led to the recording of Rien.”

Being in Los Angeles, does the place affect the playing? “Yes, it does -- but that is not because of any particular town. It’s not because of Los Angeles. It is every town. Now we are being hit in a positive way by warmth. We had quite a chilled weather in San Francisco, and now we are enjoying the blue sky, the warm sun, and also a strong wind, a good breeze here. It moves our hair, makes us alive again after quite strenuous days. It’s a good feeling also to notice that some people, especially the younger generation, seem to appreciate what we’re doing now. I see the first five, six rows when we play -- they’ve got young people, they’re moving, they’re dancing, they’ve got smiles on their faces, stars in their eyes. Very motivating for us. We always wanted to share a certain joy and not-seriousness about music. And this is working perfectly now.”

Of the times he’s been in L.A., is there a sound that he’s enjoyed in particular? “Yes yes yes!” he enthuses, “That’s a very good question! I do remember this: we were here in 2012, staying with a very generous and friendly woman in Valencia and there were an amazing background of birds I hadn’t heard before! I listen carefully to whatever is happening around me -- and there were these other kind of birds. That blew my mind.”

Top image by Steven Gunther.

 

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