So, Die Deutsch Rock Szene, we’ve covered it before, discussed it, referenced it and even become a part of it but what is it and how did it affect the whole Prog Rock movement or at least a good part of it?
Personally I love, LOVE it because it’s so avant-garde and beyond left field at times you don’t know where you will end up and sometimes just be let off the cosmic bus somewhere to wander on your own. In the late 60’s music was too pop and bubble gum for a lot of German musicians and Berlin, Hamburg et al had had its fill of the Beatles playing and rehearsing. The Reeperbahn in St. Pauli’s district in Hamburg where the nightlife and red-light services collide and bands like the Beatles and Tony Sheridan made a name for themselves and in the late 60’s and early 70’s bands like Black Sabbath and The Pink Floyd began to start to wander over from the island and blast their monstrous sounds to the unknowing Deutsch publik. This was all well and good but the German music scene was still in it’s embryonic stages and fast evolving in to a cult underground scene that was growing out of control and with good cause to it as well. Bands like: Amon Düül, Can, Embryo, Faust & Kraftwerk were creeping through the vines of streets and playing clubs and venues bringing the people the “Die deutsche Rockszene” to life. Crowned as Krautrock by the English, the moniker stuck and that’s what it’s been since. ‘Kraut’ being a derogatory term for a German and just for the record, I’m not a big fan of the term “Krautrock”, a moniker invented by the U.S. and U.K. to reference the German bands that were evolving out of the 60’s and 70’s and was a slanderous term the US Army gave the Germans in WWII so yeah not liking that title at all. The German Rock groups weren’t the first to pull out the experimental card but they made it more well known and out there where musician artists like Iannis Xenakis from Greece was doing this type of music in the 50’s and American artists, Pauline Oliveros was expanding the musical spectrum in the early to mid 60’s but it was fashionable and hip to be German in the 70’s now that the whole Third Reich thing was long behind them and they were once again cool to hang out with according to the world and wars were being fought 10,000 miles away in Vietnam, so Germany, why not?!
A good number of German artists had by now left Berlin as it was becomming too much of a hot zone for commercialism and their identity was being lost to it so they moved out and scattered to other cities like Dusseldorf, Cologne, Hamburg etc to harness their raw energy and power of sound. Berlin was a touristy town for English bands and caravaning hippies to converge upon and take in the sites, sounds and smells of the great city of Berlin. Bands like Kraftwerk were hard at werk(!) designing their sound that would later become the grandfather of techno and electronica industrial music decades later through their genius and ingenuity of creation. Thought their first album when they were known as Organisation and the subsequent pylon albums referred to as Kraftwerk one and two (two, green pylon album is still my all time favourite record by them) were played with guitars, drums flute and keyboards and it wasn’t until 1973 where the two founding members Ralf and Florian branched off keeping the Kraftwerk name and the remaining members forming NEU! releasing several albums that was pretty much where KW would have gone musically had they stayed together as a band.
Most people associate the German rock scene with Kraftwerk because they became a household name by the mid 70’s with the huge impact that 1974’s Autobahn Lp made and they toured more extensively than other bands aside from Tangerine Dream throughout both Europe and North America. Tangerine Dream brought us the hypnotic sounds of what synthesizers can do and by having a massive rig to set up they brought forth an all encompassing sound that would have audiences in rapt attention with their looping riffs of four or five notes that were swallowed up by the swirling synthscapes that would go on for the entire performance making it in to one long piece for each show. No two shows are really alike and the bootleg series Tangerine Leaves is proof enough of just how different the band could be live every time. Very much like UK band, Gentle Giant, Tangerine Dream did release albums but they were a live band as opposed to a studio record experience but their albums were still a joy to listen to and escape in to the world of fantasy and make believe. Bands like Can and Amon Düül were tripping minds with their unique style of sound that had a variety of members and different musician styles brought in to one format creating music that was not even thought of overseas. Damo Suzuki was busking on the streets of Berlin when he was found by the band Can and asked to join them and for a few albums Can had some pretty notorious sounds to compete with and their iconic 1971 album Tago Mago is a perfect example of what it’s like to have a band stretch the limits and beyond of the conventional record you brought home from the shoppes. What also gave Can an edge was that Damo is Japanese and in those times it wasn’t very common to see a Japanese person in Germany let alone the lead singer of a band and he’s even mentioned it in several interviews over time how comical it was for people to stare at him whilst on stage because well he looked pretty different to them I guess! By the mid 70’s Damo had left the group and they petered in and out but didn’t have the same grip on sales and the audiences as they did in the early 70’s. but for German bands it was more about the music and not so much about the sales of albums they could do. The listening experience was what it was all about and not Ch’Ching! Though that did help along the way I’m sure.
Some bands never left their home turf like Kraan, a free form jazzy Prog band that again like a good number of their counterparts was more of a live act than an album’s band. They did do some minor travelling to Denmark and once to the USA for NEARfest in New Jersey in 2001 to much acclaim but it’s in their homeland of Germany that the band found their solace and stride. Being a four to three piece over the years they decided to call it quits last year but that was short lived and the band was back playing live again. Once you get bitten by the touring bug you can’t give up the ghost on it, it’s a part of you, in your blood and soul to the very core forever. As a musician I know that feeling of not wanting to stop playing even if it means playing the same thing twice which has happened a couple of times for me because people arrive late and wanted to hear a particular song so the audience was fine with hearing it again and you do that for your listeners when you can. Kraan pretty much is not a household name over here in North America aside from small clusters of people who venture outside the Top40 clap trap that plagues the airwaves. Speaking of Cluster, there’s another band that flew under the radar of North America and is relatively unknown but they released albums right in to the 80’s and one of them collaborating with Brian Eno which is no surprise as he is truly one of the more well known experimental musicians out there who has released albums on his own and with Robert Fripp as well as many other artists throughout the last few decades.
Some of the other lesser known bands like Eiliff that not a single live bootleg album can be found anywhere and all we have to go on is stories and two studio and two official live albums to their legacy leaves us thirsting for more of the band as they were that German Jazz Prog sound that was a blending of everything under the sun as far as song structure and style, sound and experimentation. Their albums are definitely well worth seeking out and played on a regular basis!
We could write an entire book on this of which there is a great one called Krautrock, Cosmic Rock and its Legacy which is worth seeking out! Of course the German Prog scene has continued to evolve and develop with bands like Traumhaus and Rotor to name a couple and still a lot of bands like Kraan still pack in places and give you your money’s worth in a show despite the fact that they tried to call it a day the other year but just couldn’t stay away and will play until they all drop dead on stage or something because once you’ve played live you can’t get off that stage, trust me I know! So many of the German bands tend to have to take a back seat to their UK and US counterparts globally I find but yet they still play and put out some amazing albums that you just cannot deny their brilliance and have last tried and true over the years.
Ideally I would love to see the remergence of the German Rock scene in North America like it partially had in the 70’s but sadly due to over saturated pop culture music making it more difficult for new and up and coming bands to get any headway through the market over here but at least in Europe and Asia bands have the ability to explore the masses and expose their music to a wider and more attentive audience base. Here there are of course the fan base that has allowed a small portion of the album sales to get through to our living rooms and with sites like Bandcamp helping artists, including yours truly, get exposure and albums and songs out there has been a great advantage to musicians.
Explore the world of German Rock and Prog Rock bands and discover what the Germanic countries have to offer because they’re well made, beautifully crafted musicianship and music that continues to take Deutsch Rock to new levels and keep the Old Guard well held high! ~Enjoy