A Field Guide to 1970s German Krautrock Goodness

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The story of Damo Suzuki’s induction into enduringly amazing 1970s German band Can is a pretty remarkable one — Suzuki, an itinerant Japanese busker who’d spent most of the late 1960s meandering around Europe, was performing in Munich when he caught the eye of Can bassist Holger Czukay. Can needed a singer, Suzuki needed the cash, and the rest was history. And since it’s Damo’s birthday, we thought we’d celebrate with a mixtape of some essential tunes from the astonishingly fertile musical scene that existed in Germany during the 1970s. You’re more than welcome.

Can — “Mushroom”

While “Krautrock” (or, less offensively, “Kosmische”) was to an extent an artificial genre label applied to several scenes that didn’t necessarily share a whole lot in common, there’s no doubt that there was something in the air in 1970s Germany. No one embodied the explosion of creativity more than Can, who recorded a series of albums during the early and mid-1970s that were so without precedent and ahead of their time as to almost defy belief — 40 years later, they still sound startlingly contemporary and innovative.

Neu! — “Super 16”

Sure, you could choose either of the classic tracks that pretty much define the Neu! sound, namely the first album’s ten-minute motorik epic “Hallogallo” or the second album’s, um, 20-minute motorik epic “Für Immer.” But actually, if there’s half an hour that captures the relentless creativity of Kosmische, it’s probably side two of Neu! 2. Having run out of cash to finish the album, Neu! produced a number of songs created from parts of the previously recorded “Neuschnee/Super,” an experiment that yielded remarkable results and also presaged the whole idea of the remix. Not bad for an afternoon’s work.

Popul Vuh — “Ich Mache Einen Spiegel”

Popul Vuh’s later albums wandered off into piano-led New Age navel-gazing, but their debut Affenstunde was experimental electronica par excellence, taking a great deal from the groundbreaking work of electronic music pioneer and avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. The record mixed spacey proto-synth sounds (including the then brand new Moog) with tribal percussion and early “world music”-style ambience. Sadly, not much of it is on YouTube, but still, this intro gives an idea of what to expect.

Tangerine Dream — “Phaedra”

Speaking of spacey proto-synth sounds, no feature on 1970s German music would be complete without a mention of Tangerine Dream, who formed in 1969 and have since released 92 studio albums. Ninety-two. For all their prolific output, though, their enduring classic remains 1974’s Phaedra, which was an unexpected hit in England for Virgin Records (founded in 1972 by a young chancer named Richard Branson) and basically invented an entire genre of slow-burning spacey atmospheric sound.

Amon Düül II — “Stumbling Over Melted Moonlight”

If all this has given you the impression that 1970s Germany was populated by chin-stroking music nerds, let’s disabuse you of such notions with a track from Amon Düül II, the manly men of Kosmische. A kind of Teutonic MC5, Amon Düül II came together in an artists’ commune, smoked lots of dope, had lots of sex, ranted a lot about politics and once made an album with a title that translated as “God’s Penis.” This track comes from their third album Tanz der Lemminge (“The Lemmings’ Dance”), which is basically a double album of psych guitar freak-outs. Excellent.

Faust — “Mamie is Blue”

If Amon Düül were raucous and smelly, then Faust were just flat-out weird — so weird, in fact, that we couldn’t help but include their self-titled debut album in our recent round-up of the strangest albums ever made. This track comes from their marginally less whacked-out second record, 1972’s Faust So Far, but as you can hear, it’s still not exactly Herman’s Hermits.

Cluster — “Untitled”

Years later, the two founding members of Cluster — namely Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius — would go on to make a couple of beautiful records with ambient music maestro Brian Eno, but this track from their 1971 self-titled debut shows they were thinking along such lines long before Eno came onto the scene.

Harmonia — “Deluxe (Immer Wieder)”

Moebius and Roedelius would also go on to collaborate with Neu!’s Michael Rother on a project they called Harmonia, and their second record — 1975’s Deluxe, which also featured Guru Guru drummer Mani Neumeier — struck a perfect balance between the warm, atmospheric sounds of Cluster’s records and the driving, rhythmic influences of Neu! It’s one of the single best releases to come out of the entire Kosmische period, and thoroughly worth a place on any music lover’s shelf.

Riechmann — “Wunderbar”

Regular readers might remember the story of Wolfgang Riechmann from the feature we published last year on great musicians who only made one record. In Riechmann’s case, the reason for his relatively modest output was a sad one — he was stabbed to death by a burglar just after his debut record Wunderbar was released in 1978. The fact that his one and only album was so good only makes it all the more tragic that his career was cut short.

Guru Guru — “Der LSD March”

The name says it all, really….