‘Future Days – Krautrock and the Building Of Modern Germany’
(Faber and Faber)
10/10 – a classic book
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Krautrock is perhaps the ultimate in underground music- a mystical and fascinating world of oddly named bands who deviated from rock’s blues tradition and created the first genuinely European music, a music that was not tied to the blues or America’s rich heritage that was dominating the narrative of pop culture at that point.
In our lunatic youth krautrock was music to take magic mushrooms to- the ultimate in hippie trips music and a strange and fascinating kingdom of records that seemed to last for ever. Our Hawkwind loving, older, long hair mates turned us onto this world that has become a hipster heaven in the past few years. A heaven that has been documented by great books by Julian Cope and David Keenan but was crying out for the weighty tome that was going to contextualise it all without killing it with academic fluff and flannel. It’s into this breach that David Stubbs has stepped with this fantastic and enthralling work.
This is a book that explains the music and its background, relocating it to its own psycho geography of a post war Germany rising from the battering of the psyche of the memories of the evil lunatic ideology of the thirties that led to defeat in World War Two and the subsequent domination of American culture as its main fun fix in the post war years. This Hollywoodisation of Germany didn’t please everyone and from the Baader Meinhoff extreme war on culture to the clutch of straggly haired, late sixties hippies and hipsters and their neu-beat there were mixed reactions to this Americana cultural occupation, that sonic Marshall plan of Elvis plus.
David Stubbs books examines this brilliantly, tying up the new German psyche and its schizoid reaction to rock n roll and the creation of a whole new tradition of music that invented one of the few genuine new rhythms of the seventies along with dub reggae and Afrobeat. It was a new music that challenged the Anglo American rock axis and created a whole new sound that was resolutely underground at the time but has become one of the key influences in modern music.
From Neu’s motorik beat, which seams to have threaded its way through the rhythm sections of most of the modern underground, to Can’s sense of sonic adventure and their own version of the key repetition of the form to Kraftwerk’s initial lank hair flute ridden experimentalisation that devloped into one of the greatest bands of all time and, arguably, the most influential musical groups in history with electro, techno and hip hop all being fired by their strangely funky and sensual machine music to Faust’s dangerous experimentation to other key but lesser known players like the wonderful Cluster, the fascinating Ash Ra Tempel and Amon Düül II, Stubbs looks at all the key players.
Brilliantly written, this is an academic book that is never boring, a theoretical book that is never dry and dull, a book that crackles with enthusiasm and the love of the music and the context it was forged in. This is an educational and thrilling ride through a ground breaking and hypnotic music scene and a book that tells you everything you need to know about preunification Germany at a crossroads in its post war history as it finally managed to drag itself away from its broken past and a new generation that emerged from the post war flux and attempted to create a German culture and nationalism that wasn’t tainted by the idiotic policies of their parents’ generation with a great soundtrack to boot.
And it’s this awkward history that is at the heart of this book and the music. This was a country ripped in half, dominated by the Berlin wall and unsure of itself but given an escape route by the experimentation of the sixties and, in a sense, led by this generation of musicians whose artful extermination created a new landscape that somehow reflected the uncertainty of the times with the typically German pragmatism that we all secretly love.
Once the initial electric shock of rock n roll had worn out this generation of underground musicians took to the hippie trial with a typically Germanic enthusiasm incorporating eastern mysticism, the hypnotic riffing of the Velvet Underground, the modern classical of Stockhausen filtered through the post war clank and grind of Germany’s powerful industries pulling a shattered country up by its bootstraps and forging a new future that instead of the 12 bar blues of Route 66 was driving down the powerful, clanking, motoring motorik of the nation straddling autobahns inventing a new kind of romance for a country that desperately needed a new story.
Krautrock was post punk before punk. It is a music that still sounds like the future days and is an eternal inspiration for any musician seeking the possibility of music beyond the 12 bar and the constraints of so called alternative music.
It’s a reminder of the adventures into sound and the possibilities of noise and this book explains the whole enthralling shebang and also the country that forged this- the ever fascinating Germany, which is still my favourite country in Europe and a peek into the real soul of a much misunderstood and culturally thrilling nation that has learned to deal with its history and its modern power with a humility and creativity that is as hypnotic as those endless riffs of Neu or the pulsing hypnotic electornics of Kraftwerk or, infact, David Stubbs writing which does justice to a brilliant subject.