Perfect Sound Forever

The Real Krautrock Story

Klaus D. Mueller (June 1997)

ED NOTE: The following statetements are taken with the kind permission of KDM from his various letters and articles. They have one topic in common: The 'Krautrock' phenomenon. The text's structure/order is intended.

From 1968 to 1974, I was present at the time when this new German music happened, locally as well as timely. I worked for or lived with some of these groups, and I saw and heard and spoke to groups when I worked on festivals. I had an open house for these groups and sometimes they stayed over night to save money for a hotel. I went to concerts of these groups even if I had nothing to do there professionally.

Ten to fifteen years before that, we had thousands of amateurs playing Dixieland. Then, in the late sixties, many amateurs started trying to copy American West Coast bands or the English blues rock groups. The German rock scene was born then and I was an active member. I was no musician myself but I was observing and helping and writing. I called myself then "Germany's second roadie" because the profession of "road manager" wasn't known then. The first "roadie" was a certain Hans Riebesehl from Hamburg. He founded a music magazine for this new music scene called Riebe's Fachblatt with some technical advice and also promoter's addresses and things like that. I also wrote for it.

Of course I was very interested in rock and pop and jazz music, and read everything available about it in German or English. I remember very well that "German" rock was just seen as a bad joke then (if noticed at all). I remember when I was invited in the (then) famous Speakeasy Club in London by Lee Jackson, the bass player of the Nice. The band that was playing that evening at the club was German. I can tell you that they left no impression. None of the present rock stars and their friends took notice. And from the conversation I remember that the most impressive thing for the Englishmen was the ugly name the band had: Birth Control. I remember that a group called Eloy was only a running gag among the insiders and journalists in Gemany (poor man's Pink Floyd or was it poor man's Moody Blues?). I remember Faust, who never was popular or widely known in Germany because it was an invention of an outside journalist, a promotion product, but not a real 'living' group.

In 1976, I was a Berlin concert promoter, knowing also this part of the business quite well. We did concerts for the Supremes, Jerry Lee Lewis, Leo Kottke, Bob Marley, and the like. Once we had a German band: Can. We had to use the smallest hall available (the same that Tangerine Dream was just recently playing in). This was not because we didn't want or like Can. The opposite is true. It was the audience that was not much interested in Can. After all, at about the same time - the mid to late seventies - concerts with Klaus Schulze or with Tangerine Dream filled the second largest hall in Berlin (5000 to 6000 seats).

Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and of course Kraftwerk were the only big groups then, worldwide and also in Germany. Still in the early nineties, Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream were the only ones that were mentioned in a British top 100 records list of some sort. I remember all the many French magazines I used to page through during the whole seventies- besides these three names, (and sometimes Ash Ra Tempel) hardly any German band was ever mentioned. Later we had of course some names that went big in German rock music and in Germany (alone), but all of those are not well regarded by these 'Krautrock' experts (because they are VERY successful here): Udo Lindenberg, Peter Maffay, Marius Mueller-Westerhagen, Herbert Groenemeier, etc.. For instance, what Udo Lindenberg did for the German rock music was a sensation then: he brought the German language into rock and he did it VERY well. It can be called a revolution for German rock even if their music isn't my cup of tea. But I have to accept their impact.

Too many people bother us by using keywords that are "like a red rag to a bull". Formerly it was "New Age", today it's "Krautrock". What is worse, most people believe in these words. We call them funnily "our Californians". Some of them call a boring 25 years old rock album "progressive" -- today! -- & I don't know what to answer.

There were hundreds if not thousands bands that played rock in Germany and copied English or American bands (how else?). Here are a few that were more known because they did records then: Birth Control, Lucifer's Friend, Franz K., Chris Braun Band, Eloy, Kathago, Epsilon, Gift, Grobschnitt, Hardcake Special, Hoelderlin, Ihre Kinder, Jane, Kin Ping Meh, Lilac Angels, Metropolis, Missus Beastly, Mythos, Thirsty Moon, Nine Days Wonder, Novalis, Panther, Parzival, Pell Mell, Randy Pie, Release Music Orchestra, Sameti, Sahara, Satin Whale, Scorpions, Sixty Nine, Thirsty Moon, Harlis, Ramses, Streetmark, Breakfast, Triumvirat, Wallenstein, Wind, Bastard, Blonker, Broeselmaschine, Bullfrog, Checkpoint Charlie, City, Condor, Dirty Dogs, Duesemberg, Epitaph, Gate, Harlis, Highway, Anyone's Daughter, Message, Schocke Fuehrs Froehling, To Be, Lady, Bakmak, Caro, Michels, Lutz Rahn, Mass, Munju, Octopus, Ougenweide, Pancake, Maniacs, Eisberg, Shaa Khan, Monroe, Dirk Steffens, Straight Shooter, Subway, Tiger B. Smith, Torfrock, Tritonus, Wolfsmond, Michael Wynn Band, Alcatraz, Eulenspygel, Fritz Mueller Band, Murphy Blend. . . all from just the seventies.

When it comes to CAN (a band that I regard highly), I cannot help but feel that they also first tried to copy Anglo-American music, and just because they were not able to do it well (especially because of the awful "German" beat, a typical hindrance of most German bands), whoopie, out came something new. What made them special was that they accepted it and went on to develop this as their "style". Not many groups dared to do this. Those who did are still great today: Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk.

And then there are most if not all East German rock groups who were even worse because they copied the West German copies. I remember: Puhdys, Stern Combo Meissen. . .

The Freemans, Julian Cope or Dag Asbjornsen all think that Krautrock is GREAT and who don't know the reality, or don't want to know about the reality. They only know about the music from records which are rare, foreign and exotic to them. After all, not one of the authors of all these books was present (locally and timely) when this music was actually made.

CRACKS IN THE COSMIC EGG- Steve Freeman/Alan Freeman
Steve and Alan Freeman say: "...almost every groundbreaking new form of music started in Germany" (!) and "...its influence can be found in all forms of modern music..." and "...there are hundreds of obscure bands that only made one-off albums, many of which were extraordinary..." Their whole book is dedicated to "the most important and influential musical movement of the 20th century." (Ouch, they have maybe never heard of, say Schoenberg, Stravinsky and the invention of "Jazz" and Blues that later led to Rock'n'Roll (...and that, much later, was copied poorly by some German kids...) "The Crack in the Cosmic Egg" still has too many errors and heavy wrong valuations, but not as much as most other books about this item.

I had one journalist here, who asked me seriously about Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser (for the German "Rolling Stone"). I knew him from past times. He was a publisher and producer before, and managed one of those bands in the seventies that is mentioned in the "Cosmic Egg" book. He was just laughing loudly when I showed him what the Freemans had written so admiringly about him and his group. In fact they were just a bunch of lousy amateurs who copied so-and-so, he admitted.

I had long friendly discussions with the two Freemans when they lived for a week here in my apartment. I gave up. I realized that they believe everything a musician told them, especially when it fits to their theory. They ask about things more sceptically only if it doesn't fit their thinking. At least, the Freemans interviewed many of the people who where present. Sadly they don't have the knowledge to separate promotion talk from the reality in all cases. But they tried hard. And they write in a playful style. I still like the Freemans. All in all, they did a good job. I recommend reading their book with critical eyes.

Cope is a lunatic, a crazy man (if I can trust the music lexicons). He was not present, he didn't ask the people who were present. He's just a fan with "a name". Yes, Cope is enthusiastic about his beloved exotic musical preferences. And if the media, the journalists and the people would take it just as that, great. Fine. Wonderful. But they BELIEVE it is the truth just because it's Julian Cope. Why do so many people always need "known names" to tell them what to believe? Can't they think for themselves? Can't they listen to the music, check a bit about the history, and make their own judgement. Is it really too much asked? Maybe. The other way it's easier.

Long ago, I read one (or two?) of Cope's articles in the English music magazine WIRE. It was about Can or Amon Duul or something like that. It was the very first time that an English magazine wrote a long positive article about a genuine German band and genuine German "rock" music. It was also clear to see that Cope was a "fan". I liked it as I liked other articles in that issue (especially the fact that MY beloved album "Out to Lunch" by Eric Dolphy was elected No. 1 in some of Wire's polls).

Many moons later, these enthusiastic articles by this fan were released in book form. Even later (1996), this book was also translated into German and released here. And then the trouble started. German journalists who seemed to know even less than Cope jumped on that book (Cope seems to be a singing rock star over here) and wrote articles. Old, long forgotten bands such as Amon Duul or Faust got together again and made a new album and did some concerts. The promotion machineries of the involved record companies seemed to work properly. As a result, we had even more articles about that old time and old bands with one worse than the other. All was mixed up. Simple German heavy rock groups that nobody cared about then are suddenly called "cosmic"; groups that everybody laughed about when they tried their kind of rock 20 years ago are suddenly "historically important". A man like Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), who didn't touch electronic tools for the last 20 years, was called "electronic expert". And all writers refer to that Cope book.

First it was just funny to watch, but suddenly the few real inventors (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Kraftwerk) were lumped together with all the poor and long gone Krautrock. The characteristics of quality (if I may say so) were not valid anymore. Someone told me that Cope has a kind of TOP 50 Albums or so in his book and among it are most (if not all) of those terrible "Cosmic Jokers" albums. These albums get no better just because a crazy English singer loves them (and maybe just because out of non-musical reasons). Was he the only one in his adolescent years who owned these albums and therefore was proud of them? I know that syndrome from MY childhood- with me it was "jazz".

A few weeks ago, a radio man (who, by the way, was part of the German rock scene in the first five or so years in the seventies of this century) told Klaus Schulze and me on the air what Cope had written in his book about "Electronic Meditation" and we all had a good laugh still on the air. We all agreed that there ARE better and more important albums in the annals of rock music. There were many very good and essential and important rock records but not one from Germany (with rare exceptions, say, Kraftwerk). Anyway, on the radio we agreed also, that this book must be shit.

The trouble is - and this is not Cope's fault - that all the German journalists take Cope's private excitement as the given historic truth. They treat it as if it's a history book full of facts. No, it's just Cope's private opinion. In this domain, his book is certainly very good and exciting. But in its result to those stupid journalists and to some fans, it's awful.

Or, and this comes right now to my mind, could it be that all the non-musical people have - finally - their own bible? There is so much very good music available, from the past seven centuries up to today and the German rock scene in the 1970's is maybe worth a short visit, but... but.... A huge "but".

A few years ago he sent me a few pages of his planned book and asked me to check a few pages about Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze, Agitation Free, Os Mundi. The whole thing was just awful. This Norwegian man didn't know anything except what was said on the covers of the albums that are in his collection, or what he read by accident in some Norwegian (?) rock magazines. My list of corrections was larger than his original text. Of course I told him carefully, better to let it be. He didn't understand. The errors were fundamental. He didn't know a thing. Just recently a German journalist told me the funny story that Asbjornsen seems not to know who Herman Hesse is (whose lyrics are read on a "Between" album). As far as I remember the story, Asbjornsen thinks that Hesse is a member of the band.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm the (nearly the only) one that tells and writes since two decades that people like Klaus Schulze, Manuel Goettsching, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk, Can, Neu, Harmonia.... etc. have their values. In vain. Take, for instance, England: except for a few freaks nobody there seemed to be interested at first. The Freemans had their own little shop and a mail order business. They starved to death because there are rarely people who buy their piles of Krautrock albums. They have their own magazine, really excellently made, with a lot of knowledge -- much more than Julian Cope -- but they have just a few readers. This scene was pretty small, too small for my taste. And SUDDENLY, the opposite effect. This cannot be healthy. A slowly growing interest in these old German (and other exotic) bands would be what I wanted. But not a short boom.

There is one thing you should take in account if you read musicians' praise about this era. I realized this when I was present at an interview that my friend Manuel (of Ash Ra Tempel) gave.

I know that Manuel (as all other insiders that I know) never cared about "Krautrock". He never listened to it, and he owns just one or two Can LPs because we used to know these guys personally. Manuel was and still is listening mostly just to soul and rock music as we all did and do. To make it short, Manuel, as everybody else, was not more interested in "Krautrock" as he was in, say, some cheesy music from the twenties. Then came this interview and Manuel answered on all questions about Krautrock as if he was an expert in it, as if he always liked it. He did this because this was the topic of the supposed article and it is part of Manuel's job to promote his music. And if a Krautrock-oriented writer asked him about the subject, he gives answers about Krautrock in his usual friendly manner. If a Techno writer would ask him questions, he would show his interest in Techno. Klaus Schulze is the same. Should I call them liars? Of course not. But what will they do when suddenly Dixieland is in vogue again?

In vogue? At least in Krautrock's homeland, nobody cares about Krautrock, at least not with the bigger audience. It's not played on the radio and not on TV's music channels. And I know some selling figures of re-released krautrock albums because I own the publishing rights! They are low. Very low. And I speak about albums that were taken by J. Cope and by the Freeman brothers as essentials, as among the best, the top 50 or top 100 of all time.

When I look at these sale figures, they prove that these albums are just the personal taste of some English and American outsiders, but historically unimportant. About some I would even say they were painful and disgusting when they came out first, and they did not become better after 20 years. "Historically unimportant" they are because the involved German musicians tried to copy what they had heard from America and England. And these copies were and still are mostly awful. One could called them good-natured. I still prefer the original.

The press is jumping onto it, at least for this season. I have a lot to do with these people. For example, there were all kinds of books about this German rock from the seventies, and nobody outside the collector circles noticed it. Then came the Julian Cope book and shortly after, all the press people wrote about "Krautrock", one worse than the other. In a huge German magazine that is given out free in a large chain of record stores, a writer reported about the tour of the re-united Amon Duul (normal result of the record company's press activity). In this article, the whole Krautrock scene was also mentioned. Suddenly nearly everything and every musician was "electronics" then (which is just not true; besides Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze and the Kraftwerk-clan it was close to nobody else). The most funny thing was that a man who is known for literally HATING electronics from about 1974 until recently, Florian Fricke (of "Popol Vuh"), was called THE EXPERT of electronic instrumentation in that magazine. Disgusting. The same author was named as "authority" and "adviser" when a German film company asked us to take part in a TV film about "Krautrock". We said no. As long as this man was a "authority" for them, we didn't want to participate in a film like that. Ask the people who were present, and who have no interest to make promotion, who are not just (foreign) fans, and who tell the simple truth. Today, all musicians tell the press that they used "electronics" since ages just because "electronic" has finally won. And who want to be the loser?

This is the situation. At the moment "Krautrock" is a small wave in Germany. From the smallest to the most serious, each magazine reported about it. And what I read was (95%) just bullshit. The writers were all too young and just take it as another novelty. They don't care.