Styles & Forms | Krautrock | Electronic

Krautrock, which emanated from West Germany during the late-1960s, fused The Velvet Underground’s white noise experiments and Pink Floyd’s psychedelic rock with the free-form jazz aesthetic and funk-based rhythms.

Avoiding the dull virtuosity of progressive rock and the sanitised R&B pop of the late-1960s, Krautrock’s grand vision of reinventing the rock guitar as well as exploring the untapped possibilities of the electronic sound has seen it influence dance and electronic music as well as experimental rock.

The Krautrock Triumvirate

In the late-1960s, acts like Ash Ra Tempel, Amon Duul II and Cosmic Jokers were inspired by psychedelic rock and Cluster pioneered a hypnotic drone sound, but the most influential Krautrock bands were Neu, Can and Faust.

From the mid-1960s through to the early 1970s, Faust juxtaposed melodic songs like ‘Jennifer’ with screeching walls of noise, while Neu favoured a pulsating electronic sound as well as making blissful ambient passages. Michael Rother from Neu also explored a pure electronic sound on his Harmonia collaboration with Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius from Cluster.

However, Can – who formed in the mid-1960s – were the most important Krautrock band. Consisting of bassist Holger Czukay, guitarist Michael Karoli, keyboardist Irmin Schmidt, drummer Jaki Leibezeit and vocalist Damo Suzuki, the band’s free-form approach saw them jam for hours before translating their improvizations into arrangements. Holger Czukay said: ‘If you want to make something new, you shouldn’t think too far beyond one certain idea,’ and this is evident on works like Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days, where the band fuses spacious, atmospheric textures with sparse, live funk rhythms.

Occupying the middle ground between guitar rock and the clean, synthesized techno sound, Krautrock, especially Can, is a fascinating paradox. Its proponents used guitars for purposes they weren’t intended for – to emulate synthesized sounds – as well as gelling rock’s often forgotten sense of rhythm with precise repetition, an aesthetic common to electronic rather than live music. Holger Czukay said: ‘Repetition is like a machine. Machines have a heart and soul, they are living beings. If you are aware of a machine’s life then you are a master.’

The wide range of artists and acts Can and their Krautrock contemporaries inspired straddles the rock and electronic worlds. Just as Krautrock kicked against the musical mediocrity of the late-1960s to early 1970s, so too did the punk era and post-punk acts it inspired in the following decade. Rallying against the spectre of progressive rock excess, the angular angst-funk of PiL and Gang Of Four, as well as The Fall’s lyrical stream-of-consciousness and scratchy rhythm assault called to mind Can’s juxtaposition of the free-flowing and the repetitive, albeit reinterpreted in an angry manner.

At the same time, the UK’s burgeoning industrial scene, including Cabaret Voltaire and Throbbing Gristle, used Faust’s experiments as a reference point, while trendsetter David Bowie’s debt to Neu is clear on his seminal, electronic-tinged, Low and Heroes albums.

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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