Nov 162009

BBC’s recent Krautrock documentary provided some fresh interview material and placed the music within a societal context without being dry – but it seemed unsure about what “Krautrock” was in the first place, and therefore what its lines of enquiry should be. Was Krautrock an invention of the British press? If so, the failure to report on the impact of the “Krautrock” bands on British music was a big omission (it didn’t begin and end with Eno and Bowie). Or was Krautrock, if not in name, at least in spirit, a vital component of the socio-political mood in West Germany? If so, why did the documentary create the impression that this was an approach which had simply evaporated? Why did it not mention the German new wave movement (Neue Deutsche Welle) which followed it and which had strong musical and political echoes of it?

The theme of the search for the “German Beetles” was raised (without much point) in connection with Faust, but by the time the post-fab-four Kraftwerk were on screen with their suits and short haircuts, the theme had been forgotten – perhaps deliberately so, since we were to believe that the new music of Germany had turned its back on rock and pop. So we were to think of Can as a Stockhausen-influenced band (which it was) rather than a blues/rock band (which it frequently sounded much more like), and we were to concentrate on the improvisational roots of Amon Düül 2 (persistently referred to by the narrator as “Amon Düül” – which was in fact a different, concurrent venture) and ignore their rapid transition into a polished and creative rock band.

When it came to Faust, the viewer was given the impression that the music was about hitting cement mixers, while their engineering wizard Kurt Graupner, the man responsible for electronically processing and arranging their jam sessions into finished albums, didn’t even get name-checked. Worse still, while the the name of producer Conny Plank was mentioned as a common link between otherwise disparate acts, just one sentence was deemed to be enough to cover his huge contribution. Since Plank’s work was a common thread between many of the acts covered, and the musicians that they influenced, the lack of coverage was a wasted opportunity to give coherence to the narrative.

Krautrock was an enjoyable piece of television, and picking apart its approach might be mean-spirited given the rarity of such music coverage on our screens. But it’s impossible to ignore the fact that the documentary didn’t manage to tie the episodes related into a convincing wider story about the music (rather than the politics), or provide an argument why such (stylistically varied) music mattered and still has worth as a listening experience today. Maybe more time was needed, to let the music speak for itself. But within the time constraints, Krautrock was a valid and quite ambitious introduction to some interesting music, even if it fell short of being an invaluable one.

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