One day, sometime early on in the current millenium, I checked out Can.
I had been meaning to for years. Every band, DJ and producer seemed to namecheck them. Checking out Can seemed to be a right of passage for a music nut. It felt like that awkwardness I used to feel about never having seen “The Godfather” (I finally did in 2001 before you ask). I knew it had to be done.
Then, a random e-mail in my old job at a what’s on guide. It was Rob at Pomona PR (who now runs his own PR company, Sonic) said he still had review copies of the “Can DVD”. I had looked at the press release when it was first announced, looked at the contents and decided this was for fans, not for the curious starting out but then the second e-mail…..oh, what the hell, there are review copies left then send me one. I had a lot of free time in those days.
The DVD landed on my desk and I took it home. I fixed some food and sat down to watch the film of the free concert. My jaw hit the floor. It ended and just then there was a knock at the door. Friends had called round. I ushered them in, sat them down on the couch and hit play again.
It was like a revolution in my mind. It was all true. This was my new favourite old band. Whenever anybody talked about krautrock, though, there was a trinity of bands they talked about…Can, Faust & Neu! The next step was obvious. My local record shop had the Faust box set “The Wumme Years” and the official Neu! 75 CD release. Neu! went first. That blew my mind and I was soon back for the Faust. Holy hell, it felt like I was really onto something.
So, probably less than a year later, I found myself in an odd situation. I had broken my nose for a second time and as a result could no longer sleep in on a morning. Weekends saw me waking at eight am while my flatmates still dozed while noon. For those first few hours, I had the house to myself and no-one to go bother but my PC. At the same time I discovered filter coffee so I was full of beans in both meanings and the next thing I knew, I had created a website devoted to krautrock and what was happening now with it’s bands
The idea was to report on the latest reissues, tours, reunions and collaborations. The name came from one day when one flatmate and his brother got all freaked out by what I was listening to and came knocking on my door asking “what is that?” in outraged tones. I thought if this music can upset young men in the year 2005, what must German parents back in the day have thought when their youths brought this home? – and the name was born. And so was the website on August 19th 2005.
All good stuff, eh? Except one problem…….
……what is krautrock?
What does krautrock even sound like? Some people hear the term and assume The Scorpions. Some people hear a bit of Can and Neu! and decide that krautrock is a rhythm. Others argue for it being a creation of social political conditions and the desire by a generations youth to reinvent itself away from the sins of their parents and the over-domineering influence of English and American rock and roll.
I soon realised there is no answer. The term has been applied to heavy psychedelic rock, new age electronic music, jazz-fusion groups, rocks groups, eastern classical, wild improv and anything else that was going on in early 1970s Germany that could be deemed innovative or rebellious.
Furthermore, as I joined various internet mailing lists and forums, I became gradually aware of the modern bands my fellow krautrock-lovers were listening to. First to come up on my radar were Acid Mothers Temple. Then it was Sunburned Hand of the Man and Six Organs of Admittance.
To me, it was not so much that they occasionally sounded like the old krautrock bands but that they seemed to encapsulate that wild, adventurous spirit. They were bands who had that fire in their belly and a disregard for all convention and rules. A real, authentic music for today and not scene chasers or a knock-off. I looked to the other influences of these bands and found not only more new bands but also came full circle back to other areas of my record collection that had remained unclassified. All that noise, psychedelic rock, minimalism and freak-out music I owned suddenly seemed to make more sense than ever. Ever met a krautrock fan who didn’t like Sun Ra?
So, the dilemma became, what was the site? I redefined it as “krautrock & beyond” and began to slip in the odd review of the newer bands. So, the site was stuck in a strange limbo….. krautrock and a little bit of other stuff.
Then life happened. I Got married. Suddenly both time and money were short….the website ended. Not with a bang but with a slow fade-out of increasingly infrequent updates and regular periods offline when the server bills were paid late. Then I moved town and with all the costs and exhaustion of moving, I just gave up. I stopped paying the server bills permanently. Summer 2008 and Was Ist Das? was dead.
It stayed that way nearly a year but fate conspired to revive it. I had quit my job for a what’s on guide for a better paid but even duller job. It was easier to pay the bills but it was so boring. I needed something to keep me sane. Spring came and as the dog and I explored the landscape around us I suddenly had an idea for a new look to the website. I revived Was Ist Das? on the site’s birthday in 2009 when the domain name no longer belonged to the overpriced sharks I had originally set it up with.
PC death in the interval year meant I had none of the original files and relaunched the site by starting from scratch. It was now an anything goes website. The second incarnation of Was Ist Das has now outlasted the first and never flickers on and off line as I now pay cheap, sensible server fees.
the Krautrock is where it comes from. Whilst I continued to cover new krautrock re-releases and tours and collaborations, it was lost amongst all the other stuff. Just a small grain of sand in a big sandpit.
Then I went to Berlin in August 2012 and something happened to me. I went off on another massive krautrock binge and developed the urge to do something more visible for Was Ist Das? that reflected where it came from.
So, here it is, an ongoing development. A database of album reviews of krautrock albums. Not a definite database, but a growing one.
But what is krautrock?
or what is the Was Ist Das? definition of krautrock?
Fearless, defiant, original, gutsy and innovative. That spark within.
but from Germany around the early 70s.
Because the little extra qualifier tells us all about the times and the place. Ignore it for a minute, though, because those values I listed beforehand…they are what we aspire to be. And if you are here then you do to. And so, in some way, you are krautrock and I am krautrock. If we only dare to be different and close our eyes to the social consensus.