The late 1960s brought about a cultural revolution across the Western World, but no country felt its effects more than Germany. In the aftermath of WWII, Germany was geopolitically divided by Western Capitalism and Stalinist Russia. A radical youth emerged, striving to break free from occupant ideologies and to transcend their nationalist past. Music became an outlet for these frustrations, providing an opportunity to form a new German identity. Electronic music was their medium, entirely new and original, neither Western nor Eastern, untainted by History. In psychedelia and synthesizers, the German youth found its freedom; the Western press crudely named it ‘Krautrock’. Here are its five defining tracks, plus an hour-long playlist of more gems.
Amon Duul II – Soap Shop Rock (1970)
As derivatives of a politically radical commune, notoriously full of Acid and intellectuals, Amon Duul II’s sound is almost exactly as you would expect; psychedelic and progressive rock. Unlike the British Prog-Rock of the 1970s however, Amon Duul II were charged with political radicalism – the Baader-Meinhof Group would often stay at their commune. Soap Shop Rock (Side A), is the first four tracks combined to provide an introductory suite to their second and most influential album, Yeti. Encapsulating the Amon Duul II sound, it is at once elegant and beautiful yet on the verge of lunacy.
Popol Vuh – Ich Mache Einen Spiegel (1970)
The band Popol Vuh are best remembered for providing the soundtracks for a succession of films by Werner Herzog (including Aguirre, The Wrath of God and Nosferatu). It is their first record Affenstunde however, that remains the most prominent and influential in the Popol Vuh discography. Led by the enigmatic and iconic Florian Fricke, Affenstunde is one of the earliest examples of what would later become known as Ambient. When Bowie and Eno came to Berlin in the mid 70s, they pounced on Fricke’s experimentation with the moog synthesizer which he had long since abandoned.
Can – Oh Yeah (1971)
Can’s third album Tago Mago was way ahead of its time, incredibly sounding Post-Punk before Punk had even been dreamt of. It is a record of the subconscious, of dreams and delusions. Damo Suzuki’s vocals are predominantly incoherent and often backward, he murmurs and gushes in an apparent trance. Oh Yeah, the album’s third track is extraordinarily complex, underpinned by drummer Jaki Liebezeit, nicknamed the ‘human metronome’. If it sounds familiar, it’s probably because of all your records by Radiohead, Primal Scream, Flaming Lips, Talking Heads, Pavement and the list goes on.
Neu! – Hallogallo (1972)
Following their split from Kraftwerk, Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother took the seminal producer Conny Plank to the Star Studios in Hamburg and recorded an underground masterpiece in less than a week. The first track off their eponymous debut, Hallogallo, showcases their ground-breaking ‘Motorik’ sound. Despite its ten-minute length, droning bass and monotonous drum patterns, Neu! prove that less is definitely more. The film buffs among you might also recognise Neu! from their appearance in the Kill Bill Vol. 1 soundtrack. Listen to the playlist below to hear which track it is.
Kraftwerk – Autobahn 7” Single Mix (1975)
If Krautrock has a defining moment, it is Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, a concept album exploring post-Industrial Germany. The title track was reworked for a single release in 1975, proving to be a European-wide hit, reaching 11 in the UK charts. Kraftwerk’s magnum opus is a metaphor for endless progress, pre-empting the digital age – romantic yet synthetic, beautiful and artificial. Kraftwerk surpassed the hippy dirge of early Krautrock: they dressed in suits, had clean-cut hair, and seemed androgynous and robotic whilst retaining a pop sensibility. At once a critique and a celebration of the modern condition.
Here is an extended playlist we made of the best Krautrock has to offer.