IMOGEN HARRISON chats with OMD’s ANDY McCLUSKEY about the impact Germany’s musical agitators had on a new breed of English pop stars
It’s West Berlin, it’s 1968, and in a large rented back room in a building along the North bank of the Landwehr Canal, the future is unfolding.
More specifically, this building is the notoriously short-lived Zodiak Free Arts Lab (or Zodiak Club), which is, by day, home to politically-minded theatre group Shaubühne am Halleschen Ufer. It is at night, however, that the majority of the drama takes place – when it becomes an experimental underground live music venue, home to pioneers of psychedelic Krautrock such as Human Being, The Agitation, and, most notably, Tangerine Dream. Painted only in black and white, and littered with new-fangled instruments, speakers and amplifiers that allowed musicians to turn their hand to anything from avant-garde jazz to electronic rock, the audience frequenting the club is a fairly small one, but their belief that “conventional” music is something to be frowned upon means that this isn’t important. What is important is that this “anti-convention” audience is growing, and fast, as musicians such as Conrad Schnitzler, Hans-Joachim Roedelius, Dieter Moebius (the three of whom co-found the club, and later go on to form experimental rock group Kluster), Boris Schaak and Edgar Froese sowed the seeds for a completely new and innovative type of music – known today as Krautrock. It would not only blow their audiences’ open minds with its characteristic improvisation and hypnotic, minimalistic rhythms, but also go on to become highly influential on many genres of music that exist today.
However, although the audience for this new type of music was growing, the majority of Kraut – listeners in the late ’60s were those who had taken part in the ’68 student riots (that had stormed their way across Germany, France and Italy) and who were now looking for fields in which they could indulge in their new-found collective awareness, and even shake off the post-war shame of Hitler and his Nazis. Innovative German rock critic Rolf Ulrich Kaiser had been watching and listening to this new scene unfolding, and was heavily in favour of popularising the genre. Nevertheless, he also realised that without greater mass exposure, it was never going to get off the ground – it would remain labelled as a passing fad, perhaps, or simply as an extension of Anglo-American psychedelia. And that is exactly what this music was not. Whilst American and British rock was generally a development of the blues scale and of the music the slaves had brought with them from Africa in the previous century, Kaiser knew that these songs were innovative, because they were completely different to anything that had come before.