"Krautrock" / "Kosmische Musik" - German Rock Listeners Guide

"Krautrock" / "Kosmische Musik" - German Rock Listeners Guide

While at school (early 1970s) a friend, Mark Weeks, used to regulary visit to tell me about his latest music discoveries.  We would play the records he brought on my old battery powered mono "phonograph".

I remember sitting next to the family pool, listening to and getting briefed on his lastest find... Can - Tago Mago. The one with the United Artist envelope sleeve.  He talked about "the explosion", the drumming and the incredible guitar and that this was the "ultimate trip music".

This was my introduction to "Krautrock".  Later I heard Kraftwerk's Autobahn and learned about Tangerine Dream, all of which feed into my general interest in "Electronic Music".  While rifeling through the second hand section at "Batman Records" (now long gone from Melbourne) I found a copy of Tago Mago, for my record collection. This was recorded onto cassette and when it was available on CD I again got a copy.  So it is one of my most listened to recordings. In Melbourne there was a shop called "Pipe Music", owned by a very pushy German guy, who was always insisting on putting ear cans on your head to listen to the latest and greatest things from Germany.

"Krautrock" was a term applied by the English music press. As a label it does not pass the "p.c. test" and the bands and artists universally refuted the term.  To me it simply meant rock (ish) music from Germany and the term "kosmische musik" (cosmic music) was also applied to the genre. As I did more research and listening (rock or rock audience targeted music from Germany in late '60s to mid '70s) I found the music fell into three camps: primitive feedback/noise heavy, rock based (krautrock) and colour/timbre focused peices (kosmische).

This listening guide (I realy tried to keep it down to 10, but the scope of content is large), provides samples of each type and its chronological evolution.

Amom Düül II1969Phallus DeiFrom Munich, with equal parts of: noise (3), rock(4) & cosmic(3) and elements of Jazz
Popol Vuh1971In Den Garten PharaosMusic of the spheres, composed on the only MOOG III in Germany: noise (1), rock (1), cosmic (5). This is the template for "Komische Musik". Subsquently Florian Fricke stopped using electronic instruments, but preempted much of Eno's ambient and "new age" music.
Faust1971FaustRecorded in Wumme (halfway between Bremen / Hamburg), noicey with strong debt to musique concrete: noise (5), rock (3), cosmic (3). The one with the totally original fist (faust) clear cover and vinyl packaging
Can1972Tago MagoFrom Cologne, mostly clean with strong forward propulsion: noise (2), rock (5), cosmic (3). Totally unique in sound and feel
Neu!1972Neu!From Dusseldorf, rock oriented with noise: noise (3), rock (5), cosmic (1). Rother & Dinger were both ex-Kraftwerk.
Cluster1972Cluster IIFrom Berlin with lots of feedback and generally primitive electronics, little melodic content: noise (4), rock (2), cosmic (3).
1979Grosser WasserMoved to the country and now highly melodic and contemplative: noise (0), rock (3), cosmic (3).
Tangerine Dream1974PhaedraFrom Berlin and picks up from Popol Vuh, but driven by sequencer: noise (1), rock (2), cosmic (4). Classic TD lineup: Forese, Franke, Baumann.
1975RubyconThis and Pheadra are a pair. Both released by Virgin which was now selling many German bands releases: noise (0), rock (2), cosmic (4). Classic TD lineup: Froese, Franke, Baumann.
Edgar Froese1974AquaFrom leader of Tangerine Dream, cosmic with less sequencer: noise (1), rock (1), cosmic (5).
Kraftwerk1974AutobahnMelodic and clean: noise (1), rock (4), cosmic (3). It was a hit, Kometenmelodie is great propolsive track with rythmic and melodic counterpoint
1977Trans-Europe ExpressFrom Krautrock to European rock. Melodic and clean: noise (0), rock (4), cosmic (1).
Cluster & Eno1977Cluster & EnoCluster wel and truely melodic now, with Eno on discovery vogage: noise (1), rock (4), cosmic (3). The cross-over begins. Krautrock, was strongly supported via John Peel in UK, so not surprisingly Eno, journeyed to Germany to work with Cluster.
Michael Rother1979KatzenmusikFrom ex Nea! member with Jaki Liebezeit (Can) on drums: noise (0), rock (4), cosmic (2). Diverse set of short pieces, with some sounding like Eno
Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft1979Ein Produkt ofDusseldorf becomes home of new German music after punk: noise (4), rock (5), cosmic (0). 22 Untitled tracks of guitar, drums & noice. So back to ground zero.
Pyrolator1979AuslandPart of Dusseldorf "Neue Deutsche Welle" (new German wave) and in both DAF & Der Plan: noise (3), rock (4), cosmic (1). More Kraftwerk than punk, not "Krautrock" anymore.
Der Plan1980Geri ReigMore Dusseldorf "Neue Deutsche Welle" (new German wave): noise (1), rock (4), cosmic (0). Kraftwerk on 75 and deliberately esoteric, not "Krautrock" anymore.
Klaus Schulze1981Trancefer"Neue Deutsche Welle" (new German wave), in no way halts kosmische: noise (0), rock (3), cosmic (5). Prolific ex-Tangerine Dreamer.

The list is complete... but the coverage is far from comprehensive. There is a huge volume of music out there. Much of it is by various ex-Krafwerkers or ex-Tangerine Dreamers with Conny Plank often listed on production credits. Klaus Schulze alone has over 50 releases. The Krautrock and Kosmiche crews all followed their muse and churned out music prolifically irrespective of any particular current musical trend. My list includes material beyond 1975, as even while the English press lost interest and turned their focus to UK punk, the artist continued to produce new material at a huge rate and also continued to evolve as artists. The original Krautrocker's outlasted the "New Deutsche Welle" bands.

Reference & Links:

  • The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock / Nick Logan & Bob Woffinden (Amom Düül II, Can, Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream/Edgar Froese)
  • Recommended Records Catalog - reissued Faust albums and brought to wider audience
  • New Musical Express - championed Dusseldorf/ATA TAK/Neue Deutsche Welle bands