August 7, 2015

Friday Frumpys


This August, as we prepare to unleash a bunch of incredible books into the world, MobyLives will be taking a bit of a breather. We’ll still post the occasional news item or feature, but for most of this month we’ll be posting a roundup like this every morning. We will, of course, remain active on Twitter and Facebook. We hope you have a great August, and that you’ll keep checking in with us!

This month’s roundups are brought to you by Future Days: Krautrock and the Birth of a Revolutionary New Music. Each roundup will feature a short excerpt of the book, and a couple of songs from a Krautrock band. Today’s band is Frumpy.

Today’s Excerpt: 

At a superficial level at least, there is an appeal in Krautrock of the Teutonic other, which, of course, means nothing to Germans themselves. Kraftwerk in particular fail to resonate the way they do overseas, in the Anglo-American market particularly. Partly this is because, not unreasonably, Germans have never considered there to be anything inherently amusing, or exotic, about being German. ‘No German identified with the concept projected by Kraftwerk,’ says Stefan Morawietz, who, it so happens, lives in Krefeld, birthplace of Ralf Hütter. ‘It was fulfilling all the clichés everyone had about Germany.’

Morawietz knows all too well about Krautrock – he made a TV documentary about the German rock music of the era for German TV. However, he believes that critics from outside Germany are guilty of promoting a canon of bands as ‘Krautrock’ on the basis of electronic experimentation, whereas he believes the ‘real’ Krautrock consists of the groups who actually made a connection with local audiences in far-flung parts of Germany, well off the beaten track. ‘The music was made in the early seventies, but most listeners weren’t ready for that. It was only in the mid-eighties that German people started thinking that groups like Can and Amon Düül might be a good heritage for Germany. Before that, they meant nothing,’ he says.

His own personal preference is for groups like Eloi and Jane. ‘They were hugely successful – they were the groups people actually went to see. Although their sound derived from English bands – the early Eloi stuff is either more primitive or way more complicated than anything like Genesis or King Crimson. It’s totally complicated, that’s the classical influence you get with German musicians. Jane was fun music. Then the third group was Birth Control, originally from Berlin, later close to Cologne. Grobschnitt were from Hagen. They played in every bar that would open their doors to them. Amon Düül, Can, most of these electronic bands, you couldn’t see these bands play. Kraftwerk you could only see in small venues around Düsseldorf, supporting better-known bands. No one in Munich would ever see Kraftwerk, though that changed after Autobahn.

‘Even if these groups played progressive, it was not the same progressive as in England. The structure, the rhythm changes, dynamic changes were way more complicated than in English bands. That’s one of the reasons why Grobschnitt started their set with jokes and comics – because their music was so difficult it helped them relax, to have a relaxation point during this complex music. But these were the guys that everybody listened to. They played the villages, where no big bands played. No English, no American groups.’

Morawietz makes an important point, one that’s not to be sneezed at – that these groups, at hand, were the ones who in practical terms bolstered a sense of homegrown identity. That said, anyone who can get from one end of an Eloi album to the other is a better man than I.

Diedrich Diederichsen, formerly of the German magazine Sounds, is also a little wary of overpraising groups like Can and Kraftwerk, particularly for their vaunted links with the art world, links he believes are overstated. ‘I think that there is a certain sensibility in Düsseldorf, for example, [that] informed what Kraftwerk was doing at a certain period, but they were not really close to the real art world, they were not close to the debates, they were not there. It was more like a superficial relation because they went, maybe, to the same bars.’