INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Mojo APRIL 1997 - by Andy Gill
For the British musical maverick, Germany successfully reinvented rock's wheel.
What was your first exposure to Krautrock?
I was pretty keen on Can as soon as I heard them in the early '70s, when Roxy were rehearsing. I felt they had picked up the gauntlet that The Velvet Underground had thrown down. At that time there was a very clear distinction, I felt, between Beatles music which was generally quite sunny and sweet and English, and, on the other hand, Velvet Underground music: I thought that the German bands had picked up much more of that sensibility of rock music as slightly dangerous, very urban, on the edge of going out of control.
The other thing I liked about them was that there was still the sense in them of music as lived philosophy, or played philosophy, the way you worked out your statement about things, which was an idea that was very strong in John Cage. A lot of the German bands had that commune thing, and a lot of them, like Can, owned their own stuff and stayed outside the business in a way I also liked - there was a sense of them taking a musical position which was the obvious outcome of a philosophical, political and social statement. I've always wanted music to be bound up with all those things - that's why I became a musician instead of a painter.
What differentiates Krautrock from Anglo-American rock?
The thing that appealed to me was the discipline - it was as if they'd decided that their project, in a typically German way, was to make a pure rock music that was stripped of superfluities, of showbiz. So you had Neu!, for instance, who basically played that one beat; presumably Klaus Dinger thought it was the quintessential rock beat. I thought that was wonderful. It was a very uncompromising type of music, consciously experimental, and conscious of which particular experiment it was trying to do. It was actually completely anti-Hollywood, which appeals to me, of course.
Another thing I like about the Germans is the natural minimalism which you hear in such as Kraftwerk - especially their first album, which had such restraint to it. They deliberately leave things very austere and clear: it's not loaded up with gallons of 24-track gravy. It's the same with Popol Vuh, who did the music for those Werner Herzog movies: those are beautiful pieces of music, they still sound good, and it's because they're so undefended.
Did the modern European classical tradition make a difference?
Certainly it was as much to do with Darmstadt and the theory of Stockhausen about electronics and tape manipulation. But part of it was the recognition that the interesting electronic music of our time was being done by rock musicians rather than academic composers. Stockhausen was an example of a charismatic theoretician who inspired a lot of people but whose own work is generally unlistenable.
There was a communal spirit to bands like Faust, Can and Amon Düül II...
And to Cluster/Harmonia, when I worked with them in 1975, too. It was Michael Rother, Mobi Moebius and Achim Roedelius, and they lived together in a rather beautiful old farmhouse near Hanover. It wasn't like a hippy commune, but there was an agreement that if we were going to make music together, we should share our lives together - the music should come out of the way we live, it has to be the thing that we constantly revolve around and refer back to.
What were your working methods with Cluster?
It nearly always started out like people would jam today against a sequencer, though we weren't using sequencers then; somebody would become sort of a human sequencer - maybe Roedelius repeating a pattern on the keyboard. One nice aspect to it was that everybody had just about the same sense of how long you should stay in the same place. My problem with jamming with people before was that they would always change too quickly, they'd never listen to where they were. With Cluster, we could stay in the same place for twenty-five minutes or so, really get into the details of a piece, start to feel it as a landscape, not as just a moment in the music, but as a place. Also, the fact that you're playing repetitively is really different from just playing a loop; because when you're actually playing it, you start to get this unity between a muscular rhythm and a perceptual thing that's going on, so you almost forget you're doing it - the playing experience becomes a state you're in.