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Beginner's Guide to Krautrock

by Kathleen Broadhurst Sep 2, 2011
Krautrock (as it has been derisively nick-named by the British) or Kosmische rock is a catchall term for progressive and experimental music from Germany in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

IN POST-WAR 1960s WEST GERMANY, youth were seeking new ways of creating music that broke free of earlier styles and cultures. It was a time of experimentation and transcendence. Seeking to be something other than Anglo or German, Krautrock sought inspiration in world music and the space-like sounds of then-cutting edge electronics, including early synths, tape loops, and new forms of sound manipulation.

Regardless of if you’ve ever heard these bands, you’ve heard the music they helped spawn. Electronica, industrial, psychedelic, and many forms of lo-fi and garage rock all have their origins in Krautrock. David Bowie, who was involved in the Krautrock scene in Berlin, and British bands Stereolab, the Fall, and Joy Division all have cited Krautrock among their prominent influences. Even Radiohead covered has covered Krautrock legend Can’s song “Thief.”

These are some fundamental Krautrock bands with an album title apiece to get you started:

Amon Düül II:

Phallus Dei,1969
Amon Düül II’s first album Phallus Dei would sell well today among those into goth or industrial, yet stays lighter than either of those modern genres with its ever changing experimental/improvisational sound.

The BBC Four’s documentary Krautrock describes Amon Düül’s music as “…acid drenched apocalyptic music that sound-tracked their vision of a brave new world.” One of the staples of the Krautrock movement Amon Duul II should not be confused with Amon Düül or Amon Düül UK — they’re not the same bands and there’s no comparison. For a quick look at Amon Düül II, check out “Archangel Thunderbird” below.


Radio-Activity, 1975
Enjoy Chemical Brothers? Kraftwerk, the German word for power-plant, has a mellower sound than most modern bands but if you like the feel of industrial or electronic, this band is where it’s at. They inspired later generations with their driving electronic beats and catchy lyrics. Kraftwerk’s political message still holds some water today, especially in songs like “Radioactivity.”

Popul Vuh:

Hoisanna Mantra, 1972
Named after the Mayan creation story Popul Vuh vibes off of the spiritual inspirations of the movement producing a sound that is ambient and trance-y. Combining world instruments with electric guitars and vocals Popul Vuh’s music is considered by many to be the start of the world music genre.

With influences from South America, Africa and Asia, their instrumental pieces are tonally varied and different from anything else of the time. Tracks off of Hoisanna are great for altered states or when you want something to meditate to.

Ash Ra Tempel:

Ash Ra Tempel,1971
While Jimi Hendrix’s death was creating a musical void, Ash Ra Tempel was getting started in Germany. With distortion effects, strong guitar, and some electronic experimentation, Ash Ra Tempel’s sound is psychedelic without being overblown. Its self-titled first album became one of the major influences for later psychedelic rock.

Ash Ra Tampel’s “Schizo”

Sweet Smoke:

Just a Poke, 1970
If you like the jam-band feel of the Grateful Dead or The Allman Brothers Band, check out Sweet Smoke. Sweet Smoke’s members, though American, lived in a commune in rural Germany and produced one of the hit albums of the European music scene( though they were traveling in India at the time and didn’t know it). There is still a club in Paris that plays their first record ‘Just a Poke’, every night at midnight for a thirty-minute retro dance experience.

“Silly Sally” from Just a Poke:

Tangerine Dream:

Atem, 1973
Tangerine Dream was one of the leaders of Krautrock. They gained international success in 1975 when asked to play at the York Minster Cathedral in England. Considered on of the originators of New Age music most of their sound is instrumental and electronic with few vocals. Mega-famous bands like Pink Floyd have cited them as an influence.

20 minutes off the album Atem:

While these bands make the short list, they are by no means the whole list. Honorable mention goes to Can, Faust and Neu! The Krautrock movement was one of many bands contributing a vast variety of sounds. It defied easy labels and pushed boundaries and was highly influential.

Music opens the mind to new ideas. “Like sweet smoke itself, you take it all in, you let it all out and in a moment of creation the music gives you freedom and ecstacy”- Rasa, Sweet Smoke sitarist.

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