Friday, August 26, 2011

Here's some great early footage of Kraftwerk from 1971, back when they featured Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, AKA Neu! - in their ranks. Florian Schneider blows a little boogaloo on his flute, though absent is longtime member, Ralf Hutter, who apparently split for a brief while to study architecture. I was a big fan of the band back in the '90s. Hell, I loved them when I was 12 and owned the Tour De France 12", though they were a very different band by then and I liked that particular record for a very different reason (I was, at that age, quite an enthusiast for what is known as "rap music", and that song was nominally seen as hovering in that universe). I still love the band now, though I'll admit I haven't listened to them for a real long time. In the mid '90s I managed to track down bootleg CD copies of the mythical first two albums on the Germanophon label, both of which set me back the unheard-of price of $40 a piece at the time. Those two albums, named Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2 and originally released in 1971 and 1972, respectively, have still not been given any kind of official reissue on either LP or CD (or even digitally, if that floats your boat; sorry, that shit sinks mine), apparently because of some legal nonsense too boring to go into here. However, if you do stumble across them, and they won't set you back as much now as they did for me 15 or more years ago, then you should grab 'em, toot sweet. They were a remarkably different band to the computerised/dehumanised electronic outfit they morphed into, and indeed they were remarkable. All their '70s records are worth your time & trouble - in fact my favourite album of theirs remains 1975's Radio-Activity - though the first two are most noteworthy due to their rawness of sound.
The first has a cacophonous, vaguely psychedelic feel, purely instrumental and, at least as far as I hear it, heavily indebted to White Light/White Heat-period VU. Unlike a lot of rock & roll at the time, and mostly in line w/ what I guess you would call the "krautrock sound", Kraftwerk 1, like everything the band did, is completely bluesless and lilywhite in its approach. It contains four long-ish tracks which, whilst perhaps not as fleshed out as they should be, are still a pretty awesome thing to behold, especially considering the fact that they were recorded 40 years ago. The guitar work is particularly scuzzy, like first-LP Stooges: pure rhythm and little else. Kraftwerk 1 admittedly sounds more like a series of sketches than a fully developed album, but if these are just "jams", then I've heard much worse ones in this lifetime.
Kraftwerk 2 is often considered the better of the two. Gone is the acoustic drummer, to be replaced by a drum machine. The sound is more metronomic, though the primitive drum machine in use, a far cry from the slick beats the band would make later on, lend it a Suicide-ish feel. Once again it's instrumental, and the use of tape loops and distorted/treated violin and flute, along w/ more blips and whirls from their electronic gear, give this a rather awesome, claustrophobic early '70s...err, "vibe". I played this the other night for the first time in what must've been a decade, and it struck me just how ahead of the game the band were. Outside of the likes of the Silver Apples, few had applied an almost purely electronic approach to rock music (or at least done it this well). Other krauts like Cluster and Tangerine Dream were recording similarly great electronic-based sounds, though both were also a far cry from what I'd call rock music (and that remark most certainly doesn't mean I don't like them: far from it). Kraftwerk 2 has 6 tracks: four are of fairly normal rock-song length, "Wellenlenge" approaches the 10-minute mark and the albums highlight, "KlingKlang", the opener, veers in all manner of directions, including a few strange moments of seemingly random noises and heavy breathing (so strange it be I had to turn it off when it started freaking the kids out).
The band had originally morphed from an earlier outfit known as Organisation. They released a cool album in 1970 entitled Tone Float, one I haven't heard for years (and don't actually own), and you can check 'em out below. They're a bit more in a west coast acid-rock vibe, w/ Popol Vuh "exotic" flourishes, than what the band known as Kraftwerk were to transform into, though the first two LPs still carry traces of a loose, psychedelic feel. In a mid '70s interview w/ Lester Bangs, Kraftwerk listed the Beach Boys, VU, the Stooges and Blue Oyster Cult as their main influences, something which, over 35 years later, helps make the case of the band being one of the better and more clued-in acts of their day. They went on to sell a whole load of records, too, but that's no reason not to love 'em.

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