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It's The Neu Style

Derek Walmsley

I can't be alone in noticing a subtle shift in the public appreciation of Krautrock. Press release after press release comes into The Wire HQ suggesting a group sounds like Can, Faust and Neu! – a ridiculous claim, as they hardly sounded alike in the first place. Nevertheless, the number of projects coping a Krautrock feel – The Horrors on their new album (after a pretty weak cover of Suicide recently – another act who are threatened with looming canonisation?), the Brand Neu! tribute album (title says it all), featuring Oasis, of all people (Neu! is "great tour bus music", I think Noel Gallagher was quoted as saying), and most bizarre of all, David Holmes. Add Portishead's Third into the mix, and it's almost ubiquitous.

Generally they take only the most basic common denominators of German experimental rock – the motorik rhythm, the spiralling guitars, but particularly, motorik rhythm. What's going on here? Krautrock has suddenly become a signifier of seriousness, the never-ending autobahn of Neu! a kind of aspiration to never-ending longevity, but also a melancholic nostalgia for when there were still roads to be built. Often these days, dropping into a motorik rhythm isn't the sign of innovation, but a lack of anything more interesting to do. It no longer conjures up wide-open possibilities, but an aesthetic retrenchment when there's nothing else they can bring to the table.

Of course, the last thing proper Krautrockers would have done these days is just hammer away at a long-overused rhythm. And just as I was typing this post, a press release just crossed my desk namechecking Cluster and Popul Vuh, too. Of course, one shouldn't blame the artists for such material, but it does suggest Krautrock has become a currency (in all senses) in music industry speak these days.

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Comments

Thank you for this very subtle view of things. Krautrock has become a very common and loose reference. It is all the more weird to have all these press releases pointing out krautrock references, that most of today's "mainstream" bands lack the sense of experiment and challenge that bands like Faust, Can, Neu, Popol Vuh, Amon Duul, Cluster had... And let's not forget some of them were signed on Polydor and United Artists... Which major label would release a debut album such as Faust's first LP today ?

Yes, I think the most annoying thing is the use of krautock as a single genre. How much did Can, Faust and Neu! even know about each other? I don't think any of these groups had any sense of being part of a definable movement.

I'm afraid that even some of the "proper Krautrockers" weren't above banging away at the same old theme. Neu!, after their stellar debut release, quickly got themselves into more of a rut than a groove and in my opinion were never as good again. And we shouldn't forget that a lot of the German bands of the period, especially at the kosmiche end of the spectrum, owed more than a little to Pink Floyd and (whisper it) prog rock, not always in a good way. Arguably the best of them, Faust, was never really a krautrock band at all, and I seem to remember that their main contribution to the genre was at the time intended more as a joke than a serious effort -- although it still manages to be one of the best.

Neu's main legacy was the motorik beat, and maybe loops and drones if you really want to press the point, and that can certainly be dull in the wrong hands. But there are quite a few bands out there who are managing to break through the inherent limitations and make interesting new music. (I made a mix tape of my own a while back which I called "nearly NEU!"...) Still, as krautrock gradually becomes less obscure, and correspondingly less cool, I'm afraid that some of the underlying dullness may begin to shine through.

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