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Krautrock (also called kosmische Musik, German: cosmic music[9][10]) is a broad genre of experimental rock that developed in Germany in the late 1960s among bands who blended psychedelic rock with electronic music, funk, minimalism, jazz, and the avant-garde.[5][11] Artists largely rejected the traditional blues influences of Anglo-American rock music,[12] instead embracing hypnotic rhythms and electronic instrumentation.[13][14] The term "krautrock" was coined by English-speaking music journalists in the early 1970s as a humorous umbrella label for the diverse German scene.[15]

The movement was partly born out of the student movements of 1968, as German youth sought a unique countercultural identity[16][17] and a form of German music that was distinct from surrounding mainstream music.[11] Prominent groups associated with the krautrock label included Neu!, Can, Faust, Cluster, Ash Ra Tempel, Harmonia, Popol Vuh and Kraftwerk.[5] The period contributed to the development of ambient music and techno,[8] as well as post-punk, alternative rock and new-age music.[5][18]



Krautrock merges elements of psychedelic rock, the avant-garde, electronic music, funk, improvisational jazz and world music styles,[5] and expands on the type of musical explorations associated with art rock and progressive rock.[19] Critic Simon Reynolds described the style as "where the over-reaching ambition and untethered freakitude of late '60s acid rock is checked and galvanised by a proto-punk minimalism ... music of immense scale that miraculously avoided prog-rock's bombastics."[5] Groups synthesised rock and roll rhythm and energy with a desire to distance themselves from specifically American blues origins, drawing on German or other sources instead. Jean-Hervé Peron of Faust said: "We were trying to put aside everything we had heard in rock 'n' roll, the three-chord pattern, the lyrics. We had the urge of saying something completely different."[12] Jon Savage of The Guardian named composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, American bands the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground, and English band Pink Floyd as core influences.[11] According to Peel, the only American or British band to "clearly influence" the genre was Pink Floyd, particularly for their "spacey music".[20]

Some artists drew on ideas from contemporary experimental classical music (especially minimalism[21] and composer Stockhausen, with whom, for example, Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of Can had previously studied) and from the new experimental directions that emerged in jazz during the 1960s and 1970s (mainly the free jazz pieces by Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler). Moving away from the patterns of song structure and melody of much rock music in America and Britain, some in the movement also drove the music to a more mechanical and electronic sound.[18]

Musical elements[edit]

Krautrock is a broad label encompassing diverse sounds and artists.[22] Shindig! described the style as "avant-garde musical collages of electronic sounds, rock music, and psychedelia," and noted the style's "characteristic improvisation and hypnotic, minimalistic rhythms."[13] Los Angeles Magazine described it as a "hypnotic, piston-pumping genre [...] where drummers pounded out tightly-wound beats, bassists thumped pulsing notes, and zoned out singers warbled over it all in an absurdist drone," summarizing it as "where American psychedelica meets icy Germanic detachment."[23] According to The Line of Best Fit, some typical characteristics include "steady 4/4 beats, hypnotic, droning rhythms, and shimmering keyboards."[14]The Stranger called the style an "innovative reconstruction of rock and electronic music."[24]

Motorik is the 4/4 beat often used by drummers associated with krautrock.[25] It is characterised by a kick drum-heavy, pulsating groove, that created a forward-flowing feel.[25] The motorik beat was first used by Neu! on their debut album[26] and was later adopted by other krautrock bands. It has been widely used in many different styles of music beyond krautrock.[27] According to XLR8R, the term krautrock is often used by critics to signify the "mesmerizing motorik rhythms pioneered by Can and Neu!," but contested that "they represent merely a tiny fraction of the music that emerged from Germany during Krautrock's Golden Age."[15] Matt Bolton of The Guardian makes a similar point, arguing that "Neu!'s streamlined instrumentals [...] certainly have little in common with Can's eclectic experimentalism, Amon Düül II's improvisational space rock or Faust's cut-and-paste sound collages.[22]

Kosmische Musik[edit]

Kosmische Musik ("cosmic music") is a style closely related to 1970s German electronic music that uses synthesizers and incorporates themes related to space and otherworldliness.[28][29] The term came into regular use before "krautrock", though it is now sometimes used synonymously.[28] The style was often instrumental and characterized by "spacy," ambient soundscapes.[29] Kosmische artists used synthesizers such as the EMS VCS 3 and Moog Modular, as well as sound processing effects and tape-based approaches.[28] They largely rejected rock music conventions, and instead drew on "serious" electronic compositions such as those of György Ligeti.[29]

The term "kosmische Musik" was coined by Edgar Froese in the liner notes of Tangerine Dream's 1971 album Alpha Centauri[29] or by record producer Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser as a marketing name for krautrock bands like Ash Ra Tempel, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schulze.[30] The following year, Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser's Ohr Records released the compilation Kosmische Musik (1972) featuring tracks by Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel, and Popol Vuh.[28] Several of these artists would later distance themselves from the term.[28] The style would later lead to the development of new-age music, with which it shared several characteristics.[29]

Origins and etymology[edit]

By the end of the 1960s, the American and British counterculture and hippie movement had moved rock towards psychedelia, heavy metal, progressive rock and other styles that incorporated socially and politically incisive lyrics. The 1968 German student movement, French protests and Italian student movement had created a class of young, intellectual continental listeners, while nuclear weapons, pollution, and war inspired protests and activism.[31] 1968 also saw the foundation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab in Berlin by Hans-Joachim Roedelius, and Conrad Schnitzler, which further popularized the psychedelic rock sound in the German mainstream.[32] Such developments influenced what came to be termed "krautrock", which appeared at the first major German rock festival in 1968 in Essen.[33][clarification needed] Like their American, British and international counterparts, German rock musicians played a kind of psychedelic music. In contrast, however, there was no attempt to reproduce the effects of drugs.[5][not in citation given]

Until around 1973, the word "Deutsch-Rock" ("German Rock") was used to refer to the new groups from West Germany.[34] "Krautrock" was originally a humorous term coined in the early 1970s by British disc jockey John Peel[35] or by the UK music newspaper Melody Maker, in which experimental German bands found an early and enthusiastic following, and ironically retained by its practitioners.[36] The term derives from the ethnic slur "kraut", and its use by the music press was inspired by a track from Amon Düül's Psychedelic Underground titled "Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf" ('Mama Düül and her Sauerkrautband Strike Up').[37][38][39] According to author Ulrich Adelt, "kraut" in German can refer to herbs, weeds, and drugs.[30] Other names thrown around by the British music press were "Teutonic rock" and "Götterdämmer rock".[30]

Its musicians tended to reject the name "krautrock".[39][30] This was also the case for "kosmische Musik".[30] Musicologist Julian Cope, in his book Krautrocksampler, says "Krautrock is a subjective British phenomenon," based on the way the music was received in the UK rather than on the actual West German music scene out of which it grew.[37] For instance, while one of the main groups originally tagged as krautrock, Faust, recorded a seminal 12-minute track they titled "Krautrock", they would later distance themselves from the term, saying: "When the English people started talking about Krautrock, we thought they were just taking the piss... and when you hear the so-called 'Krautrock renaissance,' it makes me think everything we did was for nothing."[12] West Germany's music press initially used "krautrock" as a pejorative, but the term lost its stigma after the music gained success in Britain.[30]

Legacy and influence[edit]

Krautrock has proved to be highly influential on a succession of other musical styles and developments. Early contemporary enthusiasts outside Germany included Hawkwind and in particular Dave Brock who supposedly penned the sleeve notes for the British edition of Neu!'s first album [40] Faust's budget release The Faust Tapes has been cited as a formative teenage influence by several musicians growing up in the early 1970s such as Julian Cope (who has always cited krautrock as an influence, and wrote the book Krautrocksampler on the subject). The genre also had a strong influence on David Bowie's Station to Station (1976) and the experimentation it inspired led to his 'Berlin Trilogy'.[41][42]

Krautrock was also highly influential on the late-'70s development of British new wave and post-punk, notably artists such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., Cabaret Voltaire, The Fall, Gary Numan, Joy Division, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Simple Minds and This Heat, and on Galloping Coroners' shaman punk. Kraftwerk in particular had a lot of influence on American electronic dance music of the 1980s: electro, house, techno and especially goatrance. Ash Ra Tempel was strongly influential on the later development of 70s ambient as well as post-rock.[43]

List of artists[edit]

See also[edit]


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  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Reynolds, Simon (July 1996). "Krautrock". Melody Maker.
  6. ^ Hegarty & Halliwell 2011, p. 224.
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  8. ^ a b Battaglia, Andy. "Where to start with the vast, influential krautrock". The AV Club. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
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  17. ^ Unterberger, p. 174.
  18. ^ a b Reinholdt Nielsen, Per (2011). Rebel & Remix - Rockens historie. Denmark: Systime. ISBN 978-87-616-2662-2.
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  22. ^ a b Bolton, Matt. "Matt Bolton meets the original Krautrockers". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
  23. ^ Tewksbury, Drew. "The Merciless Circularity of Beak". Los Angeles Magazine. Retrieved 18 April 2019.
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  32. ^ Buckley 2003, p. 207.
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  34. ^ Adelt 2016, p. 10.
  35. ^ Adelt 2016, p. 11.
  36. ^ 'Krautrock - Cosmic Rock and its Legacy' by David Stubbs, Erik Davis, Michel Faber and various contributing authors. Published 2009 by Black Dog Publishing Limited, London ISBN 978-1-906155-66-7
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  38. ^ Siebert, Armin (1999). Die Sprache der Pop- und Rockmusik: Eine terminologische Untersuchung im Englischen und Deutschen. Norderstedt: Grin. p. 114. ISBN 978-3-640-28233-3.
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