It was born out of the radical student protests in 1968 in Germany when the youth rebelled against their country’s World War II legacy and sought a popular music style different from traditional German music and American pop.
With its unique blend of electronic sounds, experimental rock, and free-form improvisation, Krautrock has left a significant impact on the music scene both inside and outside Germany.
During the late 1970s, Krautrock’s influence extended to the development of the Neue Deutsche Welle (“German New Wave”), which emerged across various local scenes in West Germany and lasted from 1979 to 1983.
Since then, the genre has continued to inspire numerous musicians across various genres, as it allows for freedom of expression and creative exploration in music.
As a music lover and avid listener, I can’t help but appreciate the lasting legacy of Krautrock.
The genre’s innovative approach to music-making has expanded the boundaries of what is possible in music and consistently inspired and influenced contemporary bands to push their own sound in new and exciting directions.
Origins and Development of Krautrock
Germany’s Post-World War II Music Scene
After World War II, Germany experienced a cultural rebirth, with a new music scene emerging from the cities of Cologne and Hamburg.
Artists in these cities were hungry for new sounds, and the American “Mothers of Invention” and Frank Zappa greatly influenced them. Bands such as Kraftwerk experimented with electronic instruments, helping to create the unique sounds that characterised Krautrock.
Influence of Avant-Garde and Experimental Music
Krautrock was deeply influenced by avant-garde and experimental music. One influential figure in this scene was German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose work mixed electronic music with classical elements.
The infusion of experimental ideas and techniques in Krautrock provided a rich foundation for artists like Can, Faust, and Neu! to push the boundaries of rock music.
Early Krautrock Bands and Artists
- Kraftwerk: One of the most iconic Krautrock bands, they helped to popularise the use of electronic instruments and forged a unique sound that would influence many genres of music.
- Can: Hailing from Cologne, Can mixed rock, jazz, and experimental elements into their music. They became known for their lengthy, improvised jams and innovative use of tape loops.
- Faust: Another band that intrigued me was Faust, known for their avant-garde approach to album production. They constructed their songs from fragments of sound and pushed the boundaries of what was considered rock music.
- Neu!: Neu! was a duo comprised of Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother, former members of Kraftwerk. Their music featured simplified drumming patterns and repetitive melodies, which would come to be known as “motorik” beats.
- Tangerine Dream: This band was vital in developing the ambient side of the genre. They focused on creating vast, atmospheric soundscapes using synthesisers and other electronic instruments.
The Krautrock movement was truly a fascinating time in music history, with the early pioneers breaking new ground and forging a distinctive sound that remains influential today.
Its unique blend of experimental, electronic, and rock music helped shape the future of many genres and left a lasting impact on the global music landscape.
Key Characteristics and Features
This rhythmic pattern is characterised by a steady 4/4 beat played on the drums, which provides an almost hypnotic foundation for the music. Today you may be familiar with it by another name, ‘four to the floor.’
The motorik beat is an essential part of Krautrock and can be found in many of its classic tracks.
It’s often compared to the sound of a train or car engine, and in some ways, it reflects the industrial landscape of post-war Germany.
Electronic and Ambient Elements
Another core feature of Krautrock is its use of electronic and ambient elements. Many Krautrock bands, such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, embraced the emerging technology of synthesisers and tape loops in their music.
This allowed them to create otherworldly sounds and explore new sonic landscapes, incorporating ambient textures and experimental techniques that would later influence genres like electro, techno, and even some forms of modern classical music.
Improvisation and Experimental Techniques
Krautrock’s significance also lies in its improvisational and experimental nature. The genre often incorporates elements of jazz, free-form improvisation, and unique playing techniques.
This focus on experimentation gave rise to long, sprawling tracks that could sometimes stretch well past the 20-minute mark, allowing musicians to lose themselves in the creative process.
Some bands would even perform wholly improvised live sets, creating a one-of-a-kind experience for their audience. It’s no wonder that Krautrock is considered a significant force in developing experimental and electronic music.
For me, what sets Krautrock apart from other genres is the combination of its motorik beat, electronic elements, and improvisational ethos.
It’s truly a unique and innovative musical format that emerged during an important time in history.
And its influence can still be felt across various musical styles, from space rock to minimalism and beyond.
So next time you’re listening to a hypnotic techno track or an ambient soundscape, remember the roots of these sounds in the groundbreaking, fascinating world of 1970s Krautrock.
Influential Krautrock Bands and Individual Musicians
As a music enthusiast, I’ve always considered Krautrock as one of the most important and influential genres.
Let me introduce you to some of the most influential Krautrock bands and individual musicians that have made a difference in the music world.
In my opinion, Kraftwerk is one of the most groundbreaking bands in the history of electronic music. They have been pioneers in using experimental sounds and synthesisers, and their innovative approach has helped reshape the concept of German identity in music. Their impact can still be felt today, inspiring various techno and electronic artists.
Can is another fantastic example of how Krautrock has influenced modern music. As one of the most important krautrock bands, they were skilled in merging different genres such as psychedelic rock, improvisational jazz, and avant-garde.
Can’s experimental nature attracted a large following, and their innovative use of sampling has contributed to the development of electronic and hip-hop music.
The band Faust is known for their distinctive approach to music, which often includes integrating visual and auditory arts. They pushed the boundaries of experimental and progressive rock, creating a unique sound that has influenced various artists in the years to come.
Neu! is another name that I cannot leave out. They had a major impact on the development of post-rock and have been praised by bands such as Hawkwind.
Featuring innovative guitar work and distinctive rhythmic patterns, Neu!’s contributions to the Krautrock movement are truly remarkable. Neu! is personally my favourite on this list.
As a fan of ambient and electronic music, I admire Tangerine Dream for their significant influence in these genres. They paved the way for many experimental musicians and have composed numerous film soundtracks, showcasing their unique sounds and creative approach.
Cluster embraced the essence of Krautrock by incorporating electronic soundscapes with experimental rock elements. Their collaboration with Brian Eno helped to solidify their presence in the music world and attract a larger audience who appreciated their innovative style.
Ash Ra Tempel
If you’re looking for cosmic and psychedelic sounds, Ash Ra Tempel is the perfect example of a Krautrock band that pushed the limits of the genre. Their fusion of electronic experiments and hypnotic guitar work has inspired countless ambient and experimental rock artists.
Popol Vuh is another Krautrock band that deserves recognition for their lasting impact on music. Their unique blend of ethnic instruments, electronic sounds, and spiritual themes has shaped the development of both ambient and New Age music genres.
As an individual musician, my hat goes off to Klaus Schulze. He played a crucial role in shaping the electronic music scene, both as a member of Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel, as well as with an extensive solo career.
His innovative use of synthesisers and composition techniques has left a lasting legacy in the world of Krautrock and beyond.
So there you have it, some of the most influential Krautrock bands and individual musicians to have impacted the music landscape.
While Krautrock began as a German movement in the 1960s and 1970s, its influence has undoubtedly spread worldwide, inspiring various artists and creating a lasting impression on music history.
Legacy of Krautrock
Influence on Electronic and Ambient Music Genres
Krautrock’s experimental and improvisational nature allowed artists like Brian Eno to create lasting ambient soundscapes that continue to influence contemporary music.
And the hypnotic rhythms (motorik) and innovative use of electronic instruments pioneered by the likes of Neu! paved the way for genres like techno and electro.
Impact on Contemporary German Music
Krautrock’s legacy extends beyond the electronic and ambient genres; it has left an indelible mark on contemporary German music as well.
By breaking away from traditional sounds and American pop influence, Krautrock bands like Can and Neu! helped establish a unique identity for German music.
They inspired many German musicians to continue pushing the boundaries of their craft. As a result, the influence of Krautrock can be heard in various progressive rock and post-rock artists today.
Global Reach and Admiration
When David Bowie moved to Berlin in the late 1970s, he was heavily influenced by the sounds of bands such as Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. This was only a piece of the key role Krautrock played in the German electronic music scene of the 1970s.
This period of Bowie’s career, known as the “Berlin Trilogy,” saw him experimenting with electronic and ambient music elements that were inspired by Krautrock.
As a result, the movement’s innovative approach to music-making has reached global audiences, solidifying its importance in the worldwide music community.
Krautrock has left a notable legacy on multiple music genres, contemporary German music, and the global music scene. It’s fascinating to see how this once-obscure movement became so influential in shaping the music that I love and connect with today.
Production and Technology in Krautrock
Use of Electronics and Synthesizers
Krautrock bands were not afraid to experiment, often using electronic instruments to create new and distinctive sounds.
Synthesisers, tape loops and other electronic devices became essential tools for these musicians as they explored psychedelic and avant-garde styles.
One of the reasons I find this genre so fascinating is that it perfectly illustrates the power of technology in transforming music and its possibilities.
Pioneering Recording Techniques
The innovation of Krautrock didn’t stop at its use of electronic equipment; the genre also pioneered several groundbreaking recording techniques.
They experimented with multitrack recording, echo and other effects to craft unique sonic landscapes.
In particular, these artists embraced tape looping, which involved recording a sound or musical phrase and repeating it continuously.
Looping technology played a crucial role in many Krautrock compositions, contributing to their hypnotic and transcendent qualities.
Role of Prominent Producers
I can’t discuss Krautrock’s production without mentioning the legendary producers who shaped the genre, including Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius.
Conny Plank, the visionary behind bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!, was an innovative producer who encouraged his artists to explore unconventional sounds and ideas.
Conny Plank: The Potential of Noise shows that his creativity and willingness to experiment helped define Krautrock as a genre.
Dieter Moebius, another prominent figure in Krautrock, was not only a talented musician but also a skilled producer.
As a member of Cluster and Harmonia, Moebius played a vital role in developing electronic music in Germany. His work with Brian Eno further solidified his status as a pioneer in the field.
In conclusion, the importance of Krautrock is deeply connected to its groundbreaking use of technology.
The use of electronics and synthesisers, the pioneering recording techniques employed and the invaluable contributions of prominent producers like Conny Plank and Dieter Moebius all underscore how the genre transformed the music world, leaving a legacy that reverberates to this day.