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The Germans and their Music: Krautrock

Written by Sabine Küper on . Posted in Footprints


Krautrock is a genre of rock and electronic music that originated in Germany in the late 1960s, with a tendency towards improvisation on minimalistic arrangements. The term was popularized in the English-speaking press. Later, German media started to use it as a term for all German rock bands from the late 1960s and 1970s, while abroad the term specifically referred to more experimental artists who often used synthesizers and other electronic instruments.

The word krautrock was originally a humorous one coined in the early 1970s by the UK music newspaper Melody Maker , in which experimental German bands found an early and enthusiastic following, and ironically retained by its practitioners. The term derives from the ethnic slur “kraut” (referring to the dish Sauerkraut), and its use by the music press was inspired by a track from Amon Düül’s Psychedellic Underground titled “Mama Düül und Ihre Sauerkrautband Spielt Auf” (‘Mama Düül and her Sauerkrautband Strike Up’). Amon Düül began in 1967 as a radical political art commune of Munich-based artists calling themselves, in part, after the Egyptian Sun God Amon.


Krautrock is an eclectic and often very original mix of post-psychedelic jamming and experimental rock mixed with ideas from contemporary experimental classical music (especially composer Karlheinz Stockhausen) and from the new experimental directions that emerged in Jazz during the 1960s and 1970s. 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.

Typical bands dubbed “krautrock” in the 1970s included Tanngerine Dream, Faust, Amon Düül, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Kraftwerk and Cluster. Bands such as these were reacting against the post-World War II cultural vacuum in Germany and tending to reject Anglo-American popular culture in favour of creating their own more radical and experimental new German culture and identity, and to develop a radically new musical aesthetic.

By the early 1970s experimental West German rock styles had crossed the border into East Germany, and influenced the creation of an East German rock movement referred to as Ostrock. On the other side of the Wall, these bands tended to be stylistically more conservative than in the West, to have more reserved engineering, and often to include more classical and traditional structures (such as those developed by  Kurt Weil and Bertolt Brecht in their 1920s Berlin theatre songs. These groups sang in German, often featuring poetic lyrics loaded with indirect double-meanings and deeply philosophical challenges to the status quo. The best-known bands representing these styles in the GDR were The Pudhys and Karat.

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