25 August 2014

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany
My own introduction to Krautrock probably came via listening to Kraftwerk. Like The Beatles, Kraftwerk's music has always felt like it has always just been around, as if it has always existed and appeared fully formed not attached to any kind of time or place; their robotic tentacles have infiltrated and shaped so much modern music, that it's hard to escape their influence. 

It's Kraftwerk whose presence looms large over this book as one of the very few Krautrock bands from 1970s Germany to break out of the scene and make it internationally during their hey-day. Many of the other bands at the time didn't really gain any kind of recognition, aside from a few music press types, until 20 or 30 years later. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs charts the the rise of a certain type of experimental band that cropped-up throughout Germany in the late 1960s and early 70s who became tagged as 'Krautrock' by the Western music press. 

Stubbs attempts to frame the movement within a social and historical context, and although this does make for some meandering narrative at times (the overwhelming length of the prologue is enough to put you off from reading the rest of the book), the book does make a worthy effort to try and understand just how these bands came about and why it too so long for their influence to take hold. 

The book is divided into chapters that focus on individual bands or scenes. Therefore we get sections that focus on Can, Kraftwerk, Amon Duul 2, Faust, Neu!, Cluster, the bands of the Berlin scene such as Tangerine Dream, plus David Bowie's involvement and interest in much of this experimental German music at the tail end of the 70's, with Stubbs explaining in a very enthused way how these bands came about and just how different and exciting their music was. 

The music that became known as Krautrock was unlike anything else that came before it and was unique to Germany - which that was the point. As Future Days goes in to great detail explaining, all of these bands came about because the musicians wanted to create a new culture, a fresh-identity for a post-war Germany, one that didn't take from the West, specifically America. 

What was also unique about Krautrock was that it wasn't a scene based around particular city, venue or sound. Many of these bands formed independently from one another, but everyone involved happened to have similar mindset and goals - To create something new. 

Stubbs explains how these disparate groups created their unique music, fitting the groups in to the culture of the times, while drawing a line to much of the popular modern music we listen to today and how it has been shaped by the gradually percolating influence of Krautrock. If this does make the text and narrative somewhat cumbersome at times, you do feel that there is too much attempting to contextualise at points, the book does a rewarding job of explaining where this music fits in to modern musical culture. 

This is a well researched book, Stubbs getting time to speak to many of the people who are involved in this music first hand, and his passion for the music is obvious throughout. From a personal point of view, the chapter on Kraftwerk is some of the best writing about Kraftwerk I've ever read, and he eloquently states just how much their music changed the music landscape creating the foundation for modern pop and hip hop. 

The text and narrative may feel sprawling in places, but David Stubbs makes a good effort of a difficult task - explaining the rise of these various groups who were very different from each other. For a good overview and introduction to a scene whose influence wouldn't break through in to the mainstream conscious until 30 years after it came and went, it feels like an essential read and will no doubt become a standard text for people wanting to learn more about Krautrock alongside Julian Cope's influential Krautrocksampler. 

Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany by David Stubbs is out via Faber & Faber. 

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