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Posts Tagged ‘Electric Orange. Frank Zappa’

Krautrock 2 cover

A documentary film by José Zegarra Holder and Adele Schmidt
Produced by Zeitgeist Media LLC
Featuring: Amon Düül II, Xhol Caravan Witthüser & Westrupp, Guru Guru, Electric Orange, Popol Vuh, Kraan. Special appearance: Alan and Steve Freeman.
Total time: 123 min.

The early months of 2021 bring the second part of the Krautrock film trilogy – the fourth instalment of the ongoing Romantic Warriors documentary series, crafted with love, dedication and expertise by Washington DC-based filmmakers Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder. Though the film was expected much earlier, its completion was – just like everything else – impacted by the events of 2020, a leap year on steroids if ever there was one.

As already anticipated, the second episode of the trilogy deals with bands and artists from Munich and other parts of southern Germany. While Krautrock 1 focused on the “mind”, Krautrock 2 concentrates on the “body” and the “heart” – the physical and emotional components of the music. Some of these differences jump out right from the opening sequence – an aerial view of the city of Essen, the setting of the legendary festival known as Essener Songtage (Essen Song Days) in September 1968, followed by a skilful collage of archival photos, live footage and interview snippets that gives a brief but tantalizing outline of the film’s main content.  

Compared to its more intellectual predecessor, Krautrock 2 is colourful and almost brash (as reflected in the cover artwork, courtesy of the filmmakers’ daughter, Paloma Zegarra Schmidt), packed with exotic imagery and wild live performances, as well as explicit references to LSD and other mind-altering substances. Plenty of footage from recent shows bears witness to the scene’s enduring vitality, almost 50 years later, as well as the infectious enthusiasm of the musicians involved. In fact, it could be said that Krautrock 2 is dominated by the captivating personalities of its protagonists: many of these artists are still very much active as performers, clearly enjoying every minute of it.

From the trippy, spaced-out offerings of Amon Düül II and Xhol Caravan to the intricate, bass-driven jazz-rock of Kraan, through the weird psych folk of Witthüser & Westrupp, Guru Guru’s forays into free jazz and avant-garde, and Popol Vuh’s haunting, ethnic-tinged mysticism, the film spotlights the stunning diversity of the Krautrock scene. Prolific “neo-Krautrock” outfit Electric Orange (who made a brief appearance in Krautrock 1) represent the continuity between the original scene and its modern followers. All recent performances were filmed in 2016 at the Finkenbach Festival, the “Woodstock of Odenwald”, which in 2021 will celebrate its 39th edition. US viewers will not fail to be reminded of the setting and atmosphere of ProgDay – only with a much larger crowd, and a much greater local involvement.

One of the film’s strengths lies in the interviews, which are as entertaining as they are informative. Renate Knaup, one of progressive rock’s first frontwomen, shines with her warm, vibrant presence and joyful outlook.  As a mature woman, Renate is every bit as charismatic as she was in her dark, smouldering salad days, with her stylish clothes and statement jewellery. In the footage captured at Finkenbach, she commands the stage, interacting with the audience and the rest of the band with genuine relish.  A former, self-described “shy girl”, Germany’s answer to Grace Slick has successfully managed to carve a role for herself in the midst of an all-male ensemble, becoming an indispensable piece of the Amon Düül II mosaic. At the end of the interview, her words about staging a revolution against the negativity that surrounds us demolish the old, tired trope according to which all Baby Boomers have turned complacent or just plain reactionary in their “golden years”.

Indeed, the protagonists of Krautrock 2, rather than just grow old gracefully, seem to have discovered the fountain of youth. Mani Neumeier, who turned 80 on the last day of 2020, looks physically fit, and brimming with enthusiasm. The core trio of Kraan are captured performing with the energy and zest of people half their age. Moreover, all the interviewees in Krautrock 2 seem to gleefully debunk the stereotype (sadly still widespread, especially in Southern Europe) of the dour, humourless German: Hellmut Hattler’s impish mien, Renate Knaup’s infectious love of life, Daniel Fichelscher’s enthusiastic “mad scientist” presence do not only add entertainment value, but project each of these artists as well-rounded, genuine human beings.

Not everything, however, is bright lights, gaudy colours, and freewheeling hippie lifestyle. Some rather disturbing original footage depicts violent clashes between police and demonstrators: in their grainy black-and-white, those images are a stark reminder of the tensions underlying the outpouring of artistic creativity of those years. In the late Sixties, the whole Western world, not just West Germany, was riddled with social and political conflict – as pointed out by the razor-sharp commentary (still valid more than 50 years later) by none other than Frank Zappa, a major influence and icon (as Walter Westrupp puts it, like “the man in the moon”) for many Krautrock artists. Another uncannily prescient link with recent events – though the documentary was filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic turned the whole world upside down – appears in the shape of a song about a deadly plague that “ate the rich and ate the poor”, which bookends the section dedicated to Witthüser & Westrupp.

Rather interestingly, the section about Popol Vuh is sandwiched between two sections heavy on live footage – Electric Orange and Kraan – emphasizing the contrast between this unique musical project’s erudite, somewhat introspective approach (which resulted in very rare live appearances) and the dynamic physicality of the other bands. In a scene packed with outstandingly creative individuals, the late Florian Fricke stands out as a man with all the makings of a Romantic artist –with his striking profile, framed by a head of burnished curls, and dandy-like dress sense. The filmmakers use archival photos, audio and video recordings in which Fricke expounds his view of music and art to great effect. In some ways, the subdued mood of this section reminded me of the third Romantic Warriors film – the one dedicated to the Canterbury scene, many of whose protagonists, like Fricke, died well before their time. Fricke’s personality is maybe best summed up by Renate Knaup’s terse statement about his not wanting to grow old: once Popol Vuh fizzled out, the composer’s own creativity followed suit, and soon it was “game over” for him.

A detailed commentary on the music (and the artwork) featured in the film is offered by Alan and Steve Freeman, the duo of brothers behind Ultima Thule Records and Audion Magazine (thankfully still in operation as online-only concerns). The Freeman brothers hail from a rather different milieu – the somewhat grim-looking city of Leicester, in central England. Compared to the picturesque views of Munich’s bustling streets, Ulm’s quaint medieval architecture, or Finkenbach’s misty hills and green fields, those brief shots of Leicester – with the defunct brick-and-mortar record shop now turned into a convenience store – look somewhat depressing. The brothers’ commitment, however, is definitely uplifting: behind Alan Freeman’s cherubic face and unflappable Britishness lurks a profound, informed knowledge of the whole Krautrock scene.

As a whole, Krautrock 2 comes across as more focused on the personal rather than the technical; a generous helping of entertaining anecdotes helps to paint a vivid picture of those heady years. Some of the stories told in the interviews hint at the sheer ingenuity of the musicians – such as the funny tale about the cricket related by the irrepressible Skip van Wyck, former drummer of Xhol Caravan (and the only non-German artist to appear in the film).  

To wrap up this rather lengthy essay, I cannot but repeat what I wrote at the end of my review of the first film in the trilogy: Krautrock 2 is essential viewing for anyone interested not just in the music, but also the history and culture behind it. It will, however, provide a rewarding viewing experience to everyone – even to committed fans of very different subgenres of progressive rock. On a personal level, both Krautrock films have helped me to gain an appreciation of the music that had previously eluded me. Now we can only steel ourselves to wait patiently for 2023, when Krautrock pt. 3 – dedicated to the Berlin scene – is slated to be released.

Links:

www.progdocs.com

http://www.zeitgeistmedia.tv/

http://www.ultimathulerecords.com/main.html

http://www.ultimathulerecords.com/audion.html

https://finkenbach24.de/index.php/finkenbach-festival.html

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