I am 17 minutes and 58 seconds into Can’s 37-minute long minute ‘Colchester Finale’ from the double album Can Live Music (Live 1971–1977). From an exploratory, noisy beginning the band have now fully arrived at their one-and-only James Brown-via- Cologne groove, and singer Damo Suzuki is digging in to his perfectly dystopian soul revue atop the dancing sound of colleagues Jaki Leibezeit, Michael Karoli and Holger Czukay. Fuck, I love this!
David Stubbs’ Future Days does what all good books about music should do: it sends you right back to the music itself. And, being as well researched and written as it is, Stubbs’ book sends you back to it armed with new knowledge, so you have an even deeper understanding of it. In fact, the book is a cornucopia of information and an education for anyone even vaguely interested in the singular, motorik, at times mesmeric, at others hypnagogic music that poured out of West Germany for a decade from the late ’60s, with added revelations to sate even the most hardcore aficionado. We learn, for example, the strange and sad story of the Ohr Records’ founder, living anonymously with his mother for two decades after starting the key Krautrock imprint; we also learn about bands such as the painfully obscure Limbus, who did not enjoy ‘even the modest success of some of their experimental contemporaries’; Stubbs adroitly pointing out that this ‘suggests that either they went too far, or simply that they weren’t all that good.’ Indeed!
For my money, I would have perhaps preferred a somewhat tighter focus to the book – interesting as it is, the post-punk Neue Deutsche Welle coverage feels like information on a fundamentally different world to Krautrock’s central axis of Can, Neu! and Kraftwerk. Stubbs’ understandable difficulty – as he elegantly flags up in his introduction – is how, even though all the groups could be conveniently labelled Krautrock, they exhibit fundamental differences in their music and approaches. For example, Kraftwerk’s metamorphosis into world beating hip hop-spawning pop gods is beyond, and different in nature, to the equally deft but far more covert, under-the-radar work of Can or Neu!
But what the book does provide is the first truly definitive and exhaustive overview of one of the most remarkable worlds that rock music has given us. When the counter-cultural musical revolution reached West Germany in the late 1960s, something extraordinary happened: in trying to do ‘their’ version of the blossoming rock music coming over from the US and the UK, a clutch of musicians in the FDR created something unique and an enduringly influential musical legacy, unlike, and moving far beyond, any of its antecedents. Subsequent bands of stylish, arty note, such as Stereolab and Broadcast, owe much of their identities to the blueprint created in the 1970s by Krautrock’s musical pioneers. What’s more, the stylistic tropes of classic Kraut, particularly the distinctive motoric groove first laid down by Neu!, is still a valid musical signifier for any hip young band coming out of the latest bohemian basements of East London. Thus, this book will be required reading for all aspiring (and aging) hipsters for a long time to come.