“So you’re telling me you’re actually into this stuff?”
Yes, we nod.
“Isn’t a bit challenging for you girls? A bit too experimental? I thought your generation was into songs about I don’t know – heartbreak and parties?”
Not really. I’m not sure what he means. I make up some twaddle about how you can be ‘into’ both love songs and 70s German experimental rock just to get him to shut up.
We haven’t even entered the gig and already I’m feeling slightly out of place.
I’d been waiting to go to this concert for months. It’d been cancelled back in June and I had a gut feeling they were going to just call it all off.
We were seeing Faust, one of the major Krautrock bands of the 70s. They’d released four albums before breaking up in 1974. The idea was they’d be playing the entirety of the fourth (imaginatively titled Faust IV and responsible for them losing their Virgin Records deal) all the way through with a string quartet. I wasn’t too sure how this was going to work out, largely because 2/4 members were dead.
The venue was perfect – a Neo-Gothic church plastered in stained glass windows, with mezzanine seating and pointed stone arches.
After scouting out the stiff, slightly pretentious crowd and knocking back a couple glasses of wine – no drinks allowed inside the chapel – we shuffle along to our pews. It’s like being in a mythical magic show my friend whispers to me as the smoke machine plunges us all into anticipatory oblivion. Beams of purple light stream out of the altar. I hold my breath.
After ten minutes of clattering and tuning instruments on stage, Jean-Hervé Peron – one of Faust’s original members – calls out to the audience. With his arms outstretched and his wiry silvery beard, its all feels a bit quasi-Biblical. Is he The Second Coming?
After briefly describing Faust’s history, he goes on to make sensitive comments regarding the fallout of the pandemic, the chronic estrangement of society, the general state of apathy we all seem to live by and the role music has to play in helping rectify it all. It doesn’t feel trite or tokenistic. It’s refreshingly honest and vulnerable. Peron’s daughter is playing with Faust tonight and wears an anti-police ‘ACAB’ t-shirt. Political expression is built into Faust’s identity. Born out of the 60’s student revolutions and radical politics, Faust means ‘fist’ and Peron describes it as a ‘symbol for the revolution the band thought [they] were part of’.
The revolution Faust envisaged never materialised, but their music was always rebellious and experimental. They open the gig with the first song on the album, ‘Krautrock’. 12 minutes of relentless, interstellar fuzzy rock. Waves of electronic beats crash and fall. The acoustics reverberate around the chapel sending the audience into a heady trance as we impulsively nod our heads in Kraut solidarity. The song makes heavy use of the distinctive Krautrock 4/4 Motorik beat pioneered by Can’s drummer Jaki Liebezeit. There’s a mechanical drive to the song. It feels industrial, modern and optimistic.
A lot of people trace Faust’s influences back to early Velvet Underground records and albums like Pink Floyd’s Meddle, but there’s an unfamiliar transcendence that sets them apart. Krautrock is largely known as ‘kosmische musik’ (‘space rock’) in Germany. And it’s true, Faust’s songs do have an ethereal cosmic quality to them. A favourite of mine, ‘Jennifer’ features gentle guitar arpeggios, organs, and bass drones. Peron’s daughter chimes in with the triangle, elegantly sending space-age waves around the church. I don’t even register my eyes closing..
I could list every song they played (‘Giggy Smile’ was also epic), but it seems slightly redundant and besides the point. I think above all else what struck me was the palpable amount of love amongst those playing. Krautrock is described as “where American psychedelica meets icy Germanic detachment” but there’s nothing emotionless about Faust’s music or stage presence. They visibly endorse each other and there’s room for experimentation. One of the part-time vocalists and percussionists spent the whole gig lying on the floor reading a book.
At the end of the gig Peron spends at least ten minutes introducing the twelve or so performers, pointing out how six decades separates the youngest performer (18) from the eldest. Members of the avant-pop bands Slapp Happy (Anthony Moore) and Henry Cow (Chris Cutler) are part of Faust tonight. I reckon it’s almost better than the original lineup. All musicians seem to be genuinely beaming with happiness from start to finish. This is what live music should be.
As we stumble out of the church in a silent epiphanic haze, there’s an unspoken consensus that we’ve all just witnessed something pretty special.
My friend bumps into the man we’d met at the start sceptical of our appreciation for Faust.
“Bet that tested your patience?”
“No actually, it didn’t. It’s the easiest music in the world. All you’ve got to do is sit back, listen and let it wash over you.”
I think she’s got a point.
Featured Image: my own