Experimental rock music scene flourishing in the early and mid 1970s mainly in Berlin, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Munich and Cologne. Dubbed ‘Krautrock’ by its fans in the British music press (who nowadays reassure one another that the German musicians involved took no offence!). Its origins in the 1960s student movement gave it a political hue expressed in the communal social organisation of some of the bands, and sometimes in their music. Influenced by psychedelia, the electrocuted New York vision of the Velvet Underground, and the more austere manifestos of Karlheinz Stockhausen and minimalism. Partly by manifesting a sense of humour, the music avoided the pomposity and superstar affectations plaguing British and American ‘progressive’ rock. With hindsight, it was also a more important contribution to the recognisably artistic edge of popular culture, a contribution whose influence has resurfaced repeatedly, most notably in the punk explosion of the mid to late 1970s and the hip-hop culture of the 1980s. In the latter, Kraftwerk take their place alongside James Brown as progenitors of contemporary dance/club culture.

A run-down of the best-known bands follows.

Amon Düül II, an offshoot from the communal band Amon Düül, produced wild, driving, primitive rock influenced by the longer psychedelic trips of the Pink Floyd.

Can, whose membership included classically-trained musicians, initially pursued an experimental approach, developing new modes of expression. Strongly influenced by the Velvet Underground, partly in their use of vocals as effects, rather than information channels. But the bizarre vocals and song-structures mean that some of their early albums are probably more fêted than played. Even when toning down the radicalism for chart singles, they failed completely to tarnish their early avant-garde reputation.

The anarchic and fractured approach of Faust incorporated elements of many musical styles, sometimes presented in a cut-up format. Uncomfortable listening alternated with sublimely beautiful song elements presented within unfamiliar structures.

The first couple of Kraftwerk albums, produced before they became the purest (albeit ironical) expression of modernist technological romanticism, exhibit a flailing but challenging experimentalism.

Neu! clearly prefigured punk in their concise, repetitive but highly-charged short pieces.

Popol Vuh, consistently interesting, went through several phases which explored the possibilities of ‘world music’ years before the concept was coined. At their best, perhaps, on the 1972 acoustic album ‘Hosianna Mantra’, but better-known for providing the soundtracks to more than one Werner Herzog film, most notably the lush Amazonian dreamscape of ‘Aguirre, Wrath of God’.

The early albums of Tangerine Dream, who quickly developed into a synthesizer-only band, achieve a superb balance of experimentalism and hearer-friendliness. (Enjoy the portentous song titles too!). Unfortunately, their move to the Virgin Record label and the subsequent success of ‘Phaedra’ (1973) betokened a shift into unthreatening Jean-Michel Jarre territory.

Some of the bands (Kraftwerk, Popol Vuh) never really went away; others (Can, Tangerine Dream) faded or split; and recently reactivated versions of others (Faust, Amon Düül II, Neu!) are still around. It is ironic that although ‘Krautrock’ has few identifiable roots in the traditions of black music, it should have provided many of the technologically-driven beats behind Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata, and others which reinvigorated dance music in the early 1980s.


Cope, J. (1995). Krautrocksampler, London: Head Heritage. (Superb enthusiast’s introduction which revealed Kosmische Musik to new generations of fans).

Freeman, S. and Freeman, J. (1996). The Crack in the Cosmic Egg, Leicester: Audion Publications. (Definitive discography, history, and geography of the scene).