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Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations) - Romantic Warriors IV: Krautrock, Part I CD (album) cover


Various Artists (Concept albums & Themed compilations)


Various Genres

4.00 | 4 ratings

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4 stars Even among adventurous Progheads (a majority, one hopes), the subversive variations of Krautrock can be an acquired taste. The word describes an attitude more than a set of stylistic conventions, and the range of music is simply too broad to fit our usual pigeonholes, crossing the boundaries of post-rock, space-rock, jazz, ambient electronica, ethnographic raga, industrial noise, and other territories too remote or frightening to identify by name.

And there's a vital historical context to consider also, deeply rooted in the anger of a restless post-war generation of kids unable to abide the crimes of their parents, or the cultural hegemony of their Anglo-American occupiers after 1945. In short: it's a genre of music that requires an explanation rather than a simple definition, and to their credit the co-directors of the ongoing "Romantic Warriors" film cycle avoid doing either.

Don't expect a traditional documentary, with a disembodied third-person narrator reciting all the pertinent facts and dates ("the truth of accountants", as Werner Herzog would say). The film instead is structured as an oral history, related in simple talking-head interviews with the musicians who were at the front of the Krautrock barricades a half-century ago, and with younger artists carrying that torch forward into the new millennium.

Archival footage from the 1970s is included, but only in illustrative snippets: an early Floh de Cologne performance; a rare Klaus Dinger interview from his halcyon La Düsseldorf years; a television gig by the pre-robot Kraftwerk, with new hire Wolfgang Flür sporting an incongruous mustache ("I was a hippy at that time", he ruefully admits). You can probably find most of these clips on YouTube: the ramshackle necropolis for all our cultural daydreams. But they work better when seen in a narrative setting, as fascinating keyhole glimpses into Krautrock's unruly adolescence.

But it's the memories of the participants that make the film such an invaluable document. And the directors enjoyed impressive access to some major players: Irmin Schmidt; Jaki Liebezeit; Malcolm Mooney (who claims he left Can because he couldn't find Louisiana Hot Sauce in Germany!); Michael Rother; Jean-Hervé Peron and Werner 'Zappi' Diermeier of Faust...among many others.

Some of them might be unfairly regarded today as minor sidekicks: Eberhard Kranemann for example, who figured in the embryonic, overlapping biographies of both Kraftwerk and Neu! But as an articulate firsthand witness to changing times he shares some of the film's best anecdotes, and his impersonation of John Coltrane (blink and you'll miss it) is priceless.

The filmmakers remain invisible throughout, never once inserting themselves into their interviews, instead letting the musicians (the "sound-carriers", in Damo Suzuki's memorable phrase) tell their stories without interference. But they nevertheless draw some implicit, important connections between then and now: classic Can and the nomadic career of Damo Suzuki today; the spiritual link between the earlier improvisational Kraftwerk and the new Kranemann/Harald Großkopf collaboration Krautwerk; the evolution of La Düsseldorf into the sadly abbreviated Japandorf; the Faust/FaUSt dichotomy.

Electric Orange is briefly featured, and Stephan Plank (son of the legendary Conny, and the spitting image of his dad) is here too. The implications are never overtly stated, but should be obvious: Krautrock was a product and a portrait of its time, but fifty years later has yet to show its age.

The film is over two-hours long, and still only manages to barely penetrate the surface of a very deep ocean, skipping like a flat stone over still water: from Cologne to Düsseldorf to Hamburg. The ace Zeitgeist Media team of Adele Schmidt and José Zegarra Holder have released other entries in their "Romantic Warriors" film cycle, profiling the Canterbury sound and the Post-Rock scene, each on a single disc. But fear not: their examination of Krautrock needed a wider net, and this is only the first chapter of a proposed three-part saga, with future installments continuing the journey of remembrance through Munich, Wiesbaden, Berlin and beyond.

Fans of the many featured bands will eat it up, of course. But even newcomers lacking a palate for Krautrock's enduring power and deep musical legacy should appreciate the aim behind the project: to preserve, before it's too late, the personal testimony of influential artists who never received the historical recognition they deserved.

Neu!mann | 4/5 |


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