An almost mythical book talking about a rather mythical genre and a “mythical” band. In Julian Cope‘s out-of-print but may or may not be re-printed Krautrocksampler (fancy a mint copy? Yours for £200 from certain websites), Cope says: “There is no group more mythical than Faust… I could not tell you the names of the group members off the top of my head. And I could not tell you the names of all their songs, though I know them all better than almost everything else in my record library.”
Cope goes onto add that Faust were – are – a concept band conceived through a conversation held between A&R man Kurt Enders and music journalist Uwe Nettelbeck, with Enders remarking that there was room for “the extreme West German rock music in the international rock ‘n’ roll sphere”.
From there, Nettelbeck ultimately becomes a Krautrock impresario, its Simon Fuller. He spent the record company advance on converting an old schoolhouse in Wümme, a village between Hamburg and Bremen, into a recording studio and merged two small bands to form ‘Fist’ – Faust. He also became their producer. Their debut album featured an x-ray of a fist on its cover and was on clear transparent vinyl. “Regardless of the music within,” said John Peel, “I had to acquire one.” All rather Popmusik in a sort of subversive sense.
Now, some 44 years after being formed, they’re just as conceptual. Founder members – guitarist Jean-Hervé Peron and the intimidating, corpulent figure of Zappi Diermaier pounding away on drums and, when live, using a sander against some sheet metal (Cope makes no mention of either in Krautrocksampler, making it further seem like the Nettelbeck show but I guess he didn’t know their names) – have produced 12 tracks that perfectly encapsulate what they can do so well: to create catchy, bizarre sounds. It’s Popmusik/subversive all over again.
Album opener Gerubelt has a bass line akin to Serge Gainsbourg‘s L’Hôtel Particulier from Histoire De Melody Nelson: menacing, sinister but yet oddly tempting to the ear. It vibrates and echoes while Diermaier pounds his toms, ride and clatters his sticks; it all sounds very congested and confined, like it’s been recorded in a small, padded cell, with the sound not allowed to escape. That’s even more so once Peron introduces his guitar, with distorted and smothered guitar against slightly more clearer sounding and intricate work.
Sur Le Ventre is reminiscent of Faust IV in its ability to captivate and, yes, sound catchy. Yet to cite Gainsbourg/Melody Nelson again, there’s something sleazy and seductive about it; the French-speaking Peron speaks above the tempting, dirty-cum-swaggering bass that gives you an urge to thrust to – or at least tap your foot against. This is counteracted well by the one-minute long Cavaquiño, which has a sort of wholesome Hispanic sound featuring just acoustic guitar and snare tom. Meanwhile, Gammes has a rather upbeat North African/Moroccan feel that initially starts out rather calm and relaxed, gradually increasing in tempo before reaching a more hectic crescendo. All feels rather world music-like which, in turn, is rather refreshing. Very unimprovised as well.
That soon goes away, though, with more surreal and improvised Nähmaschine – Sewing Machine – and the later Ich Bin Ein Pavian – or I Am A Baboon. Nähmaschine is sparse, resurrects that enclosed and almost claustrophobic sense of space and features one full minute of what sounds like a sewing machine running at different speeds; while Ich Bin Ein Pavian brings with it that inevitable primal sense through Diermaier’s toms and Peron’s shouts of “Ich Bin Ein Pavian!”, which sound like they were recorded while he was concealed inside a wooden box à la Scott Walker. Perhaps an expression of one’s captivity and inability to live their name-sake. Who can say, it’s conceptual. Yet the Just Us title begins to make sense: the hugely enclosed nature of everything, no-one else getting in or out.
The seven-minute long Palpitations is more industrial in its leanings with more tribal thuds and clashes of drums, equally thudding loops of synth and 30-odd seconds of high-pitched organ at the end. But this is soon countered by the closing track Ich Sitze Immer Noch, which brings the album to a rather harmonious, dare one say it tranquil, conclusion: simple picks at the electric guitar, measured quiet drumming and then a long outro of sampled rainfall. Sanders on sheet metal this isn’t.
Some five decades on from forming, Faust are still doing what they’ve done so well: never predictable, impossible to pin down, yet more often than not always enjoyable. There’s still more than a place for that extreme German rock music in the international rock ‘n’ roll sphere.