A Foolhardy Endeavour Pt.8

Can-Opener-front

Can – Opener (1976)

This one follows on from my last post about Kraftwerk and cheap artist anthologies which once served a very specific, if unintended purpose, for cash-strapped vinyl fiends.

After Kraftwerk, and unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool prog fan or just a bit weird and somehow got to Tangerine Dream or Faust first, Can is usually the second stop on any journey of kosmische discovery. Whether it’s the early, vaguely Velvets-ish garage rock mantras with Malcolm Mooney or the spacey, groove-laden and proto-ambient (and much more) stylings employed with Damo Suzuki, Cologne’s castle-dwelling misfits really do have something for everyone.

Of course, at the time I bought this, I was mainly after one thing. I must have picked it up some time in the nineties before the glut of Can reissues appeared, and having never seen any of their albums for anything approaching an affordable price, I was understandably excited seeing this compilation relatively cheap. I pulled it out of the rack in that covetous and over-eager manner one has when stumbling upon their personal equivalent of treasure, barely stopping to acknowledge the great/terrible punning title and pop art-referencing image as I flipped it over to see the tracklist. I may have even let out an audible and embarrassing “Yes!” as I discovered it contained ‘Vitamin C’, probably the funkiest of all Can tracks, the one you could play in a DJ set and people would say “What the fuck is this?” in the best way.

Like Elektro Kinetik, this LP brings together a selection of tracks from a short period in a band’s long life and again covers material from three albums*. Unlike the Kraftwerk collection though, this focusses on Can’s mid period/the closing of their golden years, with four tracks from the masterpiece Ege Bamyasi, two apiece from Future Days and the band’s first post-Damo and last great album Soon Over Babaluma. The gypsy-reggae-funk grooves of  ‘Dizzy Dizzy’ and ‘Come Sta, La Luna’ make them the most accessible moments from the latter, and combined with the proto-baggy-but-much-better-than-that ‘I’m So Green’ and ending with the floaty come down of ‘Future Days’ help to make up a consistent collection that, despite the odd assertion in the liner notes that Can are “still the most unsettling of all the German Groups”, could well have been called Can’s Big Party Hits Album. And we’ve all got drunk and sang along to Damo’s divine pidgin English chorus from ‘Spoon’ at some point, haven’t we? Well, perhaps we should.

“Doooon’t sit up-on the cha-ir when nobody wants to care!”

Can-Opener-back

*Perhaps bizarrely, this comp has recently been reissued on vinyl in its own right.

A Foolhearty Endeavour Pt.7

Kraftwerk - Elektro Kinetik - front cover

Kraftwerk – Elektro Kinetik (1981)

Kosmische/Krautrock seems to be an important rite of passage for almost every curious music head and most will have investigated at least two 70s German bands*, one of which will certainly be Kraftwerk, by the age of 25. In the pre-file sharing age of course, this required putting in a fair amount of effort; albums weren’t always available on CD and the originals were rarely cheap – Julian Cope’s hyper-enthusiastic 1995 book Krautrocksampler did wonders for the music, but not so much for those who were cash-strapped and wanted to get their hands on it. To get hold of many of these records, it was all about taping off your friend who usually dubbed them from a cool dad’s or elder sibling’s LP, or perhaps borrowing knackered copies from your local library, or if you were really lucky, buying them cheap when the library sold off all their vinyl.

There was always another way though. If you wanted certain tracks, or even just one, maybe for DJing with, second hand artist anthologies, like this Vertigo release from 1981, were the best option; you could get some relatively rare music and even play it out, without breaking the bank. And now records like this are somehow more alluring than the readily available, if expensive, pristinely packed ‘exact reproduction’ reissues of original albums. They represent, I’m sure for many like me, a kind of cultural purpose that exists in a hinterland between their current state of near-obsolescence and the original intentions (as introductory ‘brochures’ and extra income for record companies) behind their release.

I bought Elektro Kinetik a long time ago from House Of Rhythm, a second hand shop in Walthamstow, where I grew up. In fact, I may have bought it when it was still called Sounds Familiar, part of a chain that had another branch in Romford. I don’t remember the year and nothing really changed between the two names; the shop was always managed by a tall bloke whose semi-long, lopsided hairstyle made him look like a roadie for The Mission, though he always seemed to be playing 80s soul/boogie while he vigorously cleaned dusty discs, smoking constantly and occasionally sipping from a can of cheap lager. The other cheap constants were the price stickers they used, which were a complete bugger to get off cleanly, as illustrated by the terribly spoiled cover above.

The main reason I bought this one was the beautiful ‘Tanzmusik’ from the Ralf & Florian LP, the last of the ‘disowned’ Kraftwerk albums before the band’s self-acknowledged classic era began with Autobahn. The fact that the single version of the latter’s title track is included was a bonus for me. Also included is the second half of R&F‘s ‘Ananas Symphonie’, whose main theme is a wonderfully languid guitar (Yes, Kraftwerk, guitars!), which makes it more akin with Neu! or Ash Ra Tempel than Trans-Europe Express. Still, you can feel their style gradually edging away from the stretched out experiments of Kraftwerk 2  – a couple of great tracks from which are also on here – towards the more tightly focussed, strongly melodic and fully electronic sound they’re famous for. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the only reason Ralf & Florian sits outside of the sanctioned canon is the fact that Ralf still has long hair on the cover.

This marvellous performance of ‘Tanzmusik’ which features Wolfgang Flür, who isn’t on the record, shows the group were still performing it when on the cusp of their next phase:

Kraftwerk - Elektro Kinetik - back cover

*This one was going to a be kosmische double header, but you can wait for the next part.

Am I listening right?

For me, a great deal of great music sums up a time and place, whether that place is real or imaginary. And I’m not not talking about the nostalgic or sentimental trappings we impose on records ourselves, as important as those might be. No, records themselves are, no matter how original or forward-thinking they seem, as far as I can tell, always in and of their time (and all the better for it); even those that seemingly come out of nowhere. No record is actually “ahead of its time”, except perhaps, for Manuel Göttsching’s magnificent E2-E4 which is a clear 7 or 8 years younger than it should be. Its sound is so much in keeping with so much of the early house and Detroit techno* that emerged at the end of the eighties. I’m actually embarrassed that it took me so long to investigate this album.

So, now I’m thinking further about that aspect of extra-musical knowledge that comes with any record: the time when it was made. I’d be lying if I said that my impressions of E2-E4 aren’t at least mildly coloured by my astonishment at its date of creation (1981). This doesn’t take away from the magnificence of the actual sonic at all (which I won’t go into on this occasion) and it’s not the sole peg to hang any argument on, but time is most definitely in there, casting an unavoidable shadow.

accident

I could so easily trip onto very slippery Möbius strip of an argument here but I can’t help feeling that the aforementioned knowledge – and this probably goes for any record – adds to the thrill of discovery, whether you hear something when it’s new and completely original or are appreciating it after the fact. I know I’ve had a hard time evangelising to some about, say Ultramagnetic MCs’ Critical Beatdown or Slint’s Spiderland (I came to the latter two or three years after its release, but before the advent of Mogwai et al) to newcomers who are used to everything that has come in their respective wakes. On the other hand, I can remember having the exact same kind of flooring epiphany I experienced with these albums when I first heard the Velvet Underground, an act that were well and truly over by the time I was born. I could picture the New York streets, conjour images of the political climate, the art scene and all the band’s connections, understand (at least vaguely) VU’s ever-so-important outsider status vis-a-vis the mainstream of the counter culture (if that isn’t a contradiction in terms). This is why in one sense it’s a tremendous advantage of our age that we can access so much of recorded history so easily and also why the persistence of anachronistic styles and affectations can be so infuriating.

Yet all this said, it’s pleasantly bewildering that, in the case of E2-E4 you can’t quite picture all the extra-sonic baggage that would seem to fit the sounds spinning around your mind. There were no big raves and underground dance clubs when the album was actually made; there are no visions of sweat or bright lights to be had here. And somehow, via its absurd birthing and subsequent history (remade by Carl Craig etc), this record which genuinely does sounds a lot like a lot of others**, is utterly unique.

Some perfect “chill out room” material from Göttsching in his Ash Ra Tempel days:

*Of course, in the case of Sueño Latino’s self-titled rip-off Euro rave monster, it sounds, give-or-take an 808, exactly the same.

** Unlike, say Kraftwerk, whose relationship to the dance music continuum is also partly accidental and arbitrary and who sound a bit like a lot of records that they either did or didn’t inspire.