• ‘Neu Klang: The Definitive History of Krautrock by Christoph Dallach’ •

• Review by Richard Norris •

“Neu Klang is, a highly informative, valuable and nuanced addition to the krautrock canon,” writes Richard Norris in his review of ‘Neu Klang: The Definitive History of Krautrock by Christoph Dallach’ pubished by Faber and Faber.


There’s a fine tradition of using oral narrative as a structural device in music literature. Jonathan Green’s sixties overview, ‘A Day In The Life’, for example, or Gillian McCain and Legs McNeil’s enlightening punk rock tome ‘Please Kill Me’, have an energy, breadth and immediacy that most straightforward rock biographies find hard to achieve. It’s useful to have the different voices and memories of any scene or group laid out one after the other. It’s particularly engaging and refreshing when they contradict each other. Especially within the space of a single paragraph.

Christoph Dallach uses this technique to fine effect in Neu Klang, his informative oral history of the German music dubbed ‘krautrock’. It helps the participants stories deftly and naturally unpick previous kosmiche myth and bias with ease. The idea that this music was entirely focused on creating musical and cultural forms as a reaction to the war, something neither American or British, something distinctly European and new, is given a far more nuanced take than in previous works. There is, indeed, a desire for change, or as Harald Grosskopf puts it ‘we were against the uptight world and all the Nazi crap’, but that isn’t the whole story. We hear of Can’s Irmin Schmidt’s love of Bessie Smith and Big Bill Broonzy, his time in New York with Terry Riley and Steve Reich, and of the influence of the Velvet Underground on Can. Michael Rother from Neu! discusses his early love of the Beatles, Kinks and Rolling Stones. The impact of Radio Luxembourg and British Forces Radio on an entire generation of German teenagers. There’s also an affinity with new forms of jazz. Guru Guru’s Mani Neumeier wants to play ‘not just free jazz, but free music’. Xhol’s Klaus Briest talks of ‘letting everything flow and develop of its own accord, acting in the moment and following spontaneous inspiration.’ The many strains of music herein – many shades of long form, experimental, mainly instrumental music, born out of both communes and conservatories – echo this desire, influenced as much by the now, pushing things forward in real time, as a desire to escape the past.

It helps enormously that, unlike many previous overviews of this music, this book is written by a German. The interviews have a more immediate and intimate feel than many previously given to British journalists, no matter how empathetic.

There is a great sense of variety here. Some acts have ‘neither the necessity or the wish to talk theory about music’. Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos describes the band analysing a Tangerine Dream concert, ‘how they might prefer ternary time signitures, or how they didn’t pay attention to the diatonic aspect when they transposed their sequences.’ Faust record concrete mixers, steam hammers and a version of the Blue Danube where everyone swapped instruments, ‘which probably didn’t do much for the harmony.’

Neu Klang is not, as its strap line suggests, the ‘definitive history’ of the genre. Completists should head to the Freeman brothers encyclopaedic ‘A Crack In The Cosmic Egg’, while David Stubbs ‘Future Days’ offers more detail and expanse. Neu Klang is, however, a highly informative, valuable and nuanced addition to the krautrock canon.


‘Neu Klang: The Definitive History of Krautrock’ is out now.

‘Strange Things Are Happening’ by Richard Norris is published by White Rabbit Books and out now.