Last week we spent five days doing research and development on a new project. I worked with John Hunter, with Ju, Sarah and Liat from Blast Theory to explore the possibility of a new documentary work about the intersection between the Krautrock school of German music and the radical left wing opposition in West Germany from the late 1960s and 1970s.
We’ve explored this area before notably in Ulrike And Eamon Compliant, a piece of work we made for the Venice Biennale in 2009 and that work continues to tour in the shape of Dial Ulrike And Eamon Compliant, which is currently on show at SESC Pompeia in Sao Paulo. Some of this history is well known, particularly that of the Red Army Faction which was told in the film The Baader Meinhof Complex that came out a few years ago.
The reason I wanted to return to this area is because this intersection between art and politics seems particularly curious. In the late 1960s German society was ostensibly settled and very successful. The economic miracle of reconstruction after the Second World War was in full effect, democracy was safely restored and there was a new found confidence about German society. However, beneath that surface there were many stresses and strains. Many Nazis had made the transition into civilian life very smoothly and professions such as teaching, for example, were stocked with people with a Nazi past. In 1966 the two main parties in the West German government combined a form of coalition parliament; in so doing making a single government with 95% of the seats in the Bundestag. In that context a wave of opposition – at times peaceful. at times broad based – grew into prominence as strongly in West Germany as it did in other parts of Europe and the US. That period really lasts from 1967 to 1977 which coincides with the broad history of the Krautrock movement, which begins in 1967 and 1968 and really takes off around 1970-1971 and has produced its finest works by the late 1970s.
There were striking parallels and connections between the two scenes, in some cases directly. So for example, Uschi Obermaier was a renowned activist and also a member of Amon Düül II, one of the early Krautrock bands which itself sprang out of a commune.
As the collectivism of the late 1960s gave a way to a more isolated and fragmented terrain in the 1970s, you can see this expressed in political terms in groups such as the Red Army Faction, the 2 June movement, the Revolutionary Cells and in musical terms in bands such as Cluster, Can and later on, NEU! and Kraftwerk. This is not to suggest that there is a simple link between the two worlds; we want to investigate the gaps as much as the connections.
The work we did last week was to look at telling this history in a documentary form using a combination of photographs from the period, small amounts of video and music from some of these bands. We explored telling the story chronologically in a simple and direct way. We want to allow the counterpoint between the music and the political events to tell their own story. We showed about 30 minutes of material to a handful of invited guests on Friday, and if you’re interested to see that material by all means get in touch with me via our contact page