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Members include Werner Diermaier, drums; Hans-Joachim Irmler, organ; Arnulf Meifert, drums; Jean-Hervé Peron, bass; Rudolf Sosna, guitar, keyboards; Gunter Wusthoff, saxophone, synthesizer. Addresses: Record company--ReR Megacorp, 79 Beulah Rd. Thornton Heath, Surrey, CR7 8JG, U.K., E-mail: email@example.com.
Faust, renowned as the grandfather of all Krautrock bands, emerged in a cloud of mystery from the European student movement and the nascent German rock scene of the late 1960s. Its origins are not merely obscure, they are contradictory. According to the standard line put down over the years, the band was the brainchild of a journalist who single-mindedly constructed a group on order for a record company, a German Überband that was meant to establish the country's music amid the superstar American and British groups that had taken over international pop music in the late sixties.
If one buys this version, Faust was little more than the Euro-Monkees. That interpretation, however, is belied by the fierce independence Faust showed right from the get-go, the perversely strange and beautiful music that no journalist could have conceived, and a determination to make music on its own terms. So where did they really come from? There were two bands, it seems, in 1969 Hamburg. Or at least two groups of musicians, for they were not gigging at all, they were just hanging out together jamming. One group, Nukleus, included Jean-Hervé Peron, Rudolf Sosna and Gunther Wüsthoff; the other called itself Campylognatus Citelli and counted among its ten or so members Joachim Irmler and Werner "Zappi" Diermaier. The musicians in Nukleus were interested primarily in songs, while Campylognatus Citelli was experimenting with the effects of pure sound. Somehow they joined forces, introduced by Zappi's girlfriend.
An Upraised Fist
They did not commit to a new band all at once--there was first a short wait-and-see period to check each other out. But the five musicians--Irmler, Peron, Sosna, Wüsthoff and Diermaier--soon realized that their varying musical orientations --pure song vs. pure sound--complemented each other well. And if nothing else, they agreed wholeheartedly that they weren't interested in music that imitated the English and American blues-based rock bands then so popular in Germany. "First of all, we aren't blacks who express their suffering through the blues," Irmler told German Rock News's Carsten Agthe. "But we didn't have a thousand things pounded into our heads for nothing at school. We felt we should find a way to express all that."
The name they chose was an integral part of their German identity. On the one hand, it was the name of the most significant, famous work in German literature, whose like-named hero sells his soul to the devil for knowledge, but is redeemed in the end by the love of a good woman. On the other hand, the word means "fist," which linked the band to the radical worker's movement in twentieth century Germany, whose most important signal of solidarity was an upraised fist. That made clear the band's own radical politics--and aesthetics.
So Faust already existed on some level when journalist Uwe Nettelbeck entered the picture around 1970. Nettelbeck was from the German far-left scene. He had written on film and music for radical magazines, and his opinions and taste were highly respected. An executive at Polydor Records approached him about putting together a German group that could compete with Anglo-American bands. Somehow, Nettelbeck heard of Faust. Faust was glad for the encounter. They had already made up their minds to record for a big label which would give them access to a good studio and equipment and a place of their own where they could experiment with their music.
Nettelbeck arranged for a Faust demo which impressed Polydor enough for the label to OK the deal. When Nettelbeck took the news to Faust, they made a set of demands: They wanted a studio of their own, a year without any pressure to get some worthwhile music together, and complete artistic independence. Although Faust had not yet proven themselves a success, Polydor agreed on all counts. It paid to convert an old schoolhouse in Wümme near Hamburg into a studio. The label also paid for an engineer, Kurt Graupner, who lived in Wümme for extended periods of time. Graupner became a key figure in Faust. He designed and built their "black boxes"--effects boxes that were far in advance of anything then available commercially. Graupner's boxes enabled each member of Faust to electronically modify the sound of their own instrument or that of other band members' in real time. They could be used to record or live in concert.
An X-Rayed Fist
With nearly no effort expended, Faust had landed their ideal situation. They had a year to find themselves in a private studio. For the first six months, they did very little except play their instruments, make tapes, smoke pot, sleep in, and have daily breakfast in the huge, drained swimming pool behind their studio. Although he was under constant pressure from Polydor to produce a record, Nettelbeck held up his end of the deal and did not interfere. "It took what seemed ages before anything serious was produced," Nettelbeck later told Chris Cutler in the booklet to Faust: The Wümme Years. He eventually reminded them that the label expected a record at the end of a year, and for the last six months the band worked on one slowly.
But Faust did work hard on the record, night after night, and slowly side one took shape. Opening with fragments of the Stones' "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" emerging briefly from a cloud of electronic noise, Faust followed playing music that sounded like Karlheinz Stockhausen encountering Captain Beefheart. And then they ran out of ideas. "We worked very hard on this, it was the whole of side one, and then we just ran out of steam," Irmler told Cutler. "When the train came to a halt and we had no idea what to put on the second side, the inspiration came to me--we already have the second side!" He was thinking of the endless hours of tapes they made playing at the beginning of the long, leisurely year. The other band members told Irmler to do what he wanted. So working with Graupner, he stitched material from several sessions together, which became the second side of the album. The record that finally appeared in German record stores was called simply Faust, but it became known among fans as the "Clear Album." Everything was transparent--the clear vinyl record, the inner sleeve and the album jacket, which also bore a superimposed image of black X-rayed fist.
The album had not yet been released when Nettelbeck's Polydor contact suggested the group perform a show at the Hamburg Musikhalle in the autumn of 1971. Nettelbeck was concerned--the music on Faust could not be performed live. But he agreed. Faust took the stage at 8 p.m. The front rows of the hall were full of record company executives from around the world, in Europe for a company convention. However when Faust played their first notes not a sound was heard. The complicated surround sound the band tried to patch quickly together had failed. Some color TVs Faust had on stage were turned on for the audience while the problem was worked on; eventually though the audience was sent to a nearby bar and told to come back at 11 p.m. Even then things didn't work perfectly and the concert morphed instead into a happening with the audience on stage "performing" with the band. Polydor considered it a fiasco. Irmler later told Cutler it was "the only true concert we ever did."
To make matters worse, with early sales well under 1,000, Faust flopped resoundingly in Germany. Luckily, it quickly caught the fancy of the English music scene. The BBC's John Peel began playing the record regularly. Faust arrived in the United Kingdom with other weird-sounding German groups, such as Amon Duul, Can, Kraftwerk, and Tangerine Dream, and found themselves part of movement dubbed "Krautrock." Faust eventually sold some 20,000 copies in its first year or so, quite respectable numbers, except Polydor expected Faust to be the next Beatles, a group that could sell hundreds of thousands of records. In the wake of lousy sales and the disastrous Hamburg debut concert, Faust's days with Polydor seemed numbered. In desperation, Nettelbeck called a New Musical Express journalist, who happened to be a big fan of the group, and asked him to write a major story in praise of Faust. He did and it impressed Polydor enough to keep the label from pulling the plug on the band.
Faust was aware of their perilous position with the record company. The next record, 1972's So Far, was more structured, with plenty of nearly real songs, such as the opener, "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl"--one of Faust's most popular pieces--which owed a heavy debt to the Velvet Underground. Faust went on to make a third album for Polydor, Beyond the Dream Syndicate with Tony Conrad. But by that time the label was sure they would never be the Beatles. It began offering creative input. Seeing their precious independence on the block, Faust realized it was time to find a new record company.
Fists Full of Dollars?
Faust ended up at a newcomer label, Virgin Records. Their first release on Virgin, The Faust Tapes, was a collection of songs and outtakes recorded at Wümme between 1971 and 1973. It turned out to be Faust's most popular record yet in England--not least because it was sold at the budget price of only 48 pence. The first LP they recorded for the label wasn't nearly as successful. Forced to record in a strange, even hostile environment, far away from their personal studio in Wümme, the creative juices seemed to freeze. Making matters worse, band members were at an impasse with Virgin's head. Eventually two group members, on their own, put together the tapes that would become the new Faust record, Faust IV. A tour of the United Kingdom followed, but with only half the band. It looked like Faust was disintegrating.
Indeed, the members went their separate ways for a time. "When we stopped after the Virgin albums, I really had to stop everything," Irmler said in an interview at radio station KUSF. "Because of the money. They wanted a bigger influence in our music. But one of the other big laws of the Faust music was, that nobody should be allowed to say anything about music except the musicians. And it happened that the president of Virgin Records wanted a little bit of influence in the Faust music and he promised us big money."
Irmler took a break from the band. But later, his interest in music was renewed and he booked some time at a studio in Munich. The band worked there for a week and a half every evening until sunrise. "A music emerged that continued the idea of the first album but intensified it and brought it more to the point," Irmler told Cutler, "very dense but nevertheless incredibly loose." Virgin was contractually obliged to release one more album. But when Faust sent the tapes from Munich, the label refused to accept them. Worse, it refused to pay the studio bill and the mothers of Irmler and Sosna paid the large bill.
With that, Faust seemed to disappear. In the late 1970s, Recommended Records re-released some of the first Faust albums, and later released Munich & Elsewhere/Return of a Legend, an LP of music from the Munich session. In 1988, Recommended Records brought out The Last Album. The latter records were released together on the CD 71 Minutes. During the 1980s, Faust laid low, playing only occasional gigs. They resurfaced at the end of the decade. New records and tours of Europe and the United States followed, led sometimes by Peron, sometimes by Irmler. Never again did the full original line-up play together. In 1999 the band released the album Ravvivando on its own label. By that time, Sosna was dead and Peron had been kicked out of the band. Irmler could still boast to Agthe "Our latest album ... is more subtle than anything we did back then."
Faust had an influence on contemporary rock music. They've been called the founders of industrial music. It is hard to imagine avant-garde groups such as Throbbing Gristle, Caberet Voltaire or Einstürzende Neubauten--groups which themselves had a decisive impact on the sound of popular music in the 1980s and 1990s--existing in a world where Faust had never played. A plausible argument could also be made that Faust had a decisive influence on ambient and punk music as well. However, all the members of Faust have been modest about their roles as trendsetters. "We are avant-garde not as a style but just as an accident, not by purpose," Netteelbeck told Karl Dallas at the Faust website. "Just because some things we are doing nobody else is doing, it puts us in a position to be avant-garde but that's just accidentally. I don't rate such terms very high. It's just music."
by Gerald E. Brennan
Members of two groups of jamming musicians, Campylognatus Citelli and Nukleus, joined to form Faust, 1969; Uwe Nettelbeck obtains recording contract for Faust with Polydor Records, 1971; released first LP, Faust, 1971; recorded with Tony Conrad and Slapphappy, 1972; dropped by Polydor and picked up by Virgin Records, 1973; Faust IV released, 1973; Virgin refused to release tapes of Munich session or to pay for session, 1974; Faust stopped recording but continued to play occasional gigs, 1975-1987; Recommended Records began re-releasing Faust recordings, 1979; U.S. tour, 1994; Jean-Hervé Peron kicked out of band, 1999; Ravivvando released, 1999.
- Selected discography
- Faust Polydor, 1971; re-released, Recommended 1979; included in Faust: The Wümme Years Recommended Records, 2000.
- So Far Polydor, 1972; LP reissue, Recommended, 1979; CD reissue, Polydor, 1991; CD reissue, Cuneiform/Recommended, 1991; included in Faust: The Wümme Years Recommended Records, 2000.
- Outside the Dream Syndicate Caroline, 1972; CD reissue, Table of the Elements, 1995.
- Faust Tapes Virgin, 1973; LP reissue, Recommended, 1980; CD reissue, Cuneiform/Recommended REF2CD, 1991; included in Faust: The Wümme Years, Recommended, 2000.
- Faust IV Virgin, 1973; LP reissue, Virgin, 1993.
- Munich and Elsewhere/Return of a Legend Recommended, 1986; CD reissue on 71 Minutes of ... Recommended, 1989; included in Faust: The Wümme Years Recommended, 2000.
- The Last LP Recommended, 1989; CD reissue on 71 Minutes of ... Recommended, 1989; included in Faust: The Wümme Years Recommended, 2000.
- 71 Minutes of ... Recommended, 1989.
- Concerts 1: Live in Hamburg Table of the Elements, 1990.
- Concerts 2: Live in London Table of the Elements, 1992.
- Rien Table of the Elements, 1996.
- Untitled Private Release, 1996.
- YOU_KNOW_faUSt Klangbad, 1996.
- Ravivvando FRAV, 1999.
- Faust: The Wümme Years (5-CD box set), Recommended, 2000.
- German Rock News, http://germanrock.de/f/faust/interview.htm (March 12, 2001).
- Interview with Ira of the Rising Sun, http://www.goethe.de/uk/saf/radiogoethe/faustin.htm (March 12, 2001).
- Faust Website, http://www.sparc.spb.su/Avz/music/Faust/index.htm (March 12, 2001).
- Additional information was obtained from the Faust: The Wümme YearsCD booklet.
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