OF FLEAS AND FAUST

Like a down-market department store for heads and hippies, Goesunder Flea Market in the heart of Melbourne’s retail district was the unlikely venue for an import record shop, yet that is where I first encountered Krautrock.

It was my first year at the university, a 15 minute walk north of the city centre. I was callow, confused and desperately earnest not to appear the first two. I knew no-one in the entire university and hadn’t made friends; the multitudinous clubs and societies spruiking their charms during “O-Week” were much too intimidating.

My regular afternoon route back down Swanston Street had led to an acquaintanceship with Space Age Books, specialising in science fiction and fantasy. Bookshops were (and are) one of the few retail spaces you are at liberty to browse unassailed by over-zealous staff. You can be alone and safe in a bookshop. The space next door to Space Age was, however, another universe entirely.

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Artist’s reconstruction of the scene

Through the wide portal was a large shadowy space whose air was redolent with the mysterious scents of incense and patchouli.  Stalls swathed in sheets and shawls of strange design formed uneven rows like a gypsy marketplace. Kaftans rubbed shoulders with tie-dyed t-shirts; handmade leather sandals reclined next to hookahs; essential oils whispered heady secrets to psychedelic posters. And there was a record stall. I thought I knew a bit about music, having secured my first record store job the previous summer and endured eight years of piano lessons. But not one album did I recognise. All were strange, exotic, alluring, impenetrable and – for one of extremely constrained means – unattainable. Most weeks all I could do was leaf through them and devour the covers.

High School Deutsch classes were sufficient to reveal the origin of these exotic treasures but that was little help. Neither were the staff, whose alternative noses doubtless picked the smell of a tightly wound suburban boy as easily as clocking a virgin at an orgy. Or so I imagined. Maybe they were simply stoned out of their gourds. Certainly they did not seem fazed by my leisurely browsing and absence of purchases; Goesunder was like Space Age books but in a phantasmal underworld.

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This shy courtship might have gone on forever had I not got a lead from Billy. These were the days when the only access to new music was radio. For those not drawn to the music mainstream, the Sunday night Album Show with Billy Pinnell on 3XY was compulsory listening. Late one evening he played a long instrumental piece that blew me away with its distorted guitar and hypnotic rhythms. It was a  cosmic storm blowing in from another galaxy. Hell, the drums only came in over halfway through the 12 minute piece yet the groove was monumental. At its conclusion Billy’s nasal drawl announced it as “Krautrock” by Faust. It was the opening track on their fourth album, mischievously called IV, and the piece’s title was taking a poke at the English journalists who had coined this lazy descriptor. Billy even described the cover: empty music staves on a parchment coloured background with minimal print in a plain typewriter font. The simplicity took my breath away; I had a mission: find that album.

Faust-IV

There was no chase, no excruciating search; I knew exactly where to go. A day later I marched into Goesunder with a new air of confidence and a fistful of Deutschmarks. Aussie dollars, actually, but I was pumped for Das Vaterland. This would be my triumphant entry into the mind-altering world of sinuous long-haired women and men who said “Man” a lot. No more Neil fucking Diamond or ultra-boring Allans Music stores. Brave new alternative world, here I come.

“Do you have Faust IV?”

“No.”

“Oh.”

“It’s Virgin.”

Was this a sly comment on my interpersonal development?

“Virgin?”

I may have blushed at this point.

“Festival does Virgin. We don’t stock Australian pressings.”

“Oh.”

“Try Allans.”

Exit Goesunder, deflated. Pause for a calming cigarette.

Probably St Moritz, an expensively foul menthol concoction I had adopted to mark myself out from the tobacco pack, thus proving beyond doubt that you can be lonely and ignorant and still be a complete wanker.

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Fortified with 667 deadly chemicals, I strode off to Allans muttering under my breath. Yet the setback failed to suppress a thrill of anticipation as the sales girl put my “local” copy of Faust IV into a bright yellow Allans carry bag.

The album did not disappoint then, nor does it as I listen now.

After the monolithic groove of the opening track comes the sly, disconcerting cod-reggae of “The Sad Skinhead”, complete with marimba. “Jennifer” is a pretty tune floating on top of an echoing wobbly pulse of a bass line; the melody wavers, the is vocal compressed and understated; guitar lines drift in like tendrils of mist then drift away as a coda of disjointed bar-room piano staggers out the door.

“Just a Second (Starts Like That)” opens Side Two with another crunching Germanic riff before getting lost in space. It’s vaguely reminiscent of “Interstellar Overdrive”. “Picnic on a Frozen River” follows quickly, an undulating playground vocal giving way to an instrumental section with jazzy improvised sax over a lurching 6/8 beat until the final section emerges with another melodic snippet, this time on a cheap keyboard; distorted guitar churns and darts underneath until it all stops very suddenly indeed. I would later discover that this piece most closely evokes the cut-ups and startling fragmentation of the first Faust album.

“Giggly Smile” is a pretty folk-tinged piece, hand-clap rhythm and reedy keyboard over a picked acoustic guitar. A ticking clock intrudes, but peace is restored in a pastoral ending. The quiet interlude continues with “Lauft…” which begins with gentle electronic sounds that evoke countrymen Tangerine Dream in a laid-back mood, only for the circular-saw buzz of a treated guitar note to disturb the reverie. A similar sound invades the final song “It’s a bit of a pain” which is otherwise another gentle, bucolic ramble in the countryside that finishes off the album in a very different world to the thunderous industrial-belt of the opening track.

Faust IV evokes awe and wistfulness, pain and longing, humour and alienation. It is a progressive classic.

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PS.  I did eventually buy a record from Goesunder, but that’s another story.

17 comments

  1. Nice one Bruce! I still find Faust a bit too discombobulating, I slipped into Krautrock via Neu! and Hallogallo. You hit it absolutely head-on.

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    1. It is only a matter of time before the need to post about Neu! becomes a voice (in German) brooking no resistance.

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  2. I’ve tried real hard to get into Kraut-Rock of any kind. However it always seems to have way too much thinking and way too little fun in the grooves.
    That Flea Market looks awesome.

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    1. One of the curses of generic labels (of anything, really) is that it homogenises something that may be diverse. This is absolutely true of “krautrock” which is hugely varied, making any simple label pretty ridiculous. Independent German Music of the 70s (my label!) ranges from the classic ‘motorik’ grooves of (some) Kraftwerk and Neu!, through symphonic rock with Novalis and Triumvirat, ventures into space with Tangerine Dream and Klaus Shultze and prog-fusions itself into another world with Thirsty Moon and Kollektiv. Some if it is virtuoso, some stoned, some spacey, some syrupy, some… you get the drift. Though I’d agree that there aren’t many hit singles and, by definition, no pop musik.
      PS. If you like Hawkwind, try early Guru Guru.

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  3. The Prudent Groove · · Reply

    “… thus proving beyond doubt that you can be lonely and ignorant and still be a complete wanker.” Thanks for the literal laugh out loud! The cover art is amazing! Faust IV has been added to the checklist.

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    1. The line you enjoyed was also Ms Vinyl Connection’s favourite. I shudder to think what that implies.
      Thanks, as always, for your comments Mr PG.

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  4. […] floatation tank with the world’s best soundtrack. As a lost and lonely first year student who, as previously noted, was desperately striving to become a pretentious plonker, I needed frequent breaks to recharge. I […]

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  5. […] long-term fan of the various streams and tributaries of this music, I’d brought with me the Freeman brothers […]

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  6. […] stopped off at Pipé records, the very same record stall that had relocated from Goesunder Flea Market to a cupboard-sized space in a tiny arcade off Flinders Lane. Leafing through records is always […]

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  7. Great article! ‘Krautrock’ by Faust has to be one of the most ehtereal pieces of music ever recorded.

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    1. It certainly is a great piece from a terrific album.
      Thanks for dropping by.

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  8. That’s so funny I love your description of Goesunder that’s exactly how I remember it… worked there for awhile didn’t get paid was fun just hanging & helping out…I would have been one of those long-haired sinuous women smelling of patchouli. You’re right about one thing we were stoned most of the time ….ok all the time. That record shop had some amazing vinyl unfortunately no Krautrock as I recall albums like “The Pope Smokes Dope” & “Freakin At The Freakers Ball”.
    Thanks for the memory….man!!!!!!

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    1. Eliza, thanks so much for sharing your memories of that hazy (!) distant time. Peace. 🙂

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  9. Really enjoyed this review. When reviewing older albums I find it particularly enjoyable when the writer describes the way in which he/she encountered the album being reviewed. In this case, though I am from the other side of the world, your experience is remarkably similar to mine. To this day the smell of patchouli continues to evoke in me memories of record stores and head shops. I also love that you included the cover art for Thirsty Moon. This was one of my favorite covers and the music inside was quite fantastic as well. Here is a link to a piece I wrote on 5 essential progressive rock albums through my personal experience.

    http://www.sitdownlistenup.com/?p=720

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jim.
      Yep, those albums you’ve chosen are in the prog pantheon, that’s for sure. I’ve done Close To The Edge and ITCOTCK so far!

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  10. […] OF FLEAS AND FAUST […]

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