DVD-Klangbad/Faust : Avant-Garde in the Meadows/Live at Klangbad Festival
Author: Dominic B. Simpson
Who are the real Faust? That’s one of the conundrums that this DVD brings to mind when referencing the legendary Krautrock outfit. Is it the outfit currently spearheaded by original members Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, who have bedazzled audiences with their overloaded jazz-rock freakout and abuse of industrial machinery? Or is it the amorphous, freeform outfit that features another original member in the shape of Hans Joachim Irmler on keyboards joined by American guitarist Steven W Lobdell and several others? An answer of sorts comes from the band(s) Wikipedia page, who claim that “Faust now exists in two completely different incarnations, both active and each reflecting different aspects of the original group.” Exactly how they deal with royalty and copyright issues is unclear.
The Péron/Diermaier guise of Faust performed one of the most extraordinary gigs this writer had the privilege to see, in a venue somewhere tucked inside the railway arches of London’s Elephant amd Castle. After terrorising/thrilling the audience with sparks flying from the various sandpaper machines and other industrial detritus onstage, the band then proceeded to go the whole hog and walk around the venue with chainsaws – real ones – and culminated in setting off several coloured smoke bombs while dressed in bomb technician gear, which filled the entire venue with blue and red haze. Stumbling around looking for the exit, a ring of fire visible on the floor and an excruciatingly loud looped guitar riff emanating from the empty stage, yours truly was confronted by Péron – still carrying a chainsaw – who instructed “You must leave the venue now!” As everyone huddled outside the venue, smoke billowing from the doors and a police siren visible in the distance, the sound of the band getting back onstage and jamming to an empty audience could be heard.
Sadly there’s nothing quite as mind-boggling as that event on this DVD (though there is plenty of smoke onstage throughout); in fact, Péron and Diermaier and the other members of that axis of Faust don’t appear at all.
Instead, this DVD is a document of Klangbad, the annual festival in rural Germany curated by Hans-Joachim Irmler, and thus focuses on the ‘other’ version of Faust which comprises Irmler, Lobdell, Michael Stoll on bass and flute, Lars Paukstat on percussion and voice, Arnulf Meifert also on percussion, and Ralf Meinz on drums and ‘efx’.
As it turns out, Klangbad is the kind of festival that feels increasingly important in an age of media saturation and the corporatisation of large festivals (with Reading/Leeds one big hymn to Carling beer nowadays). As the German newspaper 'De Zeit' is quoted lovingly in the DVD sleeve notes in an article which they wrote on the festival, “strolling the festival venue, one might sense the attitude of mind Krautrock still stands for: no bouncers, no stupid marketing games, no bungee jumping. The calm atmosphere at the Klangbad Festival almost could be seen as something political. Here everything seems possible.” Which definitely couldn’t be applied to the V Festival. But then, in fairness, there are equivalents to Klangbad in Britain: the consistently impressive Green Man festival; the likes of End of the Road, Indietracks, Truck, even Fairport Convention’s Cropredy; and, of course All Tomorrow’s Parties, among others.
As the DVD confirms, just as with these festivals, Klangbad also gives space to otherwise marginalized or ‘left-field’ music, some of which is just as good as Faust’s headlining performance, which the second part of the DVD focuses on.
Finnish psych-rockers Circle, in particular, are captured building up a mesmerising trance-like groove with the track ‘Matka’, the effect only slightly spoilt by the sight of singer Mika Rättö’s bizarre leather bondage and quasi Nazi-hat outfit. The Kammerflimmer Kollektief and Britain’s very own The One Ensemble of Daniel Padden (featuring the ubiquitous Padden from Volcano The Bear), meanwhile, provide compelling organic instrumental relief during the daytime, with the latter cracking jokes about the rain and how back in Scotland the equivalent would be a summer’s day.
Elsewhere, Faust member Paukstat gets down and dirty fronting the straightforward blues-rock outfit Cpt. Howdy; all-female ‘audio-art’ collective Nista Nije Nista (“Nothing Is Not Nothing”) perform what appears to be some Dada-like sketches over cracking laptop noise, broken sewing machines, air pumps, and clarinets; and Minit and Jutta Koether perform skewered electronic pop and spoken word viginettes over repetitive keyboard notes, respectively. Finally, a solo performance by Lobdell is another highlight, beginning with a looping of Tibetan bells before unleashing a devastating effects-filled guitar assault that brings to mind Ash Ra Tempel at their most mind-expanding.
After such an absorbing and varied first half, the second part of the DVD can’t help but feel slightly like an anti-climax, with its focus on only one act. Only slightly, though: this incarnation of Faust is even more out-there and experimental than the Péron and Diermaier axis, despite the worrying predilection for ponytails, fretless six-string bass, and somewhat extensive guitar wankery from a be-shaded Lobdell (not necessarily a bad thing in itself).
Beginning with entrancing flute and sitar drones, the hour-plus set is nothing if not versatile, with six long songs in total performed, ranging from Acid Mothers Temple-style freakout to some unexpectedly beautiful synth strings and glockenspiel on ‘Feuerzeuge’. An excerpt of one song, ‘Don’t Look Back’, also features on the first part of the DVD, with Paukstat’s repeated mantra “turn back/and look around” a rallying cry for the festival’s idiosyncratic nature as a whole.
With the DVD sleeve notes mentioning, “since this alternative music festival is constantly lacking financial support, Playloud! [the DVD production company] will donate 1 Euro of each DVD sold to the Klangbad Festival Organisation”, it looks as if there’s no guarantee the festival will continue on its trajectory. Judging from the evidence on this DVD, hopefully long may Klangbad – and many similar of its ilk – continue to survive while the corporate fests continue to increasingly embrace crass commercialisation.