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Almost 40 years after the fact, Faust remains a standard-bearer of Krautrock, the German experimental rock movement of the early 1970s.
Just don’t call Faust a Krautrock band.
For one thing, says Jean-Herve Péron, one of the group’s two remaining original members, Faust doesn’t have many fans in Germany, even though it’s still based there. For another, none of the musicians on the current tour, which stops at the Black CatSunday for the final night of the Sonic CircuitsFestival, happens to be German. Péron is French, original drummer Zappi Diermaier is Austrian, James Johnston is British, and Geraldine Swayne is Irish.
And there’s also the matter that after four decades as a rock ‘n’ roll trope, the word “Krautrock” is basically meaningless. “In the beginning I liked it,” Péron says. “It was first a joke, then it was a quite respected way of making music. But in the past decade, everything that comes from Germany is called Krautrock, even if it sounds like Anglo-American rock. That’s the opposite of what we meant it to be. But I don’t mind, really. The audience will decide if it’s good.”
But when Faust—and bands like Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, and Cluster—began making music around the late 1960s, they weren’t trying to concoct an explicitly Teutonic tonic to ascendant U.S. and U.K. rock music. Simply, their goal was to make experimental sounds outside the accepted boundaries of any popular genre—an aesthetic far more otherworldly than German.
Part of that aim had to do with social unrest on the continent. “There was a big upheaval in Europe poltically and socially, so it had repercussions in the arts,” Péron says. “And there was a surge of a new identity, new values, and so we wanted very much to find something of our own, far from the normal American thing.” Faust’s early recordings—which hit an apex on the sprawing The Faust Tapes in 1973—are often chaotic and sometimes ambient, generally unbeholden to structure but occasionally playful, and utterly uncompromising.
To Péron, though, experimental music was actually an escape from the political zeitgeist. The multi-instrumentalist and singer left France in 1967 for the United States as an exchange student. There, he absorbed the music of Henry Mancini and Bob Dylan (“I’m not sure if I liked either,” he says). When he returned to France in July 1968, two months after a nationwide general strike, he found the political situation confusing, he says. He ended up following a girlfriend to Hamburg.
With Faust, which formed in 1971, Péron and his bandmates quickly earned a cult following, and soon after a great deal of media attention in the U.K. By 1975, however, the group was label-less. “We were more or less thrown out of Polydor, just as later we were thrown out of Virgin, because we didn’t want to make compromises,” Péron says. “We didn’t want to make mainstream or popular music. That’s how you feel when you’re 20 and full of revolutionary ideals. You don’t mind being thrown out of a record company.”
After that, around 1975, Faust “went incognito,” Péron says. “We were a bit fed up so we went underground. We kept on doing concerts for a couple years but without really shouting on top of the roofs.” Then the group stopped making music.
Faust reformed in the early 1990s, and in various lineups, and with increasing frequency, the group has toured, recorded, and collaborated with other experimental acts since. Péron even says he considers the group’s 1997 album, You Know FaUSt, to be as good as anything he recorded in the 1970s. Increasingly, Faust is a mainstay of international experimental music festivals, and Péron even runs his own, the Avantgarde Festival in Schiphorst, Germany. He says he’s generally impressed with the experimental music being played today, even if he’s taken slightly aback at the credit Faust sometimes receives as an influence.
“When you’re in the middle of a storm you don’t realize what the storm is doing all around you,” he says. “But for me it is very flattering.”
Faust performs Sunday night at the Black Cat with Rat Basterd, Chris Greir, and Ulrich Krieger; HEALTH; Pekka Airaksinen; and Alexei Borisov and Anton Nikkilä. Doors open at 8 p.m.; tickets are $15. Photo courtesy of Faust’s MySpace page.