Watch and Learn from Faust

October 7, 2009
Flagpole Magazine

Watch and Learn from Faust: the Innovators of Krautrock

By Gordon Lamb


There are certain groups whose names fall reverently, effortlessly and equally from the lips of both classically trained musicians and forward-thinking rock and rollers. Among the best of those is Faust. The 38-year-old group has, through the course of its recorded history and legendary status, never ceased to be truly avant-garde. That is, the group’s work literally advances the art. Although Faust’s reputation as a “noise band” is generally the first one we’ll hear of them, it’s actually quite inaccurate. Although never following standard pop structure, the group’s work is never grating or irritating. It remains highly melodic, albeit in a sense that some won’t immediately recognize or appreciate.

The key behind Faust’s visit to Athens is local musician and AUX arts organization founder Heather McIntosh. Her relationship with Faust’s music is a deep emotional bond, and this event is the culmination of several years of, for lack of a better term, wishful thinking.

“I was thinking about doing stuff for AUX for the festival, and I always have my wish list of folks. I was concentrating on getting Tony Conrad for the spring, and I had a friend who knew his booking agent so I had that initial contact,” she says. “Then, I found out that Zach Gresham (Summer Hymns) was recording with Faust’s soundman. He told me Faust was touring, so I got in touch with Faust’s booking agent, and it was the same person who books Tony Conrad!” This visit is coming even sooner than McIntosh had hoped. “Faust was always on my big ‘wish list’ of bands, and I wanted them for the fourth AUX Festival, but once I found out this tour was happening I started trying to get them here now.“

In addition to the group’s performance at the 40 Watt, Faust will conduct a special workshop in the lab of arthouse theater Ciné the following day. Conceived as a sort of casual master’s class, the workshop is open to approximately 30 musicians who want to play with Faust. Ideally, McIntosh says, those chosen to participate will posses several different levels of skill. “I’d love it if someone only knows how to play a kazoo but gets involved because they love Faust,” she explains. “It will be selective, but there’s more than just musicianship taken into consideration.”

The lineup of Faust that will be in Athens includes founding members Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner “Zappi” Diermaier joined by James Johnston (Gallon Drunk, Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) and visual/video artist Geraldine Swayne. The group has only twice before visited the U.S., briefly in 1994 and 1999. Although it’s not really conscionable to think of Faust as a group that tours in support of an album, their latest release is C’est Com… Com… Compliqué, released by label Bureau B in March of this year.

For the uninitiated, even if you’ve never heard Faust, you’ve heard them. Their influence, particularly with regard to heavily rhythmic, continually rolling and tuneful structures, loose and open arrangements and many other innovations have been heard through artists as diverse as Stereolab and Athens’ own Japancakes. For the classical and 20th-century composer fan, Faust represents a continuum that includes Terry Riley, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Tod Dockstader, among many others.

Unique, perhaps, to this group, who coincidentally coined the term “Krautrock” on its 1974 album Faust IV, is its clearly populist agenda. At least inasmuch as Faust has an agenda at all. That is, this is not concert hall music. It’s meaty and sweaty. Neither, however, is it a music that should be absorbed only by its record-collecting fan base. McIntosh concurs by saying, “I agree. A lot of people are record snobs, but if you were to go to a warehouse space or the 40 Watt you’d find it a lot more inviting than a concert hall. But it should be inviting for those who are used to a concert hall, too. In theory, it’s a rock music show but performed by artists, for lack of a better term.” So much physicality can be lost in a more traditional, formal setting, too. “The hands-folded style of seeing a concert, I don’t know, I like seeing shows in traditional settings like concert halls, but it’s a bummer that the audience is lost a lot of the time because of the somewhat sterile environment.”

McIntosh has intentionally kept ticket prices very low in an effort to really reach the population with this performance. It seems she shares in a practical sense what Faust presents in a musical one.

“In the end,” she says, “that’s kind of the goal, to bring the music to the people.”