Krautrock in Chennai: German band C.A.R. meld EDM and jazz
EDM and jazz meet ‘kraut’, and turn spiritual in the experimental music of C.A.R.
It takes a die-hard, rock-ribbed fan of electronica to know about, and possibly even dig out vinyls of albums such as Autobahn and Trans-Europe Express by the 1970s German innovators Kraftwerk.
For C.A.R, a four-piece act from Cologne, the likes of Kraftwerk, among other experimental German acts from the era, like Can and Neu! were a massive influence.
At their gig in Chennai, C.A.R., featuring Leonhard Huhn on saxophone, Christian Lorenzen on piano, Kenn Hartwig on double bass, and Johannes Klingebiel on drums, will introduce crowds to their music, and especially, the origins of the genre, ‘krautrock’.
Said to be a term coined by music journalists in the late-1960s, ‘krautrock’ referred to the music of a handful of German bands, who were pursuing a mix of rock, jazz, experimental and electronic influences, explains Kenn in an email exchange.
“Especially in the areas of Köln and Düsseldorf, there was a strong music scene, which had and still has a long reaching impact to rock, pop and jazz music around the world,” says Kenn.
It isn’t easy to single out specific ‘kraut’ elements in music, however. “Perhaps it has something to do with general experimental and an open vibe, pattern-based improvisation, and the exploring of new or unheard sounds, combined with more familiar tones,” suggests Kenn, describing the ‘kraut’ sound.
The music of C.A.R. tends to be psychedelic, ambient and spatial, with a rather calming, even spiritual, effect. “Those attributes are fitting,” accepts Kenn. “We see ourselves as a live band, and it is always our goal to create a certain space — a room that we discover, over long musical arcs,” he offers. “This can be calming, but also surprising. You never now what waits around the next corner.”
EDM for the people
When they started out in 2011, however, they were predisposed to smaller club scenes, explains Kenn. “We played a lot of gigs, where the setting was more of a dance party vibe, and we were just freely improvising groove music,” he relates. “Over the years, the gigs got more and more of a concert than a club vibe. But, as already said before, the elements of EDM are deeply rooted in our musical DNA.”
Apart from the influences of ‘krautrock’, contemporary electronic music and club music in general, all four of the band’s members studied jazz music at university, so “a certain jazz influence is hard to deny”, adds Kenn.
As for improvisation, “it isn’t based so much on individual virtuosic skills — as these are just the means to an end — but more on collectively creating an evolving space,” explains Kenn. “In that aspect, electronic elements can be very helpful, as you can shape an interesting space through a certain sound, as you can through a melodic phrase, which would be the traditional jazz approach.”
A crucial change in their setup was when they decided to drop the guitar from their arrangements. The development happened naturally, reflects Kenn, “as our sound became more and more spatial
and kraut-influenced”. But that wouldn't mean disregarding the guitar at all times. “Well, never say never,” rejoins Kenn.
For now, the electronic elements define the sounds of C.A.R. In their new EP, Interlude, one of the tracks, Butterfly, for instance, is a cover of a song by the American band The Flaming Lips. “What sets it apart from the other tunes in the EP, is that for the first half, there’s no acoustic drumset, but only a drum machine,” points out Kenn.
For Interlude, C.A.R. revisit tunes by their favourite artistes, including James Holden and Tame Impala. The whole project was “very DIY”, says Kenn. “Especially the sleeves,” he notes, which they printed themselves with graphic designer Lorenz Klingebiel, in a printing process called risograph, which makes each copy look different regarding the colouring.
“There’s still a lot to discover, fusing acoustic with electronic elements, experimenting with semi-open compositional framings, and so on. We’ll see where our journey takes us!” enthuses Kenn. And we’re sure to be looking out for their CDs at the gig.
On November 26, 7 pm at Goethe-Institut Auditorium. Open to all. Details: 2833-1314/2833-2343