Ever since a British music journalist cheekily coined the term "Krautrock" in the early '70s to reference a burgeoning cluster of exciting German rock bands, groups such as Can, Neu and Kraftwerk have had an ambivalent relationship with the word. While they benefitted from the attention that comes with any new pop-music phenomenon, they also chafed at being lumped in with bands with which they had little in common, save their nationality.
Few bands have been as outspoken about the problematic nature of the term as Faust, who over the years have become sort of Krautrock statesmen. In fact, original and current member Jean-Herve Péron thinks (with apologies to Waylon Jennings) this whole Krautorck bit's done got out of hand.
"I understand and respect the fact that some people of the younger generation are truly interested by this phenomenon called Krautrock," he says in an e-mail sent from a hotel after a recent performance in Norway. "Krautrock was something very special in that all the groups who played at that time had nothing in common except their urge of finding their own identity, way outside the beaten tracks of Anglo-American rock 'n' roll. The media have forgotten this and use the term 'Kraut' for just about anything."
During Faust's original run in the '70s, listeners never knew what they would get from album to album, or indeed, track to track, as the band explored psychedelia, folk, reggae, minimalism, proto-industrial, musique concrète and genres yet unnamed. The best overview of the band's various styles is probably Faust Tapes, a 45-minute barrage of song fragments that jarringly collide into one another with abrupt tape edits.
The erratic, exploratory nature of the group continues today. Their latest album, C'est Com…Com…Complique, is a remix of an album (Disconnected) recorded with industrial maverick Steven Stapleton of Nurse With Wound back in 2006, an aggressive hour-long rhythmic-oriented affair heavy on distorted guitars and noise that bears little relation to the original work.
The group is also unpredictable live, with a penchant for Dada-ist destruction and pyrotechnics. That being said, venue owners and audience members showing up for Faust's North American tour need not fear for their safety (save a little hearing loss, maybe). The group isn't just about mischief and provocation, and fans attending one of the band's upcoming shows will likely be treated to some of their favorite songs.
"We respect and love our audience," Péron says. "Therefore, we know we have to play some 'Faust hits,' and we love to play them too, always in different forms than just a 'cover version.'"
If there's no single Faust style, working method or sound, how to describe what the band is all about? Perhaps due to Péron's weariness with the Krautrock label, he invented a term of his own to perhaps intimate the band's guiding aesthetic principles, which he attached to his record label, Web site and e-mail address: "art-Errorist." But what, exactly, is an art-Erroroist?
"An art-Errorist is a person who is involved in what is commonly called 'art,' but unlike an 'artist' who is usually quite convinced about his creations, an 'errorist' is quite happy to find out that art is nothing but a mistake, an error, a malfunction," he explains. "I would not call Da Vinci or Goethe errorists, no sir, but call me a dilettante or tell me I don't make sense and I feel understood, if not flattered."
The Orange Peel date is from the band's third U.S. tour — the first was in 1994, on the forefront of a sort of "Krautrock revival" that was building in the States and Great Britain at the time. It continues today, with scores of bands influenced by or outright ripping off Faust and their peers, and journalists often misrepresenting the German groups when using the Krautrock label as shorthand to describe a particular sound.
Faust began life as a group of musicians living in abandoned schoolhouse in the village of Wümme, outside of Hamburg, forming a sort of utopian-minded collective not altogether uncommon at the time. There the group played music around the clock, experimenting with all manner of instruments and recording techniques, culminating in their truly bizarre and still unclassifiable self-titled debut album for Polydor in 1971. They released four more albums before disbanding in 1975, building a dedicated cult audience but never achieving much commercial success.
The group remained dormant until original members Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, Hans Irmiler and Péron regrouped in 1990, beginning a new chapter in the life of Faust, one that would see members come and go over the next two decades. Péron left in 1997, but rejoined Diermaier in 2004 without Irimler. The duo has since performed regularly and released several albums with a rotating cast of musicians. Husband and wife James Johnston and Geraldine Swayne currently play alongside the pair in an incarnation of Faust with which Péron is very pleased.
"I must say that this lineup is for me the final Faust lineup," he says. "If James and Geraldine are to leave us someday, I would not look for further companions — I would rather end the Faust saga at what I consider the zenith of the story."
Eric Dawson is a freelance writer.
who: Sunn 0))) and Faust
where: The Orange Peel
when: Friday, Sept. 25 (9 p.m. $18/$20. www.theorangepeel.net or www.faust-pages.com)