Several months had passed since the climax of the 1968 German student movements. Late September in Essen was splendid. Still warm, though the brunt of the summer heat had dissipated by this time—the atmosphere held aloft by a swift gust from the Ruhr River. The gathered crowd – which, by now, was packed with artists, musicians, writers, and journalists from throughout Germany and abroad – was still modest in size, though it had certainly expanded since that morning. They wanted to be sure to get in before capacity was met, lest they miss the big acts of the weekend: Brian Auger and the Trinity, Tim Buckley, Family, The Fugs, and, of course, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
From September 25th to the 29th, Essen played host to Germany’s first large-scale pop music festival: the Internationalen Essener Songtage. Like California’s Monterey Pop festival the previous summer, the week-long happening attracted a cohort of international performers in addition to a number of emerging German acts anxious to perform before an audience of over 40,000. The eclectic international environment of the Songtage produced previously inconceivable sonic juxtapositions. The energetic jazz-inflected vigor of American folk-singer Tim Buckley was paired with the minimal electronic drones of West Berlin’s Tangerine Dream. Pastoral British traditionalist Colin Wilkie shared a stage with North-Rhine Westphalia’s own living legend of saxophone skronk, Peter Brötzmann. The bombastic barrage of Mani Neumeier’s drum assault with Guru Guru would have surely overpowered the rather quiet solo performance of Julie Felix. Yet, there they were. Sharing a stage that would alter the landscape of Rock n Roll for years to come.
The Essen festival – merging German artists with their more recognizable Anglo-American counterparts – was the final stage for the countercultural indoctrination of German youth. With the recent transnational student movements at their backs, the timing of such an event could not have been more appropriate. An informed and educated public, West Germany was fertile for the sowing of a progressive ideation that endorsed radical structural change. With the movement’s roots lying in the Anglo-American cultural sphere, however, there was the question of what this so-called Gegenkultur would look like. Would the Germans simply create generic doppelgängers of what the English and Americans were doing? A Mick ‘Jaeger’ belting out a version of “Get Off My Cloud” in a heavy German accent? Or, could German youth contribute something new, and uniquely ‘German’ to the global movement?
At three in the afternoon on Thursday, September 28, Amon Düül II took the stage of the Aula der Pädagogischen Hochschule. Freshly split from the ‘nonmusical’ portion of their Munich commune, the eight-piece ensemble intended to make waves, not as a leftist collective, but as a strict musical unit. Recorded in Munich sometime between the Songtage and the Spring release of Phallus Dei, here we have a taste of what crowds experienced in the auditorium that afternoon. The group coupled psychedelic adjacent wanderings with verbose percussion-led incantations far out enough to make Syd Barret blush. The audio quality leaves some room for desire, but the band is absolutely brimming with energy. Their debut opus is near fully fledged, dispelling the myth of spontaneous studio creation. A group capable of harnessing the vigor of improvisation in a prepared environment, however, is certainly doing something right. In cerebral meltdown, Amon Düül thrust their audience into the darkest reaches of the cosmos and let them gaze upon the future of music. Germany had their answer. This was Gegenkultur. Es war kosmische Musik. | j rooney