Living a long life in the spectral borderlands has its rewards. Since you're basically invisible to most of the rest of the world, you're free to test your inspirations and then transform them into art, music or political energy — and do it any way you prefer. Invent! Reinvent! Take risks. Fail? Doesn't matter. Transcend! Push forward. Achieve greatness. Change the culture. Step back. Regroup. Fade to oily black. ... And then do it all over again.
A perfect example is Faust, still incredibly vital and active four decades after launching its abrasive and beautiful collective sonic experiment in 1969. Part of the wide-ranging German underground movement known as krautrock, the Hamburg-based band was frequently grouped with parallel projects in other parts of the country — Ash Ra Tempel; Cluster and Tangerine Dream in Berlin; Can, Kraftwerk and Neu! in Cologne and Dusseldorf; Amon Düül and Popol Vuh in Munich. Add to this list Harmonia, which combined the talents of Cluster's Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius with guitarist Michael Rother of Neu! There were also additional collaborations with then-fledgling glam-ambient British genius Brian Eno, who rightly saw German post-industrial rock and electronic musicians for what they were: the future.
Vibrant scenes developed around these bands as well as dozens of others. People moved out to the countryside and built a life around rural studio communities. Neither hippies nor punks, these artists were something else entirely — space and time travelers, funk-jazz-metallic minimalists, cosmic merry pranksters, and hairy, holy fools who seemingly could bang and jam forever and ever.
Excuse this rhapsodic preamble. But the phone in my hand is resisting a connection to a mysterious location about 30 kilometers north of Hamburg, where original Faust member Jean-Hervé Peron lives and works. So I'm reviewing my notes about the myths, legends and hyper-reality associated with the German scene(s) that helped influence the shape of musical things to come during the final quarter of the 20th century ... and the first decade of this new one. It's impossible to imagine an aesthetic thread that runs through artists like the Birthday Party, Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Sonic Youth, Swans, My Bloody Valentine, Stereolab, Tortoise — or the architecture and design of Detroit techno, for that matter — without them getting there first.
Finally, a voice: "Ah, hello to you in Detroit!" Peron says, admitting to being in his 60s but sounding much younger over the phone. Now that international communications issues are solved, Peron comes through crystal-clear for a solid hour, talking about all things Faustian — from the band's pre-conception to early recordings and, ultimately, to traveling a long, twisted road that's led the group to share its "method" on a tour that lands at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) for two days next week. Of the original members, only Peron — who sings and plays bass — and drummer Werner "Zappi" Diermaier remain.
Uwe Nettelbeck, who produced the band's first four LPs, Faust, So Far, Tapes and Faust IV — all included with a fifth CD, made up of BBC sessions, on an essential box set called The Wümme Years 1970-73 — died in 2007. He also worked on a seminal 1973 recording, Outside the Dream Syndicate, with the band and New York minimalist (and Velvet Underground acolyte) Tony Conrad. Hans-Joachim Irmler, another member of the group from the early 1970s, remains active but is not involved with this version of the band. Not to confuse matters, but it's important that we do: Another completely different incarnation of Faust exists that, in addition to other recorded works, has released an acclaimed collaborative effort with New Jersey hip-hop experimentalists, Dälek. But Peron explains, diplomatically: "There is no relationship between the two Fausts. We have a mutual, unspoken respect ... but it is a profound separation."
Our conversation refocuses on the projects that led to Peron's current Art-Errorist nom de guerre and the seeds of the Faust method, which he traces back to Casablanca, where he was born. He moved on to Normandy, where he grew up the son of artist-musician parents, and on to a year as an exchange student in the United States, and then his return to France during the summer of 1968, when the residue of the May revolution there was still in the air.
"I came back from America with Bob Dylan in my head, and ‘make love not war,' but my vision was changed by the agitated politics of Paris. I felt out-of-phase," he says.
To get back in phase, he took to the road, ending up in Hamburg, where he says the countercultural scene in the late 1960s was "fertile, experimental, sexual, political, very motivated."
He busked streets with assorted freethinkers, freaks and "radical musicians," before formalizing it all as Faust and famously moving the project out of the city to Wümme, where "we spent two years without women — only our dogs and music! Sometimes, it feels like 10 years passed; other times like one day."
In addition to working with Conrad, Faust also jammed and recorded with Slapp Happy, an English-German-American avant-pop group based then in Hamburg.
The original band broke up in 1975. The so-called "disappearance of Faust," until Diermaier, Irmler and Peron resurfaced for a tour in 1990, remains a juicy nugget of mystery in rock music lore. The group came to this country for the first time in 1994, brought over largely due to the efforts of Jeff Hunt and his Table of the Elements label. Hunt released a series of Faust records in the 1990s, and in 2005 issued Outside the Dream Syndicate — Alive, a recording of the group (then including only Peron and Diermaier) with Conrad and Jim O'Rourke performing in 1995 at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Peron left the group in 1997, but was reunited with Diermaier in 2004. They've since worked with Steven Stapleton and Colin Potter of the UK's Nurse with Wound, releasing the Disconnected LP in 2007. The same year, Poland's Lumberton Trading Company issued a double-CD, Od Serca Do Duszy, documenting a live performance in Krakow. The newest studio LP is C'est Com...Com...Complique, and, yes, it trance-rocks with the best of the band's recent output. It rolls out impressively with "Kundalini Tremolos" (featuring a powerhouse drone that sounds exactly like its East meets West title) and ends with the thumping 13-minute title track. What's most apparent is that 38-odd years in the fringe music biz have not slowed Zappi's playing one bit. This guy is one of the best drummers ever — and he shows it here.
Guitarist-keyboardist James Johnston (formerly of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) and visual and sound artist Geraldine Swayne join Peron and Diermaier as part of the new Faust. Both are now official members of the band, Peron says.
"I like the way we line up now," Peron says. "Four strong artists, plus feminine vibrations, yeah. ..."
In Detroit for the first time ever, Faust will conduct a workshop on Monday, Oct. 5, following that with a live performance on Tuesday, Oct. 6. Peron says the group will work with industrial tools, including cement mixers and power drills, on both nights. So bring your safety gloves and goggles, kids. But don't expect a series of teaching moments from a bunch of stuck-up old geezers.
"We're not professors or demagogues," Peron says. "Faust has always been about picking up the vibes of the times, whether it's 1968, 1980 or now. That's our mission as artists. Take what's there and make it accessible. Art can't be taught. It's there if you just open your eyes and ears."
Walter Wasacz is electronically inclined. Send comments to [email protected]
Faust will be in town for a workshop Monday, Oct. 5, and a performance Tuesday, Oct. 6, at MOCAD, 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-832-6622. Admission for both nights is $30; or $17 for the workshop and $16 for the concert. With Indian Jewelry on Oct. 6.