FORTY YEARS A DILETTANTE Jean-Hervé Peron & Faust

Don’t bother trying to pin down
the legendary German outfit, still going after four decades of –
shhhh! – krautrockin’.

 

BY
JENNIFER KELLY

 

“There is
one word that would describe Faust very much, very well and it’s dilettantism,”
said Jean-Hervé Peron, who has, for nearly 40 years played bass in the band. He
has been asked, just previously, if there is a thread that ties his seminal
Krautrocking outfit together, through multiple line-ups, genre experiments,
periods of dormancy and even across two distinct bands that are named Faust. “But
I mean ‘dilettantism’ in its primal sense, which comes from ‘delight’ and
‘joy.’  It was all about enormously
enjoying what we were doing, believing deeply in what were doing, not
considering, and not — I’m sorry, I’m going to use a rude word — not giving a
shit whether we were accepted or not. We didn’t care about anything like this. We
just cared about the urge, the inside urge. So there was no concept. It’s all
guts and emotions.”

 

This year
Faust released Something Dirty, the
latest of several dozen albums (including collaborations and live recordings),
that have spanned four decades. (It’s reviewed here at BLURT.) A diverse clutch
of songs, the album is alternatingly as gritty, as lyrical, as waggish and as
unpredictable as this long-running, hard-to-classify band’s history would
suggest.

 

 

***

 

Nothing
to do but music

 

Faust has
its roots in 1971 in Wümme, a small town in rural Lower
Saxony. “We had nothing else to do in Wümme, except making music,”
Peron says, “and we certainly were out there to be innovative.”

 

“Germany was a
very tired country, a very wasted country after the war,” Peron explained. “So
we are the generation just after the war. Born in 1945 and you take 15 years,
20 years later and that’s us. So we needed something new for sure. Something of
our own.”

 

The
generation that came of age in the 1960s and 1970s in Germany was fed up with culture imported from America and the U.K. ” So, okay, we swallow this in
the 1960s and we’ve got all this rock and roll and all this blues. Fine. Nothing
against blues,” Peron recalled. “But it’s not what we want to say. So we are
15, we are 18, we are 20, and we have something to say. We feel an enormous
pressure. We are talking about 1968. We’re talking about the social upheavals
in Europe, in France, and we
are talking about the demoralized generation of the youth people in Germany. So
that’s…all this is what’s in the air.”

 

Faust’s
members were playing in Hamburg
when they caught the eye of a local impresario. “We were a boy band,” Peron
confided, impishly. “We were two groups, not knowing each other, in Hamburg and doing our
thing at different levels and with different means of expression. And one day
we meet a producer who is looking for one group that would be different. And he
reached one of us and he said, yes, you’re good, but there is something missing.
We need a drummer and a keyboard. So we go to the other group which, in the
meantime, we had met. And we said, would you like to come and join us? Yes. They
joined us. That’s why I say we are a boy group. Maybe we are a boy group, but
thrown together by history. Not by business.”

 

Scissors,
Frisbees and sudden success

 

Faust got
a record contract with Polydor and began working on its self-titled debut,
released in 1971. Faust So Far followed a year later. Then, with Richard
Branson’s Virgin Records, the band had its breakthrough, the cut-and-paste
collage known as The Faust Tapes. There were, of course, no digital
shortcuts in those days. The band cut and respliced the album with scissors –
and a great deal of painstaking patience. “We were young and creative and had
nothing else to do, you know,” said Peron. “This seems to me when I think about
it, a very natural thing to do. If you have a pair of scissors, you will cut
things. And if you’re a bit creative, stick them together in a different order.
And if you’re a poet, you say ‘this is a poem.’ 
And if you are a musician, you say ‘this is new music.'”

 

The
Faust Tapes
contained a full album’s material priced as a single. It went on to sell
100,000 copies. Peron believes there are two reasons that the Faust Tapes were so successful. “Because
it was, A), weird as hell, and it was really weird. No one had heard this kind of music classified as rock. And B),
it was really cheap. I even heard a story about people buying it to play
Frisbee.”    

 

Faust’s
commercial success was short-lived however, and in 1975, they were dropped from
Virgin. This began a period where Faust disappeared, re-emerging a decade and a
half later.

 

Peron
declined to clear up the mystery. “What happened? I will not tell you. It will
remain a secret forever,” he said, when asked about the long gap. “Everybody
keeps asking, ‘What have you done in that period?'”

 

“I can
tell you this much,” he added. “We kept on making music, Faust. But we were so
sick of all this music business…We got kicked out of Virgin because we didn’t
want to make any compromise, so we got kicked out of those both. So we say,
fuck it, we’re going to do our own thing.” Indeed, Peron said that the band
played live many times during this time span, though never under the name,
Faust. “We played music we liked and we had the most agreeable time in our
career,” he concluded.

 

Krautrock
is an ugly word

 

During
this period, Faust also became identified with the movement known as
“Krautrock,” a genre that encompassed bands like Kraftwerk, Can, Neu! Guru Guru
and Amon Duul. Peron admitted that he originally had trouble with the term.

 

“It’s an
ugly word,” he said. “When we started we called our work ‘multi-media and
spontaneous art.'” Peron explained that the word “Krautrock” was originally a
British term, a somewhat derisive phrase meant to distinguish what was going on
in Germany from what was
going on in the U.K. and America. “They
were saying, it’s rock and roll, but it’s not really rock and roll because it
comes from the Kraut.”

 

Faust’s
members never liked the term and didn’t have much contact, at least during the
early years, with the other bands it encompassed. Tongues firmly in cheek, they
named one of their compositions, “Krautrock,” and watched it gain critical
acclaim. And years later, the term “Krautrock” became almost an academic term,
describing an entire movement of rhythmic, repetitive, psychedelic music that
has become vastly influential and respected.

 

Core
principles

 

In the
years since 1990, Faust’s line-up has been fluid, with core members Peron,
Werner “Zappi” Diermaier and Hans Joachim Irmler coming and going, and a large
cast of others joining in at various times. “But, yes, there is definitely a
common thread,” Peron said, when asked about the many different iterations of
his band. “Enthusiasm. We were play with absolutely enthusiastic people. And,
okay, let’s use that word again, dilettante. So these people would be very
serious about what they were doing, but not taking it dead serious. Then again
have this delight or this enjoyment. And maybe one other thing would be energy.
People with a lot of energy.”

 

That
energy is necessary because of the band’s commitment to multimedia performance,
rather than just music, as an expression of its creativity. “Faust is not only
music. We believe that what we are doing on stage is not only music. It’s also
painting, acting, doing a lot of work,” said Peron. “We will sometimes have people
welding or people doing some stonemasonry or building walls or cutting wood. So
it requires a lot of energy. It’s not just picking up a guitar and playing.”

 

Over the
years, Faust has collaborated with many different artists – everyone from Nurse
with Wound’s Stephen Stapleton to the experimental hip hop collective, DÈ�lek. None of them, though, seem to have left the same mark as Tony
Conrad, the minimalist composer and violin, who recorded Outside the Dream
Syndicate
with Faust in 1972.  “Tony
Conrad’s principle was one beat, one note, 71 minutes, and I learned a lot from
that,” he said. “When we recorded together in Wümme, I think he had great fun,
because he was out of his regular circle of friends. I think he felt very free.”

 

Something
Dirty

 

Like all
of Faust’s albums, Something Dirty was composed as it was recorded, during a short, intense collaboration among
long-time members Peron and Diermaier, plus James Johnston (from Gallon Drunk
and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds) and musician, poet and
multimedia artist Geraldine Swayne.   

 

Asked if anything had been written before the
sessions, Peron broke into multiple negatives. “Oh no, oh no, no, no, no. We
don’t do that. No. Faust doesn’t do that,” he sputtered. “We just go into a
studio and each of us spills what he has gathered. That’s it, that’s how we
work. No we have no composition. It’s just making us naked in the studio, in a
figurative way, of course.”

 

“We were
just playing together like children, without preconceptions,” added Swayne. (Peron
had talked to her before the interview and gathered a few quotes.) 

 

The album
has a sort of sonic dirtiness to it, a crust of hiss and echo and dissonance
over all but its most lyrical tracks. Peron says that Something Dirty was named not for that quality, however, but for a pivotal moment in the
recording process.   

 

“At one point,
we had a blackout. We had nothing more to spill. We were sort of empty,” he
remembered.  So Geraldine had gone down
to the floor and said, ‘Come on, let’s play something dirty.’  And she banged on the keyboard and played
something really ugly. And then out of that, something good came. I don’t know how,
because we were at the bottom of the well. But when we remembered what was the
best moment, it was when Geraldine said, ‘Let’s play something dirty.’  So we called it Something Dirty.

 

The title
track, along with “Tell the Bitch to Go Home,” have a certain hedonistic,
almost dance-friendly quality, though fuzzed and twisted into surreal shapes.  Asked if Faust could ever envision composing
something purely to dance to, Peron gets to the heart of the band’s
collaborative process.

 

“We have
always had strong personalities in this band,” he said. “It doesn’t matter
which Faust we are talking about, the Faust from the north or south, the one
before, the one now. There are strong personalities. We have a freedom to
express our own identity while still remaining in the altogether Faust spirit.”

 

“So now,
back to your question, why is it dancing and why is it weird at the same time?”
he continued. “It’s because when we are in the studio, we are these four individuals
and I know that Geraldine and myself, we love to dance. And I know Zappi, he
doesn’t dance much. I know James, okay, he dances sometimes. So you see, you’ve
got four…two parties. We all love to make music. We all love to make music
together. We all love to make Faust music. But two of us like to dance and two
of us don’t care too much about dancing.”

 

“The
whole point of music is to express the inexpressible and the purest form of
music is music that consumes the body,” Swayne explained, again via Peron. “To
become out of one’s self and to surrender. Look round the world at what humans
use music for. Drums, collective moving, celebrating, getting high, throwing
ourselves around. Lose sight of that and you will stroke your beard until it
drops off, and then where will you be?”

 

“So this
is why we make the music to dance to,” Peron concluded. “Music is for dancing,
but it is for expressing whatever you’ve got inside. So also it’s weird.”

 

Faust
will be taking its weird, expressive, multimedia, collaborative (but not Kraut)
rock on the road this summer, visiting Australia and Poland and perhaps some
other venues. In addition, fans who want to catch Peron – and a collection of
cutting edge experimental artists – can always head to the Avant-Garde Music Festival
that he curates every year. This year it’s scheduled for June 24-26 (www.avantgardefestival.de) and the
roster includes Faust and a score of other out-there artists from all over the
world.

 

Peron is
also busy working on a symphony for orchestra and cement mixer with a French contemporary
composer. Peron said that Faust has often used cement mixers and other heavy
machinery in its shows, and that he has become somewhat obsessed with these
things.

 

“I fell
in love. I discovered more and more about the concrete mixer,” he explained. “It’s
a mass of symbols.  Just try to picture
yourself when you are passing an old battered concrete mixer at a construction
site. You would see eternity. You would see humility. You will see pregnancy,
power…it’s like there is nothing and at the end there is civilization. It’s as
simple as that. From the fluent elements of sand and water and then bang,
you’ve got the Twin
Towers. This is the
concrete mixer. And when it turns, so humbly and so strong, like a pregnant
women. It just breaks my heart.” (Go here to view a photo of the musician with
his trusty cement mixer.)

 

And, in
the same way, Faust, even 40 years into its history, is still in the process of
building and becoming. “I will tell you the absolute truth. Faust has no plan. We
have dreams, but no plan. We are 40 years in that kind of business,” Peron said.
“We’re just taking things as they happen. This is why we’ll never get big. We
are big for a few friends that we have, and that is what keeps us going on and
on. When we have the testimony of people being really moved by our music. This
is okay for us. This is our fortune.”

 

 

 [Photo Credit: Markus Wustman]

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