Cement-imental Journey – Faust: Where Roads Cross Reviewed

Richard Fontenoy checks out a new double DVD documenting the story of the most mercurial of all Krautrock bands

Faust are a band – sometimes two – who lend themselves to tales tall, wide and occasionally apocryphal. For a group whose origins lie in the 1968 desire for Polydor to find their own German answer to The Beatles, their history (and present) couldn’t have turned out to be much more different if they tried – which they surely did.

Faust’s iconoclasm went beyond road-drills and smashing TVs onstage to the despair of their label who eventually dropped them, having funded the band’s experiments unwittingly for two years. Band members Hans-Joachim Irmler, Rudolf Sosna, Gunther Wüsthoff and resident engineer Kurt Graupner devised unique black boxes which connected each band member onstage (and at home in their communal studio in Wümme), allowing them to modify each other’s sounds in real time, more than a decade before MIDI; and which disappeared, alongside Faust, after running up massive bills during the recording in Munich around 1975 of the Faust V album which Virgin refused to finance or release.

Faust reappeared in 1990 with a series of acclaimed gigs and albums, including the astonishing Rien with guests Jim O’Rourke and Keiji Haino in 1994, an era which was definitively captured on Emyr Williams’ film Nobody Knows If It Ever Happened (Ankst DVD 2007) of two legendarily chaotic gigs at The Garage in London in 1998. Faust were banned from there after the fire brigade arrived to lead out a stunned and choking audience from the smoke-filled venue. Internal disagreements led to singer/bassist/nude provocateur and self-declared art-errorist Jean-Hervé Péron’s departure, though he later emerged with a separate band – also called Faust, with man-mountain “Zappi” Diermaier back on percussion – for a triumphant UK tour in 2005.

Julien Perrin’s Is Faust Schön? (Is Faust Good?) follows founder members Péron (AKA JHP) and Zappi, with Amaury Cambuzat of Ulan Bator on guitar, during 2007. At the start, JHP and Zappi visit the old school in Wümme where they lived and recorded together (sometimes sleeping in a shed with their beloved dogs), and search unsuccessfully for the local children who contributed choral voices to one song.

As the film develops, it recaps the truism that Faust are not an ordinary band, depicting the trio in the studio and on tour, setting up stages with concrete mixers and panels of sheet metal, and collecting leaves in a London park in readiness for the assaults on audiences yet to come. Deploying sprayed vegetation and strobes as the mixers provide rhythmic accompaniment to primal bass and guitar and JHP’s chaotically-wielded chainsaw, the film captures a key scene when Faust play ‘It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl’ as the military-grade smoke bombs fill Corsica Studios with impenetrable smoke 10 years to the day after the Garage concert, and the screen blanks out in static and fuzz.

Their difference is apparent while recording, where at one point JHP irons a shirt and declaims “This is not music”. During an interview JHP states that “Faust music is Faust’s music”, rather than belonging to any genre. Some footage is shot at JHP’s house in Schiphorst in northern Germany, but since his home hosts the supremely eclectic Avantgarde Festival every summer, it’s a venue as likely to find JHP philosophically setting about destroying a television with an axe as strumming his twin-necked guitar in rehearsal.

JHP reflects on the history of the band and declares “I’m not there to entertain (the audience) harmlessly”. Interviewed by David Stubbs of The Wire for their Rebellious Jukebox session on film, JHP, Zappi and Amaury talk of the influence and appreciation of Dylan, Zappa, Dada, Schwitters and Popul Vuh, but few of their contemporaries from Seventies Germany are referred to. This is simply because at the time there was little communication among the widely-separated members of a scene that essentially didn’t exist outside the minds of the UK music press and their deprecatory lumping of all German bands under the term ‘Krautrock’ – which became the title of one of Faust’s signature thumping songs. The irony of what is regarded as a quintessential German band only having members (in 2007) who were French and Austrian is also apparent.

The companion Live in Lyon DVD covers the entire show at Les Nuits Sonores festival in 2005, the lineup supplemented by Olivier Manchion (also of Ulan Bator), Walter Monnen and the bearish American multi-instrumentalist Keef Roberts. Rendered in luminous black and white, Perrin’s footage captures JHP’s Faust in full live flow. With a set consisting of songs from the Seventies heyday, including a more-than decent fist of selections from Faust’s début self-titled album, where – as alluded to in the documentary – the influence of Zappa is most present.

The group play Faust with their customary visceral intensity, supplemented by the rush which comes from seeing and hearing the classic oeuvre performed live onstage, even on film (newer material from JHP’s Faust arrived later, starting with 2007s Disconnected, produced by Steve Stapleton, whose outfit Nurse With Wound were described ironically as a Faust tribute band). All the necessary elements are there in the juddering bass and chaotic scenes which are interspersed with gentler acoustic numbers such as ‘Jennifer’ or the bouncy cod-Ska of ‘The Sad Skinhead’. This atypical tune backs up lyrics which could easily be Faust’s theme song: “Apart from all the bad times/I always had good with you/Going places/Smashing faces/What else could have happened to us?”

So what did happen to this Faust in the six years since Ist Faust Schön? JHP and Zappi continue to play, with a varying list of regular members including James Johnston of Gallon Drunk and James Hodson of Io Pan, while the current lineup includes Cambuzat and the artist and musician Geraldine Swayne. Recent collaborators at the Avantgarde Festival include Bo Ningen and Damo Suzuki, together and separately. It remains to be seen if Zappi’s estimate in the documentary of having eight years left to play in Faust holds true.

As for Irmler’s incarnation of Faust – who also hold their own annual festival and run the esteemed Klangbad label in southern Germany – that really is another story.

To order a copy of Faust: Where Roads Cross go to the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Faustwhereroadscross?directed_target_id=0

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today