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Germanic street preachers: The psychology of Krautrock

Regular readers of my blog will be aware that I describe myself as a music obsessive with an eclectic taste ranging from Iggy Pop and Adam Ant through to the Velvet Underground and Throbbing Gristle. Another genre of music that I have more than a passing interest is that of ‘Krautrock’ (see my previous blog on Kraftwerk and their alleged addiction to cycling). Krautrock (as you can probably guess) is a somewhat derogatory term – believed to have been coined by the renowned music journalist Ian MacDonald – to describe a number of German bands that came to the fore in the British music scene in the early 1970s (most notably Amon Düül, Faust, Can, Kraftwerk, Neu!, Kluster, Cluster, Harmonia, Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel, and Tangerine Dream).

Krautrock (as defined by the British media) has traditionally been viewed as electronic in nature (although many of the compositions in the late 1960s were far from electronica and utilized ‘found sounds’ from whatever was to hand) with an emphasis on improvisation and somewhat minimalistic arrangements. The Wikipedia entry on Krautrock also notes that:

“The term is a result of the English-speaking world’s reception of the music at the time and not a reference to any one particular scene, style, or movement, as many Krautrock artists were not familiar with one another…Largely divorced from the traditional blues and rock and roll influences of British and American rock music up to that time, the period contributed to the evolution of electronic music and ambient music as well as the birth of post-punt, alternative rock, and new-age music”.

Given my profession, it won’t surprise you to know that as much as I love music itself, I am also interested in the psychology of the musicians too. When it comes to Krautrock, I have argued for the best part of 20 years (to anyone that would listen) that the psychology of the archetypal Krautrocker in the late 1960s was likely to be influenced by being raised in post-second world war Germany. It was only over the holiday period that my thoughts were confirmed by the artists themselves (in interviews with journalists and musicologists).

More specifically, I read two excellent books on different aspects of ‘extreme music’ over the Christmas period – Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany (by David Stubbs), and Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music (by S. Alexander Reed). Alongside this, I also watched the wonderful three-hour documentary DVD Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution, the BBC 4 documentary, Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany, and the 2008 film The Baader Meinhof Complex (about the Red Army Faction, left-wing German militant group and based on the 1985 non-fiction book of the same name by Stefan Aust).

These books and films all made reference to the cultural, political, and psychological climate in post-war West Germany. There were a number of repeated themes that I couldn’t fail to notice. Firstly, many of the middle classes holding a lot of the important jobs (mayors, town leaders, judges, professors, teachers) were still Nazi sympathizers. Secondly, children born after 1945 were generally not told about their history by either their parents or their schoolteachers. Thirdly, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, teenagers said they experienced feelings of guilt but didn’t know what for. On the musical front, West Germany’s pre- and post-war musical legacy was “Schlager” music (described by music journalist Adam Sweeting as a genre unpleasantly redolent of the sentimental slop with which Josef Goebbels had saturated the Third Reich”). As Wikipedia notes that:

“Schlager music (German: Schlager, synonym of “hit-songs” or “hits”), also known in the United States as entertainer music or German hit mix, is a style of popular or electronic music…Typical schlager tracks are either sweet, highly sentimental ballads with a simple, catchy melody or light pop tunes. Lyrics typically center on love, relationships and feelings”.

By the late 1960s, many older teenagers and students were united in their politics (the most high profile touch point arguably being the student protests across Europe in 1968). They were also united in their dislike of schlager music except they didn’t really know they were united. Pockets of underground music sprouted up across a number of towns and cities across Germany. Key bands in the history of Krautrock were formed in Dusseldorf (Neu!, Kraftwerk), Cologne (Can), Berlin (Kluster, Tangerine Dream), Munich (Amon Düül), and Wumme (Faust). Bands playing in one city had no idea that bands were forming in other parts of Germany with similar ideological, political and psychological roots. More bizarre was that none of these bands – at least initially – had no following in Germany itself. Most fans of these bands were in the UK rather than their homeland. It was the British music press (NME, Sounds) and DJs (most notably John Peel) that were waving the German flag.

Arguably, the most overtly political of the emerging Krautrock bands was Munich’s Amon Düül. Their band members lived in a radical West German commune including the gang that formed the Red Army Faction (RAF) in 1970 (the so-called Baader-Meinhof Group (or Baader-Meinhof Gang including Andreas Baader, and Ulrike Meinhof). The members of Amon Düül quickly dissociated themselves from the RAF saying that their comrades were going too far in making their political presence known. In fact, the band members ended up falling out with themselves leading to different versions of the band with the second incarnation (Amon Düül 2) becoming the most revered.

Another important hotbed of anti-schlager musical development was the formation of the Zodiak Free Arts Lab (also known as the Zodiak Club) by experimental musician Conny Schnitzler in West Berlin. The Zodiak Club provided a hub where anyone could come and play whatever they wanted amongst like-minded people pushing the boundaries of music with whatever was at hand. Schnitzler himself was an early member of Tangerine Dream as well as the founding member of later Krautrock bands such as Kluster and Eruption. The other important figure in West Berlin’s burgeoning Krautrock scene was Hans-Joachim Roedelius who played with Schnitzler in Kluster but then went on to form Cluster with Deiter Moebius (another key player in the Krautrock movement) but without Schnitzler.

In relation to the psychology of Krautrock, Michael Rother (an early member of Kraftwerk, co-founder of Neu!, and later in ‘supergroup’ Harmonia) was interviewed by David Stubbs in his book Future Days. Rother had actually studied psychology and that as a German he strived for an alternative identity, and a new personality almost:

“Studies into psychology also assisted Rother in realizing that as a young man coming of age in Germany in the late 1960s, he could not be impervious to the cultural, social and political forces ranging at that time, all of which would have a profound impact on his musical identity. He rejected out of hand the burgeoning violence and ‘lunacy’ of terrorist movements such as the Baader-Meinhof group, whom he regarded as on the wrong road altogether. At the same time, the horrors of the Vietnam War acted as a jolting reminder of the need to wrench oneself away from Anglo-American hegemony, to create oneself as a personality anew”.

Rother’s perceptions and psychological insights appear to have been shared by many other individuals forming bands across West Germany in the late 1960s. The complete silence by parents and teachers towards children about the actions of Hitler and the Nazis (most notably the genocide of the Jewish people living in Germany) left post-war adolescents psychologically ill at ease about their national and cultural identities. They needed to create something unique, something identifiably German, and something they would feel proud of. The new music of Krautrock met such criteria. But was the music really that new? Some (including myself) would argue that much of the burgeoning music in Munich, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Berlin had its’ roots in ‘musique concrète’ (“concrete music”) and the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Developed by French composer Pierre Schaeffer at the Studio d’Essai (“Experimental Studio”) of the French radio system, musique concrète is a form of electroacoustic music. It comprises an experimental technique of musical composition that uses recorded sounds as raw material to create a montage of sound (often referred to as ‘found sounds’ but can include recordings of voice and musical instruments). Musique concrète compositions don’t follow any conventional musical rules of melody, rhythm or harmony. Many musicologists view musique concrete as a precursor to electronica. Furthermore, many groups from Throbbing Gristle to Depeche Mode have sampled ‘found sounds’ in their musical output as well as many of the earlier pioneers in Krautrock.

The roots of Krautrock can also be traced back to one of Germany’s musical giants, Karlheinz Stockhausen. I’ve been aware of Stockhausen’s work through his influence on the Beatles (Stockhausen is one of the figures on their 1967 Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band LP cover). Although in the public’s mind it was John Lennon that was associated with the more avant-garde recordings by the Beatles (‘Revolution 9’ and ‘What’s The New Mary Jane’) and his first solo albums with second wife Yoko Ono (Two Virgins, Life With The Lions, and Wedding Album), it was actually Paul McCartney who first developed an interest in avant-garde composers such as Stockhausen. (In fact, prior to his relationship with Ono, Lennon was famously quoted as saying “Avant-garde is French for bullshit”). Evidence for McCartney’s interest in Stockhausen and the avant-garde is the still unreleased Beatles composition ‘The Carnival of Light’ recorded in January 1967 for The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave held at the Roundhouse Theatre).

Stockhausen is seen by many as one of the greatest musical innovators and visionaries of the twentieth century. His electronic compositions were way ahead of his time, and had a large influence on many more modern day recording artists including Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend (The Who), Roger Waters (Pink Floyd), and Björk. In relation to Krautrock, two members of Can (Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay) were actually tutored by Stockhausen at the Cologne Courses for New Music, and Kraftwerk claim they also studied under him.

In terms of Krautrock’s influence on modern music, it doesn’t matter whether it was genuinely new. It was genuinely (West) German and grew largely from individuals’ psychological and/or political reaction to their experiences of growing up in post-war Germany following the fall of Nazism. The content of the output may not have been psychologically-based, but the attitude and spirit in making such music arguably was. We are all products of our genetics and our environment, and post-war teenagers born after 1945 in Germany experienced a culture and an immediate history that most can never ever experience. The Krautrockers fighting (artistically, culturally and literally) against the ‘establishment’ in late 1960s brought about some of the greatest music ever produced, and I for one, am eternally grateful for the pleasure it has brought in my own life.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Blaney, J. (2005). John Lennon: Listen to this Book. Guildford: Paper Jukebox, Biddles Ltd.

Buckley, D. (2012). Kraftwerk Publication. London: Omnibus.

Cope, J. (1996). Krautrocksampler (Second Edition). Head Heritage.

Reed, S.A. (2013). Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Stubbs, D. (2014). Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany. London: Faber & Faber.

Wikipedia (2014). Krautrock. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Krautrock

Wikipedia (2014). Musique concrète. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musique_concrète

Riding high: Can cycling be addictive?

One of the many music books I got for Christmas this year was David Buckley’s excellent 2012 biography of Kraftwerk. Given the media shyness of the band since their official formation in 1970, I was surprised that there was enough material to even fill a chapter, let alone a whole book. However, I read the whole book by December 27th and one of the things I found most fascinating was the claim that the two key founding members of the band – Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider – were obsessed with cycling. Cycling was so much a part of their daily lives from the early 1980s that – according to the other members of the ‘classic’ line-up, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür – it partly explains (along with the band’s perfectionist nature) the relatively low number of albums they released between 1981’s seminal Computer World and the present day. Even the most casual of Kraftwerk observers are probably aware of the band’s love of cycling as they released a single in 1983 about the Tour De France, and then 20 years later released their  2003 album Tour De France Soundtracks (their most recent album of original music).

People often talk about the ‘cycle of addiction’ but rarely about ‘addiction to cycling’ except occasional academic references in relation to exercise addiction (including some papers I have published myself). For instance, Dr. John Kerr in his 1997 book Motivation and Emotion in Sport speculated on the likely meta-motivational style of those people who are addicted to exercise. Dr. Kerr noted that it was the endurance type exercise activities (e.g. running, cycling, swimming, aerobics and weight training) that are most often associated with exercise addiction and dependence.

David Buckley devotes a whole section in his Kraftwerk biography to Hütter and Schneider’s obsession with cycling. He notes that “there is something compulsive about cycling; and this is not simply based on anecdotal evidence”, something with which I would concur based on the small amount of scientific evidence examining various types of exercise addiction. Most of the section on ‘cycling addiction’ relates to Hütter (although Schneider appears to be as equally enthusiastic about the joy of cycling). Buckley reported that:

“Ralf Hütter…the man-machine became the human bicycle. There is no denying that cycling was, and indeed still is, very important for Ralf Hütter…It is probably inaccurate to describe his passion for cycling as a hobby…it became more like a second (unpaid) job…The main problem with the [cycling] was, firstly, it took a huge chunk out of the conventional working day, and secondly, the effect of the work-out on the motivation of the individual”.

As Buckley then noted, after six hours cycling, the last thing Hütter wanted to do was work when he finally got to their infamous Kling Klang studio. He then went on to note:

“As [Hütter’s] fitness levels increased, he began attempting harder and harder climbs, longer and longer routes…[Hütter] estimated that at his peak, he was cycling around 200 kilometres a day. It had been reported that on occasion on Kraftwerk tours, the bus would drop [Hütter] off around 100 kilometres from the venue, and [Hütter] would complete the final stretch on his bike”.

To those of us who work in the addiction studies field, this description of engaging in ‘harder and harder [cycling] climbs’ by Buckley appears to be an example of ‘tolerance’ in all but name (i.e., the needing of more and more of an activity to gain the desired mood modification effect). Ralf Dorper, founder member of another of my favourite 1980s bands, Propaganda, said that in the mid-1980s:

“The only chance to meet Kraftwerk…would have been at one of these cycling shops. But then [Hütter and Schneider] got more and more into it, and they went to the really specialist shops outside of Dusseldorf…They would probably easily do 50 to 100 kilometres a day”.

Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür noticed his band members shift their focus away from music and on to cycling. He said that his colleagues became “fanatics” and “insane” about their cycling, and he also claimed in an interview with Buckley that cycling was an addiction and “became a kind of drug” for Hütter. Buckley also recounts Hütter’s cycling accident that left him in a coma. The most amusing anecdote was that on coming out of his coma, Hütter’s alleged first words were “Is my bike OK? What happened to my bike?” (something that Hütter denied in a June 2009 interview with British newspaper The Guardian). Hütter doesn’t deny his cycling passion and noted in one online interview I came across that:

Cycling is the man-machine, it’s about dynamics, always continuing straight ahead, forward, no stopping. He who stops falls over. There are really balanced artists who can remain upright at a standstill, but I can’t do that. It’s always forwards”

If newspaper reports are to be believed, Hütter may not be the only pop musician with a cycling addiction. An article in an October 2009 issue of The Guardian claimed that Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet was “now a road cycling addict” based on his new-found enthusiasm for cycling. The article then went on to talk about Ralf Hütter and that “his obsession with [cycling] reportedly became so all-encompassing it threatened the group”.

Arguably the most infamous ‘cycling addict’ was the 55-year old American man ‘Tom’ from Mt. Pleasant (Texas) who appeared on the US television show My Strange Addiction who cycles eight hours a day, seven days a week (over one million miles in a 25-year period). According to the show, Tom rides his bike at home, outside, and even in his office as he works. It was also revealed that Tom was in constant stress from his cycling, and that his constant cycling had made it painful for him to stand, and can barely walk. Alternatively, there is also an amusing 2010 article by Diana North listing ‘26 signs of cycling addiction’ (e.g., ‘Have you seriously considered building a second bike room addition to your home?’, ‘Are there more than three bike-related tattoos on your body?’, ‘Do people leaving messages on your voicemail start with “I know you’re on your bike right now, but…?”, etc.). There are also a variety of online accounts (mostly by cyclists) questioning whether their passion is an addiction such as an article by Scott Saifer in the magazine Road: The Journal of Road Cycling and Culture, an e-zine article by Nebojsa Djekanovic, and a personal account by ‘Doug’ who runs the Cycle Hub blog).

Although there is a fairly established scientific literature on exercise addiction in general, there is almost nothing on cycling addiction specifically (although I did come across one online article where a professional cyclist had adapted the Internet Addiction Test for other cyclists to self-diagnose whether they are addicted to cycling). A fairly recent 2007 book entitled Exercise Dependence edited by Drs. John Kerr, Koenraad Lindner and Michelle Blaydon had about 20 mentions of cycling in the context of exercise addiction (although again almost nothing specific). Most of the references were in relation to cycling being one of the endurance sports that can also be engaged in individually, and that individual endurance sports are more highly associated with exercise addiction.

There are also occasional references to triathletes (who run, cycle and swim) being dependent and/or addicted to exercise. There was also reference to research examining eating disorders among different professional athletes (as there is a relationship between exercise addiction and eating disorders that I reviewed in a previous blog). Kerr and colleagues quoted a group of 1990s studies by Dr. J. Sundgot-Borgen showing that the prevalence of eating disorders among elitist cyclists was 20% compared to cross-country skiers (33%), middle and long distance runners (27%), swimmers (15%) and orienteers (0%). Interestingly, one of the traits that appears to be associated with exercise addiction is perfectionism according to a 1990 paper by Dr. Caroline Davis that appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences (which when linked back to Ralf Hütter’s experiences in Kraftwerk made me raise an eyebrow).

There is also some preliminary evidence that professional cyclists may be more prone to drug addictions than other groups of people. Although I was unable to fully read a French paper by Dr. J.C. Seznec in a 2002 issue of the Annales Medico-Psychologiques Revue Psychiatrique, the author claimed that sportsmen were specifically vulnerable to addiction. Seznec – a psychiatrist and sports doctor – highlighted there are some factors (predisposing factors, initiation factors and maintenance factors) that explain the association. Seznec concluded that:

“These addictions seem to be in direct relation with the brutal transformation that high-level sport towards professionalism suffered. This study makes us conclude that the practising of a professional sport predisposes to the development of an addiction and that it requires a specific preventive help”.

I’m certainly of the opinion that it is theoretically possible to be addicted to cycling, although the number of people genuinely affected is likely to be small. This is one area that I might consider doing some personal research into – especially if it meant I could interview the members of Kraftwerk!

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Allegre, B., Souville, M., Therme, P. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Definitions and measures of exercise dependence, Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 631-646.

Berczik, K., Szabó, A., Griffiths, M.D., Kurimay, T., Kun, B. & Demetrovics, Z. (2011). Exercise addiction: Symptoms, diagnosis, epidemiology, and etiology. Substance Use and Misuse, 47, 403-417.

Buckley, D. (2012). Kraftwerk Publication. London: Omnibus.

Davis, C. (1990). Weight and diet preoccupation and addictiveness: The role of exercise. Personality and Individual Differences, 11, 823-827.

Griffiths, M. D. (1997). Exercise addiction: A case study. Addiction Research, 5, 161-168.

Griffiths, M. D., Szabo, A., & Terry, A. (2005). The exercise addiction inventory: a quick and easy screening tool for health practitioners. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(6), e30-31.

Kerr, J. H. (1997) Motivation and Emotion in Sport: Reversal Theory. Hove: Psychology Press.

Kerr, J.H., Lindner, K.J. & Blaydon, M. (2007). Exercise Dependence. Oxford: Routledge.

Seznec, J. C. (2002). Toxicomanie et cyclisme professionnel [Drug addiction and professional cycling]. Annales Medico-Psychologiques Revue Psychiatrique, 160, 72-76.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1993). Prevalence of eating disorders in female elite athletes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 3, 29-40.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994). Eating disorders in female athletes. Sports Medicine, 17, 176-188.

Sundgot-Borgen, J. (1994) ‘Risk and trigger factors for the development of eating disorders in female elite athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 26, 414-419.

Sundgot-Borgen, J., Torstveit, G. and Klungland, M. (2004). Prevalence of eating disorders in elite athletes is higher than in the general population. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 14, 25-32.

Terry, A., Szabo, A., & Griffiths, M. D. (2004). The exercise addiction inventory: A new brief screening tool. Addiction Research and Theory, 12, 489-499.