Krautrock: The Evolution of a Genre
Krautrock: The Evolution of a Genre

Krautrock: The Evolution of a Genre

Krautrock, a term coined in the early 1970s by British music journalists, refers to an experimental genre of rock that originated in West Germany during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Characterized by its innovative and avant-garde approach, Krautrock played a pivotal role in shaping the landscape of modern music, influencing genres such as electronic, ambient, and post-punk. This article delves into the history, definition, and style of Krautrock, highlighting essential albums and tracks that have left an indelible mark on the genre.

History and Origins

The story of Krautrock begins in the tumultuous post-World War II era in West Germany. The country was in a state of reconstruction and recovery, both physically and culturally. Amidst the backdrop of the Cold War and the division of Germany into East and West, a new generation of German youth was emerging, eager to break free from the past and forge a new identity. This cultural rebirth played a significant role in the genesis of Krautrock.

The 1960s: Seeds of Change

During the 1960s, West Germany experienced significant cultural shifts influenced by the global countercultural movement. The student protests of 1968, driven by opposition to the Vietnam War, social injustices, and a conservative government, reflected a growing desire for change and new forms of expression. This political and social upheaval created an environment ripe for artistic experimentation.

Young German musicians were increasingly exposed to the burgeoning psychedelic rock and experimental music scenes in the United States and the United Kingdom. Influences from bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, and The Velvet Underground began to permeate the German music landscape. However, instead of merely imitating these Western influences, German artists sought to create something uniquely their own.

The Formation of a Distinct Sound

One of the key aspirations of the emerging Krautrock musicians was to develop a distinctly German form of rock music that broke away from the Anglo-American dominance of the genre. They aimed to create music that was reflective of their own cultural and historical context. This led to a fusion of various musical elements, including traditional German music, classical avant-garde, jazz, and the experimental approaches of contemporary composers.

Karlheinz Stockhausen, a pioneering figure in electronic and avant-garde music, had a profound influence on the Krautrock movement. Stockhausen’s innovative techniques, such as the use of electronic instruments, tape manipulation, and unconventional compositional structures, inspired many young musicians. His teachings and philosophy encouraged them to explore new sonic possibilities and push the boundaries of traditional music.

The Rise of Krautrock Bands

The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the formation of several bands that would become central to the Krautrock movement. These bands were often based in West German cities like Düsseldorf, Cologne, Munich, and Berlin, where vibrant artistic communities were flourishing.

  • Amon Düül and Amon Düül II: Originating from a politically active commune in Munich, Amon Düül was one of the first bands associated with the Krautrock scene. The band eventually split into two groups: Amon Düül and the more musically ambitious Amon Düül II. The latter became known for their eclectic and psychedelic sound.
  • Can: Formed in Cologne in 1968, Can was a band of former students of Stockhausen. They blended rock, jazz, and avant-garde elements, and their improvisational approach became a hallmark of Krautrock. Can’s music was characterized by its experimental structures and use of unconventional sounds.
  • Faust: Emerging in Wümme, Faust was known for their experimental and often provocative approach to music. They incorporated found sounds, tape manipulation, and unorthodox recording techniques, creating an avant-garde and often chaotic sound.
  • Kraftwerk: Founded in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk initially experimented with a more traditional rock setup before fully embracing electronic music. Their minimalist and mechanized approach laid the foundation for future electronic genres.
  • Neu!: Formed by former Kraftwerk members Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, Neu! became synonymous with the motorik beat, a steady, driving rhythm that became a defining feature of Krautrock. Their music was marked by simplicity and repetition.
  • Tangerine Dream: Founded by Edgar Froese in Berlin in 1967, Tangerine Dream was a pioneer in electronic and ambient music. Their early work was characterized by extended instrumental compositions and innovative use of synthesizers.

The Krautrock Ethos

Krautrock was more than just a musical style; it was an ethos that embraced experimentation, independence, and a break from tradition. Many Krautrock bands rejected the commercialism of the mainstream music industry, often producing their albums independently and focusing on artistic integrity over commercial success. This DIY spirit was reflected in their innovative use of technology and recording techniques.

The genre was also marked by its communal and collaborative nature. Bands like Amon Düül II emerged from collective living situations where musicians and artists lived and worked together. This sense of community fostered a spirit of creative experimentation and collaboration.

The Impact of Krautrock

By the mid-1970s, Krautrock had made a significant impact on the global music scene. British and American musicians and critics began to take notice of the innovative sounds coming out of West Germany. The term “Krautrock” itself, originally coined by British music journalists, was initially seen as pejorative but was later embraced as a badge of honor by many of the genre’s proponents.

Krautrock’s influence extended far beyond its original era. The genre’s emphasis on electronic experimentation and minimalist structures laid the groundwork for the development of electronic music, ambient, and post-punk. Kraftwerk, in particular, became a major influence on the development of techno and house music in the 1980s and 1990s. The genre’s impact can also be seen in the work of modern indie and alternative rock bands, who continue to draw inspiration from Krautrock’s pioneering spirit.

Definition and Style

Krautrock is not a homogenous genre but rather a collection of bands and artists united by their experimental approach to music. However, several defining characteristics can be identified:

  1. Minimalism and Repetition: Many Krautrock bands employed repetitive rhythms and minimalist structures, often creating hypnotic and trance-like soundscapes. This approach was influenced by composers like Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
  2. Electronic Experimentation: The use of electronic instruments and synthesizers was a hallmark of Krautrock. Bands like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream were pioneers in integrating electronic sounds into rock music, paving the way for future electronic genres.
  3. Improvisation and Avant-Garde Techniques: Krautrock musicians frequently incorporated elements of free improvisation and avant-garde music. Bands like Can and Faust were known for their unorthodox recording methods and experimental compositions.
  4. Motorik Beat: A steady, driving 4/4 beat, often referred to as the “motorik” beat, became a signature of the genre. This rhythmic pattern, popularized by bands like Neu!, provided a relentless and propulsive foundation for their music.
  5. Eclectic Influences: Krautrock drew from a wide range of influences, including jazz, classical music, and world music. This eclecticism contributed to the genre’s rich and varied sound.

Essential Bands and Albums

Krautrock’s impact is best understood through the works of its key bands and their seminal albums. Here are some of the most influential acts and their essential recordings:


Kraftwerk is arguably the most famous Krautrock band, and their influence extends far beyond the genre itself. Formed in Düsseldorf in 1970, Kraftwerk’s pioneering use of electronic instruments and minimalist aesthetics helped shape the future of electronic music.

  • Essential Album: “Autobahn” (1974): This album marked Kraftwerk’s transition from their earlier experimental sound to a more electronic and structured approach. The title track, a 22-minute odyssey, is a quintessential example of the motorik beat and repetitive structures that define Krautrock.


Can, formed in Cologne in 1968, is known for their improvisational style and eclectic influences. Their music often defies categorization, blending rock, jazz, and avant-garde elements.

  • Essential Album: “Tago Mago” (1971): A double album that showcases Can’s improvisational prowess and experimental approach. Tracks like “Halleluhwah” and “Mushroom” highlight their ability to create extended jams that are both hypnotic and unpredictable.


Neu! was founded by former Kraftwerk members Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger. They are credited with popularizing the motorik beat, which became a defining feature of Krautrock.

  • Essential Album: “Neu!” (1972): The band’s debut album is a masterclass in minimalism and repetition. Tracks like “Hallogallo” exemplify the driving, relentless rhythms that became Neu!’s trademark.


Faust is one of the most experimental and avant-garde bands in the Krautrock scene. Their music often incorporates found sounds, tape manipulation, and unconventional recording techniques.

  • Essential Album: “Faust IV” (1973): This album strikes a balance between accessibility and experimentation. Tracks like “Krautrock” and “Jennifer” highlight Faust’s ability to blend catchy melodies with avant-garde soundscapes.

Tangerine Dream

Tangerine Dream, formed in Berlin in 1967, is a pivotal band in the development of electronic music. Their early work is characterized by extended instrumental compositions and innovative use of synthesizers.

  • Essential Album: “Phaedra” (1974): This album is a landmark in electronic music, featuring long, atmospheric tracks that explore the possibilities of synthesizers and sequencers. “Phaedra” is both meditative and otherworldly, setting the stage for ambient music.

Amon Düül II

Amon Düül II emerged from the Amon Düül commune in Munich and became known for their eclectic and psychedelic sound. Their music often blends rock, folk, and experimental elements.

  • Essential Album: “Yeti” (1970): This double album is a cornerstone of psychedelic Krautrock. Tracks like “Soap Shop Rock” and “Archangel Thunderbird” showcase the band’s ability to create complex, multi-layered compositions.

Influential Tracks

In addition to the albums mentioned above, several tracks stand out as quintessential examples of the Krautrock sound. These tracks capture the essence of the genre and its innovative spirit:

  • “Autobahn” by Kraftwerk: This 22-minute track from the album of the same name is a sonic journey through electronic landscapes, driven by the motorik beat.
  • “Halleluhwah” by Can: A 18-minute epic from “Tago Mago,” this track features a relentless groove and showcases Can’s improvisational prowess.
  • “Hallogallo” by Neu!: From their debut album, this track is a perfect example of the motorik beat and minimalist approach that define Neu!’s sound.
  • “Krautrock” by Faust: A track from “Faust IV,” it captures the band’s experimental ethos and willingness to push the boundaries of rock music.
  • “Phaedra” by Tangerine Dream: The title track from the album “Phaedra” is a landmark in electronic music, with its atmospheric and meditative qualities.
  • “Archangel Thunderbird” by Amon Düül II: A standout track from “Yeti,” it blends psychedelic rock with experimental elements, highlighting the band’s eclectic sound.

Legacy and Influence

Krautrock’s influence extends far beyond its original era, impacting a wide range of musical genres and artists. The genre’s emphasis on electronic experimentation and minimalist structures laid the groundwork for the development of electronic music, ambient, and post-punk.

Electronic Music

Kraftwerk’s pioneering use of synthesizers and electronic instruments directly influenced the emergence of electronic music genres such as techno, house, and synth-pop. Artists like Depeche Mode, New Order, and the Orb have cited Kraftwerk as a significant influence.

Ambient Music

Tangerine Dream’s atmospheric and meditative compositions helped shape the ambient music genre. Their use of synthesizers and sequencers created lush, immersive soundscapes that inspired artists like Brian Eno and Aphex Twin.


The minimalist and repetitive structures of Krautrock, particularly the motorik beat, influenced the post-punk movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Bands like Joy Division, Public Image Ltd., and Siouxsie and the Banshees incorporated Krautrock elements into their music, creating a new, angular sound.

Modern Indie and Alternative Rock

Krautrock’s experimental ethos continues to inspire modern indie and alternative rock bands. Groups like Radiohead, Stereolab, and Tame Impala have drawn on Krautrock’s innovative spirit, incorporating its repetitive rhythms and electronic textures into their music.


Krautrock remains a vital and influential genre in the history of modern music. Its innovative approach to composition, instrumentation, and production challenged the conventions of rock music and paved the way for future genres. The essential albums and tracks highlighted in this article provide a glimpse into the rich and varied world of Krautrock, showcasing the genre’s enduring legacy and its impact on contemporary music.

As we continue to explore and appreciate the pioneering sounds of Krautrock, it becomes clear that this genre was not just a fleeting moment in music history but a profound and lasting influence that continues to resonate with musicians and listeners alike. Whether through the hypnotic rhythms of Neu!, the electronic landscapes of Kraftwerk, or the experimental journeys of Can and Faust, Krautrock’s spirit of innovation and exploration lives on, inspiring new generations to push the boundaries of music.