Faust - Fresh Air
So let's begin at the beginning. When I was very young, back in the mid-70's, I managed to buy / swindle the first four Faust albums (all pristine, all originals) from the psycho-metal-hippie-head who lived around the corner. I would go to his house and he would sit listening to his refrigerator while I sat trawling thru' his record collection. He had some good swag and I was insatiable to hear more of the stuff I'd heard whilst listening, under-the-covers, to the John Peel radio show when I was supposed to be sleeping. I'd read some crazy stuff (jackhammers on stage, pinball machines linked to an array of electronic noise-making devices!) about the band in the music press of the day and was extremely curious. Kosmische (or Krautrock - a term coined by the Faust themselves - if you prefer) was being written up big-time, but (at my age) it was extremely hard to actually get to listen to whole album of these strange emanations from Germany, let alone catch any of these fabled bands live. Anyway, these albums (Faust, So Far, The Faust Tapes, and Faust IV) almost immediately became like magic talismans to me: an aural- and eye-opening view thru' some surreal looking-glass into a world I would never know (and never fully understand).
"There is no group more mythical than Faust," wrote Julian Cope in his book Krautrocksampler, which detailed the pivotal influence the German band exerted over the development of ambient and industrial textures. Producer / overseer Uwe Nettelbeck, a one-time music journalist, formed Faust ("fist") in Wumme, Germany, in 1971 with founding members Hans Joachim Irmler, Jean Hervé Péron, Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, Rudolf Sosna, Gunther Wusthoff, and Armulf Meifert. Upon receiving advance money from Polydor, Nettelbeck converted an old schoolhouse into a recording studio, where the group spent the first several months of its existence in almost total isolation, honing its unique cacophonous sound with the aid of occasional guests like minimalist composer Tony Conrad and members of Slapp Happy. Faust (with Nettelbeck) became one of the very first bands to use the recording studio as an instrument.
Issued on clear vinyl in a transparent sleeve with a transparent insert, Faust's eponymously titled debut LP surfaced in 1971. Although sales were notoriously bad, the album - a gloriously absurd, noisy sound-collage of cut-and-paste musical fragments - did earn the group a solid cult following. Another lavishly packaged work (almost entirely black except for the nine 12 x 12 artwork prints - one for each track), Faust So Far, followed in 1972. It was arguably more "accessible," more song-based, but was still surrealy out-there and Polydor dropped the band, citing them "not commercial enough."
Fledgling entrepreneur Richard Branson signed the band up quickly and released 1973's The Faust Tapes - a fantastic, fan-assembled collection of home recordings - for about the price of a single, a marketing ploy that earned considerable media interest and sold an staggering (for the time) 50,000+ copies! An utterly amazing number since the record is basically one long ultra-weird pastiche. After the fabled (and only recently re-released) minimalistic masterpiece Outside The Dream Syndicate, a collaboration with Tony Conrad, Faust released 1973's Faust IV, a great album relatively similar to So Far in structure but a huge commercial failure that resulted in the loss of their contract with Virgin, which refused to release their planned fifth long-player.
Faust disbanded in 1975 when Nettelbeck turned his focus away from the group, and then followed the bands’ muddled (and confusing for fans) middle period. Albums of old material were issued in the mid to late 80's: Munic and Elsewhere, 71 Minutes of..., and The Last LP. Older albums were reissued with different covers (clearance was apparently never gained for Bridget Riley's rear cover artwork for The Faust Tapes) while, unbeknownst to most fans, various incarnations of the band continued to tour Germany sporadically.
Faust officially reunited around the nucleus of Irmler, Péron, and Diermaier for a handful of European performances at the start of the 1990's. In 1993, they made their first-ever U.S. live appearance backing Conrad, followed by a series of other stateside performances. After several live releases, a new studio album, Rien, appeared in 1994. The OBI strip for the excellent Rien states things better than I ever could: "These are the first studio recordings from Faust in over 20 years. An aggressive collision of electronic pastiche, musique concrete, power tools and group improvisation results in an extraordinary return by one of the seminal experimental ensembles of all time." Incredibly, Faust were back!
If the mid to late 80's were muddled then the period between 1994 and 2004 was a mindfuck! There were several albums released (including the universally acclaimed Ravvivando) but numerous line-up changes. Too many, in fact, to document here. All that really needs to be said is that by 2004 the band had actually split into two groups with different line-ups sharing the same name! There was / is the Faust featuring Irmler, and then there's the Faust featuring Péron and Diermaier. I mean no disrespect at all to Irmler and his merry band, but to me (and I believe to the vast majority of fans), the Péron / Diermaier incarnation is THE REAL FAUST.
As a side note: I had one of my childhood dreams fulfilled when I saw Faust (THE REAL FAUST!) live, in my hometown of Newcastle, on their 2005 U.K. tour. Old and new material alongside angle-grinders and a marching band! Totally exhilarating. Totally entertaining. Totally unique. Totally Faust! I am still recovering. More amazing still is that the show was later released as a 3xCD + DVD set, In Autumn. That night I was a very happy bunny...
But enough reminiscing. Fast forward you verbose Englishman! It is 2017 and Péron / Diermaier (with Maxime Manac'h) have a new album out entitled Fresh Air. It is a staggering 46 years since their formation, and after all those years Faust (or faUSt as they seem to go by these days) STILL sound as singular as ever. STILL sound as cutting edge, as inventive, as urgent, as (good) weird, as extreme, as bizarre, as utterly indefinable BUT instantly recognizable as ever. Fresh Air is right up there with their classics of yore.
faUST toured the U.S. last year, working with a revolving cast of guest musicians, including Barbara Manning, Jürgen Engler (Die Krupps), and saxophonist Ulrich Krieger (Art Zoyd). At various studios in various cities the band sought communication with various musicians and members of their audience, and a selection of these "community recordings" makes up the album. Also included are two live at WFMU cuts that really display the power that the band can produce. The title track especially is 17 and a half minutes of building, building, building momentum (including a French poem recited by a woman in Polish, a female opera singer singing in Italian, and a male vocalist shouting in English!) that flat out rocks by the end. Honestly, I would have been more than happy if this track had gone on for another hour. Despite the unconventional recording process (that also included material from Péron's database of field recordings) the album is strongly cohesive, the musicians slowly opening up the listeners' mind so that one can fully appreciate the seemingly unexpected twists and turns of faUSt in their prime - determined sonic renegades.
faUSt. Still originating. Never imitating. (Lee)
Check out a track here.