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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Amon Düül: Psychedelic Underground


1) Ein Wunderhübsches Mädchen Träumt Von Sandosa; 2) Kaskados Minnelied; 3) Mama Düül Und Ihre Sauer­kraut­band Spielt Auf; 4) Im Garten Sandosa; 5) Der Garten Sandosa Im Mor­gen­tau; 6) Bitterlings Verwandlung.

So here I was all set to start writing about Amon Düül II, one of the fundamental marvels of clas­sic Krautrock, when it somehow struck me that it is, after all, somewhat unprofessional, not to mention illogical, not to say a few words about what the «II» stands for. And this, in turn, begs for the question — why do so many people know a lot of things about Amon Düül II, but prefer to generally keep quiet about their predecessors?

The best answer, of course, implies taking a listen to this record (one is quite enough for the lay­man; any more and you will start träum-ing von Sandosa yourself, and we don't want any of that). The original Amon Düül was not so much a musical band as a bohemian artistic conglomeration of a dozen or so free-spirited German youths, who drifted together some time in 1967 in Munich, and, instead of plotting a beer hall putsch, decided instead to take it out peacefully — besides, with that much pot around you, it'd be pretty hard to organize even a rally, let alone a political coup. So they just called themselves Amon Düül instead: «Amon» for the Egyptian sun god, of course, but with «Düül» there are problems — some claimed this to be the Turkish equivalent for 'moon', which would be nice and symmetric except there's no such word in the Turkish language. The closest thing I have been able to locate would be Proto-Turkic *düül 'dream', which is still fairly appropriate. Anyway, sure beats «Grateful Dead».

The group engaged in all sorts of activities — political, social, artistic, hallucinogenic — and one of these activities happened to be music, which some people at the time still believed to be able to save the world. Of course, «music» was understood in a strictly ritualistic sense of the word: ha­ving little value in and out of itself, serving instead as a promoter of collective ecstasy. This meant that it did not matter much if you knew how to play — it only mattered if, by playing, you could lure the spirit inside you, and then be able to pass it on to the rest.

Hence this jam session, recorded somewhere in late 1968, with eight musicians participating, and — get this — six of them credited only for various kinds of percussion (with Ulrich Leopold try­ing, as best as he can, to lay down the bass lines, and Rainer Bauer contributing stoned-out-of-his-mind rhythm guitar). Peter Leopold is the primary drummer, and Wolfgang Krischke — who passed away one year later, having managed to freeze to death while under the influence — also contributes occasional piano rolls (or, should we say, piano bangs).

The session was later doctored in the studio, mostly through the insertion of various sonic col­lages that raise the album's «unpredictability» quotient — as in, sometimes the unending tribal beat simply vanishes from under your feet and is replaced by a few minimalistic piano notes, then fades in again as if nothing happened. But in general, there is nothing here to take away the total freedom of expression, so that we can all witness how boring it can be when the universe is ruled by an absolute absence of rules.

Well, maybe not absolute. Psychedelic Underground is not just a bunch of random noises, as could easily be expected from early, hyper-experimental Krautrock. Rather, it is a bunch of tribal dances, with the entire first side given over to a particularly expressive 17-minute one. Most of the time, the rhythm section does hold down a pseudo-African beat, and the rest of the band beat their congos and maracas and shake their shakers and tambourines and dance around the campfire, yelling in tongues and worshipping The Great Zombie or something. For a couple minutes, it's amusing, and then you start forgetting about the whole thing even while it's playing.

The second side of the album is, technically, more diverse: instead of one single groove, there are five, although one is very similar to 'Mädchen' ('Im Garten Sandosa') and another one is not really a «groove», but rather a long psycho-folk incantation, heavily peppered with abysmal falsetto wailings (' Der Garten Sandosa Im Mor­gen­tau'). The best thing that could be said about this stuff is that it does have atmosphere — the tribal chanting actually sounds «tribalistic», and the man­tras actually sound as if the people behind them believed they were channelling supernatural cur­rents that-a-way. Perhaps the optimal manner of enjoying this stuff would not even imply con­sumption of substances — just put on a loincloth, light a campfire, put some sacrificial meat on the spit, get out your tomtom, and join in all the fun. Just the kind of thing to seduce a respectable Munich bürger, especially at the height of the Oktoberfest.

I would not want to stamp a negative rating on this thing — obviously, it fares quite poorly when compared to the contemporary psychedelic jamming of Can, or even Amon Düül's own, much more disciplined, offspring («II»), but, like I said, «psychedelic jamming» is not a good way to describe the album. It is not offering «music» — it delivers a tribal ritual, and delivers it pretty damn well as far as tribal rituals in the heart of Germany could ever go.

Check "Psychedelic Underground" (CD) on Amazon


  1. It sounds like Killing Joke was listening to too much Amon Düül for 'What's THIS for...!' onwards.

  2. The closest word to düül in today's Turkish would be either dül, that is widow, or gül, that is rose.