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Faust – Live at Klangbad Festival/Various Artists – Avant-Garde in the Meadows

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Faust - Live at Klangbad FestivalAlthough this DVD was released in late 2010, the footage — shot at the second annual festival held in Scheer, southern Germany — dates from 2005. Scheer is a small provincial town that since the late 90s has been the headquarters of Faust (or rather one of the two Faust factions, this being the one grouped around keyboardist Jochen Irmler and the Klangbad label). There are actually two films on the disc — a 70 minute record of Faust’s performance at the event, and a slightly longer film titled Avant-Garde in the Meadows which gives an overview of the festival’s three days.

The Faust performance features the aforementioned Jochen Irmler and one other figure from the group’s early ’70s origins, Arnulf Meifert, apparently absent from Faustian circles for many years before resurfacing to contribute percussion and noisemakers to this line-up, which is completed by the very wonderful Steven Wray Lobdell on guitar, Lars Paukstat on percussion and vocals, Michael Stoll on electric and upright bass, and Ralf Meinz (of Zeitkratzer) on drums. They’re shown playing in a marquee accompanied by a simple-but-effective psychedelic light show, and it’s an engrossing watch, as they run through a set of rumbling, propulsive pieces that successfully fuse organic and industrial elements in a way that has become this Faust’s trademark. Ralf Meinz may not have the elemental power of original Faust drummer Zappi W Diermaier but he keeps the whole thing driving along with aplomb. Lobdell, inscrutable behind dark glasses and a forest of hair and beard, scrubs at his guitar, emitting a hail of fire and lifting his bandmates’ dirge-like improvisations into molten psych-fuzz territory. That’s the basic MO throughout, although the musical territories explored range from some of the most straightforwardly structured rock ever to carry the Faust name (“Beat That”), to some of their most challenging scrabble and twitter abstraction, on “Dschungelbar”. This latter piece evolves into the best of the set, taking flight on a space funk underpinning that Michael Stoll conjures from his upright bass.

There’s an interesting insight into the group’s dynamics towards the end of this footage, when they finish the set and have a breather before some members return to the stage for an encore: this seems to take Paukstat and Lobdell by surprise, the former remonstrating with Irmler: “It was such a lovely ending.. it’s bullshit to play more” (helpfully subtitled for non-German viewers). But they work out the tension in another cauldron of improvisation, and everyone seems happy at the end.

Avant-Garde in the Meadows

Avant-Garde in the Meadows opens with a handheld camera view of a drive through picturesque smalltown Germany to the festival site, the only audio a faint electronic drone. Gradually we’re introduced to the sights and sounds of the festival – a chap asleep on a multi-coloured sofa in the great outdoors, a clanking iron bell, shots of tents, equipment, and people. Denizens of the Faust mailing list will spot some familiar faces here. Arnulf Meifert pops up and tells us that “Music should be understood as a form of communication,” after which we get into live footage of the various acts: Minit, Jutta Koether, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Steve Lobdell playing solo, Lars Paukstat’s group Captain Howdy, Circle, an extract from the Faust performance, The One Ensemble of Daniel Padden, and Nista Nije Nista. It’s all of interest, from Minit’s arch synth-pop that takes a sudden detour into a full-blooded electronic storm, via Capt Howdy’s retro garage-rock (so rigorously correct in its adhrence to genre that it seems oddly fresh in this context) through to the One Ensemble’s striking meld of singer-songwriter acid-folk and acoustic improv breakdown. Along the way we get plenty of festival colour, the film-makers successfully capturing the outdoor setting and relaxed atmosphere of the event. We also take a drive to Faust’s studio and workspace in the company of Jochen Irmler, who explains that Klangbad was launched in 1997 after “we came to the conclusion that you have to do everything yourself.” Have the group faced any problems from their smalltown neighbours, asks the interviewer? No… well yes… a bit, last year, muses Jochen, before explaining that by inviting concerned locals to come and see the festival for themselves, it was possible to show people that the whole thing is in essence an “extended living room.”

The strangest performance here is saved till last: Nista Nije Nista (“nothing is not nothing”) are a quartet of young women from various parts of the globe, who appear here in a kind of Kraftwerk-like group identity, with spy-movie raincoats instead of business suits, and play an extraordinary mix of electronics, percussion, and what appears to be a sewing machine. The effect is something like a lo-fi, cyberpunk take on Laurie Anderson‘s vocal and electronics experiments, but if all this sounds dauntingly arty and high-concept, it isn’t: in fact it’s refreshingly free of that kind of baggage. It’s fascinating stuff, and the intrigue is heightened by an interview snippet in which all four Nistas answer a question simultaneously, producing a mysterious group babble before lapsing back into silence and favouring the interviewer with (apparently) guileless smiles. There’s a long pause, before he says “Danke,” and we learn no more about this oddly compelling group, as baffling as they are winning.

The combination of the two films makes this disc more than worthwhile — while nothing here quite reaches the heights of Nobody Knows If It Ever Happened, the superb DVD filmed live at The Garage in London in 1996 (in simpler times when there was only one Faust), it’s nevertheless a must for anyone with an ongoing interest in the strange and turbulent legend(s) of Faust.

-Manfred Scholido-

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