Reflections on making Synth Britannia & Krautrock
When asked about their influences, nearly every contributor in Synth Britannia enthused about German electronic music of the mid 70s. Bands such as Neu!, Faust, Cluster, Tangerine Dream and, of course, Kraftwerk were their primary inspiration.
Once Synth Britannia was in the can the same team was lucky enough to embark on the production of a film about this German music- unsympathetically labelled 'Krautrock' by the 70s music press in Britain.
As I write, the finishing touches to Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany are being applied in post-production. The films form two halves of a larger whole and it is fascinating to follow the tracks and traces between them.
In both films the music is intimately connected to the outside world. For the German generation, older than the Brits, it's a wilful stance. Electronic music meant being a non-musician, opting out of imported Anglo-American pop culture and seeking to transcend the country's Nazi past - traces of which were still prevalent in the west-German establishment of the late 60s/early 70s. A way out.
Whilst the Germans used electronics to articulate a sonic utopia, many of the Brits saw electronic music as a way to interrogate reality. Arguably their music soundtracked great industrial cities in economic decline, rent asunder by brutal, Ballardian skyscapes.
Taken as a whole the two films are a 20 year journey condensed into two and a half hours. It is both ironic and inevitable that something that started as an anti-bourgeois idea in the German counter-culture gets co-opted by the mainstream - with spectacular results in 80s Britain. I am not offering a value judgement, I loved the whole ride and am privileged to have been on it over the last six months.
I have many postcard memories of Synth Britannia and Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany. Vince Clarke's incredible synth collection in frozen Maine; shockingly bad German cuisine - for a vegetarian; how recent urban 'development' has homogenised British cities; my suitcase happily sitting on the tarmac outside Tegel airport for a couple of hours; having to share a room with assitant producer Sam Bridger in Austria and witnessing his morning 'yogic splits'.
It all blurs into one.
Synth Britannia premieres on BBC Four on Friday 16 October at 9pm. Krautrock will be shown at the same time on Friday 23 October.