October 1995 A4 44 pages
original (last 32 copies)
Example article extract
Amongst the most seminal and influential of bands from the Krautrock era were Agitation Free, one of the most radical rock bands from Berlin, helping to create the genre "Cosmic Music" whilst also embracing the avant-garde, and forging ahead beyond rock into other adventurous new musics.
By "seminal", I mean that they were part of the breeding ground for a whole scene, as many of the musicians from Agitation Free went on to work with other bands, became pioneers of other new genres in music, and in fact some ex-Agitation Free members now hold the accolade of being amongst the most sought after composers in the Hollywood film industry!
It seemed an apt time to do an article about Agitation Free now, as their albums are being reissued on CD, and an unreleased archive album from their very last session is due out shortly. Also, we were in Berlin in July and managed to meet Agitation Free leader Michael Günther and interview him. We also met Lutz Ulbrich, and other friends of the band: Manfred Opitz and Manuel Göttsching.
In this article I'm going to take you on a trip through Agitation Free history, partly based on Michael Günther's forthcoming CD-ROM history, the interview with him, and our own knowledge and experience's of their music.
The interview was conducted on a hot summer night at Michael Günther's favourite bar "Pars" whilst we drank fine German beer and let the conversation flow. In the interview you'll notice many nicknames used: Fame is Michael Günther, Lüül is Lutz Ulbrich, Ludwig is Lutz Kramer, Michael Hoenig had the nickname Höni to avoid confusion with Fame, though it's not used here!
The early days
Alan: Okay, what shall we start with?
Fame: How about the very beginning!
Alan: What were the origins of Agitation Free?
Fame: School bands. We all started when we were about 15, 16 or 17 years old, playing in school bands, and just the average stuff, rhythm and blues things.
Alan: Other people's music?
Fame: Yes. There's a very funny thing. We used to play a piece of the Rolling Stones, I don't remember the name of it, but there was this improvisation part. That was our favourite, you know, we'd start to play for about 20 minutes this improvisation part. This was the first idea of playing this kind of music.
Way back in 1965, were their roots in Charlottenburg, Berlin. Lutz Ulbrich, Christoph Franke and others, formed the group The Tigers playing Beatles music. Later they became known as The Sentries. At the same time Lutz Kramer, and Michael Günther had formed a rival band. Eventually these school bands fused in early 1967. The name Agitation was chosen by a friend of the band, one Folke Hanfeld who picked at random from a dictionary. Folke, took over as roadie, and began to work on a spectacular light show with liquid lights, slides and self-made films. At this time though Agitation still played cover versions of other peoples music and, as Fame said above, eventually these favourite songs became the focal points for improvisations. With much psychedelic inspiration, this in turn lead to Agitation finding their own style. In fact actual songs disappeared and the improvisations would get longer and longer and a chemistry grew resulting in a band that were reputedly amongst the earliest masters of German space-rock.
Fame: Then we heard the music of Pink Floyd and we were fascinated. We went on to play pieces of Pink Floyd in our own style, we played two...
Steve: Interstellar Overdrive?
Fame: That was one, I can't remember the other...
Steve: Saucerful Of Secrets?
Fame: I can't remember. It's so long ago you know! But, we loved improvisation, we just jammed, we jammed with other people, we had themes which were composed, four or eight bars, and the rest of a piece for about 20 or 30 minutes was just improvisation! We had a lot of material, and everybody knew that if he heard the first two or three notes of a tune, they would be able to decide whether to switch over to that or do nothing. And that's the way we learned to play our type of music.
It took until early 1968 before Agitation played any proper concerts. Their debut concert on 26 February was at a strange venue: the Epiphany Church! Luck came their way however, via friends Ludwig Volker Cornelius and Roland Paulik, who got them the estimable job as the house-band in the first Berlin underground club "The Zodiac". At this time they also met Michael Hoenig who was writing for the underground-paper "Love" and also at the Zodiac they learned of many other Berlin bands like: Cluster, Curly Curve and Tangerine Dream, and also got to know club founder Conrad Schnitzler. Eventually however, due to its reputation as the centre of the Berlin drugs scene, the Zodiac closed down. Residency then moved to the "Beautiful Balloon" at Lehniner Platz, usually the venue of cabaret and comedians.
February 1970 saw the Berlin Student riots, which lead to a very different atmosphere in Berlin, there was an "anti festival" organised by one Klaus Freudigmann - Kluster and Ton Steine Scherben also played there. Shortly after this, was the start of several changes in personnel, which inevitably led to a different Agitation Free sound. The reason was the "1. Deutsches Progressives Popfestival" at Schöneberg Sportpalast in Berlin (April 1970) at which Guru Guru and Tangerine Dream also played.
Steve: A lot of people came and went at this time.
Fame: Basically guitarists, we lost lots of guitarists.
Alan: Like Ax Genrich?
Fame: Ax Genrich played just three months with our band. I knew him from before, he played in a Berlin band called Light Of Mingus, who did more jazzy things, more in the direction of blues. When we decided that the first guitarist: Ludwig, had to leave the band, we asked Ax if he wanted to join the band, because he was a great guitarist for a German. So, then he came to the rehearsing room, and he said "Okay, let's do it!" But, because of a different guitarist the style of the band changed. There was this big pop festival, it was announced as the "First German Pop Festival", also Guru Guru were playing there and Mani was fascinated with Ax. They got together, chatted, smoked a joint, I think they had a trip on LSD...
Alan: So, he went to Guru Guru!
Steve: What about vocalists? Did you ever have a singer on stage?
Fame: In the early days, yes. Micky Duwe was our singer when we started. But what he sung was urghhh - so unmusical you know!
Steve: And John L?
Fame: (laughter) Oh no! I met the guy last year, and felt I like I'd been in a time machine, you know. It was at the end of a folk-pop festival, and this junk they were playing was nothing to do with the music of this country. And there I saw John L., he looked the same as before, he talked about the same things, that everything was really great, that he will have record releases, and that he will be very very big. Like a child almost!
Alan: There's one write-up which says that John L. was the madman of Berlin.
Fame: Well, there was this very famous concert when we became Agitation Free, we were just "Agitation" before, but there was a band from the northern part of Berlin who played bubble-gum music who had the same name. So, we thought about changing the name. We came to the Quasimodo, it was a free concert, because it was a test gig. It was the only gig we played there by the way. So, they'd written in chalk, at the doorway "Agitation" and then "free" for free entrance. We thought, that's great - we keep it! At this concert, John L. was on a trip again, there were hanging lights above the audience, and he jumped from the stage like Tarzan to these lamps, the first two or three swings the lamps held, but then with the fourth swing it just crashed! John held on, and there was a table with two glasses of beer and a guy with his girlfriend, you can imagine it, they had faces like "Arrrgggghhh!!!!" and John landed in the middle of the beers! And, naturally after that we didn't get any more gigs at the Quasimodo. All because of this ass-hole. The music was okay for this club, but the behaviour wasn't, with this madman on stage.
Alan: What about Chris Franke?
Fame: Chris Franke was interested in new things, which he couldn't reach with our band. And, also Edgar Froese asked him to play in Tangerine Dream sometimes. They borrowed him. Tangerine Dream was the first with a record contract. He played one gig with them, then another, and another, and he came and said "I've decided to stay with them".
Agitation Free's previous association with the Zodiac club
then lead to them becoming involved in the super-session project: Eruption,
headed by Conrad Schnitzler, and featuring the musicians that were to become
Ash Ra Tempel. They played three concerts in
Steve: So, next, there was Burghard Rausch on drums?
Fame: No, there was an intermediate drummer, Gerd Klemke. He was a jazz drummer and he went on to be a teacher. We had a concert at the Quartier Latin (a famous venue, it held up to a thousand people) and Chris was not available so we asked Gerd. It was a very funny night, as Gerd Klemke was playing really good and he kind of dragged us with him. And this is where we met the guy from the Cairo embassy, he was in Berlin looking for a jazz club and couldn't find any, and he came into the Quartier Latin when we were playing and was fascinated by the drummer. And he thought that this band would be good for a tour of the Egyptian pyramids. So, he asked us. It's a very lucky thing that he didn't ask me, because I would have thought he was an idiot, like many idiots, because this wasn't the first time, there was loads of people around saying "We're making festivals!" and they'd try to get contracts, but it was all a waste of time. But, he talked with Gerd and Lüül, and Lüül's a bit naive, so they gave him their addresses, and he gave them his address.
Alan: Then Michael Hoenig joined?
Fame: Micky was from my school, we knew each other from when we were young. When I met him before he joined, we got talking about making music, and I knew he was always playing around with electronical things. We liked, for instance, this record of Spooky Tooth & Pierre Henry, and we thought "why can't we do this too?" and with Pink Floyd we heard so many noises and effects, that you only can do with electronical instruments. So, we wanted someone with electronical instruments. So Micky became joined, and it was a good time, as we'd just got a new guitarist Jörg Schwenke, and it was like a new band.
At this time Agitation Free's musical horizons were continually broadening from their association with avant-garde composer Thomas Kessler. There was little Agitation Free concert activity during much of 1971. Michael Hoenig's interest in electronic music lead to performances of Friedhelm Dohl's Klangscene 2 (by Hoenig and Ulbrich, together with Cluster) in the Berlin National Gallery and even more serious music like John Cage's HPSCHRD (Hoenig and Günther) at the Berlin Philharmonie. This was the start of a different side to Agitation Free! Much later, long-time friend Klaus Schulze suggested their new drummer: Burghard Rausch. Thus, by September 1971, Agitation Free were a proper band again, though inevitably it took a while to get the refined Agitation Free chemistry working again. In the meantime Michael Günther and Burghard also worked for a short while as Sopwith Camel together with the Australian guitarist Richard Clapton, playing straightforward rock.
Steve: How did you get a record deal?
Fame: This was via Peter Michael Hamel, he was a very serious music composer, but he was between everything, he even had a band called Between.
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