Faust @ Amersham Arms
New Cross Amersham Arms. 18jun08.
The ‘Faust’ of German folk legend is characterised as a charlatan alchemist. Given the amount of base metals used in the percussive cage/fort which contains heavy-set drummer, and founding Faust member Werner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier, one might be tempted to make that instant connection between that original fiction and this musical fact and suggest that if gold is made here, it is but fools gold. That would be a touch excessive, and neither can any connection be made with Goethe’s Faust either; there have been no pacts entered into with the devil or anything here. Not overtly anyway, this isn’t Scandinavian death metal after all, although neither is it exactly close to the mainstream. As if to prove that they are not entirely removed from popular music though, tonight’s grouping under the banner of Faust (Zappi and fellow founder member Jean-Hervé Péron are joined by a variety of guests including vocalists Rachael Tyrell and Geraldine Swayne) begin by moving from a wake-up cacophony into a mangled take on The Beatles’ ‘She Loves You’.
Faust tonight operate from a subtle underlying of waspish psyche-folk to which they add a blunt industrial thwack. Not industrial in the conventional sense, but more a band in tune with a soot-blackened labour force and whilst far from resistant to the electronic age, the clank on pipes and the rivet gunning, which causes sparks to fly off the large circular saw tied steadfastly to the back of Zappi’s cage, is distinctly evocative of a time when the future was a Brunelian future. Large sheets of metal also swing from the top of the cage and at times Jean-Hervé just throws the microphone at them, almost coshing Zappi in the process, whilst intoning “The drummer is on valium, give him a kick. Kick him.” They’ve been performing together since 1971 so Zappi will no doubt be wise to the need for duck and cover over the course of an average ninety minute set. They paint semi-improvised urban landscapes, but with plenty of green amongst the grease (understandable, given their formation in the rural town of Wűmme), adding trumpet, an additional drum set, an accordion or even a chainsaw when they see fit. When the chainsaw revs it even begins to smell like a factory, and as Jean-Hervé attacks a load of plywood with it with some zeal amongst the front row, the chippings swirl and coat the audience like dust on foreign coins forgotten for years at the bottom of a vase [see pic]. Although ‘krautrock’ as a genre term invented by British journalists hasn’t always exactly gone down well with the actual protagonists, Jean-Hervé shouting “YOU did it. YOU gave it its name…we’re gonna play some KRAUTROCK” suggests that Faust have taken it in their stride. It is this final number, a fifteen-minute pulsating rotation, that sees Faust really come into their own. Trying to hook them into the Faustus diaspora on the basis of their name almost certainly misses the point anyhow. They are not the result of the mystical or the creation of the precious. They are immersed in experimentation certainly, but in a distinctly utilitarian sense. Their collaborations espouse the benefits of working union, whilst their music is about strength and solidarity. ‘Faust’, after all, is also the German for ‘fist’.