They blagged a fortune off their label after promising to be ‘the German Beatles’ – then went wild in the countryside making experimental krautrock. But was there more to Faust than pneumatic drills and nude donkey rides?
Jean-Hervé Peron, former bassist and vocalist with Faust, would like to get something straight about his old band – specifically, the period in the early 1970s when they were living in a commune in Wümme, a rural area outside Hamburg. Faust’s time in Wümme is one of the great sagas in the history of experimental rock, which begins with their wily late manager, Uwe Nettelbeck, somehow convincing Polydor that they were signing not a recently formed collection of Hamburg musicians who would prove to be the most uncompromising band in an uncompromising era for German rock – even by the standards of fellow travellers Can, Kraftwerk and Amon Düül II, Faust’s eponymous 1971 debut album was a provocative, revolutionary, flat-out weird listen – but “the German Beatles”.
Faust’s keyboard player, Hans-Joachim Irmler, thinks their manager played on the fact that Polydor had lost both the actual Beatles, who had been signed to the label for a year while still performing in Hamburg, and Jimi Hendrix “because they didn’t care enough”, concentrating their attention on the lightweight, upbeat brand of Mitteleuropean bubblegum pop known as schlager. Having extracted a reputed DM 30,000 (roughly £160,000 today) out of the company, Faust decamped to an old school in Wümme, at which point the story gets more legendary still. Vast quantities of drugs were taken and the wearing of clothes was optional. Meals were frequently taken in the nude and the band’s original drummer, Arnulf Meifert, rode a donkey naked through a nearby village.