Ash Ra Tempel

by Julian Cope, 08/03/2000ce
Ash Ra Tempel’s first two LPs had taken the metal of Detroit to heights not even considered by the MC5 or the Stooges or even Funkadelic. Sure those groups had got close on stage. But Ash Ra Tempel got it on record. While the collective Detroit obsession with the Outer-spacings of Sun Ra and the free-jazz innervisions of John Coltrane had been tamed beyond recognition by the American record industry, Ash Ra Tempel suffered no such disappointment. And those searching for the fulfilment of the Detroit promise need have looked no further than Ash Ra Tempel in 1971. There's a part of Iggy Pop’s autobiographical I Need More in which he writes (p.17) about the early Stooges sound thus:
“...I’d play this sort of wild Hawaiian guitar with a pick-up that I invented, which meant that I made two sounds at one time, like an airplane…using 55-gallon oil cans which I got from a junkyard and rigged up as bass drums, I home-made a drumset. For drumsticks I designed these semi-plastic moulded hammers. Scotty beat the shit out of these cans; it sounded like an earthquake – thunderous… It was entirely instrumental at this time, like jazz gone wild. It was very North African, a very tribal sound: very electronic. We would play like that for about 10 minutes. Then everybody would have to get really stoned again…But what we had put into 10 minutes was so total and so very savage – the earth shook, then cracked, and SWALLOWED ALL MISERY WHOLE.” (my capitals)

Music that Swallowed All Misery Whole…

In the first two Ash Ra Tempel LPs, Ash Ra Tempel and Schwingungen, they had captured on record All that Iggy Pop had promised Could Be but, because of Record Industry Hang-ups, had been unable to deliver. And this music which could Swallow All Misery Whole reached into the core of each musician who played in Ash Ra Tempel and pulled out, still wriggling, the cosmic conger eel of white light which so few artists ever capture in the Moment of Recording.

For years, I had drooled over that description in I Need More. I'd shown many friends that passage – I had bored them with it. And all the time Ash Ra Tempel had already done it in 1971… But it was not without a price. The first LP was by a Kosmische power-rock trio of gargantuan size. The 20-minute opening track “Amboss (Anvil)” was all of Iggy Pop’s above description and more. Sure it was a fucking cosmic freakout. But it was played by Renaissance Man and Cosmic Man at the same time.

Fuck Jim Morrison’s ridiculous “Renaissance Man of the Mind” description.
That was just an excuse to be a fat slob.
That was just an existentialist knee-jerk.
No. No. No.
These freaks were fit. Superhuman. Superman.


They were here to go. But all in good time. And they had staying power over 20-minute tracks. On “Amboss”, Klaus Schultze plays drums like a hundred drummers. He’s not twice as powerful, he’s a hundred times as powerful. Hartmut Enke, the spiritual leader of the band, hits his Gibson bass the way only a giant could: the huge extra-longnecked she-bass was courted, cajoled and ultimately goosed into action by this huge handsome freak they all called The Hawk. And Manuel Gottsching plays blues like Clapton, but right alongside pre-emptive Keith Levene white noise and egoless as Lou Reed’s Live 1969 rhythm guitar freakouts. The interplay is so intuitive that frequently it’s impossible to hear the instruments — you just hear the Music. And the LP was housed in yet another of Ohr Records’ extravagant packages — a centrally opening gatefold with an Ancient Egyptian exterior, a freaky occult gematriac interior, and a tragically beautiful Head poem that began: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness staring hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the Negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix.”


By the second LP, Schwingungen (Vibrations), Klaus Schultze had temporarily left the band to record his mighty epic solo album Irrlicht, an album which begins like a night rally in some unknown stadium then continues into the very heart of cosmic-dom, Klaus accompanied only by his synthesizers and an orchestra which he said later “possibly thought I was mad.” In the meantime, Schwingungen saw Ash Ra Tempel going through its cosmic Stooges’ Funhouse stage, complete with Mathias Wehler on wailing alto sax, in the Steve McKay tradition. The line-up was augmented by their road manager Uli Pop on congas, and Wolfgang Muller on drums, and came on like an organic freerock blitz. Side 1 features ultrafreaky singer John L., recently sacked from Agitation Free for being just too much of everything. And on the awesomely tragic 12-minute “Flowers Must Die”, John L, pre-empted John Lydon’s PIL wail with a Seering death‘s head drama that Never has failed to bring tears to my eyes. The words, like so may translated rock‘n’roll lyrics, have a vivid and dignified poetic truth in their delivery that transcends the hippyspeak in which they are written:
“I see when I come back,
From my lysergic-day-dream
Standing in the middle
Of the glass and neon forest
With an unhappy name: City
Flower must die…
I want to be a stone, Not living, not Thinking, A thing without warm blood in the city.”