The house is full on this warm June evening. The crowd is of a certain age; anyone choosing to set up a comb stall here wouldn’t have much luck. The air is one of teenage, feverish excitement at the prospect of a veritable Krautrock two-man supergroup. Hans Joachim Irmler was a founder member of Faust, the group conceived in the early 1970s by Polydor as a ‘German Beatles’ but were instead destined to become experimentalist legends, a touchstone for future waves of the rock avant-garde.
Jaki Liebezeit was active at the same time in Cologne with Can, his consciously machine-like, cyclical open-ended playing key to their free-floating style, liberating the group from Anglo-American rhythmic conventions and inspiring generations of musicians after their demise. Quiet and unassuming, he is one of a handful of the great percussive innovators of modern times. Over 40 years on, both are as busy, musically curious and inspirational as ever.
Liebezeit has continued to modify his drumkit over the years – he considers himself, in his 70s, still a student of his instrument. There’s a tom-tom like feel to his set-up, with no bass drum and the cymbals tapped generally to indicate the end of a piece. Irmler works on an antique-looking analogue keyboard, generating organ sounds whose mutated tones seem to hark back to memories of the church organs of his youth. Together they create a series of improvised dialogues, several minutes in length, of the sort that feature on their most recent album, Flut.
Liebezeit strikes up with deceptively minimal percussive patterns, which by virtue of repetition, subtle shifting and elaboration become hypnotic, deeply funky, mind-freeing. This is the craft he has worked on for decades. Irmler responds with warm, grainy broadsides of organ, twisted and modified, stabbing, billowing and insistent. This was one of Faust’s trademark sounds and to hear it in conjunction with the Can beat is a rare and belated treat indeed. Their every piece is greeted with a rapture that seems to take these modest veterans by surprise.
The reception is fully deserved, though. There are musicians still unborn who will seek out the work of this pair and the infinitely fertile music they made with their respective groups, and which they continue to make today.