Agitation Free: A Lost Legend Returns

by Keith Henderson

From Aural Innovations #6 (April 1999)

The time is the late 60's, when serious social and political unrest swelled in many parts of the world. The place is West Berlin, the island of Western-influenced culture and society in a sea of Red. The Airlift made sure of that. A new generation of German youth was reaching for new positive experiences in the arts and seeking personal expression and freedoms, leaving behind the bleak images of tank warfare and concentration camps. Though many were cynical and untrusting of the new government, and groups of brash youngsters tried their best to cause them public humiliation. Or worse....the Baader-Meinhof gang (aka Red Army Faction) rose up from the underground following the death of pacifist Benno Ohnesorg at the hands of the police, and took to violent actions in protest. "Our youth is turning on us!" the wanted posters exclaimed.

In the midst of this turmoil, numerous rock bands coalesced in basements and warehouses to jam on classic blues and rock tunes by British and American bands that were heard on radio stations in Berlin. The more adventurous groups took to writing their own music, and experimenting with new sounds and progressive styles, standing on the shoulders of Pink Floyd and others. To make a long story short, 'krautrock' was born. But not just any German band qualifies as 'krautrockers,' and the opposite is also true of course...i.e., there are non-German krautrock bands. For instance, Velvet Undergound may have been the first krautrock band, if there really must be one. To me, the term most accurately reflects the utterly fearless and freeform expression through music that so characterized the majority of German bands of this time. That they embraced psychedelia in all its forms (music, art, chemical enhancement) was a natural extension to the cause. Perhaps those that aren't familiar with the term will quickly point out how un-P.C. it sounds; but of course, the defiant attitude of krautrockers would never have allowed racist ridicule to defeat them. Their determination and freshness of ideas boldly created a new musical genre that to this day has yet to be outdone in my eyes.

West Berlin, being a very large city with a dynamic cultural scene, was undoubtedly one of the central sites of krautrock's emergence, and in particular, the more 'kosmische' (literally, cosmic) styles. Bands came and went and many musicians jumped ship from one group to the next (just check out the family tree for proof!). Though few received the lucky break needed to achieve large-scale success outside their native land. Usually it required the chance meeting with a connected benefactor. For the band Agitation Free, originally born as The Agitation, a fortuitous rendezvous occurred in March 1971 at the Quartier Latin club in Berlin. Christian Nakonz, a consul at the German Embassy in Cairo, was impressed with the AF's performance and offered to bring them to the Middle East for a series of live performances. Their experiences in the shadows of the pyramids led directly to the creation of their first album "Malesch," the title an important term in Egyptian translated roughly as 'take it easy.'

This tour led to another chance meeting (this time in Beirut, Lebanon) with Assaad Debs, who eventually became their tour promoter from his Parisian home. Over the next several years (1972-74), the band took multiple trips to France to do tours at Debs' insistence, sometimes even sharing the stage with other such legendary artists as Gong, Can, Faust, and Nico. After recording only two studio albums, however, the band began to fragment and by the end of 1974, Agitation Free was no more. A posthumous third album, "Last," was issued from available tapes soon thereafter, but awareness of the music of Agitation Free quickly waned and eventually suffered the same fate of obscurity as a majority of krautrock bands. Only the memories of a select few (e.g., Tangerine Dream, Can, Amon Düül II) were sustained to the degree such that a teenager like myself, growing up in rural Pennsylvania in the late 70's, was able to eventually discover these bands in the pre-digital age. But now, in the final decade of the millennium, the commercial powers of the CD reissue market has done a wonderful service by bringing the memory of krautrock back from the brink of extinction.

In this peculiar way, krautrock has been revitalized and now even embraced by an entirely new global sub-culture of recording artists. Of course, it's hard to mention the modern 'neo-krautrock' movement in the same breath as the original, but perhaps in the clarity of future perspective we'll find that these modern times are truly special as well. In fact, many of the old timers are returning to the fold to try their hand at it one more time. And I'm happy to report that Agitation Free is one of those bands - after a long 25 years of inactivity, a brand new recording of music is ready for release. We here at AI look forward to reviewing "River of Return" later this year.

The pre-recording days of The Agitation/Agitation Free (1967-1971) is a complex history that I won't attempt to repeat here. Especially since most of the important details can be found in print in Audion Magazine/"The Crack in the Cosmic Egg" and on-line at Michael "Fame" Günther's website at Just let me mention a few important luminaries that spent time in the AF camp. Christoph Franke was the group's original drummer - most of you probably know that he later became an important member of Tangerine Dream (switching duties to electronics/synthesizers). As of now, though, Franke has moved to So. California and is an active producer of soundtrack music for TV and movies, including the highly-successful syndicated sci-fi series 'Babylon 5.' Coincidentally, synth guru Michael "Höni" Hoenig (an AF member from 1971-74) does similar work in Hollywood. Vocalist/madman John L. (real name - Manfred Brück), who was notorious for appearing on stage with AF in the nude but for a painted penis, later recorded with Ash Ra Tempel, as did Mickey Duwe.

Apart from stalwart Lutz "Lüül" Ulbrich, guitarists were particularly transient in and out of the AF ranks: Lutz "Ludwig" Kramer was the first to go, the fallout of 'irreconcilable differences' with co-founder and bassist Michael "Fame" Günther. Ax Genrich came through on his way to finding a home with Guru Guru. Jörg "Joschi" Schwenke became too involved in drugs, a habit he never kicked until his sad death in 1990. Stephan Diez managed to stay just long enough to appear on the '2nd' album. Finally, Gustav "Gustl" Lütjens seamlessly filled in during the band's final stand in 1974.

Other early projects/activities in which AF members participated include Conrad Schnitzler's super-project "Eruption," that was short-lived and unfortunately produced no recordings. Also, Thomas Kessler, AF's mentor early on, introduced Günther to Ladislav Kupkovic, who later asked him to perform at several of his Wandelkonzerte ("Wandering Concerts"). Agitation Free was always a 'cosmic rock' band, but often contained hints of jazz and so-called 'serious' music, as evidenced by their recording of Looping IV, the minimalist composition of Erhard Großkopf (which appears on "Last"). On several occasions, AF performed music to Alfred Bergmann's radio plays, including "Portrait of a Music Group." Folke Hanfeld, originally a roadie for the band, eventually became their liquid-lighting specialist but also created multi-media projects with the group's involvement. Experimentation and innovation were the flavors of the moment, and Agitation Free was always at the center of it.

It is the final 1974 configuration of Günther/Ulbrich/Lütjens and drummer Burghard Rausch that (following a recent reunion party) decided to revive the Agitation Free name. Kraan's sax player Johannes "Alto" Pappert (a longtime friend) has also signed on to give the group an added dimension. And both Hoenig and Franke have expressed interest in contributing as well, whenever their schedules and geographic separation allow. In the meantime, more old recordings of the original band are appearing on CD, flawless archives of the greatness this band achieved oh so long ago.

On Feb. 2, 1974, a special performance by Agitation Free was broadcast live on WDR (Cologne) radio program 'Nachtmusik.' In 1995, a poor-quality recording of this event was bootlegged onto LP as "At Alive." Thankfully, the proper tapes of the show have now been carefully remastered by Michael Hoenig himself, and released on CD by the Garden of Delights label in Germany. Entitled "At the cliffs of river Rhine," the 38-minute show features some of the very best cosmic improv-rock in existence. Most of the material was derived from the excellent '2nd' album (1972), and although guitarist Gustl Lütjens was brand new to the band at the time, the group displayed impeccable timing and fluidity at every turn.

The album opens with the previously-unheard improvisation piece, "Through the Moods." For more than 13 minutes, the five musicnauts leave the confines of this solar system to explore the outer reaches of our galaxy. Early in the piece, Lütjens' cascading leads and Günther's countering bass excursions lie, Hoenig parlays with wild sounds from his electronic kit. Eventually, the whole band rocks out into a uptempo buzzing jam...truly wonderful. The eminently graceful 'First Communication" then arrives and fills the room as if through an open window carried on a summer breeze. The piece sounds at once melodic and busy, in a way that artists residing in a certain small town in Kent could only hope to achieve.

With Rausch adeptly keeping time behind the drumkit, Hoenig's synth freak-out "Dialogue & Random" takes over and brings us to the classic "Laila." Essentially two separate tracks built together, Part I winds things up to a heightened state, only to have Part II back off into a lighter, hypnotic rhythm built effectively upon Günther's repeating (but active) bassline. Twin soloing by Lütjens and Ulbrich puts off the piece's signature lead riff, only to then return to more extended soloing afterwards. All I can say is...amazing! Time hardly moves during the entire 10 can only be explained relativistically. Electronic chirping birds break "The Silence of the Morning Sunrise," the final piece that brings forth some very innovative rhythm guitar work by Ulbrich. Not being a guitarist myself, I can only guess that the tuning or playing style employed is very unusual...the notes are strangely off-color and unsettling in a very intriguing way, that effectively counter the bright and cheerful emanations from Lütjens' guitar.

It has only been out a short time, but I believe that "River Rhine" is already my favorite Agitation Free recording. With such a talented group of on-stage musicians, which will soon exist again, I can imagine endless possibilities in sound exploration and song formats. Hence, I can only think of the latest reunion as a forward-thinking endeavor. Agitation Free music from 1974 sounds fresh and exciting, so I can only imagine that their music from 1999 will sound futuristic.

So now, without further ado, let's hear from the two longest-standing members of Agitation Free, Michael "FAME" Günther, and Lutz "LÜÜL" Ulbrich. They were kind enough to take the time to join me at the electronic roundtable for a lively discussion about old times and new. (Let me say thanks also to Steven & Alan Freeman, Andy Garibaldi, Phil Franks, and Klaus D. Müller who helped to make this interview possible. And to Julian Cope for at least the 2nd edition mention.)

AI: OK, let's start with a little background about the early days. Long before you ever secured a record contract, when the band was simply 'The Agitation,' you had developed a particular songwriting style that relied heavily on pure improvisation. And this was in 1967, before you'd ever heard (I'd imagine) of Pink Floyd or much else outside the mainstream. What was it about the musical background of that band that led to such innovative tactics?

LÜÜL: It really gave us a push when Ludwig, the early guitarist of Agitation Free, came back from England holidays and was totally enthusiastic about Pink Floyd. My elder sister used to listen to "Piper at the Gates of Dawn" over and over when I was still listening to the Beatles! So by and by, I learned to love this "free" music. By the way, in my opinion the music of the so called "Berliner Schule" (Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ash Ra Tempel and us) was developed to compensate for living in West Berlin surrounded by a big wall!

FAME: So we knew Pink Floyd's music! On the other hand we already had heard recordings which partly sounded improvised. Imagine, we had those two fabulous radiostations BFBS (British-Military) and AFN (American-Military) in West Berlin, they always played the newest stuff! The influence of those two broadcasting-stations is evident, as most German bands of those old times lived in areas where you could receive those two stations (the British and American Zones)! AFN had one hour of Wolfman Jack per day, and besides that a minimum of one hour Country & Western and at least one hour of Jazz music. Let me say thanks to you Americans for helping us to overcome those bad days of the Third Reich, for establishing the airlift to West Berlin, for your soldiers who haven't been occupators but turned out to be friends and colored our city of West Berlin - and for the Rock'n'Roll Music (Let this be known to your Mom and Dad, we thank you!). For us, there was the breaking point of getting bored trying to imitate other songs note by note; it's more fun to try out something of your own! In '67, we basically covered other bands, mostly British and American. By 1970, I think we were more into our own stuff.

AI: Fame once said that Agitation Free was similar to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers as an 'incubator for talent,' in that quite a few musicians who came through your ranks went on to great success in other groups. Ax Genrich (Guru Guru), Chris Franke (Tangerine Dream), Lüül & Mickey Duwe (Ash Ra Tempel) to name a few. In a way, I suppose that probably means Agitation Free was underappreciated during its own run. What was it that made certain groups of the kosmische movement (e.g., Amon Düül II, Tangerine Dream, Kraftwerk) well-known internationally, while Agitation Free and many others toiled in relative obscurity?

FAME: I don't really know. As far as Amon Düül, I could imagine one thing: they were located in Munich, in those days something like "the quiet capital" of Germany; rich people lived there in masses, because everybody thought when the Russians overrun Germany, you're more secure living in the southern part because you easily can flee to Switzerland. So the structure of Amon Düül had been a projection or a result of the people in Munich, i.e., like Baywatch - "the Beautiful and the Rich." Think of Uschi Obermaier, she was a photo-model, couldn't play an instrument, couldn't sing, but was part of Amon Düül, so they had been a point of interest for the so called "Rainbow Press." A naked Uschi Obermaier was worthwhile to publish on the cover of "Stern," a very big German boulevard paper. Who ever would have thought likewise for a naked Ludwig Kramer, guitarist of Agitation Free? As far as Tangerine Dream, I can say they became fabulous years later and that's because they where good, innovative, and they didn't give up on their ideas in the days between '67 and '74 - they had a hard job too. Kraftwerk is a product of you Americans, because they have been so strange that you loved them. In Germany, they haven't been so accepted. Here, bands like Kraan or Karthago where more a point of interest. And by the way, Agitation Free was accepted internationally moreso than in Germany - we did more gigs in France than in Germany!

AI: The band seemed to have a particular difficulty holding onto lead guitarists? Was Lüül that hard to get along with? :)

FAME: Let's say "guitarists" instead of "lead-guitarists." Lüül always had the unfortunate position to be the second or "rhythm" guitarist. And Agitation Free offered a number of difficult partners for him, but he mastered it always! Lüül is one of the most lovebable characters to me, he is straight, he is weak, he is strange, he is ...what should I say? I like him very much (don't tell him). He never was a character who was hard to get along with. But that doesn't mean he's a fool or a person without his own opinion! I always try to describe him as a German Keith Richards, which means he's not the super-guitar hero, but what he plays is what he really knows to play and in that he is f*cking good. And he also never would take part in anything he dislikes or hates. For me he always was very honest! He sometimes is very strange, but all of Agitation Free members are! Lüül is a very rare person to find!

AI: After John L. was sacked, you really went without a vocalist/frontman for the rest of Agitation Free's existence. Did that have any effect on the band's popularity (one way or the other), and was that ever an issue with record companies and/or tour promoters?

LÜÜL: Not at all. Our non-vocal music was well received just because of that.

FAME: Frontmen in our band have only been (whenever there has been one) the guitarists, because they had most of the work!

AI: It seems like you got a fortuitous break in 1969 when you got the offer of working with Thomas Kessler at the 'Beat Studio' in Berlin-Wilmersdorf. Tell me how his classically-trained musical background meshed with your self-taught jazz-improvisation technique to lead to the compositions that eventually were archived on later albums.

FAME: First of all, we didn't have jazz-improvisation techniques, we just improvised like (for instance) blues people do. Thomas taught us a lot about the so-called "serious music" and so we developed interest in music and musicians like Steve Reich or Terry Riley.

LÜÜL: I remember seeing Reich performing "drumming" in the academy of arts in Berlin, which was one of the highlight concerts I ever saw. I would say Kessler was the biggest influence on AF. He had so many new ideas, a great sense of humor and was open in any direction. "You can do any kind of shit, only you have to be convinced!" He was experimenting with tape loops which were running from a tape recorder through the entire room, made a U-turn on a microphone stand, and got back into the tape machine. I think he also introduced Peter Michael Hamel to us. Because of Kessler`s contacts we worked with modern composers like Ladislav Kupkovic, Erhard Großkopf, Friedhelm Döhl and even John Cage.

FAME: He (Kessler) also recorded the band and afterwards we talked about the music, sometimes in the way like critics do.

AI: Some of the visual accompaniment that you used during some performances sounds very intriguing. You had Folke Hanfeld, who started out as a roadie, develop a lightshow for your live performances. What was that like?

FAME: "Normal" stuff like you might have seen on photos of San Francisco bands or Pink Floyd. Liquids in frames and so on.

LÜÜL: Folke did some Super 8 movies, worked with slides, in which he took watercolours and once even worms! He had good ideas in art generally.

AI: Are you still in contact with Folke these days, and might he return to do lights with you for more live shows?

LÜÜL: I hope. I see him once a year and told him that we produced a new CD and plan to go to Japan. I am sure that he would join us if he's got time.

AI: The visual aspect of music performances in those days was an important factor I assume, with bands like Nektar actually awarding their lightshow guru (Mick Brockett) equal membership in the group. Were all the kosmische bands of the time doing liquid lights of this sort, and with this level of significance?

FAME: As far as I know only very few.

LÜÜL: Some did, some did not. I remember that after our concert at the 1st progressive rock festival, my father, who had seen the concert, asked me whether we had to show this film during our show. I had no idea what he was talking about. "You mean, you did not know that they were showing a porno movie on the screen above your heads?"

AI: You once performed at a multi-media event of Folke's creation called 'Intermedia,' a bizarre spectacle from what I read that nearly got out-of-hand. What exactly happened?

LÜÜL: You really seem to be interested in that whole stuff! Well, we had a very unusual art teacher, where Fame, Folke, Christoph Franke, Roland Paulick and me went to school. Folke was one of his best students. For Intermedia we had about 50 TV-sets installed. The whole room was decorated in black, in the beginning we were hidden behind a paper-screen in front of the stage. Folke showed a Super 8 movie, where in the last scene, Lianne (former girlfriend of Christoph) runs directly into the camera and in that very moment she jumps live through the screen and we started the concert! Later on, Folke had put some worms into the slides which was pretty mean and caused some scandals.

FAME: The schoolleader thought the music was too loud, feared riots and called the police. Then we had to stop the show! It's described pretty accurately on our homepage.

AI: Did anyone manage to videotape this event, or any of your other multi-media events? If so, will any of these recordings see the light of day?

LÜÜL: I must admit that Folke always tells me that I had lost this special film, but he must certainly have some material. But I don't think he will publish this material. Ask him!

FAME: Video was still quite unknown in Germany that days. I think somebody took a Super-8 film, but I don't remember who.

AI: By the way, do you have any good quality tapes of the live performances (or even studio demos) when with Genrich or Kramer was 2nd guitarist?

LÜÜL: I don't have any material; I know that Christoph Franke produced one track for his girlfriend Lianne as a single called "Carmen," an improvisation on Bizet's composition with Fame, Kramer, Chris and me.

AI: Where did all of the nicknames come from? It seems as though it was a pre-requisite to have a nickname to be in Agitation Free.

LÜÜL: That is because Fame is developing the homepage and he likes nicknames. To answer that for the last time - LüüL happened when my sister and me were joking about how our names or initials would sound in, let's say French, LUtz ULbrich became LÜÜL. Amon Düül might have been involved, too.

FAME: Nicknames are a common thing I think. Mostly they are developed by your friends (or enemies). Same with us!

AI: At one point, the band experimented with two percussionists, when Dietmar Burmeister (who later worked with Ash Ra Tempel) joined Burghard behind separate kits. It seems to me that it was an effective pairing, from listening to the jams on 'Fragments' at least, but I gather it didn't work out in the end. What was the problem?

LÜÜL: We never, and specially Burghard, did not like the idea too much, but Fame was a big Grateful Dead fan and so it was a must. Also, Dietmar is a really nice guy and he owned a bus which was a unbeatable reason in those days.

FAME: Dietmar was not really "the master of the drums", so Burghard didn't get along with him very well (musically).

AI: I'm intrigued by the idea of 'wandering concerts.' How exactly did they proceed, and were they considered a success?

FAME: A concert where you could wander between the musicians who had been spread over several rooms, connected with the conductor via intercom. You played for about an hour, whenever the conductor advised you to do so. They took place in the afternoon and had been fun for the whole family (specially for the kids!). Just a musical try, hard to find nowadays.

LÜÜL: It was a wonderful experience to discover that there are other possibilities for concerts. We were part of maybe 10 or 20 different music-happenings at one time. So the audience was allowed to walk around and get very different music. For example a Haydn Quartet was (brought forth) from four guys and while it was playing, on the stairs somebody was listening to the radio-news we were playing on a stage and reacting musically and everything happened at the same time.

AI: For awhile, Agitation Free rehearsed at one of Berlin's earliest communes, presumably during a time of particularly strong socio-political tensions. There's the infamous story of the Munich commune in which Amon Düül resided that was once occupied by members of the Baader-Meinhof gang while they were out on tour. Were there any crazy things that happened in the Berlin commune while you were there?

LÜÜL: The Kommune 1 was a meeting point during a short period of Agitation Free. Rainer Langhans had invited us to use their loft for rehearsals. We were still little kids with a bourgoise background and were enthusiastic to meet Amon Düül and Uschi Obermaier and of course the political power of the Kommune 1. I remember in Winter '69, I was a bit too early for the rehearsal, so I knocked at the door of Kommune 1 when Rainer opened totally naked and offered me a tea with Uschi Obermaier who was also naked. So we had tea-time.

AI: On that note, you just happened to be on tour in Munich during the 1972 Olympic siege, canceling some of your performances. What recollections do you have of that dark moment in history?

LÜÜL: I must say that it was a real shock for all of us, but nevertheless every artist wanted to keep on playing, but the officials stopped all the cultural acts.

FAME: We where shocked, like anybody. We did pretty much understand that after this attack everything was to be canceled.

AI: Some bands in Germany became quite political in their doings during that time. Was that ever a focus of your activities?

FAME: No, not really. We played a lot on political events or happenings. Our ideals had been left-wing, but we didn't really want to connect our music solely to political movements.

LÜÜL: If you are talking about Floh de Cologne, Lokomotive Kreuzberg, not so much. But Os Mundi was quite inspiring for us. I was even more enthusiastic about MC 5 or the living theater. But of course the whole atmosphere was pretty political.

AI: One thing I have always wondered about when it comes to the huge volume of innovative/experimental music that seemed to spontaneously develop in the late 60's/early 70's....why West Germany? And why just then? I admit I'm not a student of history or sociology, but I can only imagine there was a burning ambition towards artistic expression that lingered in post-war Germany for two decades, but remained bound by some sense of accountability over the rise of the Third Reich. Hence, it was only the coming of age of the next generation during the late 60's that finally made artists comfortable with openly expressing themselves to the rest of the world. For instance, young German bands seemed to embrace the term 'krautrock,' in the process empowering themselves over and above a label that might earlier have been taken as demeaning. And Amon Düül II recorded works (e.g., Made in Germany) that were candid satires of the German political heritage. Having experienced this entire time in Berlin yourself, does any of this ring true in your eyes?

FAME: "For everything there is a season," an old Biblic Psalm sung by the Byrds may answer everything! Not only West Germany had this cultural boom. I think the basic movement started in the US. Because of your cultural influence in Germany, musical ideas had been pushed over here. The specific German moment had been the close connection to left wing movements.

LÜÜL: They just had an "Hippie meeting" in Berlin with all the people like Rainer Langhans. But I did not go. But it is interesting, since for 3 years I have played in a band called the 17 Hippies and there truly is a shimmer of love and peace, though I am the only real hippie in this band.

AI: Musically speaking, was there a catalyst that set it all off? Say, Stockhausen, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, or Pink Floyd? Or did it have more to do with a fearless and wide-open sense of discovery that German musicians simply took off and ran with?

LÜÜL: Yes, of course Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Cream, White Noise, the Doors.

FAME: I just can speak for me: I was led to popular music by the American broadcasting station AFN. Then there was the idea of learning an instrument like the guitar, which fit better to this kind of music (before I played harmonica, flute, sang in the school-choir and so on). To form a band dealt more with social things (you are more popular amongst your school-comrades, and a very important point - it's easier to get a girlfriend!). Then there is the one day, you know, you are able to play chart material somehow. So you have to decide: rehearse and get better in covering songs of other bands or have fun and think over your own material, try to experiment and find new things. This is like the hunt for fame or trying to play in a lottery but if you win it's great. I decided to do so, also because in Berlin there was a scene who accepted people who were on the search, and helped those people with listening and as critics. There also had been "vibes," a universal feeling around the world. Remember, the days when I had to decide what to do, in the USA bands like Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Bros., Allman Bros., on the east coast, Bob Dylan or even "stronger" material like Velvet Underground - a band we are connected to later by personal relationship (Lüül & Nico) - and many others, were developing new kinds of music connected to the new Hippy-movement. Krautrock is just the same, but in a German way! (Never argue with a German if you're tired (Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band)). For sure there have been many influences, not just one.

AI: And then it seems that come 1975 or so, the music scene of Germany (and elsewhere too, to some extent) abruptly changed, and the creativity of the music simply wasn't sustained. Do you think the artists themselves used up most of the best ideas, or do you think the pressures of businessmen recognizing profitability in the marketplace led to too much meddling in the product?

LÜÜL: Personally, in those years I was very active and creative, playing with Ashra. I think it happened in the Eighties. Everything seemed to have been said and it was difficult to find something challenging, new. I remember Peter Baumann saying when I asked him why he had given up Tangerine Dream - "Whether I play this sound or this note, the crowd flips out anyway!"

FAME: It started in the beginning of the seventies, when the German musical industry awake and found out that there are domestic resources. But they just looked out for material which can be sold in millions of units. So they had been interested more into disco (Donna Summer and dammed, I don't remember the name - ahh, there it is...Boney M.). They never had the idea in investing in talents. The Krautrock artists didn't lose ideas, they lost energy while trying to sell their products to the music industry. We experienced it, it's boring to hear: "It's not commercial enough! or It's too commercial, It doesn't`t fit our format." Listen to the next Agitation Free CD "With or For Friends," this material was rated as "too commercial."

AI: "With or for Friends" - Do you mean that's the title of the 'new' CD (the one from 1974)? I thought it was to be called 'The Other Sides of Agitation Free.' Or did you mean something else by that?

FAME: You're right, it's "The Other Sides of..."; the second title is "With or for Friends", which makes more sense, because it's music recorded with or for friends.

LÜÜL: I was always glad to have a "real" end with AF and to make sure that this name stands for a band which existed from '67 to '74. That's why I organized the last session concert "Last reunion" in the end of '74. But I must admit that after failing with my music in winter '74/'75 in France, I also joined Fame to continue with AF, but the magic was gone and so I concentrated on Ash Ra Tempel and Nico. I hope it will be made clear that this will not be a proper AF CD.

AI: What was the significance (if any) of being based in West Berlin, a tiny bit of land, sequestered from the 'free world' by a simple wall? Was there any difference being in that environment versus any other city in West Germany, as far as what the band was able to accomplish through touring or whatever?

LÜÜL: As I answered before, I think that living in Berlin was living on an island. We were far away from Western Germany and touring was quiet a hassle, because you had to have a "Warenbegleitschein" and the way through the GDR (East Germany) was very boring on a bad autobahn. So it was very hard for the bands based in Berlin to get popular in the rest of Germany. But touring in foreign countries was always fun.

AI: Warenbegleischein?

FAME: "Warenbegleitschein" was a document you had to carry with you to transport goods of any kind while crossing the border of GDR, when you just have been "transiting" their territory while heading to West Germany. So the equipment which was necessary to hold a concert, let's say in Frankfurt or Munich, was point of interest for the GDR government. They expected you to fill out a form, where you declared that you carry those goods to transfer them to Western Germany and will not unload them off your truck on GDR territory. Also they checked every item before they let you into GDR, and that could last hours (same happened while leaving GDR)! West Berlin and West Germany had been two different worlds. The "scene" was located in Berlin, never in Munich, Hamburg or Frankfurt. There still today is just ONE big city in Germany, and that's Berlin. All of the others are very much smaller and even only West Berlin was bigger than every West German city. Also because of the draft...many male Germans living in West Germany escaped the draftboard while moving to West Berlin. In Western Germany you had to join the army when you where 18 years old. West Berlin had no army even if it was politically part of West Germany. Because of the political status confirmed by contracts with all four allied forces it was not allowed to have German troops in Berlin. So the presence of American, British and French forces had been very important to keep West Berlin secure from Russian attacks!

AI: You admit to being naive about the music business when signing your first record contract (for 'Malesch') with Music Factory. What eventually occurred as a result of that contract that made you later regret it?

LÜÜL: We never saw a penny.

FAME: Simply that Music Factory did nothing to make us famous or such that we could sell some more LP`s. We did it all on our own, with a big help of our management C&M Hudalla in Germany and our French manager Assaad Debs in France. Also the conditions (percentage, duration) of the contract were ridiculous! (There we had been naive to sign this contract!)

AI: The names Conny Plank, Dieter Dierks, and Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser are noticeably absent from the liner notes of the original Agitation Free albums. Was it a conscious decision to remain independent from these oft-called gurus of Kosmische music, and if so, why?

LÜÜL: In '69, we got an offer from Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser who wanted to sign us, unfortunately the fantastic formation with Chris Franke, Ax Genrich, Fame and me broke up during that period, so Fame and me had to start over and find new musicians which. We later found a record company via Peter Michael Hamel who introduced us to "Music Factory".

FAME: No decision by us, it just happened, that we met other interesting people (i.e., above-mentioned Assad Debs). Also Rolf-Ulrich Kaiser didn't like us!

AI: So I'm guessing that Kaiser didn't like the music of *later* configurations of AF...say, 1972-74. Is that right?

FAME: We don't really know, he never asked again!

AI: There's no doubt that the influence of drugs affected the course of the band's evolution, especially with Joschi succumbing to heroin addiction, evidenced by both his abrupt exit from the band as well as his eventual demise in 1990. Was drug use a constant threat to the band's stability, or was it limited to 'recreational' uses, and could it have actually been more a conduit to creativity rather than a hindrance, save Joschi's case?

FAME: We just tried any drug, which crossed our way, like many people did. Some of us decided to stop taking drugs, some didn't. The early Agitation Free got inspirations by taking drugs, the later didn't (same with Grateful Dead).

LÜÜL: In my opinion today, it was the biggest mistake of Agitation Free to kick Joschi out of the band. From that moment on, the belief in the band was broken. We were not strong enough to deal with Joschi's drug problems, so we kicked him out to go on tour with Stephan Diez; though we all loved him. But we did not know better.

AI: Let's turn now to today. The band suddenly has new life after a slumber of over twenty years. Originally, it started with Spalax releasing the original three albums (plus 'Fragments') on compact disc. Then, just this past year, Garden of Delights released the fine live recording from 1974 entitled 'At the cliffs of river Rhine.' From what I've heard, a poor quality tape of this performance had been previously bootlegged. So I assume the band was involved in some capacity in presenting this proper version?

FAME: We had that tape, which Walter N. wanted to release as a CD. We said yes, and after this Michael Hoenig did the mastering in his studio in LA. Michael invested two months of work, and I think it was worth it. To my ears it sounds like a recording from 1999.

AI: But now, let's talk further about the exciting things to come. First, there's the recordings from 1974 that never were released at the time. By that time, the band was already pretty much broken up, and so the line-up seems more like a Berlin 'supergroup,' with many guests coming in to fill various roles. So how does the music compare to earlier works? Is the music all instrumental, jazz-improvisation material?

FAME: This record will show just another side of Agitation Free, we always played different kinds of music. The "official" recordings sometimes showed you parts resulting from our work with "serious" music composers or musicians. At the same time we also had "mainstream" rock projects (e.g., Burghard and I along with one of the most famous (nowadays) Australian singer-songwriters Richard Clapton) besides Agitation Free. Also in our concerts we played at least one blues title, like "Nightlife" (B.B. King) or "Stormy Monday." There was nothing we didn't try to play. So the "new" record is not an exception for Agitation Free, just the kind of music we also played but never released, and it's not "jazz" music. The songs with improvised parts for different instruments (i.e. trombone played by Lou Blackburn, sadly dead now, an interesting guy who formerly played with Duke Ellington, but it's still rock music!)

AI: And then I hear there's brand new recordings being prepared for release. Very exciting! What led to the decision to actually reassemble to band as it was before?

LÜÜL: Gustl had the idea after playing with Agitation Free on my 45th birthday party in the "Tränenpalast" (in former East Berlin). We had so much fun and it really sounded great. Folke was doing the lightshow as in the old days, on a screen behind the stage. You could see the Agitation Free video from Egypt. It was great.

FAME: Agitation Free had the part of closing the evening and we played in two different formations. One with Lutz "Ludwig" Kramer, the very first lead guitarist with AF and the second with "Gustl" Lütjens, the very last guitarist of AF. We had so much fun, and that we thought we should have an AF- Party every two years - just for friends, rehearse new material and then - party. Next idea was: let's record a CD on our own, and have that party. So we asked our friends if they would agree to pay DM 20 for entrance fee for a party and a new CD. This lead to widespread rumors in Berlin and the result had been the offer of a record company to produce a new album.

LÜÜL: But I never had the idea to get Agitation Free going again (until) this event. I was very skeptical and thought that to produce a new studio album you need to have a certain musical level. And what music could we play? But with Gustl's contact we found BSC Music, with Fame we found Uwe Wohlmacher and 'Potsch' Potschka the producer. So everything was set without having play one note, so I joined Gustl and Fame for 2 or 3 sessions and then we went into the studio. If it's easy - it's good!

FAME: You might know 'Potsch' as guitarist of the Nina Hagen Band and Spliff.

AI: Other contemporary bands (e.g., Amon Düül II, Gong) have also done reunion projects in recent years, producing music that in some ways recalls their earlier works, and in other ways sounding much different. Of course, modern electronic devices and the instrumentation used in rock music these days is quite different from what it was, so how has this (if at all) affected the new music that you have created?

LÜÜL: Most of the material was composed on a computer and it were playing it live in the studio. Of course we used samples and keyboards, too though we always wanted to have Michael Hoenig on keys, but he could not make it.

FAME: You mean the new Album "River of Return"? We cared a sh*t for new machines. We just used Gustl's Apple as sort of a notebook and to listen how it will sound approximately. Same with Lüül's old-fashioned Atari. At least everything is handmade and we spiced it with samples, so - the same way we did in the 70's.

AI: I don't know what sort of device this 'Atari' might be. Could you explain further?

FAME: Atari is an old-fashioned computer, more like a game-console. Programmers all over the world determined this machine to be a good vehicle for sound-processing, years ago. So there are millions of programs written for this machine to write or work on musical files.

LÜÜL: Atari is a very common computer for musicians in Europe. It works very well, makes few mistakes and does not break down often. But today it is no longer compatible with PCS. So nowadays, everybody is working with more modern equipment, though I am used to the old stuff and still like to work with it. By the way, our producer also uses Atari.

AI: What label will release the new album ("River of Return"), and can we expect the all-important worldwide distribution?

FAME: Yes it will, and the label in Germany will be BSC (Munich). The USA label will be determined within the next two months.

AI: "Fragments" was issued in two different formats, the one from 1995 including a CD-ROM track not available on the later (1996) Spalax issue. What was this other track, and what was the visual aspect of this portion?

FAME: The other track is nearly what you can see nowadays on our internet-site We are still working on the aspect, and there is missing a frame-show and a Super 8-movie recorded by Hubertus von Puttkamer in Sakarah, Egypt.

AI: What plans do you have to do live shows inside and outside of Germany? Do you have any plans to do any festival performances, such as Burg Herzberg or even the Jazz festival that Fame's involved with?

LÜÜL: We'll see.

FAME: The Berlin Jazzfest wouldn't accept a band like ours, because AF is not a jazz band, but there are several offers for concerts (e.g., Burg Herzberg) mostly from festivals and locations in USA and Japan for this year and the year 2000.

AI: Michael Hoenig, as well as Christoph Franke coincidentally, has a successful soundtrack music career here in the US. Will you manage to get him involved in the new recordings of the group despite the lack of proximity?

LÜÜL: He agreed to play live with us and is interested in case a second CD would be produced.

FAME: It`s sure Michael Hoenig will be on the next CD. With Christoph Franke we are in contact, he offered to record with the very old line-up!

AI: In the meantime, who will be providing the necessary electronics/keyboard duties?

LÜÜL: Good question! That's what we did not know either, so we did it by ourselves.

FAME: You'll see on our new CD!

AI: You've also brought on board Johannes Pappert on saxophone, from another of my favorite bands, Kraan. How did that come about?

FAME: "Alto" Pappert, like Kraan and their manager Walter Holzbaur is a very close friend to us. Meanwhile he lives in Berlin again. So he was the first choice for sax!

AI: I imagine that your style of music lends itself very easily to the addition of sax. So then, did the new band quickly 'gel' during the earliest rehearsals?

LÜÜL: Yes, working with Potsch is very relaxing, he never pushes you, but tries to understand what your music is about and what he reacts. Besides, I don't know of much rehearsals.

FAME: For sure something 'crystallized' and we consider it to be great We also didn't rehearse - never for the whole production. We had our computer-based notices, and then we recorded it ourselves. Alto did "overdubs" and had no problems. He could play what he wanted to. And he did it just right. At once! That is to say, just one take. Don't forget, we have known him for at least 25 years.

AI: Finally, do you figure this reunion project will continue for quite a long time, or are you only thinking of the short term?

LÜÜL: You never know. At least it was fun to play and record this music and to meet again after so long.

FAME: We hope to continue until our lives' end. We experienced that there is still, after 20 years, a "band-magic". So, if there are still 1000 people all over the world who like to listen to our music, we will continue. If there are none, it also could happen that we will continue!

WWW sites for more info on Krautrock:
(Agitation Free)
(Amon Duul II)

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