Berlin’s Zahn like to have their cake and eat it. As hard as the boney incisor they named themselves after (Zahn means tooth in German and is pronounced with a “s” rather than a “z” sound), they are the purest distillation of the instrumental power trio, but also an experimental electronic outfit at the same time.

We deliberately decided to be just three people,” confirms guitarist Felix Gebhard. “It’s the essence of a rock group. But then, of course, we add a lot of stuff on top when we’re at the studio.” Accordingly, a crunchy rocker like //Zehn// is overlaid with patches of ominous synth drones while //Zebra// combines industrial pistons with Cluster-like synth garnishment leading to digital enlightenment.

Zahn’s second album //Adria// is a punishing-yet-controlled 80 minutes of instrumental post-rock mayhem, a loose concept album about German mobile homes gravitating towards the Adriatic Sea during the summer (caravans in that part of the world often carry an “Adria” sticker). Gebhard says it’s open to interpretation, but the title might convey the sense of freedom that holidaying brings, or it might just as easily embody the pathos of being trapped in the system: uniformly taking your two weeks leave before returning to graft for The Man. “You can definitely hear that pathos in the final track ‘Idylle’”, he admits, “where we surfed on some sad feelings that maybe evoke nostalgia. But it was always more of a loose concept than anything.”

When he’s not playing guitar with his bandmates in Zahn, Gebhard stands in as a live auxiliary man for Berlin’s most influential noise punks Einstürzende Neubauten. “I don’t hit things,” he declares, “I play the keyboards and everything that doesn’t need to be hit. I reproduce everything that they can’t reproduce on stage that’s been done in the studio with strings and organs.” Zahn is his main job though, and that goes too for bassist Chris Breuer and drummer Nic Stockmann, who both also play in Heads.

On //Adria// (which incidentally also means “dark”) the trio have expanded their sound both in length and in texture compared with their self-titled debut album from 2021. Zahn’s music has often been described – conveniently – as Krautrock, though Gebhard is not so sure. He says he has a “hard time” with the term, but maybe not for the reason you might assume: “I just think that Krautrock is something that happened in the past. But of course it’s easy to describe a certain style of repetitive rock music as Krautrock. No two Krautrock bands sound alike: Neu! doesn’t sound like Can and Can doesn’t sound like Kraftwerk.”

Zahn is nevertheless influenced by all of the above – by a process of osmosis – and Gebhard describes himself as a second generation prog fan too. By that, he means that while he has Genesis albums at home, it’s groups like the kaleidoscopic and sponge-like Motorpsycho from Trondheim in Norway that really send him into a spin (ergo, he’s influenced by them, while they take from first generation prog). “Why this band isn’t world famous I will never understand,” he says, shaking his head.

So are Zahn post-rock, Krautrock, experimental electronic or second generation prog? Like I said, they like their cake and eat it. 

Lineup: Felix Gebhard (guitar/electronics), Nic Stockmann (drummer), Chris Breuer (bass)

Sounds like: Like Jaki Liebezeit and Dieter Moebius revived, distilled, and then fed through a Marshall stack.

Current release: Adria comes out via Crazysane Records on 24th November


Jeremy Allen

From "Limelight - Zahn" Prog Reprinted with permission.

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