BASF: From the Chemical Company to the Progressive Music Labels

BASF (Badische Anilin- und Soda-Fabrik, or Baden Aniline and Soda Factory) is the largest diversified chemical company in the world and is present in over 200 countries supplying a huge range of products for all kinds of industries. It is currently headquartered in Ludwigshafen, Germany, and was founded on April 6th 1865 in Mannheim, in the former German-speaking country of Baden by Friedrich Engelhorn. The company has become very known and earned an excellent reputation amongst the general public for providing audiovisual equipments for home use from the mid 1960s to the 1990s, starting from reel-to-reel audio tapes in 1966 and later covering ranges of cassettes, VCRs, turntables and so on. As they could supply themselves with all kinds of audio media, why not trying to dive directly into the music business as well? That's they did in 1970, starting not only a brand-new label but also their own distribution company as a big company like them had the funds to do so. As the BASF label sadly lasted just for a few years, many people nowadays would be suprised to see any of its red-labeled and black-lettered vinyls carrying the logo.

As a worldwide company, it is hard to say if the BASF label was founded to solely to supply the German underground scene, as such was the real intention behind Ohr or Brain, however the fact is that throughout its few years of existent, BASF played a very important role on that scene and presented some excellent music on progressive, psychedelic, folk, jazz, avant-gard, and pop genres. Its staff seemed to be open enough to embrace all kinds of bands possible regardless of their commercial potential, what makes it believe it was probably ran by influent people on the "krautrock" scene, whereas some people may think they were naive enough to focus on more commercial fields.

'Disaster - Lüüd Loma' (1971), Amon Düül's final release; Gila and Karthago debut albums (1971); Embryo's sixth album 'We Keep On' (1973); Joy Unlimited's third album 'Reflections' (1973); and Chris Braun Band debut album 'Both Sides' (1972). These were some of the very first German progressive albums released by BASF.

The BASF label became the shelter for some renowned krautrock bands, such as Amon Düül, Gila, Karthago, Embryo, Chris Braun Band, and Joy Unlimited. Some non-German rock bands and artists, however, were signed, like Taste, Stud, Phil Trainer, and Jonesy, even if most of them didn't have their albums pressed on their own country. On the other hand, as BASF was a worldwide company, their own label releases were distributed in countries like Finland, Netherlands, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Japan, New Zealand, Brazil and Venezuela, where most - if not all - of those bands were completely unknown. BASF of Venezuela had its own manufacturing plant, and besides provinding support for many local artists, it also pressed many krautrock albums - including even some Pilz releases - very probably for distribution on the whole Latin America.

Some sublabels also came along, being the first of them the already existent Cornet, founded in the mid 1960s, focussed on German Scherlag artists, and run by Heinz Gietz, a musician and producer. In 1971, BASF decided to create their own first sublabel, instead of incorporating another existent one, and then under initial direction of producer Jürgen Schmeisser, the legendary Pilz was born to embrace even more the krautrock scene. As Schmeisser wasn't unable to keep going on the job, no one better than Rolf-Ürich Kaiser to take place, the cofounder of the legendary Ohr label and one of the leading personalities on the krautrock scene. For this reason, some Pilz releases were either reissued by Ohr or by Kosmische Musik, Kaiser's own label. The newly founded Pilz certainly made an impact signing bands like Popol Vuh, Wallenstein, Hölderlin, Bröselmaschine, Emtidi, Mythos, and Anima. All seemed to be well, until Kaiser and Gille Lettmann, his girlfriend and collaborator, got in touch with LSD through Timothy Leary, who at the time was a refugee in Switzerland.

Kaiser became a LSD-addict and as the time went by, completely unable to work and hard to deal with, so much that Bruno Wendel and Günther Körber quit Ohr to found the very known Brain, a Metronome Records sublabel for progressive music. Besides, some Pilz bands had to fight in court due to contract and management problems. As these reasons would eventually tear down BASF reputation on the market, Pilz was closed down already in 1972 after just 20 albums and 7 singles released.

Pilz was BASF's progressive sublabel to embrace even more the krautrock scene. Some of its notable releases were: Popol Vuh's second album 'In Den Garten Pharaos' (1971); Hölderlin debut album 'Hölderlins Traum' (1972); Bröselmaschine debut and only album (1972); 'Saat' (1972), Emtidi's second and final release; and Anima debut album (1972).

Other BASF sublabels were Buk Records, mainly concentrated on pop music, and the US-based Fungus. Both arose in the early 1970s and hardly made any impression on the market with a handful albums released. In 1971, BASF also began manufacturing and distributing releases for the prestigious MPS Records (Musik Produktion Schwarzald, or Black Forest Music Production), dedicated almost exclusively to jazz and whose headquarters were in the city of Villingen. It was formerly known as SABA (Schwarzwälder-Apparate-Bau-Anstalt) and was originally founded in 1958 by producer and sound engineer Hans Georg Brunner-Schwer, but in 1968 the label had its name changed and soon became the most influential German jazz label to emerge in the 1960s. Artists like Wolfgang Dauner (including his Et Cetera band!), Volker Kriegel, Eberhard Weber, Fritz Pauer and many others were all embraced by this fantastic label.

For instance, BASF was MPS Records supplier during its most profilic era, on the other hand that wasn't enough keep the chemical company on the music business for a long time. In despite of supplying certain and specific music demands, BASF hardly had any with band or artist with a huge commercial impact, maybe due to a naiveness in the production field, and was closed down in 1976 along with all its sublabels. MPS Records now had its releases distributed and manufactured by Metronome Records, one of the then leading German record companies.

BASF incorporated the already existent Cornet to be its sublabel, created Buk Records, and became the prestigious MPS Records jazz label manufacturer and distributor.

A very few amount of BASF releases were reissued either on CD or vinyl and therefore are currently in high demand. Most of these few reissues were or are made by small and independent labels and some are again out-of-catalog. At least all the Pilz releases were officially reissued on CD and vinyl in the late 1990s by Ohr Today, a ZYX Music sublabel especially created for Ohr and Pilz releases. A few were already available earlier by Spalax Music, Think Progressive, and now more recently Garden Of Delights.

All and all, the huge chemical company happened to play a very important role on German music scene, supplying a demand from the underground scene to the continously growing jazz scene. Unfortunatly the company nowadays shows no interest in redeeming its music legacy, handing it to smaller labels.

Sources: Discogs, Wikipedia and Sunbirds' Sunbirds CD booklet

Read also the previous article:
OHR: A Pioneering Label in Germany


  1. It's a very interesting story. Too bad about that bastard Timothy Leary toppling everything! ;)

  2. It's an interesting story. It would be great if more big well-funded companies were more often interested in releasing and distributing non-profitable underground and innovative music!

    And too bad about that bastard Timothy Leary toppling everything! ;)

    1. Here in Brazil, Petrobrás, the half-state oil company, has always funded many non-profitable acts related to culture, but that's because it still belongs to the government. Nowadays there's hardly any interest from a big or multi-national company in promoting these kinds of underground culture. All these smaller and independent labels you see nearly always belong to someone who is rich enough to do it solely for passion.

      BASF has probably done it because it was kind of cozy for them as they could supply themselves with raw material and had enough funds to create their own distribution division. But they seemed not to have any commercial pretentions at the rate of creating Pilz. Much likely to have been a kind of experiment.

      And what could we say about Leary? Kaiser was already grown up enough to know what he was doing ;-)

  3. Interesante blog que descubrí buscando imágenes de discos clásicos del llamado krautrock. Saludos desde Chile. Interesting blog I just found while searching for images of classic krautrock albums. Greetings from Chile and all are invited to check Facebook group (in spanish and sometimes english when necessary) LA INMENSA MINORIA.


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