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Kraftwerk: Iconic Music For a Strange Era

The importance critics and fans ascribe to Kraftwerk is startling. Consider this, via Wikipedia:

According to The Observer, “no other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture” and a wide range of artists have been influenced by their music and image.[5]

and this at The Agit Reader:

If one considers the hip-hop, techno, electronica, ambient, and of course, rock artists they’ve influenced—and in turn the artists those artists have influenced—the German band’s touch is continually exponential.

Being compared to The Beatles of course is heady stuff. I don’t really get it, but I’m old enough to know that my not getting it means absolutely nothing.

The idea seems to be the hypnotic and repetitive rhythms played with instruments and, later, laptops was an important commentary on modern times. This type of music — and the odd and dehumanized presentation — was no doubt deeply connected with the band’s origins. Kraftwerk was formed in Dusseldorf, Germany in the 1970s. The nation was only about 30 years removed from World War II. This makes the nature of the music seem sensible. So is the fact that these fellows are, well, German.

There is a nice stream of performance art though the band’s career. This is one of the funniest things I’ve read on Wikipedia:

The band is notoriously reclusive, providing rare and enigmatic interviews, using life-size mannequins and robots to conduct official photo shoots, refusing to accept mail and not allowing visitors at Kling Klang Studio, whose precise location they used to keep secret. Another notable example of this eccentric behavior was reported to Johnny Marr of the Smiths by Karl Bartos, who explained that anyone trying to contact the band for collaboration would be told the studio telephone did not have a ringer, since during recording, the band did not like to hear any kind of noise pollution. Instead, callers were instructed to phone the studio precisely at a certain time, whereupon the phone would be answered by Ralf Hütter, despite never hearing the phone ring.[48] Chris Martin, lead singer of UK group Coldplay, anecdotally recalled, in a late 2007 article in Q about Kraftwerk, the process of requesting permission to use the melody from the track “Computer Love” in its 2005 release “Talk” from its album X&Y. He recalled writing them a letter and sending it through the lawyers of the respective parties and several weeks later receiving an envelope containing a handwritten reply that simply said ‘yes’.[49]

What is striking is the certitude of fans of the band’s importance. In the case of rock, one can argue, for instance, the relative merits of The Kinks and The Who. The two bands, however, had different takes on the same genre of music — and one that already existed when they rose to fame. The point fans are making is that Kraftwerk — the name means “power plant,” by the way — essentially invented a genre. It has heavily influenced all bands that came after in electronica and, according to many commentators, funk, hip hop and contemporary music in general.

Above is “Autobahn,” the closest the band ever had to a hit. Below is “Das Model.”

Wikipedia, Huffington Post and The Agit Reader were used to write this post. Homepage photo: Amakuha.

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David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.