Kraftwerk - In Praise Of The Electronic Beatles

Written by Alan McGee
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Anticipation for the forthcoming Kraftwerk box set, The Catalogue, is understandably high. C'mon, it's Kraftwerk! In electronic music, they hold the same status and influence as the Beatles, creating a new vocabulary for artists to experiment with.

Kraftwerk famously came out of the German experimental music scene, which the music press later dubbed "krautrock", at a time when artists were creating work devoid of ties to Teutonic tradition. Inspired by the factories in their hometown of Düsseldorf, Kraftwerk were pragmatic about creating music. They wanted to be known not as musicians, but as workers willing to take music into the future.

The band's first three krautrock-influenced albums were powerful statements of intent. Unfortunately, we will have to wait a bit longer until Kraftwerk (1970), Kraftwerk 2 (1972), and Ralf und Florian (1973) are remastered. Instead, The Catalogue begins with Autobahn (1974), the first in a classic run of records that stamped their influence on the international music scene. And what music! Radioactivity (1975), Trans Europe Express (1977) and Man Machine (1978) all set Kraftwerk's music-as-revolution manifesto.

The money from the Autobahn hit single – which made the US top 40 after being edited down from 22 minutes to just four – afforded Kraftwerk the luxury of studio experimentation without any outside interference. It also allowed the group to close ranks and jettison all outside ties, a tradition that continues to this day – they have a legendary fear of press commitments and there is no way to communicate with their Kling Klang studios. No telephone, no fax, no reception. And as for letters? They're returned unopened. Kraftwerk evoke the isolation, boredom and monotony of existence by favouring an aesthetic detachment and a reliance on machines.

The release of Computer World (1981) – easily my favourite Kraftwerk record – provided a fitting end to their classic run of albums. Originally criticised on release as a minor achievement (critics expressed concern over the album's repetition and short length), its cold aesthetic provides a definitive statement on electronic music. Computer World a visionary look at how technology will prevail in everyday life and predates the Stasi-like barcode, and the online surveillance culture of Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. Even Computer Love was eerily prescient in terms of trends such as online dating.

Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hütter once published sheet music of Computer World in the Face magazine, with the aim of encouraging fans to form their own bands. Hütter even told interviewers that writing the album was easy and everyone should do it.

That said, it took Kraftwerk three years to release Computer World, and the long gestation periods between albums became a bandtrademark; their next albums were Techno Pop (aka Electric Cafe, 1986), The Mix (1991) and Tour De France (2003).

When you praise Kraftwerk's back catalogue, you're not just praising albums, but the language for an entire musical genres. They have influenced musicians as diverse as Juan Atkins, the Human League, Afrika Bambaata, the Flaming Lips, Aphex Twin, Depeche Mode, Ricardo Villalobos, New Order, and many others. It's almost impossible to overestimate Kraftwerk's contribution to modern music and life.

© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)
Read 4351 times Last modified on Friday, 08 May 2015 15:37
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Alan McGee

Alan McGee

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