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Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk

Pop group

For the Record

Mechanized World Provided Basic Sound

Influenced Other Musicians

Approach Changed Shape of Musical World

Selected discography

Sources

Out of the historical and spiritual vacuum created in Germany after World War II and set against the gray spires of factory smokestacks filling the landscape a generation later, a new musical approach and sound appeared. Inspired by the German Bauhaus movementa 1920s artistic crusade that attempted to seal the rift between the artists vision and the craftsmans technical expertisethe group Kraftwerk melded man and machine into a singular unit, creating music that reflected mans existential freedom in the modern, mechanized world. Despite major commercial successesironic given the groups numerous recording hiatuses and lack of significant tours in support of its workKraftwerks musical legacy has been its great and varied influence, from such esteemed and established artists as David Bowie and Neil Young, to disco artists of the late 1970s, to such electronic pop groups of the 1980s as the Human League and Ultravox.

The two founding members of Kraftwerk, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, met in the late 1960s while both

For the Record

Members include Wolfgang Flür (replaced by Fritz Hijbert, 1990); Ralf Hütter (bom in 1946 in Krefeld, Germany; attended Düsseldorf Conservatory, late 1960s); Klaus Roeder (joined group, 1974; replaced byKarl Bartos ,1975, who was replaced byFernando Abrantes ,1991); and Florian Schneider (bom in 1947 in Düsseldorf, Germany; attended Düsseldorf Conservatory, late 1960s).

Group formed in Düsseldorf, Germany, 1970; before forming Kraftwerk, Hütter and Schneider founded Kling-Klang Studio, then joined five-piece band Organisation; released Tone Float, 1970; signed with Vertigo Records and released debut album, Var, 1971.

Selected awards: Album of the year in France, 1976, for Radio-Activity; Grammy Award nomination for best rock instrumental performance, 1982, for Computer World.

Addresses: Record company Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, 10019.

were studying classical music at the Düsseldorf Conservatory. They found the traditional medium bereft of the means to express their personal musical vision and sought not only artistic definitions but ontological ones as well. After the war, Hütter explained to Lester Bangs in Creem, German entertainment was destroyed. The German people were robbed of their culture, putting an American head on it. I think we are the first generation born after the war to shake this off, and know where to feel ourselves.

Mechanized World Provided Basic Sound

Hütter and Schneider found a musical identity in what surrounded them: the mechanized sounds of the German factories and language. They acquired electronic keyboards and amplifiers and in 1970 set up their own recording studio, Kling Klang, which means Ringing Tone in English, in an oil refinery. Theres smoke and fire around it, Schneider described to Ray Townley in Rolling Stone, and when you emerge from the studio you hear this hissing sound all around you. That same year they joined a five-piece band, Organisation, and released an album, Tone Float, but quickly left the group to form their own, Kraftwerk, which means power plant in English.

Kraftwerk is not a band, Schneider told Townley. Its a concept. We call it Die Menschmaschine, which means the human machine. We are not the band. I am me. Ralf is Ralf. And Kraftwerk is a vehicle for our ideas. The groups ideas are conceived not in standard linear notation but visually, completely. With machines, Hütter and Schneider are able to transmit their visions to an audience like an aural film. But the machines are not merely conduits, nor even prosthetic extensions. As Bangs noted, the relationship between Hütter and Schneider and their machines is an organic, symbiotic one: The machines not merely overpower and play the human beings but absorb them, until the scientist and his technology, having developed a higher consciousness of its own, are one and the same.

After a few limited releases in their native Germany, Hütter and Schneider added Wolfgang Flür and Klaus Roeder to Kraftwerk in 1974 and released Autobahn, the groups seminal work. Side one of the LP contains the title track, a twenty-two-and-a-half-minute paean to driving on Germanys super highway, delivered not as a human response to the experience but as a machine-like statement about itclean, precise, hypnotic, endless. What have both we and these poor krauts been seeking desperately ever since the Second World War if not the penultimate nonrush provoked by the absence of feeling? Bangs wrote in a review of the album, which reached Number Five on the Billboard charts. An edited version of the title cut,Wir farhn farhn farhn auf der Autobahn (Were driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn), was also a popular success, peaking on the singles charts at Number 25.

Influenced Other Musicians

Although not quite equaling the commercial acclaim of Autobahn, subsequent works solidified Kraftwerks standing through their impact on other artists and musical mediums. Musician David Bowie credited Kraftwerks 1976 Radio-Activity with influencing some of the arrangements on his album Low, while the mercurial Neil Young significantly patterned his Trans release on 1981s Computer World.

The disco craze of the late 1970s also latched onto the Kraftwerk beat. Extended versions of Trans-Europe Express and Showroom Dummiesboth from the 1977 album Trans-Europe Expresswere heard in discos worldwide. And hip-hop deejay Afrika Bambaataa reworked Trans-Europe Express into the 1982 hit Planet Rock, which, as Mark Dery pointed out in the New York Times, helped spawn electro-boogie, a rap subgenre characterized by video arcade bleeps, cartoon sound effects, and locomotive rhythms. Electro-boogie is a forerunner of the Detroit techno school of house music, and house deejays continue to incorporate Kraftwerk records in their live mixes.

Dismissing its danceable rhythms, some critics found the music of Kraftwerk to be severely devoid of human emotional involvement. With its efficient modern-world toyssynthesizers, speech synthesizers, synthesized percussionKraftwerk strikingly creates a sound so antiseptic that germs would die there, Mitchell Schneider wrote in a review of 1978s The Man Machine for Rolling Stone. And Mark Peel, reviewing the 1986 release Electric Café for Stereo Review, went as far as to suggest that there is no human input even in the act of creation: Maybe its some kind of neo-Expressionist statement about the domination of technology, or maybe the groups machines really did take over the recording sessionmaybe the guys are tied up in the studio and the synthesizers are out spending their royalty checks on one-night stands with cheap cable-ready TVs.

Approach Changed Shape of Musical World

According to others, however, it is exactly this predilection toward technology in the face of human emotions that has given Kraftwerk its lasting value. Society has come to take the sort of technological advances celebrated by Kraftwerk for granted, become largely computer-literate without human beings having been reduced to mere automatons, as once feared, David Stubbs assessed in Melody Maker. And musically, Kraftwerk have created a new orthodoxy.

In the end, perhaps, what Kraftwerk can be credited with developing is not a new musical doctrine, or religion. Through their intermingling of man and machine, they have helped create a new species, a jump in the evolution of music. It is not their own music but the sound and approach they have spawned that marks Kraftwerk as a significant event on the developmental line of popular music. Certainly theyre capable of moments of exceptional, accessible beauty, Paul Lester of Melody Maker noted, and yet, in this area, the godlike Electronic are light-years ahead. Kraftwerk have long been content to let peoplefrom the [Human] League to the hip hoppersrun away with their inventions. Maybe thats their greatness.

Selected discography

Var, Vertigo, 1971.

Kraftwerk, Vertigo, 1972.

Ralf and Florian, Vertigo, 1973.

Autobahn, Vertigo/Mercury, 1974, reissued, Elektra, 1988.

Radioactivity, Capitol, 1976, reissued, Elektra, 1986.

Exceller 8, Vertigo, 1976.

Trans-Europe Express, Capitol, 1977.

The Man Machine, Capitol, 1978.

Computer World, Warner Bros., 1981, reissued, Elektra, 1988.

Techno Pop, EMI (British import), 1983.

Electric Café, EMI, 1986, reissued, Elektra, 1988.

The Mix, Elektra, 1991.

Showroom Dummie, 1992.

The Model (The Best of), Cleopatra, 1992.

Sources

Art in America, March 1988.

Billboard, October 22, 1977; August 22, 1981.

Creem, June 1975; September 1975.

Down Beat, June 3, 1976.

Melody Maker, September 13, 1975; June 20, 1981; November 8, 1986; June 15, 1991; July 20, 1991.

New York Times, June 16, 1991.

People, September 28, 1981.

Rolling Stone, July 3, 1975; May 18, 1978.

Stereo Review, September 1981; March 1987.

Wilson Library Bulletin, October 1991.

Rob Nagel

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Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk

Electronic group

Out of the historical and spiritual vacuum created in Germany after World War II, and set against the gray spires of factory smokestacks filling the landscape a generation later, a new musical approach and sound appeared. Inspired by the German Bauhaus movement—an influential avant-garde art and design movement of the 1920s—the group Kraftwerk melded man and machine into a singular unit, creating music that reflected man's existential freedom in the modern, mechanized world. Despite major commercial successes—despite the group's numerous recording hiatuses and lack of significant tours in support of its work—Kraftwerk's real musical legacy has been its great influence on such established artists as David Bowie and Neil Young, on disco artists of the late 1970s, and on electronic pop groups of the 1980s such as the Human League and Ultravox.

The two founding members of Kraftwerk, Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, met in the late 1960s while both were studying classical music at the Dusseldorf Conservatory. Both increasingly found that traditional medium inadequate as a means of expressing their personal musical vision. "After the war," Hutter explained to Lester Bangs in Creem, "German entertainment was destroyed. The German people were robbed of their culture, putting an American head on it. I think we are the first generation born after the war to shake this off, and know where ... to feel ourselves."

Hutter and Schneider found a musical identity in their surroundings: the mechanized sounds of the German factories and language. They acquired electronic keyboards and amplifiers, and in 1970 set up their own recording studio, Kling Klang, ("ringing tone" in English), in an oil refinery. That same year they joined a five-piece band, Organisation, and released an album, Tone Float, but quickly left to form their own group, Kraftwerk ("power plant" in English).

"Kraftwerk is not a band," Schneider told Townley. "It's a concept. We call it 'Die Menschmaschine,' which means 'the human machine.' We are not the band. I am me. Ralf is Ralf. And Kraftwerk is a vehicle for our ideas." As Bangs noted, the relationship between the band members and their machine concept is an organic, symbiotic one: "The machines not merely over-power and play the human beings but absorb them, until the scientist and his technology, having developed a higher consciousness of its own, are one and the same."

After a few limited releases in their native Germany, Hutter and Schneider added Wolfgang Flur and Klaus Roeder to Kraftwerk in 1974 and released Autobahn, the group's seminal work. Side one of the LP contains the title track, a twenty-two-and-a-half-minute paean to driving on the Autobahn, Germany's super highway, delivered not as a human response to the experience but as a machine-like statement about it—clean, precise, hypnotic, endless. The album reached number five on the Billboard charts. An edited version of the title cut, "Wir farh'n farh'n farh'n auf der Autobahn" ("We're driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn"), was also a popular success, peaking on the singles charts at number 25.

Although not quite equaling the commercial acclaim of Autobahn, subsequent works solidified Kraftwerk's standing through their impact on other artists and musical mediums. Musician David Bowie credited Kraftwerk's 1976 Radio-Activity with influencing some of the arrangements on his album Low, while Neil Young significantly patterned his Trans release on 1981's Computer World.

The disco craze of the late 1970s also latched onto the Kraftwerk beat. Extended versions of "Trans-Europe Express" and "Showroom Dummies"—both from the 1977 album Trans-Europe Express—were heard in discos worldwide. Hip-hop deejay Afrika Bambaataa reworked "Trans-Europe Express" into the 1982 hit "Planet Rock," which, as Mark Dery pointed out in the New York Times, "helped spawn 'electro-boogie,' a rap subgenre characterized by video arcade bleeps, cartoon sound effects, and locomotive rhythms. Electro-boogie is a forerunner of the Detroit 'techno' school of house music, and house deejays continue to incorporate Kraftwerk records in their live mixes."

Dismissing its danceable rhythms, some critics found the music of Kraftwerk to be severely devoid of human emotional involvement. "Kraftwerk strikingly creates a sound so antiseptic that germs would die there," Mitchell Schneider wrote in a review of 1978's The Man Machine for Rolling Stone. And Mark Peel, reviewing the 1986 release Electric Cafe for Stereo Review, suggested that there may have been no human input even in the act of creation: "Maybe it's some kind of neo-Expressionist statement about the domination of technology, or maybe the group's machines really did take over the recording session."

For the Record . . .

Members include Wolfgang Flur (replaced by Fritz Hijbert, 1990); Ralf Hutter (born in 1946 in Krefeld, Germany; attended Dusseldorf Conservatory, late 1960s); Klaus Roeder (joined group, 1974; re placed by Karl Bartos, 1975, who was replaced by Fernando Abrantes, 1991); Florian Schneider (born in 1947 in Dusseldorf, Germany; attended Dusseldorf Conservatory, late 1960s).

Group formed in Dusseldorf, Germany, 1970; before forming Kraftwerk, Hutter and Schneider founded Kling-Klang Studio, then joined five-piece band Organisation; released Tone Float, 1970; signed with Vertigo Records and released debut album Var, 1971; released landmark albums Autobahn, 1974; Trans-Europe Express, 1977; Computer World, 1981; Electric Café, 1986; released Tour de France Soundtracks, 2003; released Minimum-Maximum (live), 2005.

Awards: Album of the year in France, for Radio-Activity, 1976.

Addresses: Record company—Astralwerks Records, 104 West 29th St., Fl. 4, New York, NY 10001, phone: (212) 886-8500, e-mail [email protected] Web-site—Kraftwerk Official Website: http://www.kraftwerk.de.

Throughout the late 1980s and most of the 1990s, even when electronic music was beginning to flourish worldwide, Kraftwerk remained largely quiet. The year 1991 saw the release of The Mix, a remix compilation of the group's key tracks, but it would be eight years before they returned to the studio. When they did, Kraftwerk emerged with the single "Expo 2000" and the announcement of a world tour.

To celebrate the 20-year anniversary of their classic Tour de France album, the band released 2003's Tour de France Soundtracks. While the first few tracks on the disc reprised the 1983 release, the rest of the album was a completely original work, with titles that only marginally referred to the disc's cycling theme. Nevertheless, they still managed to pay homage to the record's inspiration. The Boston Globe 's B. Christopher Muther commented that "much of Soundtracks feels like a late-night party in Berlin circa 1981. The band's 30-year theme of man and machine holding hands (or whatever parts man and machine would hold) in a hermetically sealed utopia has not been shaken."

Kraftwerk went back on tour in 2004, and from those shows they released a live recording, Minimum-Maximum, the following year. In a review of one of Kraftwerk's 2005 peformances, Jon Pareles of the New York Times stated, "There's something mildly hilarious in the fact that Kraftwerk, the pioneering German electronic group, is about to release a live album. ... Playing songs from [their] live album, Kraftwerk tried, as usual, to appear as un-live as possible." However, Bill Murphy of Remix wrote, "There may be an array of Sony Vaio laptops onstage, but moments like these remind you that there are still four guys behind them."

It is exactly this predilection toward technology in the face of human emotions that has given Kraftwerk its lasting value. Through their intermingling of man and machine, they have perhaps helped create a new species, a jump in the evolution of music. It is not their own music but the sound and approach they have spawned that marks Kraftwerk as a significant event in the development of popular music. "Certainly they're capable of moments of exceptional, accessible beauty," Paul Lester of Melody Maker noted, adding that "Kraftwerk have long been content to let people—from the [Human] League to the hip hoppers—run away with their inventions. Maybe that's their greatness."

Selected discography

Var, Vertigo, 1971.

Kraftwerk, Vertigo, 1972.

Ralf and Florian, Vertigo, 1973.

Autobahn, Vertigo/Mercury, 1974; reissued, Elektra, 1988.

Radioactivity, Capitol, 1976; reissued, Elektra, 1986.

Exceller 8, Vertigo, 1976.

Trans-Europe Express, Capitol, 1977.

The Man Machine, Capitol, 1978.

Computer World, Warner Bros., 1981; reissued, Elektra, 1988.

Techno Pop, EMI (British import), 1983.

Electric Cafe, EMI, 1986; reissued, Elektra, 1988.

The Mix, Elektra, 1991.

Showroom Dummie, 1992.

The Model (The Best of), Cleopatra, 1992.

The Best of Kraftwerk, EMI, 1999.

Tour de France Soundtracks, Astralwerks, 2003.

Minimum-Maximum, Astralwerks, 2005.

Sources

Art in America, March 1988.

Billboard, October 22, 1977; August 22, 1981.

Boston Globe, September 19, 2003.

Creem, June 1975; September 1975.

Down Beat, June 3, 1976.

Melody Maker, September 13, 1975; June 20, 1981; November 8, 1986; June 15, 1991; July 20, 1991.

New York Times, June 16, 1991; June 3, 2005.

People, September 28, 1981.

Remix, July 2005.

Rolling Stone, July 3, 1975; May 18, 1978.

Stereo Review, September 1981; March 1987.

Wilson Library Bulletin, October 1991.

—Rob Nagel andKen Taylor

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Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk, pioneering electronic band credited with helping spur disco, new romantic, goth, hip-hop, techno, and ambient musics (f. 1970, Dusseldorf, Germany). membership: Ralf Hutter, voc. elec. (b. Krefeld, Germany, Aug. 20, 1946); Florian Schneider, voc, elect, (b.Dusseldorf, Germany, April 7, 1947).

Although dozens of musicians have been through the band, the heart of Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) is Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider. They pair met during the late 1960s at the Kunstakademie in Remschied. Both were classically trained musicians (Hutter on piano, Schneider on woodwinds and violin), and went on to the Dusseldorf conservatory, where they formed a free-form improvised noise group called Organisation. The group released on album in 1970 and disbanded. Hutter and Schneider started their own studio, Kling Klang and formed Kraftwerk. Their first two albums, while successful in Germany, did not find their way out of the country at the time. With few synthesizers available at the time, the group made many of their own instruments using home-made oscillators and parts from other keyboards, as well as tape effects. The music was compared to avant-garde, “serious” composers like Karlheinze Stockhausen and Terry Riley: long on electronic texture, short on rhythm. By the time they recorded Ralf und Florian, they had added a drum machine to their arsenal. They were exploring new territory at the time, creating music that totally relied on technology.

By 1973, Moog synthesizers became generally available and were quickly added to Kraftwerk’s arsenal. Using their new firepower, they created the musical equivalent of a drive on the highway, a 22-minute composition called “Autobahn,” which became the title track of their fourth album. A shorter excursion, in the form of a three-minute edit, became a massive hit in Europe and a curiosity hit in the U.S., where it reached #25. The album went to #5 in the U.S. as well, and became one of the first hit records to use only electronic instruments. Their next album, Radio-Activity, also worked around a theme, this time broadcast communications. Acknowledging their new international status, they recorded the songs in both German and English. Similar in concept to Autobahn, though more rhythmic, 1977’s Trans-Europe Express dealt with train travel in the group’s increasingly mechanical sound, which they dubbed “robot pop.” Man Machine solidified the robot pop gestalt with tunes like “Showroom Dummies” and “We Are the Robots.” “The Model” topped the charts in England in 1978.

The band dropped out of site for three years, but they were hardly forgotten. Their recordings were extensively sampled by hip hop artists including Arthur Baker and Afrika Bambaataa. Artists ranging from the Human League to David Bowie cited their influence. The group returned to the scene in 1981 with their paean to technology, Computer World, and enjoyed minor dance hits with songs like “Numbers” and “Pocket Calculator.” However, by the time they released Electric Café in 1986, the novelty of their sound had worn off and the synthetic textures they had introduced to popular music were commonplace. They continued to create and perform on occasion, headlining a European festival in 1997, but they seem to be biding their time in terms of releasing new music, though they did release a single “Expo 2000” in time for the turn of the century.

Discography

Kraftwerk 1 (1971); Kraftwerk 2 (1972); Ralf und Florian (1973); Autobahn (1974); Radio-Activity (1975); TransEurope Express (1977); The Man Machine (1978); Computer World (1981); Electric Cafe (1986).

—Hank Bordowitz

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