Formed in Düsseldorf, Germany by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk created Industrial electronic music. It’s like conceptual art for the ears. As if they were robots or robotic in nature, they crossed the boundaries of art & technology, and in one way or another, laid the foundation for many bands since their beginnings, over fifty years ago.
The author took a deep dive into the history of this band and “looked at Kraftwerk not as just a band but rather a cultural phenomenon, as an art project and concept translated into a multimedia combination of sound and image, graphic design and performance.”
Each album was dissected and analyzed in detail as to how it fit into the cultural spectrum as well as the historical elements that were happening simultaneously around them, including their stance on nuclear energy, transportation, robots, and identity. We watched them evolve through their early performances in galleries and at happenings, through lineup changes, and watched how they moved from analog to digital technology and inspiring audiences throughout the world. They were always in motion, pushing forward, even when they weren’t riding their bikes.
As the most popular band to come out of Germany, they seemed to be looking for their own identity, one that had a light grip as German by nature, but with tentacles extending outward beyond their own borders. “Kraftwerk were articulating the mood of Germany’s post war generation––it was time to reclaim German culture from the dark shadows of recent history and move forward.”
They created “Music with no guitars at all, no indebtedness to the blues, no appeal to any of the basic motivations behind so much pop music such as who to love, and essentially no front man for the audience to identify with.” After the success of their song ‘Autobahn’, they “became Germany’s Andy Warhol.”
Think of their music like being created on an assembly line, akin to Warhol mass producing prints as a way of becoming mechanical, like a camera. They were highly inspired by Warhol, even working out of a studio that they named Kling Klang, similar to Warhol’s Factory in NYC.
Kraftwerk saw their music as electronic and “as ethnic music from the German industrial area - industrielle Volksmusic.” Their sentiment reminded me of the German photographers Bernd & Hilla Becher who photographed industrial objects including water towers and factories specifically for their sculptural properties, almost as if they were cataloging them. This goes to show how important the industrial nature of their environment was, and how artists were inspired by it in such different ways.
The author makes a comparison that Hütter and Schneider would someday be lumped into the same category as Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richards. I can see that, but I would rather look at them as artists in the same context as Warhol or artists Gilbert & George, who they also were influenced by.
“Kraftwerk is not a band. It is a concept.” ~ Schneider
Kraftwerk were on the cutting edge of a new genre of music way before anyone could totally grasp it. It was if they were looking to create a new language --machine made music for the future. If you’re into Kraftwerk, electronic music, or the history of music, Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany would be a great read.
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