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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; replaced by Karl Bartos, 1975, who was replaced by Fernando Abrantes, 1991); and Florian Schneider (born in 1947 in Dusseldorf, Germany; attended Dusseldorf Conservatory, late 1960s). Addresses: Record company-- Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY, 10019.
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--a 1920s artistic crusade that attempted to seal the rift between the artist's vision and the craftsman's technical expertise--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--ironic given the group's numerous recording hiatuses and lack of significant tours in support of its work--Kraftwerk's 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 Hutter and Florian Schneider, met in the late 1960s while both were studying classical music at the Dusseldorf 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," 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 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. "There's 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. "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." The group's ideas are conceived not in standard linear notation but visually, completely. With machines, Hutter 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 Hutter 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, 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 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. "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 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 the mercurial 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. 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 toys--synthesizers, speech synthesizers, synthesized percussion--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, went as far as to suggest that there is 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--maybe 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 TV's."
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 they're 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 people--from the [Human] League to the hip hoppers--run away with their inventions. Maybe that's their greatness."
by Rob Nagel
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.
Album of the year in France, 1976, for Radio-Activity; Grammy Award nomination for best rock instrumental performance, 1982, for "Computer World."
- Selective Works
- 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.
December 6, 2005: Kraftwerk's album, Minimum-Maximum, was released in a boxed set. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bbcom/reviews/album_review_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1001613155, December 6, 2005.
- 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.
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