I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Kraftwerk: Danke


by Alex Schab
Aug. 7, 2013

Whether you love it or wish it would crawl back into whatever strobe-lit cesspool it first womped out of, there's no denying that dubstep and the bass heavy sound it's associated with have become immensely popular. Already, we're seeing it's influence seep into the mainstream, what with radio-friendly “alt metal” “band” Korn claiming that they invented the genre and the bespectacled Skrillex breaking into the Top 40. All we need now is a few Kidz Bop covers and we've got the culture trend of the 2010's covered already!

However, dubstep's popularity – like that of any major electronic genre – has been a long, long time coming. While electronic instruments, such as the haunting Theremin, have been around for almost a century, they didn't really come into widespread use until the 60's. It was then that bands like The Silver Apples started to popularize them in music, a trend which culminated in the first all-electronic band, Kraftwerk.

Formed in 1970 in Duesseldorf, Germany by Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider, two students at the Robert Schumann Hochschule music school, Kraftwerk combined electronic sounds with the rigid organization of a drum machine. After some early experimental work, they eventually came up with a sound both bizarre and regimented. Or – essentially -- they made the most stereotypical German music ever.

After releasing two self-titled LP's in 1970 and 1971 and Ralf und Florianin 1973, Kraftwerk had developed some respect within the music world, and, with 1974's Autobahn, the band saw some commercial success – an amazing feat considering the album contained a 20 minute long song about driving in a car. An edited version of this song can be heard in the featured animated film, which sets the track to a bustling landscape of moving lights, shapes and anthropomorphic cars, all terrifying in the way only late-1970's animation could be.

After putting out Radio-Aktivitat in 1975, Kraftwerk finally struck the nuts-and-bolts-encrusted gold they were looking for. In 1977 and 1978, they released Trans-Europe Express and The Man Machine, two albums packed with the robot grooves (and featuring the horrifying album covers) that would become their best-known works. Rigid, beautiful and even danceable, these two albums would set the stage for the several good (and countless terrible) synth-pop bands just a few years later.

As their fame grew, so did the mythos surrounding the band. Since Kraftwerk rarely granted interviews and didn't have a phone at Kling Klang, the studio they were based out of, stories about the members were often allowed to linger in the gray. In fact, the band's relationship with the telephone, which Huetter once described as “an antiquity - you never know who is calling, there is no image, it is an outmoded product that constantly disrupts work,” was itself a major component of the band's technology-obsessed image.

Tales of Huetter's obsession with bicycling were also popular, depicting him as a fanatic who hopped off the tour bus 100 km away from their next stop and cycled the rest of the way. Another famous story, which Huetter denied in a 2009 interview with The Guardian, has him getting knocked into a coma after a cycling accident in the early 80's. When he woke up in the hospital, his first words were reportedly “where's my bicycle?” His enthusiasm for the sport was apparently so profound that other members of the band began to blame it for their lack of new material, and said in the same interview that he still rides several thousand kilometers a year. Which is a lot.

Though additional members – and even Huetter himself – came and went as the years passed and their very non-mechanical bodies aged, the core sound of the group remained similar over two more albums. Today, Kraftwerk continues to press on, playing shows despite not having released a full album of new material since 1986's disappointing Electric Cafe and the departure of Schneider in 2008.

Though their days of churning out new music appear to be largely finished (although they do still put out new tracks occasionally), their influence is literally undeniable. Hell, they've even been nominated to join the Rock Hall of Fame, whatever that's worth. Whole genres exist because of them: without their pioneering, there would (likely) never have been disco, dubstep, or trashy European techno. Whether you're into LMFAO and Skrillex or Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada, chances are that you probably hate disco and are still confused as to what all of the subgenres of house are.

For all of this and more, we have Kraftwerk to thank. Danke.

Sources:

Future Rock Legends: http://www.futurerocklegends.com/artist.php?artist_id=Kraftwerk

Listverse: http://listverse.com/2008/12/25/top-10-influential-artists-in-electronic-music/

Only Solitaire: http://starling.rinet.ru/music/kraft.htm

The Guardian: http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2009/jun/19/kraftwerk-hutter-manchester-international

The History of Electronic Music: http://www.phinnweb.org/history/

Alex Schab is a freelance writer living somewhere between the woods and the suburbs of Massachusetts. This means he spends way too many lonely nights consuming media and beer. Follow him on Twitter (@Schab) as he tries to wrestle some meaning into his life.