Hello, greetings and salutations.
In this blog post I will discuss Kraftwerk and their musical originations, as well as the influential impact they brought from Germany in the late 70’s. This electro-pop driven sound that was undoubtedly ahead of its time, consequently inspiring a new form of electronic music making and their effects in the industry.
Kraftwerk’s music and the image they represented were very distinguishing and quite original to say the least. During the 70’s and early 80’s, Kraftwerk’s unique sound pioneered a permanent influence within many genres of modern music. Kraftwerk exposed a unique style of synth driven technology, artistically motivated by various ideas and distinct elements that they presented in their style and music. They had a certain sensory relationship with the electronics and synthesized elements they used in creating their music.
Kraftwerk released some trailblazing albums. Early line-ups for the group varied quite often. Hütter and Schneider the original founding members worked with several other musicians in the interim of recording at least three of there albums and many random live events. Schneider played flute, guitar and violin while processing them through a multitude of various electronic effects. Hütter played synthesizers, electric piano and a Farfisa organ. Their first few albums were not typically structured songs or carried any pop like methodical hooks. The first two albums being purely instrumental, “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” were very experimental rock albums. A lot of the music they played was on traditionally used instruments including, bass, flute, violin, drums and an electronic organ.
They used many post-production modification techniques to manipulate these desired sounds within the recordings. They used a lot of audio tape manipulation and multiple dubbing on one track. They performed live shows in Germany and occasionally in France, as a duo for a brief period in 72’ and 73’ using beat boxes and drum machines with synth presets. In 1973 Wolfgang Flür came aboard playing electronic percussion and drums as well as their third studio album “Ralf and Florian” was released. The album was written, performed and produced by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider and engineered by industry known Konrad “Conny” Plank. The album has a noticeably richer and more polished sound quality than previous ones, due to the use of Kraftwerk’s own Kling Klang Studio. Plank co-produced and engineered four of Kraftwerk’s albums and as his input was highly significant. Kraftwerk began moving much closer to a very defined and distinct sound, expressed heavily with synths, drum machines and using the Vocoder as one of their musical signatures, a futuristic, ultramodern, robotic sound. The album released by Kraftwerk in 1974 “Autobahn” was the last album Plank engineered. It reached international success and peaked at number 5 in the Billboard Top 200 charts. They updated their electronic technology within their studio with gear like the EMS Synthi AKS, ARP Odyssey and the Mini Moog.
In 1975 Kraftwerk had label support and played live shows and went on tour through the UK, Canada and USA to promote the “Autobahn” album. The tour featured a four-piece group performing with self-made electronics. Hütter and Schneider both mainly played keyboard parts on synthesizers and also sang for the first time and using a Vocoder live. Flür and Karl Bartos performing live with electronic percussion and implementing a Deagan Vibraphone on stage. Hütter, Schneider, Flür and Bartos creation continued till the late 80’s and are considered to be the definitive line-up for Kraftwerk live.
After the Autobahn tour in 1975, and further investing in gear and upgrading Kling Klang Studios, Kraftwerk released “Radio-Activity”, the theme being derived from their mutual interest in radio communication. In 76’, Kraftwerk went on tour to promote the “Radio-Activity” album. The album was not as successful in the UK and United States, however gaining them more popularity in France and giving them a Gold Record. With the releases of “Autobahn” and “Radio–Activity”, Kraftwerk had moved on from its unconventional experimentations and had developed towards electronic pop tunes. After the Radio–Activity tour of 1976, Kraftwerk decided to break from live shows. David Bowie was motivated by the album and asked the band to support him on his “Station to Station” tour but they declined, a collaboration was also discussed but it never materialized. During this time they started recording their next album titled “Trans-Europe Express”, at King Klang. It was defined as an exaggerated train journey and released in March of 77’.
In May 1978 Kraftwerk released another new album titled “The Man-Machine”. The band appointed sound engineer Leanard Jackson and Joschko Rudas for the final mix of the album. It was was the first Kraftwerk album that Karl Bartos was co-credited as songwriter. The Man Machine became a hit in the UK, topping at number 9 in the album charts. It also demonstrated Kraftwerk’s distinguishing style as they exhibited within the album artwork. They spent a lot of time modifying their equipment so they can precisely emulate their sound live. During the same time they were working on their “Computer World” album and in May of 1981 it was released, being a reflection on computer technology. Certain vocals done on the album were created using a Texas Instruments, Language Translator and various sequencing equipment for certain percussion and musical parts. “Computer Love” and “The Model” were prominent releases. “The Model” single reached number one on the UK charts, making it Kraftwerk’s most successful record in the UK. Coming back to the live scene with their Computer World tour that was launched in 1981. During this tour Kraftwerk really developed a use of visual elements intertwined within their shows and technologically developed gear used on stage that is all synchronized to their musical performance. In 1982 they released “Techno Pop” and “Electric Café” in 1986, leading to their several year hiatus. By this time now pop music was dominated by synthesizers and drum machines and the group’s best-of collection titled “The Mix” was released in 1991 and the group didn’t release anything for the rest of the decade. A new single titled, “Expo 2000,” was released in 99 with tour dates attached. In August 2003 they released a centennial anniversary of “Tour de France” with a new version of the single and followed it up with a “Tour de France Soundtracks” album. In 2005, the live album “Minimum-Maximum” was released. Kraftwerk continues to tour and make music.
Kraftwerk’s recognized as the “electro-pop” forerunners. Many of Kraftwerk’s songs express the enigmatic nature of city life and a revel in modern electronics and technology, as well as playing an integral role in the rhythmic structure of the songs. Live performances have always been an essential role in Kraftwerk’s career. Some of the band’s familiar compositions have been developed from live improvisations at shows usually formulated around songs and compositions as it continued to be an integral use of digital and computer-controlled sequencing in performances.
Throughout their musical career, Kraftwerk integrates depictions of industrial sounds into a form of electronic music pushing the limits of musical technology with the use of self-made instruments and custom built devices. The group has always used their Kling Klang Studio as an integral musical instrument as well as their music making facility. Technical aspects of sound generation and recording gradually became the main focus within the band. Kraftwerk has always been one step ahead of the future, even though they are now from the past with over 12 albums released. Their definitive, pulsing sound and unexpected brilliance became a significant element in pop, techno, hip-hop and modern electronic music. They assisted in captivating experimental electronic production of music to an entirely new level.
The impression Kraftwerk has on me as a listener, musician and industry professional is very innovative to say the least. They were really ahead of their time opening a whole new world of electronic music and various elements and methods incorporated in their style that really encouraged new ideas and forms of music and beat making. I am fascinated by certain techniques they used in acquiring certain digital sounds that is implemented in music, games, and almost everything today. Kraftwerk really left a mark in the music industry as a whole with electronic music and its growth.
Thank you for taking the time to read my thoughts on Kraftwerk.
By Adrianna Parnagian