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Kraftwerk

From Academic Kids

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Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express album (1977). From left to right: Wolfgang Flür, Karl Bartos, Florian Schneider, and Ralf Hütter.

Kraftwerk (pronounced /craft-vairk/, German for "power plant") is a German avant-garde musical group who has made significant contributions to the development of electronic music. The band was founded by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter in 1970, but became widely known as a quartet consisting of Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos alongside the founding members.

The techniques Kraftwerk introduced, together with the equipment they developed, are now commonplace in modern music. In terms of their influence on the popular music of the latter half of the 20th century, Kraftwerk are comparable to the Beatles.

Contents

History

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1970s Kraftwerk concert

Kraftwerk was founded in 1970 by Florian Schneider-Esleben (flute) and Ralf Hütter (keyboards), the pair setting up their Kling Klang studio in Düsseldorf. The two had met as students in the late 1960s, and had already released one album (Tone Float) playing in a five-piece improvisation group called Organisation.

The early Kraftwerk line-ups (1970-1974) fluctuated, Hütter and Schneider working with around half a dozen other musicians over the course of recording four albums and sporadic live appearances - most notably guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger, who left to form Neu!.

The input, expertise and influence of producer/engineer Conny Plank was also significant. Plank worked with many other leading German acts (including members of Can, Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia) and largely as a result of his work with Kraftwerk, Plank's studio in Cologne (Köln) became one of the most sought-after studios in Europe in the late Seventies. Plank produced the first four Kraftwerk albums, but ceased working with them after the commercial success of Autobahn, apparently over a dispute about contracts.

Painter Emil Schult became a regular collaborator with the band beginning in 1973 (originally playing bass guitar and electric violin, then designing artwork and additional lyrics, and accompanying them on tour).

What is generally regarded as the classic Kraftwerk line-up formed in 1975, for the Autobahn tour. This saw the band presented as a electronic quartet, with Hütter and Schneider joined by Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos as electronic percussionists. This quartet would be the band's public persona for their classic output of the 1970s and 1980s. (Flür had joined the band in 1973 as a drummer, in preparation for a television appearance to promote their third album. This show saw the public debut of the group's striking self-built electronic percussion pads, played by Flür.)

The band are notoriously reclusive, so much so that it is rumoured that their own record company do not have their phone numbers. Another notable example of eccentric behaviour was reported by Johnny Marr of The Smiths, who, in trying to contact the band for collaboration, was told that their studio telephone did not have a ringtone, as during recording the band did not like to hear any kind of dissonant noise. Instead, Marr was instructed to phone their studio at a certain time on the dot, and the phone was answered by Ralf Hutter at that moment, despite showing no sign of ringing.

After years of withdrawal from live performance, Kraftwerk began to tour again more regularly in the late 1990s, and then in 2004 and 2005. Ralf had wanted to play more shows over the years, but the undertaking of shipping all their huge, analog equipment hindered world tours and travel outside of Europe. Up until 2003 they stated they were working on new material -- though speculation about release dates fell through several times. Like a number of other recording artists, Hütter and Schneider appear to have become increasingly perfectionist in their attitude towards recording and releasing their music.

The growing time between recordings, the rarity of live performances and the increasingly exacting and protracted nature of the recording process were major reasons behind the departure of Flür and especially Bartos, whose improvisations were an essential part of the earlier Kraftwerk recordings. Following the departure of Flür and Bartos, various Kling Klang studio personnel such as Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz have appeared in the Kraftwerk live line-up.

The single Expo 2000, their first new song in 13 years, was released in December 1999, and was subsequently remixed by contemporary electronic musicians such as Orbital. An announcement by their record company of a July 22, 2003 release also fell through, with the perfectionists delaying again for several weeks. The new album, Tour de France Soundtracks, was finally released in August 2003, making it the first album of new Kraftwerk material since 1986's Electric Cafe.

Music

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Autobahn (1974)

After several early experimental albums, their breakthrough came in 1974 (1974 in music) with the Autobahn album and its 22-minute title track (you can hear a sample on the album's page), which was a worldwide hit and demonstrated their increasing reliance on synthesizers and electronics. This was followed by a trio of albums that were to exert a huge influence on popular music -- Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977) and the seminal The Man Machine (1978).

Kraftwerk's lyrics deal with postwar European urban life and technology -- travelling by car on the Autobahn, travelling by train, using home computers and the like. The lyrics are usually very minimal, but reveal both an innocent celebration of, and a knowing caution about, the modern world, as well as playing an integral role in the rhythmic structure of the songs. Many of Kraftwerk's songs express the paradoxical nature of modern urban life -- a strong sense of alienation existing side by side with a celebration of the joys of modern technology.

Kraftwerk were one of the first "pop" acts to record using pure electronic (or electronically processed) instruments and sounds exclusively. Many of the vocals in Kraftwerk songs are processed through a Vocoder, or generated using speech synthesis software -- a Speak & Spell was used on their 1981 album Computer World. They also pioneered the use of backing tracks that were generated by the electronic sequencing of purely synthetic sounds.

Notably, all of their albums from Trans-Europe Express onwards have been recorded in two separate versions: one with German vocals for sale in Germany, and one with English vocals for international sale. The single "Tour de France" featured lyrics in French.

Stage shows

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Kraftwerk live in 2004

Kraftwerk also pioneered the use of computer graphics as a backdrop for their shows. Their stage act involves the members standing behind minimalistic desks, controlling the various sequencers that drive the show. Mannequins built to look like the band members, known simply as "the robots", replace the live musicians for the track of the same name. This is usually the highlight of a live show, and "the robots" have evolved over the years from being hid behind screens (that were lowered halfway through the track), to appearing on stage for the full track (since the 2004 World Tour).

The group does however state that a reasonable fraction of the instrumentation is actually played live, and that they do improvise somewhat from show to show. The latter is most noticeable at the end of the show when the track "Music Non-Stop" is played. Each member takes turn to improvise a small segment, while the rest of the members backs off from their respective consoles. This is also one of the few times when it's somewhat obvious which member is playing what part of a track.

The equipment used on stage has also changed over the years, from the early 1970's, when the full Kling Klang studios were packed down and moved to the concert venue, complete with vocoders, drumpads and analogue synthesizers, to the 2004 World Tour, when each member was simply equipped with a keyboard and a laptop.

Influence

Kraftwerk have also been extensively sampled by some influential musicians and bands including Afrika Bambaataa, Beck, The Orb, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu/KLF, Madonna, Depeche Mode, De La Soul, Coldplay, R.E.M., Meat Beat Manifesto, Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, the Bloodhound Gang, and many more. Additionally, many popular techno DJs refer to them as one of their most important influences.

Their music has been recorded by the classical ensemble the Balanescu Quartet. Five songs were arranged for strings for their album Possessed. In 2000, electronic musician Uwe Schmidt, recording as Señor Coconut, released an album of Kraftwerk covers called El Baile Alemán. The tracks were cleverly reworked in a Latin American music style.

Kraftwerk have impinged on mainstream popular culture to the extent that they have been referenced in The Simpsons, The Big Lebowski, Saturday Night Live (NBC America) and Father Ted.

In 2002 Q magazine named Kraftwerk as one of the "50 Bands To See Before You Die".

Discography

Studio albums

Live albums

Singles

  • (1973) "Comet Melody" (Original title: "Kohoutek-Kometenmelodie")
  • (1974) "Autobahn" #11 UK
  • (1975) "Comet Melody 2" (Original title: "Kometenmelodie 2")
  • (1976) "Radioactivity"
  • (1977) "Trans-Europe Express"
  • (1977) "Showroom Dummies"
  • (1978) "The Robots"
  • (1978) "The Model"
  • (1978) "Neon Lights" #53 UK
  • (1981) "Pocket Calculator" #39 UK
  • (1981) "Computer Love" (double A-side with "The Model" in the UK) #1 UK
  • (1983) "Showroom Dummies" #25 UK
  • (1983) "Tour de France" #22 UK
  • (1984) "Tour de France" re-release #24 UK
  • (1986) "Musique Non Stop" #82 UK
  • (1987) "The Telephone Call" #89 UK
  • (1991) "The Robots" - (new version, from The Mix) #20 UK
  • (1991) "Radioactivity" - (new version, from The Mix) #43 UK
  • (1999) "Tour De France" re-release #61 UK
  • (1999) "Expo 2000" - (December single for the World Expo in Hanover, Germany) #27 UK (2000 release)
  • (2003) "Tour de France 2003" #20 UK
  • (2004) "Aerodynamik" #33 UK

See also

External links

  • Kraftwerk.com (http://www.kraftwerk.de/) - The official Kraftwerk website.
  • Kraftwerk FAQ.com (http://www.kraftwerkfaq.com/) - The Kraftwerk FAQ : Kraftwerk Frequently Asked Questions and answers.
  • Kraftwerk lyrics (http://www.euronet.nl/~rja/Kraftwerk/) - Complete Kraftwerk lyrics in all languages (includes translations).


  • Antenna (http://kraftwerk.hu/antenna/) - The International Kraftwerk Mailing list
  • Kraftworld.com.br (http://www.kraftworld.com.br/) - A Brazilian fansite (both in English and Portuguese)
  • Kraftwerk.technopop.com.br (http://kraftwerk.technopop.com.br/) - A Brazilian fansite (in English).


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