Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Kraftwerk: Fun Fun Fun

Kraftwerk has always been as much an art project as a band. In their native Dusseldorf back in the 1960s, when Florian Schneider was playing the electronic flute rather than the synthesizers that came to define the group’s music, they were more likely to play in art galleries than in conventional music clubs.

They reached their apotheosis with an eight-nine stand at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in April 2012. Calling the show the Catalogue, Kraftwerk performed songs from one of its eight studio albums each night - one more trend they started - along with a futuristic stage show featuring glowing costumes, light shows and 3-D projections of robots in red shirts and black ties. The band had become literally a museum piece.

What Makes Them Different Is there anything about Kraftwerk that isn't different? They invented electronic dance music, about three decades before anyone else got around to it. Their work still sounds relevant today; it’s so much removed from its own time that it will never sound old. Despite relying on the bleeps and bloops of the pocket calculator, it was never bloodless, and was always fun.

They influenced the synth-pop of the 1980s, the hip-hop that followed that, the electronica that followed that, Bowie and Bjork and Afrika Bambaataa and Blondie all the way down to Daft Punk and Max Martin.

Other musicians have always loved Kraftwerk’s oddly funky electronica: Their work was used on Soul Sonic Force's “Planet Rock,” one of the earliest hip-hop hits, from 1982, and U2 covered Kraftwerk’s “Neon Lights" in 2004. “A great soul group, Kraftwerk,” Bono said in 2009. “Really an enormous influence on me as a 16-year-old.”

“I was reading a book about Leonardo da Vinci, and it said he was like a man who had woken up in the dark before everyone else got up hours later,” Chris Martin of Coldplay once said. “That's like Kraftwerk.”

Ralf Hutter says that the Beach Boys were an influence on Kraftwerk, and I believe him. In "Autobahn," though, they're not singing "Fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn," but rather  "Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn," which is like German or something.

By the Numbers  Their only hit in the U.S. was "Autobahn," which went to Number 25 on the Hot 100 back in 1975. Even in Germany, only two of their singles ("Autobahn" and "The Model") went Top Ten, and God only knows what West Germans were listening to in 1974.

Will They Get In? Probably not. They seem pretty diametrically opposed to the people the Hall has been inducting, aside from having their glory days in the 1970s.

Should They Get In? In addition to being hugely influential - literally one of the most important bands in the history of rock & roll - Kraftwerk's music is still tons of fun to listen to. I vote JA on Kraftwerk.

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