Friday, December 9, 2016

Fun, Fun, Fun on the Autobahn: Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Part IX

The pioneering German electronic music group Kraftwerk has always been as much an art project as a band. In their native Dusseldorf back in the 1960s, when founding member 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.

So no one should have been surprised when the band was enshrined in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in April 2012. Kraftwerk played an eight-night stand it called the Catalogue, performing songs from one of its eight studio albums each night, 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.

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.”

The Case For Kraftwerk 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 Franz Ferdinand and LCD Soundsystem.

The Case Against They didn’t really have any hits in the U.S., aside from "Autobahn," which went to Number 25 on the Hot 100 back in 1975. You were likely to hear “Tour de France” at a fashion show, but never on the radio.

The Cool Factor Come on. They're Kraftwerk. Here's something you may not know: In "Autobahn," 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. Ralf Hutter says, though, that the Beach Boys were an influence on Kraftwerk, and I believe him.

The Verdict 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. They need to be in there. I vote ja on Kraftwerk.


  1. A must really. They are the most important band of the last 50 years that is not already inducted.

  2. Yes. For sure. I'm surprised they've not been inducted before this.

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