It’s just another elderly musician gone. Happens so regularly that writing rock obituaries would be a full-time job. So why does the death of Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider fill me with sadness? Actually, not sadness… loss. A electronic hole in the musicverse leaving one man standing. Hütter and Schneider, Schneider and Hütter. Now just Ralf. Ralf and some hired hands. Unfair, that, seeing as Fritz Hilpert has been in the band since 1987. But the second coming, enjoyable as it was/is, is not the core, not the artificial heart of the matter.
I find it hard to put the loss into words. Perhaps it works in memories…
Hearing the edited version of “Autobahn” on AM radio in mid-1975…
Being disconcerted by the chilly menace of Radio-Activity…
Wondering at the sumptuous romance of Trans-Europe Express (TEE to those who travel regularly). How could electronic music be so lush?
Rediscovering Kraftwerk with the lightly renovated The Mix, sung in German…
Delight when the boy connected with The Man-Machine. (Kraftwerk are his favourite band. In fact, the only band he has noticed)
Feeling excited when asked to pen something on Kraftwerk for Discrepancy Records, then dread. What can I say? Who wants to read about grief and loss and a 73 year old German gentleman who retired from the band in 2008?
That’s not the angle, of course. The accepted wisdom is that Kraftwerk, formed in Düsseldorf in the late 60s, were pioneers—perhaps the pioneers—of electronic music. Although this comment conveniently forgets that many ‘serious’ avant-garde musicians had been exploring electronic devices as musical instruments for years (Hallo Stockhausen! Hi John Cage!) it is a much stronger claim for the world of popular music.
Synth-pop, Electro, House, Techno, Drum and Bass… some of the styles of electronic music owing varying amounts to the work of Hütter and Schneider.
What’s fascinating for me, thinking about what to say to those unfamiliar with Kraftwerk’s meticulous craft and dry wit, is how different people might easily find a different entry point to this small but essential catalogue. For example…
Retro fans will simply grin their heads off the first time they hear the original side-long trip of “Autobahn”.
Have a love affair with Europe? Spin Trans-Europe Express and be transported in opulent railway comfort to another time and place.
Enjoy some 80s synth-pop? Start with The Man-Machine. It’s strong songs and accessibility should get you robot-dancing like Flight of the Conchords.
Minimalism draw you in? Unless your humour circuits are burned out, Computer World is for you.
Hardcore electronica more your thing? Check out Electric Café.
The Mix works well as an introduction and 3-D is a lavish career summary full of reconstructions and contemporary interpretations (though it has no input from Florian Schneider other than writer credits).
Influential? Fuck yeah.
Guess there is enough material for my Discrepancy piece. Time to pack some more records for the house move. But maybe I’ll pull out the Kraftwerk stuff and spin TEE before bed.
Schlaf gut, Florian.