The founding members of Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutler met as students Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf in the late 1960s and had taken part of the German experimental music art scene that has been dubbed by the British and Americans as “krautrock.” And their earliest material were more along the lines of highly experimental prog rock band with instrumentation altered through electronic effects, along with some of the earliest synthesizers and some post-production effects – multiple dubbing of a particular instrument, various tape edits and manipulations and the like.
But by the band’s fourth album, they had started to develop elements of what would become their incredibly influential and inimitable sound with an increasing use of synthesizers and vocals manipulated by vocoder. And by the time they had released Autobahn in 1974, the band had become an electronic band – for all intents and purposes, the forefathers of all things synth-based, electronic, minimalist and futuristic.
Within a few years, they would have released two of arguably electronic music’s most influential and important albums, their seminal (and fucking incredible) Trans Europe Express in 1977 and The Man Machine in 1978. Album title track “Trans Europe Express” is one of the most sampled and recognizable songs of the last 40 years or so, as Afrika Bambaata used it in his most famous song “Planet Rock” and artists such as De La Soul and Will Smith have used it, too. Certainly, there’s something about their efficiently, slick production style, that has drawn people to their propulsive sound for so long; but there’s also a hopeful enthusiasm and awe about technology – it’s as though they’re saying “man, isn’t this great? Look how efficient this has made our lives!"
The legendary German electronic act are in town for two dates at the United Palace Theatre and i’ll be at their second show tonight. Just to give you a sense of their live show and in honor of the momentous occasion check out this live footage of Kraftwerk in London, shot in 2004. The live show is pretty much the act’s only live album to date Minimum Maximum, which is a career-spanning live set in which they play both their most familiar, most popular songs, along with some deep catalog tracks that fans would know – in particular "The Man Machine,” which starts the footage off; “Autobahn” which has a projection of cars traveling down the Autobahn; “The Model,” one of the act’s most seductive and sensual songs – as it talks about wanting to take a model home; “Trans Europe Express” which employs the use of footage of train travel; the incredible “The Robots” which features some really freaky-looking robotic versions of the members of Kraftwerk; the propulsive “Elektro Kardiogramm,” which mimics an actual heartbeat while running; the deep house track of “Aero Dynamik”’; and a lot more.
From what you’ll see, it’s a spectacle, perhaps by default; after all, who would want to see 4 very strange-looking, banker types behind synths just plugging away? Regardless from watching this video, you’ll know why Kraftwerk is so influential and why their music has managed to reverberation through the last 40 years.