Here’s a clip from the Beatles of Electronica – Kraftwerk and their song “Pocket Calculator”, originally taken from the 1981 album Computer World.
Not many casual music fans really know just how important this band is to the development of popular music from the mid-70s to the modern day. Their influence can be traced in new wave, hip-hop, acid house, 90s big beat, and modern electronica. Heavily imitated and very heavily sampled, Kraftwerk’s signature sound is the brainchild of leaders Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, who met as students of classical music at Düsseldorf Conservatory at the end of the 60s, united by their obsessions with experimental music and technology. They experimented with traditional instruments in the early 70s as a group, but it was 1974’s Autobahn album, a record which greatly benefited by their purchase of a Moog synthesizer, which set them on their stylistic path.
Kraftwerk are connected with both the Krautrock sounds of Can and Tangerine Dream, and also are closely connected with the British synthesizer acts of the early 80s, over whom they had tremendous influence – Depeche Mode, Gary Numan, OMD, and many others. This is not to mention American acts like Afrika Bambaataa who sampled selections from Kraftwerk’s catalogue for his breakthrough hip-hop track “Planet Rock”. More modern day Kraftwerk-influenced acts like the Chemical Brothers, Alpinestars, LCD Soundsystem, and Fat Boy Slim have regularly fed Kraftwerk samples into their dance-music constructions, or have crafted their original sounds after them.
The key tension in the music itself is the idea that technology and modernity are both liberating and dehumanizing at the same time; that which enables greater efficiency is also that which can be a source of isolation. Pushing past what many perceive to be the coldness of electronica in general, and of Kraftwerk specifically, there still lies a very human drama at the heart of it. The best of music of the genre frames this tension very well, showing electronic music is just as connected with the beating heart of humanity as any visceral rock music. Further, the idea which is intrinsic to the Kraftwerk approach to music-making is that there are very few divisions between technology and users of it. This is a prophetic notion of course, conceived as it was in the 70s, and looking at it now in this age of Internet, social media, and (ahem) blogging.
For more information about Kraftwerk, check out the official Kraftwerk website.
For a wider sampling of the music and more clips of the band, get yourself on down to the Kraftwerk MySpace page.