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Kraftwerk: Electronica’s Founding Fathers Return

Posted by October 6th, 2003 No Comments »

Kraftwerk LOVE bicycles. And touring.Electronica’s founding fathers return:
Kraftwerk’s Tour de France marks the band’s first studio album in 17 years
By Paul Stinson

While Germany is famous for its Autobahn, Kraftwerk’s nearly 23-minute song by the same name set the world on its ear in 1974, marking a turning point in music and acting as something of a launch code for what would become a seminal influence across countries and musical genres.

For almost two decades, little more than an electronic beep has been heard from Kraftwerk, leading some to speculate that the pioneers of electronica had gone on a permanent sabbatical.

Kraftwerk LOVE bicycles. And touring.Electronica’s founding fathers return:
Kraftwerk’s Tour de France marks the band’s first studio album in 17 years
By Paul Stinson

While Germany is famous for its Autobahn, Kraftwerk’s nearly 23-minute song by the same name set the world on its ear in 1974, marking a turning point in music and acting as something of a launch code for what would become a seminal influence across countries and musical genres.

For almost two decades, little more than an electronic beep has been heard from Kraftwerk, leading some to speculate that the pioneers of electronica had gone on a permanent sabbatical.

With a new album topping Germany’s charts, it’s evident now that reports about the death of Kraftwerk had been greatly exaggerated. Taking issue with their band’s alleged disappearance, Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter was short and to the point with the German press. “This is not a comeback. We were never gone.”

While a missing persons report was never filed with the German authorities, speculation on the band’s future remained a hot topic among the Kraftwerk faithful after 1986’s poorly received Electric Café. Timed to celebrate the Tour De France centenary, electronic music’s favorite sons -who are also avid cyclists- took to the streets August 19th with the release of the Tour De France Soundtracks, their first studio album in more than 17 years. Set against the backdrop of cycling’s finest hour, the album emerged from an idea that has been on the backburner since the early ‘80s. The original song “Tour de France” from 1983 has now been expanded by a prologue and a new version, which -much like the race- is broken down into “stages”, accounting for three of the album’s ten tracks.

As a staple of the electronic music scene, Kraftwerk’s fingerprints are not hard to find. An entire generation of English new-wave acts, including the Human League, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and OMD, trace part of their musical lineage back to German ancestry. Even one of music’s greatest originals, David Bowie, claimed to have long been an admirer of the group. His track “V-2 Schneider” on the album Heroes is named after Kraftwerk member Florian Schneider.

Following the boom of folk music and the hippie movement in the 1960s, the world rediscovered rock music in the 1970s. However, four Düsseldorf students calling themselves Kraftwerk – which means “power station” in German – wanted to do something different. Drawing upon the influence of experimental electronic forces such as composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, live performances often included the band exiting the stage after creating minimalist music on synthesizers, drum machines and tape recorders, leaving look-a-like robots in charge of playing their songs. Rumors were always in steady supply that Kraftwerk was on the verge of releasing a new album. But the band, which is notorious for its aversion to public interviews and publicity hype, provided little advance promotion on the album’s scheduled release. Even on the band’s website, visitors will see little more than green wave patterns to accompany the music.

So what were Kraftwerk’s core duo Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider up to? The “musical workers,” as they call themselves, allegedly spent almost every day holed up in their legendary KlingKlang Studio in Düsseldorf, working on new compositions.

Tour De France Soundtracks subsequently took the chart-equivalent of the yellow jersey in August, ascending to the top spot on the German charts. Considering that the majority of Germany’s top hits are more rock-oriented, the success of Kraftwerk’s classic electronic sound makes the case that while the band has been out of sight, they are hardly out of mind.


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