The Model for Electro Pop

Hailed as the pioneers of electronic music, Kraftwerk are set to perform live at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in February 2013.

Tickets were sold out in under a day, causing a chaos at Tate that left the museum’s website crashed almost immediately after online booking went live. Ironically, this did not match the harmony between man and machine that the German group has been promoting since its formation in 1970.

At a time when fellow progressive musicians were playing rock music with analogue equipment and looked like hippies, Kraftwerk, cropped hair and minimalist style, were experimenting with synthesizers, producing laconic and futuristic sounds from their Düsseldorf Kling Klang Studio. When Kraftwerk performed in the mid 1970s across Britain, they barely filled the venues. What these pioneers were doing, only caught on much later. The mainstream’s obsession with technology was epitomised in the 1982 film Blade Runner, for example.

There can be a right time for styles and the same thing is true for fashion. What an avant-gardist renders fashionable, is not yet suitable for the mainstream. Only once the masses have seen it around on other people, they get more confident to wear it. Take cardigans, for example. A decade ago, most men would not have been seen dead wearing this geeky garment, whereas now cardigans have become part of every man’s capsule wardrobe.

Initially, Kraftwerk’s inspiration was drawn from Pink Floyd, as well as 1950s classical electronics pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and of course, machines. Today, Kraftwerk is more famous than ever, despite, or perhaps because of, their enigmatic and reclusive status. Not only did they lay the foundations for techno and house music, they also revolutionised the way in which music is made. As producers of art, not mere musicians, it comes as no surprise that the choice of venue for Kraftwerk’s retrospectives are large kunsthallen, rather than concert halls. In an interview with David Stubbs for Melody Maker in 1991, Ralf Hütter, the only original member still part of Kraftwerk today, stated that, ‘We are involved in a ‘gesamtkunstwerk — “holistic” art. We fabricate equipment, build robots, work with software.’ Kraftwerk’s influence is less about individual tracks, such as ‘The Model’ or ‘Autobahn’, but more about the vision of their work as a whole.

The first electro-funk record ‘Planet Rock’, produced in 1982 by Bronx DJ Afrika Bambaataa sampled Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans-Europe Express’.

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