Transmission serves up an evening of Kraftwerk and electronic dance music this Wednesday 25th at The Varsity Theater, 1308 4th St. SE.
Beginning at 10pm, the evening is homage to the seminal electro pioneers from Germany’s steel town Dusseldorf. In addition, the ripples Kraftwerk’s ouvre created will be felt as the evening also showcases the work of those synthesizer artists who trailed in their Teutonic wake.
When Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider met in 1968 at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Dusseldorf, little did they realize the effect, 47 years on, that their groundbreaking electronic output would have on the world of music. Having gone to study classical instruments Schneider and Hutter discovered that the listener associated the sound with the musician, while also feeling somewhat limited by the scope of traditional instruments. Having released an album Tone Float in 1968 with their experimental band Organisation, Hutter and Schneider developed their sound still further and formed Kraftwerk in 1970. Forty five years on, and after several changes in personnel, Kraftwerk remains as influential as ever, although only Ralf Hutter of the original lineup remains.
Kraftwerk’s formation and subsequent musical modus operandi were responses, of course, to the German cultural condition in the years following the Second World War. As they themselves observed in the 1970s “German culture was destroyed” when an Allied occupation, combined with Anglo-American cultural imports, usurped a rich, native cultural tradition with influences which were essentially alien. Put succinctly, Kraftwerk noted “(the) German people (were) robbed of their culture…putting an American head on it” . Kraftwerk’s achievements, then, can be viewed as doubly significant, since they developed a musical form which changed the landscape forever, while rejuvenating and rebooting the notion of German cultural identity at the same time. While advancing the field of electronic music, they did not shrink from their identity and merely ape the prevalent Western cultural norm. As later member Karl Bartos noted:
“We were pretty much aware that we weren’t raised in the Mississippi Delta or we weren’t raised in Liverpool, and it certainly was not our identity”
Inspiring artists and DJs from Derrick May and Francois K through to David Bowie and New Order, Kraftwerk even had an academic conference held in their name in January this year. The U.K.’s Aston University held a two day event titled “Kraftwerk and the Birth of Electronic Music in Germany” where university professors from across Europe discussed notions such as “Kraftwerk Challenging Germanness” among many other topics. The BBC also showed a one hour “Pop Art” documentary in January which, along with discussing their musical and cultural significance, showed Kraftwerk performing at London’s Tate Modern Turbine Hall in 2013.
In laying down the template for a whole musical genre, Kraftwerk’s influence is beyond dispute. There are indeed many, musical critic Paul Morley foremost among them, who believe Kraftwerk are even more influential and more “beautiful” than The Beatles.