Kraftwerk's connection to R&B and black DJs in America

Pioneering hip hop musician Afrika Bambaataa's love for Kraftwerk is evidenced by his groundbreaking 1982 electro track "Planet Rock" (above). Indeed, Bambataaa's underground DJ sets in black nightclubs were a key point-of-entry into the United States for many international electronic musicians in the early 1980s, from Yellow Magic Orchestra to Gary Numan. I hadn't realized though that Kraftwerk readily acknowledged that it was a two-way musical conversation: Black American music, particularly R&B, was a massive influence on Kraftwerk's music. In The Wire, John Morrison writes:

In an interview with Dan Sicko, the late author of Techno Rebels: The Renegades Of Electronic Funk, former Kraftwerk percussionist Karl Bartos gives an essential statement on the influence of black R&B on the band's work: “We were all fans of American music: soul, the Tamla/Motown thing, and of course, James Brown. We always tried to make an American rhythm feel, with a European approach to harmony and melody.” When exploring the band’s early work, this rhythmic influence does occasionally peek its head up through their abstract sound. On “Tone Float” (the title track from founder members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben’s pre-Kraftwerk 1970 debut album as members of Organisation), the band can be heard experimenting with a rhythmic framework similar to the “Bo Diddley'' beat, the heavily accented drum pattern that dominated rock ’n’ roll in the 50s and early 60s. For their first release as Kraftwerk, the “Bo Diddley” beat remerges, albeit with an aggressive Jazz flair courtesy of drummer Charly Weiss providing the driving pulse for the the album’s ten minute closer “Vom Himmel Hoch”.

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Rare early Kraftwerk performances before they were showroom dummies

Here's a cool 1971 performance of Kraftwerk on Beat Club. This short-lived long-haired lineup included Florian Schneider, who passed away last week, the late Klaus Dinger (Neu!), and Michael Rother (Neu! and Harmonia).

And here is Michael Rother's eulogy to Schneider in Uncut.

“Florian had a unique metal construction onstage on which he assembled his effect units and a mixer. He played an electrified violin which he ran through a fuzz box and a wah-wah pedal, and a flute which he treated with delay and a unit that changed the pitch to one octave down. Especially this flute, and the way Florian played it like a crazy fast-forward bass, was thoroughly exciting and unheard before. Unfortunately, the sound engineers who did the recordings at Beat Club (TV) and Radio Bremen didn’t understand that Florian’s contributions to our sound were much more interesting and vital than my guitar playing, and so they put Florian too low in the audio mix.

“The trio with Florian, Klaus Dinger on drums and myself on guitar only lasted for 5 or 6 months but I remember some truly exciting concerts, and everything that followed in my musical life had a connection to this beginning with Ralf and Florian. After we separated in July 1971, Klaus and I continued as a duo (Neu!) and Florian got back together with Ralf Hütter.

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And here's an even earlier 1970 lineup with Schneider, Dinger, and Ralf Hütter.

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Watch this 1970 audience as Kraftwerk plays in their first recorded concert video

Kraftwerk's first recorded concert was in 1970, according to this YouTube page. Here they are, decades before their time, awakening an audience whose reaction to the German electronic band runs the gamut from boredom, befuddlement and suspicion to grooving delight and rapturous laughter. Read the rest

Watch the Kraftwerk sitcom that never aired

Shame that this never made it to prime time. Ralf And Florian sure beats Bosom Buddies. (Paul Thorpe)

(Yes, it's a parody.)

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Kraftwerk on US television in 1975

In 1975, Kraftwerk, during their first tour of the United States, appeared on the musical variety show The Midnight Special. They performed "Autobahn." Read the rest

Fantastic psychedelic video for Kraftwerk's Autobahn (1979)

In 1979, Roger Mainwood, just out of the Royal College of Art, created this wonderfully trippy animation for Kraftwerk's "Autobahn." It was a commission from the band's record company but Kraftwerk had no input on the film, and Mainwood says he's unsure if they even saw it. The fan site KraftwerkOnline tracked down Mainwood and interviewed him about the film:

I've never actually had to explain in words exactly what it was all about. There was a lot of what you might call "psychedelic pop" imagery around at the time that to be honest never had a great deal of actual "meaning" to it at all, and I guess I was tapping into that. Thinking back to my thought processes at that time, I remember wanting to specifically not have conventional cars in the film. I wanted a sense of a repetitive journey, and alienation, which I took to be what the music was about,............hence the solitary futuristic figure, protected by large goggles, moving through and trying to connect with the journey he is taking. The automobile "monsters" are deliberately threatening ( I have never been a big fan of cars or motorways ! ) and when our "hero" tries to make human contact (with different coloured clones of himself) he can never do it. In the end he realises he is making the repetitive and circular journey alone but strides forward purposefully at the end as he did in the beginning . All of which sounds rather pretentious..........but I was a young thing in those days !

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