Kraftwerk is a electronic band from Germany, form by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider in 1970. Kraftwerk in german means power station, and always a four piece band. In between the years from 1970 until present, there are many new members have join and leave the band. At first most of them were invited to join the band as session musician, but soon everyone have some input in the making of their albums.
Kraftwerk was the band that started of with pure electronic sound to make music. The group were described as robot pop. Their music were very simple, minimal with obliquely rhythmic. Every sound they made were all made by themselves. At their time, they do not have synthesizer or any electronic sound equipments for them. Every sound was hand made to create sounds they want. The music they produce were mostly like alien, machine and something that we call computer sounds. They would record many live instruments like flute, guitars, strings, and bass, then distort their sound through tape machine manipulation.
They started off by making instrumental electronic music. There is no singing or lyrics, just electronic ambient like sounds with simple rhythm machines created by the help of their friends (electronic engineer). During that era, Conny Plank was their producer for their first four albums, he actually help them a lot in the creative side and mixing side. At their fourth album Autobahn in 1974, with newer technology with minimoog and EMS Synthi KS, they try to move away from all the sound they use to do and added lyrics to connect with the audience. With this album, Kraftwerk break through the international market and got an opportunity to promote Autobahn in America. They were peak at number five in the Billboard top 200. Autobahn was a conceptual album describing about road traveling.
After the great success, in Autobahn, the following year they release Radio-activity, which describe about radio communications. With their global popularity at that time, they start to release both german and english versions. However it did not do as well, however in France they were famous. In 1977, they put their aim towards France, and came out with a concept of Europe and trains. After that in 1978 the came out with The Man Machine, and was a success in UK. The concept was about portraying themselves as human robot making electronic music. They were successfully, but not as good when Autobahn was release.
After three years of nothing, they finally came out with Computer World. They were clever knowing that Computers with take over the world as the main technology in the future. The music were more like computer language beeps and or old video games audio. That was the album that break through the international market again. During these time, people like Eno and Bowie were so interested in their music that they went to find them to work with them. Not only Bowie got influence by their electronic music and used it in his album, but many other electronic bands and punk bands.
The main few characteristic were creating sounds from scratch. In their early years that I talk before, they create their own drum machines keyboard and other “special” instruments. They were very lucky to have talented friends to help them build their instruments. Their music were very simple and minimal, but at the same time it creates a new environment where audience never hear before. They music that they created were mostly too ahead at their time. That was why after Autobahn, most audience could not accept what they were producing. But many bands learn from them and put it into their music and make it famous accept for them. I feel that, not because of them, there will not be Disco era, where Donna Summer music were mostly electronic.
The other characteristic of them were trying to portrait robot image for themselves. When they were touring in America, audience like their music, but was unable to put their image with their music. They were wearing suits and tie and quietly playing their music. Soon they develop themselves like a robot, to have the connection with their music. When Computer World was release, they slowly stop showing themselves on stage, and use human mannequins and visual effects to connect their performance with the audience.
As a listener, even until now, I still find their works, very unique. I’m not saying that I didn’t like it, but is so futuristic. After listening closing, I do able to catch some ideas or concept that other band use in their own music. Kraftwerk may not be the very first electronic band. but maybe the godfather of all electronic style music.
As a professional, I am impress with their determination of not copying other acts but learn from them and improve on what they are doing. Every year there are new technology coming out but they did not change their signature character in their music, but just improving more with better help. Only good musician dare to take huge experimental risk to succeed.