Kraftwerk And Our Computer World : NPR

Kraftwerk, photographed in 1977. From left: Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos, Ralf Hütter and Wolfgang Flür. Gilbert Uzan / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images Hide caption

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Gilbert Uzan / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Kraftwerk, photographed in 1977. From left: Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos, Ralf Hütter and Wolfgang Flür.

Gilbert Uzan / Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

In the early to mid-1970s, the four members of Kraftwerk were still under the radar music experimenters from the art city of Düsseldorf – a path they never really deviated from. Eventually the band made their breakthrough in the US with a 22-minute electronic ode to driving, “Autobahn”.

Today, Kraftwerk is undeniably essential for electronic music as well as for the early development of hip-hop. In his book Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany, the author Uwe Schütte goes into great detail on the cultural and social contexts that have incubated the band and what has emerged from their work.

Audie Cornish, Everything considered: You write about the idea that Kraftwerk represents an effort to rebuild Germany’s culture. How does a pop act do it?

Uwe Schütte: The band members all belonged to the first generation of Germans who were born after the Nazi era – after 1945. They were Germans who grew up in ruins, who witnessed the destruction of German cities and who inherited the trauma of childbirth into a collective of perpetrators, from mass murderers, of people who attempted genocide.

And they try to define that identity through art, culture and technology.

But back to an earlier time … to the great time of German culture and art, cinema, expressionism – the Weimar people [Republic], Interwar period. So they had to look back to find German traditions to connect with. Not something tainted by Nazism.

So they accepted the European project.

Absolutely. From then on, of course, being German meant being European – nationalism was too close to racism, and so a new German identity could only be developed within a European framework.

They talk about their way of looking into the future – their 1981 album was called Computer world. In it, they talk about the widespread future use of personal computers … did they reflect the broader mindset at the time?

Yes, but at that time it was thought further in the German context – for example the use of computers by the FBI in Germany to track down left-wing terrorists.

By the way, IBM was also headquartered in Düsseldorf, so they arranged a factory visit to find out about these new machines that were coming onto the market. Interestingly, 95 percent of the time in Computer World there are no computers, everything is analog. Only the vocals had electronic treatment.

How does the music make the leap? For example, in the USA and its burgeoning electronic music movements? Does Kraftwerk and its music inspire other genres of music and does it spread?

Obviously there are too many routes and exchanges to list, but the most important thing I think because it happened too early was “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa. The two Kraftwerk samples can be heard clearly – “Numbers” is one and the other is the melody from “Trans-Europe Express”.

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Kraftwerk is also the godfather of in Detroit [the music] There.

And the music is still sampled – Frank Ocean, Dr. Dre. I was surprised by the artists who reach for these albums.

The big discussion, of course, “Would techno have come about without Kraftwerk?” Yes, of course – but maybe it would have sounded different. These ideas are buzzing around, and it is the times when these ideas are springing up, especially the impact on Detroit techno music, shows that music should not be viewed in terms of national restrictions. Kraftwerk shows that music is international … that it is created.

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