Saturday 24 February 2018

master kraftsmen

Barry Egan

Barry Egan

'Germans are probably funny people," claimed composer Uwe Schmidt, possibly tongue-in-cheek. He was referring to a certain German group's reaction to his notorious 2000 album of Kraftwerk songs done in a Latin cha-cha-cha style under the name Senor Coconut. He received an ominous email saying simply: "Kraftwerk would like to speak with you."

The band, not obviously known for their sense of humour, didn't involve lawyers, but they did gently suggest that he take the South American version of Radioactivity from the album. "Kraftwerk didn't like the light-hearted mood of my version," Uwe recalled.

I can only imagine, therefore, their reaction to comedian Bill Bailey doing Das Hokey Kokey as part of a Kraftwerk tribute on TV show Never Mind The Buzzcocks a few years ago.

Some people look on Kraftwerk as the Holy Grail of modern music. Last month, The Guardian made the bold statement: "Kraftwerk are still the world's most influential band." Perhaps this explained why they played a week of shows at the Tate Modern in London in February.

In a 2004 interview, our own Bono talked about one of the biggest effects on his youth. He wasn't talking about Guggi and Gavin for once. "Kraftwerk were really an enormous influence on me as a 16-year-old, and on other groups that influenced us, too, like Joy Division," the U2 singer said. "They were a great soul group."

David Bowie was not long about chipping in too. "What I was passionate about in relation to Kraftwerk was their singular determination to stand apart from stereotypical American chord sequences and their wholehearted embrace of a European sensibility displayed through their music."

The track V-2 Schneider on Bowie's seminal 1977 album Heroes is an oblique homage to the Florian Schneider who co-founded Kraftwerk in 1970 with Ralf Hutter.

The Dusseldorf demi-gods were originally Hutter, born in Krefeld in 1946; Schneider, born in Bodensee in 1947; Wolfgang Flur (Frankfurt am Main, 1947) and Karl Bartos, (Berchtesgaden, 1952).

The group which brought avant garde electronic sounds to the musical landscape in the 1970s are playing Dublin tonight on the final night of the Longitude festival at Dublin's Marlay Park.

Normally the thought of watching several portly, bald old men in skin-tight robot suits (it could be Bill Bailey for all I know) behind computer consoles in a field in south county Dublin would have me locking the doors and hiding behind the couch, but this is different...

Kraftwerk are the pioneers of an experimental sound that had as much of an influence on the aforementioned Bono and Bowie as it did on the likes of Daft Punk, The Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers and rock groovers like Primal Scream et al, to say nothing of American hiphop of the Eighties. "Coming out of Germany, to hear these funky, white boys blew my mind," influential South Bronx DJ Afrika Bambaataa once said, "so I started jamming their records for different types of audiences. They already had a black audience when they put out Trans-Europe Express but Planet Rock just took it to its highest potential."

Kraftwerk albums from the Seventies, such as Trans-Europe Express, Autobahn and The Man-Machine set the tone for the new wave that was to come.

Kraftwerk songs songs such as Uranium (which New Order sampled for Blue Monday), Tour De France, Computer Love (Coldplay sampled the melody for their song Talk) and The Model (which went to Number 1 in the UK in February 1982 – kicking Shakin' Stevens' Hey Julie off the top spot) were almost radical in their sweep.

It wasn't, however, soulless music made by machines, as some critics derided it. As Hutter said in 1981: "The machines should not do only slave work. We try to treat them as colleagues."

Hutter, Kraftwerk's co-founder and sole remaining original member, said recently that: "Nowadays basically Kraftwerk is a space lab: we can land anywhere as long as we have the projectors and the screens."

He added of his group's almost mythic improvisation behind machines on stage and in the studio: "We experiment and make things happen. Sometimes the fingers play themselves when you press record." Most intriguingly, the 66-year-old reigning king of techno almost gushed when asked about the rumoured new Kraftwerk album, album, their first in 10 years: "It's music non-stop!"

Vorsprung durch Technik, or what?

Kraftwerk headline Longitude in Marlay Park, Dublin, tonight with Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Hot Chip, Mark Lanegan, Frightened Rabbit, Flume, Japandroids, East India Youth, The Minutes, Half Moon Run, Kool Thing, Leaders Of Men, among many others. Tickets are on sale now from Ticketmaster outlets nationwide and online at

Irish Independent

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