“Dear Kraftwerk, I’m quite good with Vocoders & Electronics, like dressing up like a robot & know all of your songs by heart, just in case.”
Disastronaut – 8:11 PM Jan 7th 2009, from web
The message had come through. Florian Schneider, the co-founder of Kraftwerk had left the band.
Since the mid 1980s Kraftwerk had critically been called a self-remix project, with the ultimate remix their 2005 ‘live’ album Minimum Maximum. Recorded during the bands taking to the stage with laptops period and ironically one of the best live albums ever since it was recorded by, in the traditional sense, something that could not by further removed from a live band.
But lets go back to where it began…
BBC Television, Tomorrow’s world – 25th September 1975.
Four gentlemen dressed more for the office than the pop charts surrounded by neon lights, with knitting needles for drumsticks produce melodies by seeming to press buttons and turns dials. They smile unnervingly, obviously gaining a great sense of satisfaction from their interaction with the machines. The BBC voice announces :
“Kraftwerk have a name for this, it’s machine music. Sounds are created at their laboratory in Dusseldorf, programmed, then recreated on stage with a minimum of fuss. This is ‘Autobahn’ – based, say the group, on the rhythm of trucks, cars and passing bridges heard while driving through Germany…..next year Kraftwerk want to eliminate the keyboards altogether, and build jackets with electronic lapels which can be played by touch.”
Unless you were a religious follower of the German artrock movement, this would be your first exposure to the band, Kraftwerk in the UK. It would possibly also be the first time you had seen a synthesizer, or certainly a band whose only instruments numbered these strange new metal boxes with wooden panels and wires coming out the back, Moogs, home-made tinfoil drums and ARPs.
But lets go back to where it really began…
The Beach Boys from Düsseldorf, Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter met at the Düsseldorf Conservatory where their interest in improvised live music, fixation with Iannis Xenakis, John Cage and Pierre ‘all art of the past must be destroyed’ Boulez drew them together.
1969 – An Organisation
As Organisation Ralf and Florian perfomed as a quintet, joined at various times by Basil Hammoudi, Butch Hauf , Alfred “Fred” Mönicks, Charly Weiss, Peter Martini and Paul Lorenz, releasing the 1969 album Tone Float for RCA Records, produced by Konrad “Conny” Plank.
Tone Float’s 20 minute A-side of the same name is far from the sound of Kraftwerk most people would recognize, with live drums, bass, flute, organ and violin. The atmosphere has more in common with the freakout improvisations of Lightning Bolt or Oneida than any of the synth pop bands most listeners normally associate with Kraftwerk. There is not a synthesizer in site.
Organisation – Vor Dem Blauen Bock
Vor Dem Blauen Bock pre-emanates a sound later to be associated with Neu! (but more in that in another listening party). The album as a whole places Organisation firmly in the post-psychedelic experimental sound of their German contemporaries.
“The studio was in the middle of an oil refinery. When we came out of the door we could hear the sound of those big flames burning off the fumes – all kinds of industrial noises.” – Ralf Hütter
Ralf and Forians studio in Düsseldorf, which later became known as Kling Klang, had been established and in their live guise as Organisation they performed a groundbreaking piece of music Ruckzuck, later to appear on a 1970 self titled album by a band called Kraftwerk.
Kraftwerk play 8 nights at the Tate Modern in February.
20jfg will be hosting Kraftwerk uneasy-listening parties throughout December to celebrate.