- An autocratic leader who alienated his cohorts
- Blindsided by sampling technology
- Digital technology’s ability to exercise complete control over the soundfield
- Playing to a perceived audience of dance enthusiasts
- Lack of self-confidence
What might they have done instead that may have seen them through this minefield, partly of their own making?
At this point, I look to the act that first started me thinking down this particular train of thought. John Foxx + The Maths. In Foxx, they have a frontman in who it can be said that if you cut him, he’d bleed Kraftwerk. But no one would ever mistake him for Ralf Hütter. Foxx may honor and respect their achievement. Over the years, he’s bitten bits of their sound. “Camera” on his 2001 “Pleasures Of Electricity” album with Louis Gordon is a stunning juxtaposition of Kraftwerk within English madrigal form. But he’s never overworked a project. He has a clear thematic vision and has applied it flexibly to his various projects and collaborations. Often modifying his framework to accommodate the sensibilities of others. Kraftwerk, on the other hand, have consistently turned down all inquiries to collaborate. Preferring to remain an isolated island of sound that has seen the world at large eddy and swirl around them; often leaving them in its wake due to their inflexibility. Their creative impulse seems to have been rendered sterile as a result of no outside DNA being added to their cells for revitalization.
Foxx has recently made the best albums of his long career while in his sixties, thanks to his collaborating with Ben “Benge” Edwards, who brings enormous energies to their work together. They are creating the most exciting synthesized music of 2010 and beyond. How? By returning to unpredictable analog synthesizers. But they’re no Luddites. They record in a DAW environment, and then they mix and match to get the best that both world have to offer. And did I mention that they work fast and instinctively? Three albums in 24 months. And their work is covering a wide stylistic swath to boot. Listening to it mutate wildly over the album trajectory has been a wonderful gift. Keep in mind that Hütter has only been releasing music for five years longer than Foxx has. I consider them peers.
It’s not just long time fans like myself who regard Kraftwerk with a bittersweet air. Other musicians who have looked to them for inspiration, such as Bowie and OMD have expressed their disappointment at how the Kraftwerk story has played out. Looking back, it seems such a shame that such a once-brightly burning flame has diminished so. In the late 70s, it would be inconceivable that this band would end up having feet of clay and a period of decades that were squandered; such was the extend of their triumph back in the day. But that legacy has had tarnish applied over the course of nearly 30 years of needless rehashing and reiteration; punctuated by the occasional new recording that doesn’t begin to stand up to the caliber of work one once expected from them. I can muse about why and how it happened but ultimately, I suspect that it’s a topic best saved for Hütter and his analyst.
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