Florian Schneider: 1947-2020

florian schneider mid70s

Schneider in the mid-70s era of Kraftwerk

I hadn’t even finished playing my run of Stranglers albums this week when yesterday morning I got the first message from Gavin, who’s more connected than I am by far. He was suggesting that Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider had died and while an early sniff around the usual places was inconclusive, the second time I thought to look, later in the day, the news had spread widely and definitively. Florian Schneider-Esleben had died, possibly prior to May 6th, at just over 73 years of age. One of the prime architects of electronic pop music was now gone. It has been revealed that he had suffered through cancer and died at the end of April before his death was announced.

I cannot sufficiently stress the importance of hearing the strangeness of the 3:25 edit of “Autobahn” infiltrate the US Top 40 radio format in 1974. Hearing it the first time was a galvanizing experience. Of a piece with the other two Seminal Singles, as I call them. Records so game-changing that they altered my trajectory of enjoying music in ways that were a sea change, looking back. As usual, the records that meant the most to me were not really big hits, just unlikely middling ones. And the conservative Central Florida pop airwaves saw fit to not play a record like “Autobahn” as much as I’d care to hear it, so my practice of listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40® weekly countdown show went a long way to actually insuring that I’d hear a song like “Autobahn,” or “Love Is the Drug” at least once a week in my hours [and hours] of radio listening. In 1976, a friend from elementary school whose dad got stationed in Germany had moved away but visited once a few years later. I asked him how popular Kraftwerk were in Germany but he’d never heard of them. He was far more into Jethro Tull!

kraftwerk autobahn US 1977 reissue back cover art

The band photo on the back cover of my first 1977 pressed copy of “Autobahn”

I got my first stereo in 1978 and I wasted no time in buying a copy of “Autobahn” among my first dozen or so LP purchases. I was amazed to find that the electronic ditty that I was familiar from on the AM radio a few years earlier was an entire album side. I apple seeded Kraftwerk among my Germanophile high school friends who soaked up the music like a sponge. My friend Dan who had moved from NYC to Central Florida in 1977 told tales of hearing the song “Trans-Europe Express” on the radio there but although I saw the 45 in my local K-mart I swear it never got any airplay, though maybe it was down to the station I listened to. I was a Top 40 kid so WLOF-AM was my station. Maybe WOKB-AM, the “urban” station was probably playing them, as I would hear later in high school when “Computerworld” was a breakout electro jam on that station.

In high school I recall chasinvictoria had managed to grab a copy of the “Ralf + Florian” album that I wondered where in sequence it came into the Kraftwerk story. I recall thinking in those simpler times that it came after “Autobahn” which was surely their first album. In those days, “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2” were complete unknowns. In fact, to this day they never have gotten a US release at all. Only sophisticated, import buying Prog rockers knew about this stuff! Not a greenhorn kid in junior high school with no siblings to guide him and only a few-half-clues stuffed in his back pocket. I first heard “Trans Europe Express when I gave it to my friend Rosalie for a gift of some kind. Wow! That was an amazing sound. To this day “Europe Endless” is my go-to Kraftwerk song. Such utter beauty in the service of relentless machine certitude. How I wished that they had delved further into this sort of sound. [Fortunately, OMD have proven resilient on this particular thread]

kraftwerk - computerworld cover art

The last classic Kraftwerk album

I remember seeing the visually severe cover of “Man Machine” in the K-mart record department racks. Which was the closest thing to a record store I had growing up since I could ride my bike there from the neighborhood. But I didn’t hear that record until a few years after it came out. Probably around the time that the last classic imperial period Kraftwerk album was released shortly before graduation from High School in 1981. A friend of mine gave me a copy of “Computerworld” as a graduation present and around that time was when I heard the sounds on the big mono portable cassette radios some students [of color] would bring into the art classes. There was nothing I liked better than actually programming my Radio Shack Color Computer in BASIC while listening to this album! The cover image to the album looked as if it could have been programmed on the same computer. It was a high-resolution display in monochrome settings.

After 1981, the band seemed to mothball for several tense years. It was only then that I ever came across the “Radio-Activity” album of 1975 which was the follow-up to “Autobahn” that I somehow missed entirely for five to six years! My friend Tom was the one who shocked me when he bought this strange album that would prove ultimately so influential to one of my favorite new bands, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark.

Little did I know that the emergence of sampling by 1980 seemed to act as a unexpected disruption to the famous Kraftwerk methodology of having their synthesizers and music processing hardware custom built by the late 70s. They had not foreseen the emergence of software to render hardware unnecessary and it seemed to shake their confidence. Between The Art Of Noise’s “Into Battle” EP and the head injury sustained by avid cyclist Ralf Hütter during the recording of their only release between 1981 and 1986, the “Tour De France” single of the same year seemed to show Kraftwerk at an impasse. I remember seeing advance industry word about an album named “Techno Pop” in the chute so at first I did not buy the single; thinking it would be on the follow up album. I got a copy in 1984-5 when it was apparent that the release was cancelled.

kraftwerk - tour de france UK 7" cover art“Tour De France” was shocking at the time for the sampled slap bass that was probably a stock sample. It was almost inconceivable that the band who used to have their synth gear custom made would use such sounds, as their curation of sound until then had been peerless and singular. The single felt a little off but at least had an expansive melody that to my ears, harked back to some of the pastoral beauty that was inherent in “Europe Endless.” But after this single, it was back to the deep freeze for the band for another three years. Little did we know at the time that this would be the new norm [and how!] for the group.

In 1986 the silence was broken again by their first album to follow 1981’s “Computerworld.” This was the first new Kraftwerk album I would buy on compact disc, and as usual, a favorite band would be releasing what was to me a disappointing album on the new, digital format that was so otherwise entrancing. Causing me cognitive dissonance. “Electric Cafe” was a sidelong suite of minimal proto-techno that sounded too scanty for my ears. It took me years to enjoy it for what it was. Then, the rest of the album was an eclectic blend of more baroque sounds [including sampled strings] that was closer to something I preferred by the group though clearly showed the band in a holding pattern; having been unable to advance their vision in the intervening years. From this point on the innovators were now also-rans. And that was a tough realization to swallow since their influence to me by that time was immense. A dozen of my favorite bands were all trying to varying degree of success to be the “British Kraftwerk.” They were my Beatles.

florian schneider played the flute first

Flutes were treated with effects for a hybrid sound in the band’s early days

It was some time in the early 90s when I managed to finally find a copy of “Ralf + Florian” on LP and even 8-track cassette! Around that same time, my friend Ron was thinning out his collection for his first trip to Japan and I relieved him of his Japanese first pressings [from 1979] of “Kraftwerk” and “Kraftwerk 2.” Also his glow-in-the-dark “Neon Lights” 12″ single. When I played them I was surprised to hear that the theme song to PBS’s science program, “Newton’s Apple” was actually Kraftwerk’s “Ruckzuck” from their free-form Krautrock era! The first four Kraftwerk albums featured Schneider playing the flute as much as any synthesizers as that was his field of study.

When the next new Kraftwerk music appeared an incredible five years later, it was in the guise of a remake album where they picked music from their imperial period [and “Electric Cafe” ] to record “The Mix.” By that time, percussionists Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür had left the band that they had contributed to during the band’s most vital phase. This was down to Ralf + Florida with engineer Fritz Hilpert. It was an album which we certainly bought immediately, but I’d be lying if I didn’t state that I felt that all of the new versions were inferior; with the exception of “Radioactivity” and “Computerlove.” Not only had they been unable to advance their vision, but there seemed to be an inability to even compose. Still, I did enjoy buying the singles from this release in CD format by 1991. We even had tickets for a tour that was supposed to have them playing in Miami that was ultimately cancelled, in a disappointing blow.

Two years later Karl Bartos struck out with Rheingold’s Lothar Manteuffel as Elektric Music. It even had Andy McCluskey writing and singing a track, and longtime designer Emil Schult also designed the “Esperanto” album that got heavy play from me that year. It was possibly the last time I could have said that I had a favorite album of a certain year as 1993 happened. Kraftwerk seemed moribund, but computer technology made their previously rare concert tours more likely as the band may have not recorded anything new but they were now touring on a more regular basis than ever. Thanks to the ability of modern technology to make gambits like the notion of taking their Kling Klang studio with them on tour in 1981 as there was no other way to achieve that sound live.

I finally saw Kraftwerk in 1998 at a show in Chicago along with my friend [and commenter] JT and his friend James in a fascinating, emotionally moving experience that saw me weeping for the first 15 minutes at the culmination of a life of fandom. I remember that afterward, we discussed just how much of the show was live and how much was Memorex® to couch it in that term. We seemed to think that it was closer to a mixing event than a performing event but it’s well-established now that the band construct unique versions of numbers from established sonic building blocks of sound they manipulate in realtime.

kraftwerk - expo2000 lenticular CD cover art

The lenticular printing was of an amorphous shape/image [the Expo logo] so the usual drawbacks to the technique didn’t really matter this time

The next year I was surprised to see that the “Tour De France” single had gotten a reissue on CD single format complete with QuickTime® video of the video on an Enhanced CD. Then, a scant year later, the new Kraftwerk single manifested as the band had provided a jingle [or sonic branding as we now call it] for the Expo 2000 World’s Fair in Hanover, Germany. This had been worked from a few seconds into a fully fledged composition in several mixes, and the resulting single was pretty mediocre. Still, I managed to buy the Enhanced CD with the alternate cover and the really dreadful remix single with people other than Kraftwerk watering down the music. Actually, The band’s own Kling Klang mix 2002 was pretty good [and it sped up the sluggish track by a factor of at least two], but that was one mix out of ten.

By 2004 I was in a local record store in my then-new city of Asheville. I was astonished to see a used CD in a local store that had come out the previous year called “Tour De France Soundtracks,”that I had gone completely unaware of! How queer that felt to find out about the new Kraftwerk album by buying it when I saw it in the used bin! Apparently, the band had now revisited that single to re-record it in an inferior version. And built up an album around it. It was all too labored for my ears, but “Vitamin” and especially “Aero Dynamik” had that Kraftwerk spark that all of the cycling themed foofraw surrounding the album had failed to excite me with.

2005 brought another new Kraftwerk release that indicated a lack of  movement. “Minimum-Maximum” was a double CD that showcased how the only development that the band was capable of was in a backward glance as their new live arrangements of their many tours of the modern era were now duly recorded and released. It was years later when I finally bought a used copy as it hardly seemed absolutely necessary. That ship had sailed. I also got the DVD of it that like so many music-oriented home videos, has sat, unwatched in my home as my wife prefers films for her video entertainment. One day we’ll see it.

organisation - tone float cover artI would go on to see Kraftwerk three more times at Moogfest 2014, but only that first time in Chicago had Schneider onstage. By 2008 he had retired from the band he had spent 40 years with. Though technically, Kraftwerk only dated to 1970, Schneider first recorded with Hütter in 1968 in the band Organisation, who issued the “Tone Float” album only in England in 1968 with copies going for many hundreds of dollars I could not spend on a copy. I suspect that I’ll never own this one. Discogs lists 24 different editions, but only this one is not a pirate copy. By the last decade, the band, sans Schneider, became a world famous brand with their by now legendary 3-D concerts playing to art museums around the world as well as concert halls and festivals.

Only Ralf Hütter remains in the band now and they have issued a boxed set where they have played their entire modern Katalog [music from 1974 onward only] that has yet to find a home in my Record Cell, but one day I suspect it will happen. There have been rumors of the first three, atypical Kraftwerk albums getting a re-issue but I think that’s just smoke + mirrors. Mr. Hütter clearly has little interest in pursuing this tact; given that he’s seemingly unmoved by a robust market in pirate CDs of this material for the last 25 or so years. When Ralf dies, I fully expect the shows to continue with the legendary Kraftwerk robots using AI learned from Ralf’s arrangement decisions to endlessly continue the band in perpetuity as a sound and music spectacle that will be on a more agreeable level than this new and ghoulish penchant for “holographic” tours that chills my very blood. And the election of the band to the heretofore resistant Rock + Roll Hall Of Fame will probably also happen in the next few years. Kraftwerk have been on the ballot for the last several years, and I expect the loss of Schneider to tip the scales for the band the next ballot. Or two.

The last 25 years have seen this cult act who managed to influence generations of my favorite British musicians as well as American musicians at the forefront of dance music technology for the last 40 years really manage to cultivate an aura and reputation that has grown dramatically in size in a way that I could not have predicted as an eleven year old captivated by the strange beauty of “Autobahn” on the transistor radio that was my constant companion. For the part of that journey that mattered most, Florian Schneider was there every step of the way adding his penchant for voice synthesis and studied musicality to the final product. He was the first member of Kraftwerk to cut his hair short and was the style leader in the band in terms of image. Together with his bandmates Kraftwerk, he managed to effect a truly revolutionary seismic shift in how music was perceived, produced and consumed. If you own any neon lighting, now is the time to turn it on in remembrance.

Florian Schneider mid-70s

a jovial Schneider cutting a snappy figure in 2016


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About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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24 Responses to Florian Schneider: 1947-2020

  1. Gavin says:

    Beautifully put,Sir!
    I didn’t discover “The Kwerk” until ‘The Model’ hit Number 1 in the UK,but I quickly became hooked.I remember seeing the gatefold sleeved “Exceller 8” in my local second-hand record store,Skeleton Records in Birkenhead(still going strong!) as a young teenager,but didn’t take the bait.My first purchases were ‘Man Machine’ and ‘Computer World’ then I managed to pick up ‘Radioaktivitat’ with inner sleeve and sticker,again from Skeleton.
    My thrill at meeting Karl Bartos many years later has never subsided.
    Alas,I only caught them live once,in Brixton Academy on ‘The Mix Tour’ in about 1991-original line up of course and it was thrilling.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Gavin – At least once is something everyone should have under their belts when it comes to Kraftwerk concerts, and you saw the Full Monty classic lineup that I got cheated out of. I’m slightly envious! That ticket for “The Mix” US tour was in my hands.

      Like

  2. slur says:

    Kraftwerk belong for me to these legendary cases where a band stumbles and hardly recovers from having success, trying to cope with expectations, taking extended breaks etc. – as The Human League. They run out of steam after Computer World & The Model reissue, thematically and conceptionally.
    Musically ‘The Mix’ could at least been interesting but it was not really, Electric Cafe should have been a single or EP. Never-less they where highly influential and published so few tracks that they managed to keep their image intact.
    I really laughed when I heard from an Kraftwerk fan that they are really hard workers as he read an interview where they responded on the question what they have been doing all the years since the last release that they see themselves as ‘music workers being each day in the studio from 8-5 all year long’.
    Yeah, but what for. They left the path of musicians to get icons. With success.

    I think I can relate why Florian Schneider left for retirement and hope he enjoyed it.
    R.I.P.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      slur – Having just watched “Mystify” the film bio of Michael Hutchence, it makes a case that the head injury that happened to him in early 90s Paris (which I didn’t remember at all) probably contributed to his behavioral changes and ultimately his death. I couldn’t help but think that Ralf might have had been affected more than anyone might have guessed following his cycling accident that had in him a coma for several days. Ralf’s inability to progress and done would say obsession with endlessly curating the Kraftwerk legacy, might be influenced medically. In any case the others, who all left Kraftwerk it should be pointed out, have gone on to live their own lives though perpetually in the shadow of the mothership.

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  3. Ade.W says:

    A couple of things. I have just finished reading the John Foxx interview in Electronic sounds Magazine, where he says something about rock stars dying. they die all the time , its true. Its just that as we get older the ones more important to us bring it somehow nearer to our own mortality.
    Lets not get too maudlin, lets go and play “neon lights” really loud.
    Gavin, I have shopped in Skeleton records many times, my wife thinks it its far too scary a place and wont go in, the old bloke in there is like something from Royston Vasey.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Ade.W – I realized in the early 90s that all of the classic Hollywood stars I grew up with were thinning fast and told friends from here on out it was all Brad Pitt, baby! Cary Grant was gone. We are approaching the time when Britney Spears will be regarded as an elder stateswoman of pop. That was a good Foxx interview wasn’t it? I would have bought that even without the record.

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  4. negative1ne says:

    Mr. Monk,
    Thanks for the great writeup and review of the bands
    history. Kraftwerk has had a huge influence on me,
    musically, and its sad to see another great one lost to cancer.

    As far as my musical journey with their music.
    I bought computer world on CD, before I even had a cd player.
    I started about a year after computerworld came out, and played
    that record to death. Years later, I would buy the German 12 inch
    of it, hoping it was a much longer remix, but it was mostly in German.

    After buying all their earlier albums, and then being around for
    Electric Cafe, onwards, I would keep up with all their releases,
    cd-singles, and boxsets. I also ended up buying all the German
    versions of the albums where applicable.

    I still haven’t bought the Spanish version of Electric Cafe, but will
    at some point. Also next up is the French LP of Computerworld
    with some exclusive tracks also. I also have the Japanese CD
    of computerworld with dentaku.

    As far as foreign singles go, I think I have at least 6 or more
    versions of Tour De France single, the US, UK, French, German,
    Canadian, and European releases, as well as the re-releases,
    and all the new CD-single versions of those as well.

    I have the limited 2cd boxset of the EXPO 2000 German release
    from the fair, and the laptop boxset of Maximum Minimum, along
    with the German version with different tracks, and the asian
    version with other tracks on it also. I also had the 12345678
    boxset with the much better masterings before the catalogue
    came out. This is the only place you can get the full version
    of the Telephone Call on CD remastered, since the later
    version split the track into the edit, and house call (dub).

    I have the live boxset, and several variations of those.
    Maximum minimum on 4xLP, and the Catalogue Boxset
    in German, and English. I try to get every cd-single in
    their English and German variations, along with vinyl.

    The telephone call has different mixes on German 12 inch,
    compared to the English one. Also several versions of the
    Radioactivity re-release has different German mixes, and
    English mixes, along with exclusive 7 inch edits.

    Another great boxset to get is the Klang 101 boxset,
    with 4 12 inches, and a T-shirt, that was sold at
    Tribal Gathering, which I managed to find used later on.

    There’s no way I will ever have a complete set of mixes.
    But I’m happy with what I have now, and am still discovering
    new and rare mixes, and of course filling in the gaps with
    the foreign releases. Kraftwerk will always be a part of
    my musical history, past, present, and future.

    later
    -1

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      negative1ne – I saw the laptop box of “Minimum-Maximum” once at Amoeba Hollywood on my last trip but could not justify the cost, as I have the conventional US edition. Indeed, I’m listening to it now. Nor have I gone in with those revisionist “Catalog” CDs. My collection is a jumble of bits and pieces. My CD of “Trans Europa Express” was the 1985 first issue in German and it’s conceivable I could buy an English and French copy of that one day since it is my favorite. If you bought “Computerworld” before having a CD player then we probably have the same 1st pressing “target CD.” All of my collection was done in person, in stores over the years. I think the only record I mail ordered was the UK “Autobahn” 7” in the early 90s. I did not know that it was a different edit to the US 7” that changed my world until some time this century. And until I looked in the 7” bins in the Record Cell, I’d forgotten that I had bought the necessary US 7” of “Autobahn” in 2016 when seeing Midge Ure in Atlanta! I still need to play that record… tonight! And I need to make an edit of the CD version that matches it so I can hear that version in CD quality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • negative1ne says:

        Hi Mr. Monk,
        Yes, our Computerworld CD’s are probably the same. Mine also
        came in a longbox, which I have still kept to this day.

        About Autobahn, last year Musikexpress and rolling stone
        of Germany had articles about it, and included a free blue
        vinyl 7 inch, with an exclusive edit:
        ———
        Actually, this edit is 4:35, which does not match these:
        German /US : 3:28
        UK : 3:05
        ————-

        I’ve scanned the article and OCR translated it here:
        https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/imminent-kraftwerk-news-official-post-on-twitter-just-now.824379/#post-21311378

        There are so many cool promo’s, and edits that still haven’t seen
        the light of day. I have a glow in the dark Neon Lights US 12 inch,
        the US yellow vinyl promo for Pocket calculator, An instore
        sampler with DJ mixes, the Electro Kardiogramm promo CD single,
        the Aerodynamic vinyl promo with an exclusive mix,
        the Die Roboter 7 inch etched vinyl, along with several
        edits and compilation add ons to the official one.

        Waiting for a cheaper version or the German radioakitivitat
        single, which has 2 different mixes from the english ones.

        A Radioaktivität (François Kevorkian Remix) 4:08
        B Radioaktivität (William Orbit Remix) 3:49

        later
        -1

        Like

  5. jordan says:

    I could write a small book on what Kraftwerk meant to me.

    But here are a few memories.

    I knew of them in 1978 but only connected with their music when they released Computer World. This was a sound like nothing I had ever heard before. Light. Funky. Humorous. Serious. Machine like. Then the graphics and photos. I saw them live in 1981 and it set me on the road to a career in live production.

    I was their local guide when they played Montreal in 2005. I could not believe my luck. Ralf and Florian were exactly as I would have imagined them to be. Sophisticated. Cultured. Both knew about the local techno culture. Florian had a very dry sense of humour. Ralf was more reserved. Both wanted to go cycling. And they did.

    As Monk mentioned, my preferred track is Europe Endless. It has it all. But most of all the romanticized vision of a Europe I imagined existed.

    Kraftwerk were always Ralf and Florian and they established that with the album of the same name.

    But Karl Bartos and Emil Schult cannot be underestimated. Without them Kraftwerk would not be what is.

    I think they were the most influential band of the last century. Yes. More so than the Beatles. I would say it was Elvis and Kraftwerk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jordan – How fortunate that you got a small glimpse of the men behind the image. It is valuable to see the humanity behind the branding. I treasure my second Kraftwerk show because the board melted down and the show came to a technical halt. Seeing Ralf extemp a brief speech to the assembled multitudes – twice over a 15 minute span [it was the first show of their Moogfest residency of three so I saw two more shows] was a moment thrilling in its rarity. I could have and should have written twice as much [so many issues I forgot to raise] but last night I spent three hours past my bedtime to hammer this posting out since the situation merited it. My friend JT who comments here was a soundman in Chicago, and got occasional chances to work with some of his favorite musicians. But when we saw Kraftwerk that first time we were in the audience.

      You are correct in your estimation of their influence. In the absence of a truly popular culture [today niche demographic markets are exploited with laser accuracy instead by marketers], no one may ever top the sheer sales of The Beatles, but as a cultural force, they have been spent for a generation. Anyone who pursues electronic sound for pop music will always have a link back to Kraftwerk. They are the inescapable point zero of such music. I mean, no one says “I want to be the next Gershon Kingsley!” They were a New Sound in the world as well as methodological pioneers. The Beatles were just another pop rock band; albeit a hugely successful one. The Beatles innovations were in their use of the studio and the production techniques of Sir George. I believe that he can be said to have been more influential than the band. The Beatles songs were very ordinary. I find them very ovrerrated. Possibly the most overrated band ever. And I grew up to their pop soundtrack which nevertheless failed to ever really move me.

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    • slur says:

      I think it’s a bit far fetched to compare Kraftwerk directly with the Beatles, or Elvis b.t.w.
      All have been influential in their own ways – Elvis as performer, The Beatles as songwriters and Kraftwerk as being those who went electronic the full way very soon.

      All have been pretty consequent and unique in their ways and are rightly regarded as icons in music.

      Like

  6. Echorich says:

    I have to agree with the seniments of @slur. Kraftwerk belong to that unenviable group of artist who broke boundaries, but once on the other side, found it hard to get much beyond the breach. What they need to be remembered for is the opening they created for others to pick up and follow through. Kraftwerk have influenced, in some ways directly and other ways more subtly, almost every artist I love. The obvious artists include Numan, Human League/H17, Ultravox/John Foxx, OMD, David Bowie. But their focus on electronics and the manipulation of sound became the bedrock that Hip Hop, Techno and Dance music has been built on.
    Genius isn’t endless, in fact, it can produce a very finite body of work/results. It can be easy to have expectations of more and more that we find innovative, but it isn’t that easy to meet those expectations. The genius of Florian Schneider has been established, his presence will be missed and his work will remain lauded and celebrated and influential, as it should.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – I don’t think Kraftwerk had any problems breaking boundaries until the point of where sound design became wedded to computer software [sampling]. But I would point to no one really advancing once that genie was out of the bottle. I think that the only way forward in sound design was in looking backward and continuing the work in analog synthesis that had been quickly abandoned, as performers like Benge were critical in identifying. Kraftwerk’s sound design shifted dramatically up to “Computerworld” but afterward the playing field had been irrevocably colored by sampling and later down the road, by digital audio workstations. These solutions grease the wheels of sound design to its detriment. Working within the limitations of hardware and devising workarounds led to more interesting results, in my opinion. It speaks volumes that Kraftwerk ultimately toured with Sony VAIO laptops and common software. They were smart enough to realize that adding the 3D element elevated their efforts to stand out from the pack in terms of presentation, because it wasn’t coming from the sounds and music any more. I just listened to the last two albums [“Tour De France Soundtracks,” “Minimum-Maximum”] and there’s shockingly little “Kraftwerk” DNA to them. I best liked the character of Ralf’s live vocals on the latter.

      Like

      • jordan says:

        I agree with Monk on this.

        No one knows exactly why Kraftwerk slowed down or stoped after Computer World. Technology certainly caught up with them which opened the flood gates for the new creativity from others. However technology alone does not explain it. Technology does not create melody. I suspect there was more to it. Ralf I assume became hesitant and as time went by was more and more at an impasse.

        I think Kraftwerk were more important than the Beatles while no where coming close to the sales.

        Beatles were pioneers in many things. Touring. Apple Records. Recording techniques with George Martin. Brilliant song writers. But it was still guitar and bass and drums and vocals. That was not new. That was going on for decades before them.

        Did Kraftwerk invent synthesis? Musique Concrete ? The mannequins ? No. You had Pierre Henry or Gilbert and George.

        But they did present it in a new form that put together created the blue print for new music that did not exist before. The template for all the bands listed above.

        In popular music I maintain it was Kraftwerk and Elvis.

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  7. bpdp3 says:

    While I was aware of the band kraftwerk, they were uncharted territory for me in that formative 79-81 era. What FRED Schneider had done on the first two B-52’s albums meant a lot more to me than Florian did. At that point.

    My parents bought my a CD player for my 20th birthday in ‘86. Along with a copy of Ratt’s ‘dancing undercover’ CD. Ok, so they had NO idea who I was or what I listened to. Regardless, I wanted to hear something a little more innovative on this new device. I had read a fairly favorable review of ‘Electric Cafe’….so I thought this might be a good introduction to the band and the CD realm.

    I loved it. Had never heard anything quite like it. Became obsessed. Started working my way backward through their catalog. (I still can’t believe the song ‘autobahn’ made the top 40 in the states. I’ve NEVER heard it played on any oldies station). I used to make payphone calls to German operators looking for the phone number for Kling Klang studios in Düsseldorf. No luck.

    Monk I read your 3-part ‘where kraftwerk went wrong’ post. I can’t argue your points… but I think because I started with their later catalog, I give it more credence than others might. And I do understand that the earlier works were the work of a more influential set of minds.

    Good, thoughtful and sincere writing from you as usual. Danke!

    Liked by 1 person

    • postpunkmonk says:

      bpdp3 – Wow! Yo you joined the party in reverse after your parents bought you a Ratt CD??!! What’s wrong with them? Your story is fascinating though. Actually called Germany trying for the infamous phone number. There are legends about it if you’ve not heard.

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  8. Being a podcast producer (and other things) these days, I’m often short on time for comments I know are going to be long, but naturally I doffed my virtual cap when I heard the news of Florian’s passing. Like most people living in the US at the time, I heard the short version of Autobahn on the radio and *immediately* ran out to get that LP only to discover a fully-realised palette of new sonic joy to explore. Shortly after, I scooped up the back catalog — and while I thought KW1 and 2 (as they were marketed in the US/UK IIRC) were of interest, it was mainly to try and figure out how they got from “there” to Autobahn. Ralf und Florian starting to paint the path, and by the time I got Radio-Activity (which I now refer to as “the first OMD album”), I thought this couldn’t get any better. Then came Trans-Europe Express.

    Again IIRC I liked Computerworld (or welt as you prefer) but kinda felt like they were treading water already, not that it wasn’t chock full of enjoyable songs. Electric Cafe brought one of my all-time favourite songs, “The Telephone Call,” though I admit that part of my great fondness for it is due to that incredible video for the song. Tour De France was so treading-water that I am not entirely certain that I ever actually picked up a copy, but I did like the title single, and absolutely swooned to the MTV Music Awards (Europe) performance of “Aero Dynamik” I happened to see online (and subsequently figured out how to capture in those more primitive web days). Certain mixes of that song (and some other material from that album) rank right up there with the best of their later stuff as far as I’m concerned.

    As for why the holding pattern (more or less) after Computerwelt, I think it’s obvious: the bicycle accident and emerging software conundrum aside, I think Florian had already started to “check out” mentally from where the band was going by this point, and by Tour De France the second most creative member of the team (Bartos) was only really present on one track. The band was no longer functioning as a unit, it seems to me, but as two-to-four solo artists collaborating, which is a very different dynamic. But yeah, “running on empty” springs to mind for those last two proper albums, with only some of The Mix to really add anything of note to their legacy. I’m glad Ralf continues to tour (and the show I saw in Vancouver was just phenomenal for the volume alone!), but as others have said of other bands, “they’ve become their own tribute act.”

    I will always wonder what Florian would have done if he had gone solo instead of retiring, but I just hope he had a good life during and after Kraftwerk.

    Like

  9. Taffy says:

    Nice writing, as always. I am forever grateful to my college roommate for introducing me to Kraftwerk via The Man-Machine album (yes, I came to the game a bit late…but I’m quite sure I’d neither heard the group on the radio nor friends’ turntables prior). I was utterly obsessed with every track on The Man-Machine, and worked my way back to Autobahn and in time up through Electric Cafe. Once I entered the CD age I bought them all again, including the pre-Autobahn albums (still not sure if my discs are proper releases or bootlegs), but have yet to see the band live. That was finally going to be rectified this July (despite having just one original member, everyone I know who’s attended a “Kraftwerk 3D” concert has walked away stunned, or at least mighty impressed). Obviously that isn’t happening now, thank you covid-19. Sigh.
    PS – Not even gonna wade into the “influence” argument. Well, maybe I’ll dip a toe in. Kraftwerk changed the course of music history. The Beatles changed the course of history. (DISCLAIMER – this is simply my opinion, not claiming it as fact!)

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Thanks for the compliment. It made me re-read the thing for all of the screwups that seep into the blog as a consequence of the hastiness with which it’s written. oops. When I retire, I will actually edit the 4000 posts or so by that time. Then I’ll die.

      Bummer on missing The ‘Werk this year! Yeah, everyone should see the 3-D concerts. Wow, so you got the pre-“Autobahn” CDs [bootlegs, all] so did you remember the “Ruckzuck” track being used on Newton’s Apple? My dad liked to watch Bob Ross paint [or This Old House] on PBS and I think Newton’s Apple came on before that, so I’d always hear it. Then years later when I got the first two… who knew? I liked the treated flute in their sound back then. Imagine what they could have done with the flute in later years! Laurie Anderson to the white courtesy phone! I think The Beatles were more socially influential. Kids saw them on Ed Sullivan and wanted to do THAT. Plus, The Beatles + The Stones, if you paid attention to the lessons they were teaching, could get you LAID. And that was probably HUGE. I don’t think Kraftwerk led to anyone getting any!

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  10. JT says:

    You people will probably be pleased to know that in the college-level history of music class that I teach, I routinely spend a whole class period (two hours) on Kraftwerk and their influence. The only other artists who gets a whole day to himself is Beethoven (as the bridge between the classical and romantic periods, and the early roots of modernism).

    The Beatles? Nope, they’re lumped into ’60’s rock day (but a big chunk of it). They defined popular music for three decades after their dissolution, but rock is basically dead, so objectively Kraftwerk trump them as far as influence on 21st century music is concerned.

    ‘Nuff Said.
    Monk, I’m so glad we got to see at least a Ralf ‘n’ Florian version of Kraftwerk together, even if Wolfgang and Karl had hit the road by them.
    RIP Florian.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      JT – That Kraftwerk show was like some unexpected gift that I never thought I would receive but when it happened it was very, very gratifying. It’s hard to believe that we only ever saw that show and some pickup version of A Flock Of Seagulls in each other’s company. The ridiculous and the sublime.

      Like

  11. Andy B says:

    Gavin, I saw Kraftwerk on ‘The Mix’ tour in 1991 at the Liverpool Royal Court. I hate to disappoint you. It was not the classic line up for that tour. Wolfgang had left in about ‘87 and Karl left early ‘91. Ralf and Florian were joined by Fritz Hilpert and the short lived Fernando Abrantes for that tour.

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