Kraftwerk's influence extends far beyond the electronic music sphere.
The German group's output remains an inspiration to musician's who - outwardly, at least - are working in quite different disciplines. Leeds' Hookworms make dark, illusive psychedelic music, the sort of epic, drug fuelled jams the Spacemen 3 used to excel at.
Yet the group remain frustratingly hard to pin down. Far from a straight forward lysergic experiment, their playful rhythms and dense textures nod towards the legacy of what has been termed Krautrock - in particular the cyclical drumming of Neu! and the compositional sense of Kraftwerk.
With the German band's stint at the Tate coming to an end, ClashMusic asked Hookworms for a personal overview of Kraftwerk's music. Here's what they sent us...
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I can only sit back and daydream about how alien this album must have sounded upon it's release back in 1977. In my head it is a scenario that has been exaggerated to be up there with children running screaming behind the sofa on first hearing Delia Derbyshire’s Dr Who theme tune, or the confused look on the face of a million parents as their kids fill the house with the rippling outer-space sounds of Joe Meek’s ‘Telstar’. Every single time the opening notes tumble out of 'Europe Endless' I am taken aback by how Kraftwerk manage to sound antiquated, contemporary, and totally futuristic all in one. For an LP to still sound ahead of its time 36 years after release is a concept almost completely beyond me. The thought of this orchestral, dystopian robot music being beamed into homes a matter of months after John Lydon and his band of naughty lads controversially brought the ‘punk revolution’ into the limelight via a London chat show doesn’t fail to put a smile on my face.
It might not be the most obvious of influences when listening to the music we play in Hookworms, but the timeless quality of the music pressed between the grooves of this album is something I can only dream about trying to achieve in any of the music I am involved in. It would have perhaps have made more sense to write about 'Ralf und Florian' or 'Autobahn', with a view to trying to describe the musical influence on myself and Hookworms. The steady, flowing motorik, more ‘organic’ instrumentation and the inconceivably influential production of Conny Plank on those records is probably much more apparent when listening to our records, but the ideals and work ethos on their later albums is something I think we can strongly relate to as a group. The Suburban Home studio in Leeds is very much our Kling Klang; where we practice, demo, create records, stuff sleeves, and is the central hub of almost everything we do and produce as a band. Kraftwerk’s unerring control over every single aspect of the band is applaudable, especially in the image-obsessed times of the mid-70's. Total control of promotional photographs, music videos, interviews, choice of support bands... the list goes on. Nothing slipped under their increasingly high bar of quality control.
The music hidden behind the bizarro 1940’s-mannequin portrait adorning the sleeve is my own personal highlight of what is well known as being be one of the best runs of albums of all time (for me maybe only pipped to the post by the Stones discography up to Mick Taylor throwing in the towel). On 'Trans-Europe Express' they finally perfected what had been strongly hinted at on 'Radio-Activity' and 'Autobahn'. Combining the sounds of homemade electronics, drum pad prototypes and the newest sequencer technology available, Kraftwerk employed some of the most advanced equipment in the world to create some of the most primitive and minimal music. The apparent influence of Raymond Scott's early-60's experimental electronic works such as the three 'Soothing Sounds for Baby' volumes can be heard across the LP, the innocently simple vocal melodies are used sparingly, like monotone lullabies or Germanic nursery rhymes, never getting in the way of the music, but slotting into the gaps of silence between monophonic synth lines. Me and JW played this record in the car recently on a speedy drive back to Leeds after a late-night Hookworms show in Liverpool. About halfway home the lights on the motorway flickered out, leaving us with only the headlights to show the way. Just as 'Franz Schubert' began to stutter in through the speakers I remember thinking at the time that I couldn't imagine a much better way to consume such an special record; flying up the open, empty road in the middle of the night. (MB)
What can I say about 'Trans-Europe Express'? Even before discussing it's cultural or emotional impact it scores massive brownie points for being an almost perfect historical example of the techniques that would later become outright norms in the construction of popular recorded music we so readily take for granted today. We're talking sequencing, electronic beats, vocoder, crisp minimalist production, ALL OF THAT! It's a prime example of a then emerging form of modern music that would marry emotional weight with mechnically precise performance. It signified a true breakaway from traditional approaches to making records, probably freaked the shit out of everyone who bothered to listen, and spawned entire genres and sub-cultures in it's wake. Though dismissed by many as being too clinical or 'machine-like' to be of true value, it is impossible to dismiss that 'T.E.E' along with 'Man-Machine' and 'Computer World' contributed much to the lexicon of popular culture. Rigid yet funky, chillingly emotive and impressively innovative, the arrival of 'Trans-Europe Express' breathed new life into the Kraftwerk machine, ushering in arguably their most prolific period as artists and sound pioneers.
I still find it shocking that with such primitive tools by today's standards the group could yield such amazing results, making immense headway on thier musical contemporaries in the German music scene and beyond. Their use of early sequencing technology (The Synthanorma-Sequenzer - a handmade 32 step sequencer is all over 'T.E.E' from the opener tickle of 'Endless Europe' onward), synthesisers (the mini-moog and the Arp Odessey being two of the obvious examples), primitive voice treatments and hand-constructed drum machines still sound as fantasical and mind-blowing today as I'm sure they did back in '77. Sure, with hindsight 'T.E.E' may sound antiquated by today's standards but it's minimalist slimline construction and tasteful unintrusive use of lyrics and melody make it a masterclass in efficient pop music construction, ensuring it will endure way beyond the shelf-life of the majority of releases. (JN)
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Hookworms are set to release debut album 'Pearl Mystic' on March 4th.