The impact Kraftwerk have made on modern music is simply incalculable. Perennial innovators, their approach turned austere, left-field ideas into something thrillingly accessible.
Emerging from a West German underground that embraces the new, the group developed their own lexicon, a kind of musical DNA that would permeate techno, synth pop, hip-hop, and more.
That no one questions Kraftwerk’s pop sensibilities is a testament to the supremacy of their subversive nature, with the German group translating complex truths into something effortlessly melodic, evidently catchy, and – on occasion – incredibly funny.
Yesterday – May 6th – saw news of founder Florian Schneider’s death confirmed. Passing away last week after being diagnosed with cancer, he was seemingly buried quietly, maintaining his private dignity to the last.
It’s impossible to truly sum up the impact Schneider’s life and work have had – indeed, many academic treatises will no doubt be written for decades to come in an attempt to summarise Kraftwerk’s mighty catalogue.
Clash writers grouped together to pick out their personal picks from the group’s catalogue – it’s reflective, sheer muscle memory, and it’s our tip of the cap to a musician who pushed the boundaries of pop culture far beyond the horizon.
- - -
'Pocket Calculator' (As picked by Cal Cashin)
With all their brooding, industrial imagery, and genuine hunger for innovation, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing Kraftwerk as a totally serious musical machine. But there’s a whole lotta glee and playfulness in the band oeuvre.
‘Pocket Calculator’ is my favourite example of this, dancing synth trills ensure as Hütter sings: “I am the operator with my pocket calculator”. It’s such a fun little number, with all these bright glitching melodies.
There’s a good self-awareness to it, as if Hütter’s telling a joke, and the rest of the band are inputting the punch line onto their synthesisers – and it’s this very subtle tongue in cheek humour that I’ll always love Kraftwerk for.
- - -
'Europe Endless' (As picked by Will Salmon)
'Europe Endless' opens 'Trans-Europe Express' on a note of pure joy and exhilaration. A gorgeous evocation of movement, it celebrates the "elegance and decadence" of the continent. Admittedly its lyrics are pretty vague - "parks, hotels and palaces" can be found most anywhere, after all - but there's something magical in that persistent motorik beat, the gently sparkling synth line and Ralph Hütter's vocal.
Europe is too sprawling, diverse and complicated to sum up in just one song, but 'Europe Endless' cuts through that messy reality, presenting a utopian vision that's refined, cosmopolitan and full of optimism.
- - -
'Tour De France' (As picked by Nick Roseblade)
Every July ‘Tour de France Soundtracks’ is on constant rotation.
This is down to two things. Firstly, it’s a fantastic album, my favourite Kraftwerk release, and is probably on heavy rotation all year in all fairness. Secondly, it’s the perfect soundtrack to everything before, and after, the Tour de France has finished for that day.
I have fond memories of commuting to work listening to it. Every person I walked past felt like winning the Galibier with time to spare and anyone who pipped me to a vacant checkout in a supermarket felt like loosing a sprint finish on the line.
- - -
'KlingKlang' (As picked by Nick Roseblade)
When the Chemical Brothers released their glorious single ‘Life Is Sweet’ one of the B-Sides was ‘If You Kling To Me I’ll Long to You’. One weekend I went to a mate’s house for a day of Mega Drive and Sensible Soccer on the Amiga with a mixtape. ‘Kling to Me’ was on it. My mate had an older brother who played some games of Fifa while waiting for his mates to pick him up to go out.
When it came on he asked what it was. I told him and he laughed and said “That’s funny. It’s named after Kraftwerk’s studio”. I had no idea what he was talking about, being 15 at the time, but he said I could borrow his 'Kraftwerk II' album, as it was the first track.
Ultimately ‘Kling To Me’ doesn’t sound a lot like Kraftwerk, but without it I would not have got my foot in the Kraftwerk door. And for that I’m eternally grateful.
- - -
Organisation - 'Tone Float' (As picked by Nick Roseblade)
When I was in my third year at uni I lived in a shared house full of people I had never met before I moved in. I gelled with most of them instantly over a love of watching snooker, indie discos (it was 2003), Murder She Wrote and making mixtapes for post pub fun.
One of my housemates was into Kraftwerk. One night, after everyone crashed, he declared he had “Something you probably haven’t heard before”. He then proceeded to play the Organisation's 'Tone Float'. He was right. Over the next hour everything changed. The next day I started a quest that lasted longer than it should have to get a copy for myself.
Everytime I hear ‘Tone Float’ I’m reminded of those halcyon days when everything seemed possible and exciting.
- - -
'Home Computer' (As picked by Laviea Thomas)
The first time I listened to Kraftwerk was during the summer of 2019, when a house mate showed me their 1981 technicolour album 'Computer World'.
When listening to the album I was completely enticed by ‘Home Computer,’ it was a total different electronica I’d heard before - it was kaleidoscopic. I remember hearing frontman Ralf Hutter’s robotic vocal and being completely intrigued by the erratic synth and glitches that surrounded him. To this day, Kraftwerk are a quintessential influence on today’s electronica and techno. Their sound is authentic, and undoubtedly timeless.
This is a great loss, RIP Florian Schneider.
- - -
Finally, Mat Smith offers a personal reflection on Florian's work and legacy...
If you set out to become a student of electronic music, at some point you have to listen to Kraftwerk, and that’s what I dutifully did at some point in the early 90s.
For some reason, their music initially didn’t grab me like I thought I would, and it was only when I bought a copy of ‘Trans-Europe Express’, their sixth album, that things clicked. Everything else of theirs that I’d heard up to that point felt too conceptual for me, whereas ‘Trans-Europe Express’ felt like there was some humour going on, not least in the heavily-treated Communist-style photo portrait that adorned the sleeve.
- - -
- - -
The track that grabbed me was the slow building, ten-minute opening number, ‘Europe Endless’. A bouncy, relaxed bit of early synth-pop, ‘Europe Endless’ was light, breezy and playful, yet also celebratory, both in terms of the continent’s cultural highlights and its nod in the direction of European music convention: its central melodic refrains and overlapping arpeggios are highly aligned to European classical tradition, while the sequenced bassline sounds a lot like German oompah music.
What’s especially nice about ‘Europe Endless’ is that the track is a de facto duet between Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, with Ralf und Florian taking the lead vocal and some characteristically vocodered intonations respectively.
"Life is timeless", calls Ralf at one point before Florian responds with "Europe endless", through the vocoder; in the wake of Florian’s passing, the gravity of this brief exchange between two friends feels highly poignant, while the album’s coda (‘Endless Endless’), with its attention squarely focussed on Florian’s repeated ‘Endless,’ feels nothing short of devastating today, especially as it fades out into haunting silence.
- - -
- - -
Join us on the ad-free creative social network Vero, as we get under the skin of global cultural happenings. Follow Clash Magazine as we skip merrily between clubs, concerts, interviews and photo shoots. Get backstage sneak peeks, exclusive content and access to Clash Live events and a true view into our world as the fun and games unfold.