On 6th January co-founding member Florian Schneider finally and officially left Kraftwerk after thirty-eight years. But Ralf Hütter will continue to tour with three other members as Kraftwerk.
Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter met as students at the Düsseldorf Conservatory in the late 1960’s. The duo originally performed together in a quintet known as Organisation. They released one album, Tone Float before forming Kraftwerk in 1970 with Florian Schneider playing flutes, synthesizers, electro-violin and Ralf Hütter electronic organ, synthesizers.
Over the past thirty-nine years Kraftwerk has had no less than eleven members, with Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter continuing to be central figures in everything that has become associated with one of the most influential music groups of all time.
Kraftwerk appeared live on German TV soon after they formed in 1970 performing Ruckzuck but UK commercial success eludded them until 1974 with their fourth studio album, Autobahn.
Further critical acclaim and success came with the release of albums such as Trans-Europe Express (1977) and The Man Machine (1978). But thier commercial success peaked in the early 1980’s with the re-release of The Model and subsequent hit singles Pocket Calculator and Computer Love. The latter two hits taken from the most commercially accessible pop album, Computer World (1981).
But the importance of Kraftwerk is not simply the music they create. They have continued to influence many artists and shape complete genres over the past thirty years. Their unique style of German rock was dubbed Krautrock, a label that was used for other German groups that followed including Can and Neu. Then in the late 1970’s amongst a heady mix of Post-Punk and New Wave, British groups like Ultravox and Human League sung the praise and influence of Kraftwerk above The Sex Pistols and The Clash. By this time Kraftwerk had stopped using all ‘conventional’ instruments such as guitars and drums and created music solely with electronic gadgets, synthesizers and keyboards.
In the early 1980’s Kraftwerk were being credited as a major influence for the Synth Pop music of British bands like Depeche Mode. But more importantly it was Grandmaster Flash and other New York DJ’s that were rapping over the cold mechanical beats of Kraftwerk to form hip hop music.
I wonder what Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter would have made of a New York underground house party where hard German methodical beats were being mixed with black soul scratching by DJ’s and their wheels of steel!
The music of Kraftwerk continued to be a main ingredient and influence in the various forms of electronic music genres such as House, Electro and Techno throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s; and to this day are referenced by an evergrowing list of artists from all genres of music. Coldplay recently sampled Computer Love for thier hit single Talk and Kraftwerk will be supporting Radiohead by special request, on the Central and South America legs of their 2009 World Tour.
In my opinion something is lost when original members leave a group and one member continues to use the name. However, Kraftwerk have not released a full studio album since Electric Cafe in 1986; and Florian Schneider didn’t appear in the 2008 live shows. Furthermore, as Kraftwerk live is nothing to do with personalities but all to do with electronics and the show, I wonder how much this will actually effect Kraftwerk, if at all.
Florian Schneider will continue to work on solo projects.