Kraftwerk remain one of the most influential bands of all time. When the former krautrock hippies decided to crop their hair, cast off Germany’s insidious not so distant past, and drag music and culture into the modern era, they ditched the old world and set sail into the future.
As a band, they knew that the age of the electronic instrument was dawning and opted to write music with a scientific, modernist edge, creating a package that was so futuristic, it was described as ‘robot pop’.
Totally cerebral, Kraftwerk formed in 1969 as the experimental band named ‘Organisation’ before slowly moulding into what would become Kraftwerk in 1970. The band then released their debut album, Kraftwerk, in 1970, and its follow up Kraftwerk 2 in 1972.
Both albums were predominantly exploratory improvisations that were played on a range of more traditional instruments including the guitar, bass, flute and drums – in keeping with their early krautrock inspired ethos. It was only in post-production where modifications such as overdubs and distortion were added.
It wasn’t until when the band’s third album, Ralf und Florian, was released in 1973, that the pair, Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, began to place more emphasis on synthesiser and drum machines. The duo had met at the experimental music school, the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf in the late 1960s, and were starting to create an artistic vision that was casting off the traditional and in line with their avant-garde education.
They then released their iconic album, Autobahn in 1974. It represented the band truly finding their creative feet and clearly outlining their artistic vision. Inspired in title and sound by the German motorway system, the world had never heard anything like it. The LP saw the band introduce vocoded vocals for the first time, as well as making use of new technology such as the Minimoog synth and EMS Synthi AKS, which helped to give the band the ‘disciplined’ and modernist sound they had been striving to achieve since the late ’60s.
The band would then embark on their most influential run over the remainder of the decade and into the ’80s. It started with 1975’s Radio-Activity and ended with 1981’s Computer World. The band’s last studio album came in the guise of 2003’s much-lauded Tour de France Soundtracks.
Across their career, the band’s mix of artpop, electronic and avant-garde, has helped them to inspire a whole host of modern genres. These include synth-pop, hip hop, post-punk, techno, ambient and dance music. Due to just how influential they have proven to be, it wouldn’t be wrong to label them the definitive modern band.
One of the most prominent and game-changing bands of all time, without Kraftwerk, many of our favourite latter musical artists would not exist, or at least, not in the format we know and love today. So today, we’re listing five incredible artists who wouldn’t have come into being without the electronic futurism of Kraftwerk.
Five iconic artists influenced by Kraftwerk:
Joy Division / New Order
You have to remember that out of the ashes of Joy Division rose New Order, and, without the late Ian Curtis and the addition of keyboardist Gillian Gilbert, they were the same band. It was Ian Curtis who actually showed the rest of Joy Division the work of Kraftwerk.
During a retrospective on the influence of Florian Schneider’s career in the NME, Peter Hook said: “I was absolutely mesmerised by both. Ian suggested that every time Joy Division go on stage, we should do so to ‘Trans Europe Express’. We did that from our first show, until nearly our last.”
Hook explained just how indebted to Kraftwerk both sets of Manchester icons were: “Joy Division were very tied to Kraftwerk, but it wasn’t until we got to New Order and were able to afford the toys that our primary source of inspiration became, ‘Let’s rip off Kraftwerk’. Their music was beguilingly simple, but impossible to replicate.”
Even more famously, New Order sampled Kraftwerk’s ‘Uranium’ on their career-defining hit ‘Blue Monday’.
Without Kraftwerk’s commitment to progression and the overarching concept of modernity, artists such as Aphex Twin would not have had the platform from which to arise over a decade after Kraftwerk’s most prolific chapter. Aphex Twin, real name Richard James, is one of the most influential dance/experimental artists of all time. His input to music has been so critical, that much like with Kraftwerk, music in general today would look a lot different without his own contributions.
Over his career James has cited Kraftwerk as a massive influence, and he ranks 1981’s Computer World, among his favourite albums of all time. Famously on his track ‘Mental Telepathy’, he sampled the German pioneers’ ‘Home Computer’ from that same record.
Depeche Mode are probably one of the first bands that spring to mind when thinking of the huge legacy of Kraftwerk. They took Kraftwerk’s modernist, and minimalist outlook and crafted into something all the more darker, and giving a human edge to the German band’s robotic style. Think a musical Artificial Intelligence.
In 1998, Depeche Mode’s chief songwriter and guitarist, Martin Gore, explained: “My dream was to combine the emotion of Neil Young or John Lennon transmitted by Kraftwerk’s synthesisers. Soul music played by electronic instruments.” We’d argue that Gore managed to achieve this dream perfectly.
As an artist, Björk has done it all. Her work has reached into every corner of music imaginable, and her profoundly cerebral and experimental style has earned her legions of die-hard fans. Broadly speaking, though, her work comes under the electronic and experimental umbrella. Given that she has encompassed many different genres of music and is somewhat of a creative chameleon, Björk’s influences are manifold and often surprising.
One influence of hers that is not surprising is Kraftwerk. For Mark Pytlik’s biography on her, Björk: Wow and Flutter, she told him: “If I were to say who influenced me most, I would say people like Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Mark Bell.” It’s safe to say that without Kraftwerk, a lot of Björk’s most exciting work, including her early no-wave inspired work, would not have come to fruition.
Although The Orb was founded by Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty in 1988, Paterson remains the only founding member in the dance duo, after Cauty left to follow his other projects in 1990.
Ever since Paterson has been The Orb. An interesting fellow with a lot of interesting takes, he created a niche for himself with dance fans who were “coming down” from whatever drugs they may have taken when out. His unique style is a mix of dub, ambient and electronica.
He takes his inspiration from a range of places, including King Tubby, Can, Brian Eno and of course, Kraftwerk. His early work was heavily inspired by Hütter, Schneider and Co., and their influence rings loud and clear. In fact, The Orb’s classic track ‘Outlands’ from their debut album, The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, samples Kraftwerk’s classic ‘Europe Endless’ from Trans-Europe Express.