Subscribe

(Credit: Far Out / Wikimedia / Kraftwerk / Claudio Schwarz)

Music

How Kraftwerk influenced David Bowie

@josephtaysom

When David Bowie moved to Berlin, he had just abandoned a loveless relationship with Los Angeles, and the change of scenery enabled him to get his life back on track. From a musical perspective, the creative output of Germany began to act as an inspiration, and Bowie’s discovery of Kraftwerk would impact his work significantly.

That glorious period of life in Berlin managed to give Bowie a sense of anonymity, a lifestyle change that benefitted not only his sense of well-being but also his artistry. Prior to this moment, the creation of Station to Station had been a convoluted mess as he stared down the barrel of the gun at addiction while feeling overwhelmingly lost. “My attention had been swung back to Europe with the release of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974,” Bowie later told Uncut. “The preponderance of electronic instruments convinced me that this was an area that I had to investigate a little further”.

While it made him want to interpolate an electrical sound into his band, Bowie would refute that this was all down to Kraftwerk and, instead, labelled the comparison’s as “lazy analysis”. Bowie insisted that while everything about the pioneering German’s sound was precise and intricately planned to the finest details, he instead prepared to operate “spontaneously” in the studio.

“In substance too, we were poles apart,” Bowie continued. “Kraftwerk’s percussion sound was produced electronically, rigid in tempo, unmoving. Ours was the mangled treatment of a powerfully emotive drummer, Dennis Davis. The tempo not only ‘moved’ but also was expressed in more than ‘human’ fashion”.

The extraordinary way that Marc Bolan met David Bowie

Read More

Kraftwerk opened Bowie’s eyes to electronic music, and, it has to be said, played a significant part in his obsession with Germany. Like everything else that Bowie touched throughout his career, he did it with originality. However, he did also note: “What I was passionate about in relation to Kraftwerk was their singular determination to stand apart from stereotypical American chord sequences and their wholehearted embrace of a European sensibility displayed through their music. This was their very important influence on me”.

Later, Bowie would ask the group to open for him on his Isolar Tour, yet, this never came to fruition, and neither did a highly rumoured collaboration between the two artists. That said, Bowie did record the largely instrumental ‘V-2 Schneider’ on Heroes as a tribute to the group’s Florian Schneider. Shortly after, the Germans reciprocated the gesture on the title track from Trans-Europe Express. In the song, Kraftwerk reminisces fondly about meeting Bowie in their hometown of Düsseldorf, as they sang, “From station to station, Back to Düsseldorf City, Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie, Trans-Europe Express”.

Ralf Hütter from the group later discussed how Bowie’s public support helped thrust Kraftwerk into the mainstream. He reflected, “That was very important for us, because it linked what we were doing with the rock mainstream. Bowie used to tell everyone that we were his favourite group, and in the mid-70s the rock press used to hang on every word from his mouth.”

Although the influence of Kraftwerk on Bowie’s sound is somewhat exaggerated, they did encourage his decision to move the direction of his career in both a sonic and literal sense. While Bowie refrained from making his own version of Autobahn, the album dramatically widened his perspective on music, and his boundaries were suddenly non-existent.

Follow Far Out Magazine across our social channels, on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.