Kraftwerk is one of the most important ensembles in the history of electronic music.
The music group was founded in 1970 in Düsseldorf, West Germany by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben. They had met two years earlier during music studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Remscheid. Their first project was the band Organisation, which played a peculiar German version of electronic rock known as Krautrock. The source of inspiration for the musicians of Kraftwerk were machines; they aimed at an artistic symbiosis of art and technology. In the initial phase of the band’s existence, they searched for their artistic path, deciding on sound experiments and frequent changes in the band’s composition.
A turning point ensued in 1974, when the band recorded the disk Autobahn, with the 22-minute eponymous suite. This album was received enthusiastically on both sides of the Atlantic. At this time, as well, the most enduring (until 1990) line up was formed – a quartet including, along with Hütter and Schneider, percussionists Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür. The band’s successive disks often were of programmatic character, focusing on a theme selected by the musicians: radioactivity and radio (Radioaktivität), train travel (Trans Europe Express), computers (Computerwelt), bicycle races (Tour de France Soundtracks).
Kraftwerk worked out an easily recognizable style based on rhythm, generated sounds, sound experiments and vocoder-processed vocals. Also characteristic of the band are concerts linking music with visual effects. During their performances, the musicians do not initiate the typical contact with the audience, taking on a dehumanized pose which is, however, perfectly fitted to the works being played. An enormous success of the quartet were two world concert tours in 1981 and 2004, confirming the universality of the band’s sound and message.
Kraftwerk’s musicians consistently avoid the media; they very rarely give interviews and their private studio is closed to outsiders. They do not comment on media reports concerning them; on the band’s web page, there is no way to find out more detailed information about the band’s members. They avoid collaborating with other artists, rejecting requests from, among others, Michael Jackson and Elton John.
Kraftwerk’s music is an inspiration for innumerable soloists and bands;
it was the foundation for the development of such music genres as hip hop, techno, electro and new wave. Echoes of Kraftwerk’s œuvre can be found in rock, dance, metal and jazz compositions.
The stage image of the band’s musicians is often utilized in films, plays and cabaret sketches.
In 2008, the band is comprised of Ralf Hütter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and Stefan Pfaffe, who replaced Florian Schneider. The reasons for the departure of one of its creators, the band obviously did not reveal.