The electronic music world lost one of its pioneers yesterday. Florian Schneider, the co-founder of electronic pop group Kraftwerk, died at the age of 73. Record label Sony announced his death on Wednesday, stating that he had reportedly been diagnosed with cancer.
The German co-founded ‘Kraftwerk’ with his friend Ralf Hutter in 1970 to create a genre they termed as ‘Robot Pop’.
Multi-instrumentalist Schneider has been often described as a ‘sound perfectionist’. He was equally proficient at playing the synthesizer, vocoder, flute, and saxophone.
Schneider worked on all the group’s studio albums, including ‘The Man-Machine’, which featured their biggest hit, The Model, which topped the UK charts in 1982. After Kraftwerk’s final studio album, 2003’s Tour De France Soundtracks, Schneider left the group in 2008, apparently following a dispute with Hutter over a bicycle pump.
Kraftwerk albums included the breakthrough release ‘Autobahn,’ ‘Radio-Activity,’ ‘Trans-Europe Express,’ ‘The Man-Machine’, and ‘Tour de France.’ The German group won a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in 2014 for creating some of the most “influential work in our musical history.”
Kraftwerk were highly reclusive and would rarely speak to the media. Though their individual names were largely unknown to the general public, the group has been an important influence in shaping the sounds of popular music since the 70s. Kraftwerk built up a mechanical image during the 1970s. They would identically dress up as robots and stand in a row behind keyboards on stage. Maybe this is why they were even dubbed as ‘The Electronic Beatles’ by some.
The Kraftwerk Influence
The German quartet set the template for synthesiser music in the 1970s and 80s with songs like ‘Autobahn’ and ‘The Model.’ Schneider used a lot of drum machines, synthesisers and other electronic instruments in Kraftwerk’s music even before electronic music really came into its own. Kraftwerk played a major role in the emergence of ‘synthpop’ in the 80s and their music was widely sampled by DJs in Chicago when the Chicago House Music era was at its peak.
Schneider’s music has been an inspiration upon so much of the music we know, from David Bowie, Duran Duran, Depeche Mode to electronica musicians, much of the 80s artists and beyond into modern techno and rap. Bowie even named an instrumental track on the album Heroes, V-2 Schneider, after the musician.
Some of the biggest names in music have sampled Kraftwerk’s sounds in their songs. Coldplay used a section ‘Computer Love’ in their hit ‘Talk’, while Jay-Z and Dr Dre borrowed from ‘Trans Europe Express’ for their track ‘Under Pressure.’ Kraftwerk’s 1975 ambient track ‘Radioland,’ was sampled by Miley Cyrus for her experimental song ‘Dooo It.’ The Chemical Brothers’ trend-setting 1995 debut album ‘Exit Planet Dust’ paid tribute to the pioneers of electronic music. The single ‘Leave Home’ includes a short sample of the intro of Kraftwerk’s meditative ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ from their 1975 LP ‘Radio-Activity.’
Such was Schneider’s and Kraftwerk’s influence that they reportedly turned down Michael Jackson for a collaboration.
The electronic music giants may not have a massive fan base in India but it is a dedicated one. The music lovers who may not have heard their music but surely have enjoyed their sound which are sampled by the mainstream music superstars like Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams, and LCD Soundsystem amongst others.
Here are our Top 5 Kraftwerk songs:
‘Autobahn’ (Autobahn, 1975)
‘Trans-Europe Express’ (Trans-Europe Express, 1977)
‘Tour de France’ (Non-album single, 1983)
‘The Model’ (The Man-Machine, 1978)
‘Computer Love’ (Computer World, 1981)