For years I had heard Kraftwerk on the radio, and I thought they were just another electronic band with German accents. Little did I know that they pretty much invented the genre of electropop. And the more electropop I hear, the more impressive this band’s depth and warmth becomes.
The first time most people in the US and Europe heard electronic music was in science fiction movies in the 1950’s. If you haven’t seen this one “Forbidden Planet” from 1958, you should. It stars a young Leslie Nielson (acting all serious) and a hilariously klunky robot named Robbie.
In the 60’s a new generation was growing up in Germany. Their parents had lived through World War II, and these young people were looking for an identity that had nothing to do with Hitler. So they started experimenting in sounds that were not only out of their country, but were out of this world.
Berlin’s Tangerine Dream were the first to hit the album charts in 1974. But it was Kraftwerk that hit with the first electropop single that same year. This single version is 9 minutes long — and it is so dramatic you can why it rocked a generation!
A huge percentage of today’s pop music includes loops and it is because of electronic pop pioneers like Kraftwerk, Donna Summer and Giorgio Morodor, Bowie and Eno, Human League and Gary Numan. And I don’t think anyone has ever covered this decade in the media. That’s why we chose the current series for KEXP Documentaries called “Pop Goes Electronic”.
One thing that strikes me about why pop started to include beats and loops is because electronic music is so PHYSICAL. The other thing about Kraftwerk is that they took their German heritage and integrated it into their image and their music. With subjects like the autobahn and robots, they showed that the ultra-conservative world they grew up in had its benefits. It was almost like they were making fun of conservatism, with their suits and ties so perfect, and their hair slicked back like mannequins. They were so conservative they started to look less human.
And in a way, they started the tradition of the DJ. They would send robots onstage instead of themselves to perform. They were playing machines rather than traditional instruments. It’s almost like the instruments were playing themselves. So in this way, there was a sort of “death of the author”, where the music was somewhat premade, and the source was a machine. These guys not only influenced electronica and electropop, they were also used as the building blocks for hip-hop music and culture. Not to mention dance, jungle… and drum-n-bass.
Our KEXP Documentary about Kraftwerk is here:
Join Michele Myers for Nite Life — Every Friday Night at 9pm. Fridays at midnight she does an album spotlight, playing 3 songs from an album and telling a story about it. She also produces KEXP Documentaries — short radio features. KEXP Documentaries series include: Punk Evolution, Masters of Turntablism, Portraits of Post-Punk, The Heart of Soul, Music Revolutionaries and this current one Pop Goes Electronic.