KEXP Documentaries bring you a musical subject in the time it takes to play just one song. For our current series “Electronic Innovators” we team up with Seattle’s Decibel Festival and today’s episode is on one of the first electronic pop bands: German group Kraftwerk! This episode airs at 3pm today on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole.
The first time most people in the U.S. and Europe heard electronic music was in science fiction movies in the 1950′s. 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 of “Autobahn” is 9 minutes long — and it is so dramatic you can why it rocked a generation!
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, more like robots.
And Kraftwerk inspired the tradition of the DJ-as-entertainer. 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.
Listen to this KEXP Documentary:
For more info on the internationally-acclaimed Decibel Festival, coming to multiple venues here in Seattle on September 28 through October 2, visit dbfestival.com.
KEXP Documentaries are created by Michele Myers. This series was co-produced by Decibel Festival‘s Sean Horton. Assistant Producers are John Felthous and Mary Janisch. Lesson Plans are created by Tiffany Grobelski and Michele Myers. Executive Producer is Kevin Cole. If you would like to follow along more closely in the creation of these radio stories, we post research materials, songs and videos on our Facebook page and on Twitter.