The classic lineup, from left to right: Wolfgang Flür, Karl Bartos, Will Forte... er, sorry, Florian Schneider, Ralf Hütter
Kraftwerk is a German electronic group based in Düsseldorf, Germany, noted for such songs as "Autobahn", "The Robots", and "Trans-Europe Express". Originating in the highly experimental rock scene of 1970s West Germany, they're practically the Trope Maker of Electronic Music in general, being among the very first groups to begin experimenting making music electronically, starting in the early 1970s. They are directly responsible for the existence of Dance music, from Techno, Industrial and EBM to Synth Pop and even early Hip-Hop.Their songs mainly have to do with technology ("Kraftwerk" is German for "Power Plant"). Their gimmick was that they were robots; Kraftwerk will often put on concerts and give interviews through robotic replicas of themselves. The robots became less and less human-like over the years.Discography :
Tone Float (1969 - as Organisation)note The common CD edition of this album, released without the band's consent (as they've disowned their first four LP's) amends the credit to 'Kraftwerk/Organisation'.
Kraftwerk 2 (1972)
Ralf und Florian (1973)
Die Mensch-Maschine (1978)note An English version was released titled "The Man Machine".
Electric Café (1986)note It was originally named Techno Pop, and was rereleased in 2009 with that title.
Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job! had "Mini-Van Highway," a Kraftwerk-esque ditty played by two middle-aged men on the finest DOS computers - eventually joined by a hilariously stoic fellow on synthesized vocals.
Author Appeal: Ralf Hütter loves cycling so much he and his band wrote a song about the biggest race in cycling completed with sampled voices and mechanical sounds associated with cycling. They even go further by writing an album about it.
Hütter suffered a cycling accident that left him in a coma during the initial sessions for Techno Pop (the album that became Electric Café), and Karl Bartos once mentioned that the first thing Hütter said after waking up was "Where's my bicycle?". Hütter denied Bartos' account, but did admit that it made for a good story.
"By pressing down a special key, it plays a little melody."
Bilingual Bonus: While they translate many of their songs into foreign languages, particularly when performing for the host nation, some songs are done in two separate languages:
"The Robots": "Я твой слуга, я твой работник." "I'm your servant, I'm your worker."
"Numbers" includes numbers spoken in several different languages. (German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Russian, among others.)
Bunny-Ears Lawyer/Reclusive Artist: They rarely give interviews. They usually use dummies or custom-made robots for promo photo shoots instead of themselves. All we know about their studio is its name. They are also extremely hard to contact. For example, their studio telephone didn't have a ringer because they considered it "noise pollution" during recording. If you really wanted to contact them they would instruct you to call precisely at a certain time, and Ralf Hütter would answer the call himself even though there was no phone ring.
Allegedly, Chris Martin of Coldplay contacted them (through their lawyers) to request permission to sample "Computer Love" and got just a piece of paper with "Yes" written on it.
Concept Album: All of their studio albums since 1975, to some degree. Though it's being done most consistently on Radio-Activity, Computerworld and Tour de France Soundtracks.
Adaptation Distillation: The version played live, post-The Mix, is compressed down to 9 minutes, but retains all the high points of the original. The same thing happened to the single version, which was slashed down to 3 minutes but still kept the best parts of the song.
Other tracks that are this are: all tracks from their debut, "Kling-Klang" and "Wellenlänge" from their second album, "Ananas Symphonie" from Ralf und Florian, the two-part "Kometenmelodie" from Autobahn, "Neon Lights" from The Man-Machine and "Computer Love" from Computer World.
Every Episode Ending: Ever since their 1990 tour, "Musique Non-Stop" has closed all regular Kraftwerk concerts. Part Meaningful Name, this also gives each band member a brief solo before he leaves the stage. With the current stage layout, it's also the only indication of what each of the band members actually do during a concert.
Kraut Rock: They were classified as this in their early years, back before they started using exclusively electronic instruments. In fact, the members of Neu! were members of Kraftwerk first, and played on the first Self-Titled Album.
Machine Monotone: Emulated in the vocals of some of their songs, most prominently, "The Robots."
Mood Whiplash: Occasionally they'd throw in a love song on their albums, such as "The Model", "Computer Love" and "Sex Object" (though that last one is more of an Anti-Love Song), quite a shift from singing about robots, pocket calculators and radioactivity.
Mondegreen: One of the more famous ones is the "Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn" chorus of "Autobahn", which was frequently misheard as "Fun fun fun on the Autobahn". Hütter didn't mind the mishearing, as he has frequently cited The Beach Boys as one of his favourite bands.
Mundane Made Awesome: A common theme, although the best-known examples would be "Autobahn" and "Pocket Calculator".
The counter-example would be "Trans-Europe Express", which makes traveling to hang out with David Bowie and Iggy Pop sound about as exciting as buying groceries.
Florian went asparagus shopping with Iggy Pop, after they met, so points for realism, at least.
Ominous Pipe Organ: On The Mix version of Trans-Europe Express. Orchestration in their music is very rare, but it was of course a synthesized organ.
Intentionally invoked in the remastered CD editions (which originated with the Catalogue box), as the cover artwork for each album is reduced to a single, incredibly simple, large icon.
Both Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk 2 depicted only a simple drawing of a road cone, which nonetheless became iconic. The same image was used for each LP albeit re-colored, allowing fans to nickname the albums "Red Cone" (Kraftwerk) and "Green Cone" (Kraftwerk 2).
Bootleggers took this even further - a bootleg edition of Ralf und Florian replaces the original cover depicting the two artists with a blue cone to match the first two albums. And to complete the 'cone' quadrilogy, one version of the bootleg K4 (a live performance of otherwise-unavailable material recorded between the first two self-titled albums) depicts a yellow cone on its cover!
Poetic Justice: The single Tour de France was supposed to have been issued as the first single from the album Techno Pop, before the production work on the album had been completed. The album was shelved when Ralf ended up in a coma from a cycling accident.
Protest Song: "Radioactivity." Later live versions, and the version from the 1991 album The Mix, make it an explicitly anti-nuclear anthem, specifically the proposed second processing plant at the Sellafield processing site in Seascale, England:
Sellafield-2 will produce 7.5 tons of plutonium every year. 1.5 kilogram of plutonium make a nuclear bomb. Sellafield-2 will release the same amount of radioactivity into the environment as Chernobyl every 4.5 years. One of these radioactive substances, Krypton-85, will cause death and skin cancer.
"It's in the air, for you and me."
In 2012, Kraftwerk started performing an altered version of Radioactivity with new, Japanese lyrics concerning Fukushima.
Real Song Theme Tune: Happened at least twice. For its initial 1983-1990 run, the Edutainment show Newton's Apple used "Ruckzuck" (from their long-disowned debut album) as its theme (it was replaced for the home soundtrack due to licensing issues), and the Saturday Night Live sketch "Sprockets" used a sped upnote specifically, playing a 33RPM record at 45RPM version of "Electric Café"'s 'chorus' melody.
Shout-Out: The "eins zwei drei vier" count that begins "Showroom Dummies" was made as a reference to The Ramones' habit of starting their songs with Dee Dee quickly shouting "one two three four!".
Speedy Techno Remake: Their remake of Autobahn on their album of self-made remakes, The Mix. It is speedy only in comparison though, given that they've taken the original version which was over twenty minutes long and condensed it to only over nine minutes long, by making it a little faster.
Standard Snippet: Any TV item about postwar Germany (unless soundtracked with schlager music) is pretty much guaranteed to make heavy use of "Autobahn".