I'd like to take her home that's understood,
She plays hard to get, she smiles from time to time,
It only takes a camera to change her mind."
Kraftwerk is a German electronic group based in Düsseldorf, Germany, noted for such songs as "Autobahn", "Trans-Europe Express", "The Model", "The Robots", and "Computer Love". Founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970 and originating in the highly experimental rock scene of 1970s West Germany, they were practically the Trope Makers of Electronic Music in general, being among the very first groups to begin experimenting making music entirely electronically, starting in the early 70s. Their output from then until the dawn of the 80s is usually considered pretty ahead of its time.
The band are generally treated as electronic music's equivalent of The Beatles. They're directly responsible for the existence of modern electronic dance music, from Techno, Industrial and EBM to Synth-Pop and even early Hip-Hop (and that just scratches the surface). Their 1974 song, "Autobahn" - designed to replicate the sounds of driving the titular highway - was famously cut from a whopping 23 minutes to less than 4 for radio play, and became a surprise hit, reaching the top 40 in America and the UK, amongst other countries.
Their songs mainly have to do with technology ("Kraftwerk" is German for "Power Plant"). Their gimmick was that they were robots; Kraftwerk would often act stoic-like and utilized robotic replicas of themselves for some promotional appearances. The robots became less and less human-like over the years.
The band's classic line-up, after Hütter and Schneider, included Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos. Flür left the group in 1987, Bartos did the same in 1990, and Schneider departed in 2008. On May 6, 2020, it was announced that Schneider passed away of cancer not long after his 73rd birthday.
Despite their enormous influence - it's been said that you could walk into any nightclub and likely hear traces of Kraftwerk - they spent years struggling to get enough votes to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They finally admitted Kraftwerk in 2021, as an early influencer.
- Tone Float (1969 - as Organisation) note
- Kraftwerk (1970)
- Kraftwerk 2 (1972)
- Ralf und Florian (1973)
- Autobahn (1974)
- Radio-Activity note (1975)
- Trans-Europe Express note (1977)
- The Man-Machine note (1978)
- Computer World note (1981)
- Electric Café note (1986)
- The Mix (1991) note
- Tour de France Soundtracks (2003) note
- Minimum-Maximum (2005) (Live album)
- The Catalogue (2009) (Box set) note
- 3-D The Catalogue (2017) (Live album) note
Tropes exemplified by Kraftwerk and their songs:
- Adaptation Distillation: The version played live, post-The Mix, of "Autobahn", which is originally 22 minutes long, 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.
- All Germans Are Nazis: The band worked to avert and defy this trope; however, some media (for example NME) played it straight when discussing them. The artwork for Trans-Europe Express features photographs of the band styled straight out of the 1940s, but supposedly the idea behind the concept was to imagine what a different, more positive recent history for Germany (and Europe) could have been like. Ironically, the late Florian Schneider was actually half-Jewish (through his mother).
- Animated Music Video: "Musique Non-Stop", one of the first computer animated videos.
- Annual Title: The single "Expo 2000," filled with repeating soundbites of different voices saying: "Das einundzwanzigste Jahrhundert" / "The Twenty-First Century" throughout. The song itself released in December 1999, just a month before the twenty-first century began.
- Arc Symbol: A road cone appears in some form in all of their pre-Autobahn albums, which nonetheless became iconic. Most noticeably, both Kraftwerk and Kraftwerk 2 depicted only a simple drawing of a road cone albeit with different colors (allowing fans to nickname the albums "Red Cone" and "Green Cone", respectively), but also Ralf und Florian, which had mainly a picture of, appropiately enough, Ralf and Florian, had a picture of a road cone on the top of the cover, and even Tone Float, done by Kraftwerk's predecessor band Organisation, had a picture of a road cone on the back cover. 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 a '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!
- Arc Words:
- In Computer World, expect to hear the word "computer" on most songs.
- In Electric Café, the words "Music Non Stop, Techno Pop." are repeated in the majority of songs. They're also the titles of two of the tracks.
- Author Appeal: Ralf Hütter loves cycling so much he and his band wrote a song about the biggest race in cycling, "Tour de France", 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.
- Beeping Computers: "Pocket Calculator" from Computer World:"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:
- Concept Album: All of their studio albums since 1975, to some degree. Though it's being done most consistently on Radio-Activity, Computer World and Tour de France Soundtracks.
- Dance Party Ending: "Showroom Dummies" ends with the titular showroom dummies walking into a dance club and dancing. The music video for the song also ends this way, with Kraftwerk dancing.
- Darker and Edgier: Radio-Activity has a colder, more foreboding tone than the relatively more breezy Autobahn.
- Deadpan Snarker: Legendarily so. Florian Schneider was particularly infamous for that, mostly for this snarktastic interview for Brazilian television.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Basically everything before Autobahn is quite a bit different from their later work. Compare this to anything after Autobahn... No, any suggestion that Florian Schneider played the flute is not the product of a highly deranged imagination.
- Epic Rocking: All tracks from their debut album (the shortest is "Ruckzuck" with 7:47), "Kling-Klang" (17:36) and "Wellenlänge" (9:40) from their second album, "Ananas Symphonie" (13:55) from Ralf und Florian, "Autobahn" (22:43) and the two-part "Kometenmelodie" (which totals over 12 minutes) from Autobahn, the title track (6:42) from Radio-Activity, the title track (6:52) from Trans-Europe Express,note "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.
- Fake-Out Fade-Out:
- "Autobahn" has a couple fake-out endings. It's best to clear your daily schedule if you're going to listen to that song.
- "Ruckzuck" comes to a complete and natural stop, then after a moment of dead silence, the ending of the song suddenly plays again for a second and last time.
- Floating Head Syndrome: A few albums have this, namely Computer World and Electric Café.
- Genre Launch: Kraftwerk is, by and large, considered the first electronic band: their influence can be heard in electronic music to this very day.
- Germanic Efficiency: If you've ever wondered what Germanic Efficiency sounds like, this is it. They wanted to make music that sounded like '70s Germany, in the same way that the music of The Beach Boys sounded like early '60s California.
- Greatest Hits Album: Subverted with The Mix. As the band did not simply want to release a vanilla compilation album, they recorded new version of their most popular songs, which also brought them up to speed with the then-current state of synthesizers.
- Hall of Mirrors: The title of one of their songs, which is of course about a hall of mirrors.
- Heavy Meta: "Techno Pop", who's main English lyric practically describes the genre it's in: "Synthetic electronic sounds, industrial rhythms all around."
- Krautrock: 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.
- Looped Lyrics: Several songs, almost the majority of them in fact.
- Loudness War: Downplayed at worst. As one might expect, their remasters have been slightly louder than the original CDs, which ranged in the DR13-16 range, but they've never released a CD that scored worse than DR8. All of the discs in the 3-D box set from 2017 were either DR11 or DR12.
- 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. Ironically enough, "The Model" is the band's most popular song with the general public. That is probably because most people can relate to a man singing about his attraction to a beautiful woman, but much fewer people can relate to lyrics about science and technology.
- Mundane Made Awesome: A common theme, although the best-known examples would be "Autobahn" and "Pocket Calculator".
- 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.
- Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: A few of their album covers. 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.
- Protest Song: "Radioactivity." The original lyrics mixed references to Madame Curie (radioactivity) with "Tune in to the melody..." (radio activity - i.e. listening to the radio) but 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. In 2012, they started performing an altered version of "Radioactivity" with new, Japanese lyrics concerning Fukushima."Sellafield-2 will produce 7.5 tons of plutonium every year. 1.5 kilogram of plutonium make a nuclear bomb.note 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."
- Retraux: Their later live visuals have an '80s-inspired 8-bit look to them.
- Ridiculously Human Robot: Perhaps at some point in the early to late Seventies, but as time went on their robot personas became less and less human. Case in point, here's the 1978 robots◊ and here's the Falk Grieffenhagen-bot from one of their recent live shows.◊
- Robot or Spaceman Alter Ego: It is because of Kraftwerk presenting themselves as robots that a number of electronic bands have adopted robot or spaceman alter egos.
- Self-Titled Album: Their first two albums.
- Sharp-Dressed Man: See above image. Their formal, clean-cut image made them stand out from their more casually-dressed contemporaries.
- 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!"
- "Trans-Europe Express" references a meeting between the band members and Iggy Pop and David Bowie, while they were working on Iggy's The Idiot and Bowie's Station to Station. They even sneak a pun regarding Bowie's album's title."From station to station, back to Düsseldorf City / Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie..."
- "Metropolis" references the 1927 German science fiction classic Metropolis.
- They have a song titled "Franz Schubert".
- "The Voice of Energy" shout-out to the Voice of America (Whose German broadcasts began "Hier spricht ein Stimme aus Amerika", and an early Bell Labs recording.
- SkeleBot 9000: Torsos with rotating heads and skeletal arms, for example, in 1991 video for The Robots. Unlike real skeletons, they have only one bone in the lower arm, but two in the upper arm.
- 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.
- Spiritual Antithesis: Ryuichi Sakamoto considered the band this to his own act, Yellow Magic Orchestra. While both bands were Synth-Pop groups who rose to prominence around the same time, Kraftwerk generally had a much more mechanical and statuesque sound and image, primarily covering topics surrounding the rapid technological advancement of the late 20th century in their work, compared to YMO's brighter, more breezy sound and coverage of more abstract topics.
- Standard Snippet: Any TV item about post-war Germany (unless soundtracked with schlager music) is pretty much guaranteed to make heavy use of "Autobahn."
- Step Up to the Microphone: Karl Bartos is the lead singer on "The Telephone Call".
- The Stoic: A staple of their robot-like personas. However, noticeably averted somewhat during their concerts in the 1970s and early 80s, as the band would sometimes interact with the audience (such as holding out the mini instruments into the audience during "Pocket Calculator" for attendees to play "a little melody").
- Synchro-Vox: Used for the Russian-speaking portions of the video for The Robots from The Man-Machine.
- Synthetic Voice Actor: Or rather, synthetic singer, in many of their songs.
- Telephone Song: "The Telephone Call" is about maintaining a long distance relationship.
- Trrrilling Rrrs: "Wirrr sind die Roboterrr." Less noticeable in the English version, but still present.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: "Trans-Europe Express," which makes traveling to hang out with David Bowie and Iggy Pop sound about as exciting as buying groceries. (Florian actually went asparagus shopping with Iggy Pop after they met, so points for realism, at least.)
- Updated Re-release:
- The Mix, which re-records some of the group's best known songs on what was then the most up-to-date synth technology.
- 2017's The Catalogue release can be seen as an updated version of The Mix, much longer (covering 8 of their albums) and with more re-recorded songs from their 3D live concerts.
- Zeerust: Some of their older works sounded futuristic at the time but are somewhat dated now, or they've already come true, like Computer World. The version of "Computer World" on the 2005 live album Minimum-Maximum still references the KGB.