Kraftwerk is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential electronic acts of all time. In many ways they have managed to transcend the label of being electronic artists and are now considered icons of the music industry along with acts such at The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. You don’t have to toss a rock very far to hit a current band or artists who will list Kraftwerk as an influence*. So why did it take me nearly 20 years to discover them?
By the time MTV launched in August of 1981, Kraftwerk had reached their pinnacle of production, and their fingerprints were all over the modern music of the time. Synthpop, new wave, post-punk, and even early hip-hop were all being influenced by these German giants. I was 9 and a musical sponge when MTV first aired and I was quickly enthralled by what I saw. When I wasn’t crushing on Martha Quinn, I was being intrigued by the Buggles, Eurythmics, Thomas Dolby, OMD, Men Without Hats, and all of the funny keyboards, modified guitars, and wild hair that was on display 24/7. By the end of the decade I was in the synthpop deep end with the Pet Shop Boys, Depeche Mode, New Order, and Information Society. The late 80’s saw me embrace the burgeoning techno scene with the likes of Orbital, The Shamen, and The KLF. During this time I even acquired a taste for prog-rock and it’s prolific keyboard wizards such as Rick Wakeman of Yes and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer.
Yet somehow, through all of this, I went an entire decade without being introduced to Kraftwerk, who were an inspiration to essentially all of my musical interests. Yes, it’s possible I had been indirectly exposed to them at some point in the 80’s, but it wasn’t obvious, and it certainly didn’t register. That all changed in 1989.
In 1989, through high school band, I met fellow musician Steve Cooley, who would quickly become one of my best friends and an early musical co-conspirator. Well, at some point in ’89 or ’90 we were rummaging through the fancy, still new-ish CD racks at our local record store, Tempo Records, looking for new and/or intriguing music. This was when cassettes and vinyl were still in vogue for most teenagers and CD’s were wrapped in way-oversized packaging to thwart theft and catch the eye.
Eventually one of us came across this bright green cd with cheesy low-quality artwork that included a black and white photo of an ancient Tandy-esque 60’s computer with bad drawings of 4 guys on the screen. That was enough to catch our attention (marketing design works!), but the kicker that convinced Steve to buy the CD was a sticker on the package that said “…if you like Depeche Mode…”. (cross marketing works!) The CD in question? Kraftwerk’s 1981 masterpiece, ‘Computer World’.
And so it was. I was late to the world of Kraftwerk, but I made up for my music history faux pas and quickly embraced the timeless genius that was, and still is, Kraftwerk.
Over the last few years, as I’ve delved more into using vintage gear to create a modern sound, I find that I frequently find myself listening to Kraftwerk. Not to emulate, but for inspiration. Their limited technology meant that they had to create broad musical statements with minimal voices. In their simplicity can be found amazing richness and the ability to convey a compelling musical story with only drum machine and synthesizer.
A similar philosophy is the foundation of my musical journeys. Start simply, and only expand as necessary. My Robot Junkyard project from 2010 and 2011 was a great example of this. The original album, “Robot Junkyard” was built around the act of simplicity, where I used only one very simple synthesizer to create all sounds except for the drums. It’s follow-up, “Robot Junkyard – Derivative” took that simplicity and expanded it, drawing in the many styles of the other influencers to my musical direction.
If you’d like to hear the results of the Robot Junkyard project, you can click here to listen to the original “Robot Junkyard”, or here to listen to it’s follow-up “Robot Junkyard – Derivative”.
Thank you for being a listener and for making these experiences matter.
* No artists were harmed in the making of that bad analogy.