Kraftwerk’s journey to becoming one of the most influential pop groups of all time began in the late 60s and early 70s. In the pop-cultural vacuum of post-world-war Germany, Kraftwerk struggled to find a new artistic voice. But few would have predicted that these reclusive European experimentalists would form a foundation for electronic music that would help build music as we know it today. Here are 7 reasons why:
1. Who Sampled Ya?
One of the most sampled acts in history with over 1000 samples used and counting…
As one of the most sampled acts in history, it’s unlikely you’ve never heard a Kraftwerk Song before. They’re often hiding in plain sight on tracks by artists as diverse as Chemical Brothers, Busta Rhymes, LCD Soundsystem, Panda Bear, DJ Shadow, New Order & Jay-Z.
Hip-Hop DJs used Kraftwerk albums religiously during the B-Boy era and Pioneering DJ Afrikaa Bambataa was the first to press a remix to vinyl – sampling Trans-Europe Express on the blistering electro track Planet Rock in 1982. The song catapulted itself into the charts and paved the way for Hip-Hop to start dominating the airwaves.
2. Godfathers of electronic music
Kraftwerk inspired early Techno, Electro & Trance producers from the get go.
As one of the earliest groups to explore the use of synthesisers and electronic instruments, Kraftwerk were painting on a refreshingly blank canvas. They both defined and foreshadowed what the world would sound like in the digital age, leaving a fingerprint on all electronic music in their wake.
Sequenced drums and driving minimal beats informed Electro, Techno & House. Hypnotic hymns and ambient explorations can be found in Trance and Downtempo styles. The sheer amount of Kraftwerk samples used by EDM greats across decades, which still find their way back into modern dance tracks, prove that Kraftwerks influence is still as strong as ever.
Kraftwerk revolutionised the music industry with their use of drum machines. These devices enabled them to craft precise and rhythmic beats that couldn’t be replicated by conventional drum kits, thus making a lasting impression on the evolution of music.
3. Minimal influence
They influenced David Bowie’s highly acclaimed Berlin Trilogy which made a ripple effect of influence for bands alike and thereafter.
While Kraftwork found a home on dance floors in the UK & America, their minimal, ambient aesthetic influence also helped shape the sound of the burgeoning New Wave scene and other avant-garde music. David Bowie and Brian Eno travelled to Berlin to meet their new heroes. This encounter and Bowie’s subsequent stay in Germany heavily influenced his ‘Berlin Trilogy’. This series of 3 albums are now regarded as the strongest and most innovative period of his career – influencing a legion of rock, goth, industrial and post-punk acts in its wake.
4. Computer Love
Modern pop artists and bands have used Kraftwerk melodies to create emotional, anthemic music.
Kraftwerk is well-known for minimal ambience or cold robotic soundscapes, but they also know how to write catchy, heart-stirring melodies. Miley Cyrus, Ciara and many more have injected Kraftwerk into popular music to create depth and emotion. Coldplay famously used ‘Computer Love’s’ lilting heartsick keyboard line on their 2005 single ‘Talk’, turning the melody into a stadium anthem.
5. Digital Soul
Kraftwerk vocal processing influenced aaalllll of that autotune stuff!
While vocal effects were already enjoying a heyday in the 70s (Peter Frampton and his Talk Box guitar solos are just one example) – Kraftwerk were the first music act to really infuse robotic-sounding vocals with humanity and emotion. Florian Schneider’s patented ‘robovox’ technology (1990) still remains a mystery but gives a clue into the group’s vocal synthesis methods. It’s no exaggeration to say that Daft Punk, T-Pain & Kanye’s 808’s & Heartbreaks and all of that auto-tune we hear today, owe so much to Kraftwerks early vocoded experiments.
6. Man Machines
Reimagined the human voice in music through the use of vocoders and autotune
Kraftwerks early development saw a move from mere flirtation with electronic instrumentation to embracing it completely. With 2 drummers in the band, this evolution necessitated the move to drum machines, and their creation of DIY electronic drum kits – some of the first ever made.
This enabled them to craft precise, rhythmic beats that meshed perfectly with synthesised sounds, and couldn’t be replicated by conventional drum kits. In a time before the mass production of such instruments, Kraftwerks percussive sound was radical and revolutionary – inspiring the next wave of electronic music and the popularisation of electronic drum kits in the 80s.
7. Mannequin Act
Their high-concept live act showed bands how to go beyond a cliche rock show
Kraftwerk was notoriously uncomfortable with the fame and popularity that came with their music. They developed an innovative live show which rejected typical rock tropes, preferring to simply line the band up in a row in front of their instruments and present the music.
As they rejected the spotlight more and more, their presence on stage was replaced by mannequins that moved robotically to the music, fully realising the concepts inherent in their music – humanity replaced by technology.
From the 80s until their reunion shows in the 2000s, their live show held this theme while developing new costumes, choreography and visuals. Kraftwerk’s unique & artful approach to stagecraft set a new standard for how bands could present themselves in concert, inspiring countless other acts to follow with high-concept performances.
Learn it in Melodics!
We’ve broken down their iconic track, The Model, into separate Melody, Baseline, and Drums lessons. Get into the kick and snare rhythm on pads or cruise the autobahn on keys with their signature bassline and mechanical melody.