June 5, 2005 | Leave a Comment

A few years back I was getting a haircut in Düsseldorf when the proprietor and I, mid snip, got onto the subject of German music. He rattled of a few band names the only one of which I recognised back then was er, The Scorpions. Then, in a effort to ingratiate myself with the burly German geezer holding a razor near my throat, I blurted out Kraftwerk to which my barber had to take a step backwards in astonishment. ‘Kraftwerk?’ he kept repeating with an odd expression which lost none of its bemused air coming back at me reflected in the mirror. I guess it’s similar to a German in the UK raving on about Gang of Four.

KW-trans-euro 3 starsTrans Euro Express

(0% native – English language cover shown)

The theme is a rail journey across Europe – not half as exciting as it sounds. Standout tracks : Showroom Dummies

That’s the odd thing about this bunch of semi-reclusive, Westphalian richkids: out of all the artists listed here I’d wager most Brits would instantly place a finger on Kraftwerk, exclaim a brief, yep, and happily start whistling the tune to The Model. It’s this track more than any other which has eased Kraftwerk into the UK subconscious. Re-released in 1981 ‘Das Modell’ made it to the UK number one spot and, along with Queen’s We Are the Champions, ranks as one of my own earliest memories and I don’t think I’m alone – I saw Belle and Sebastian live in Germany a couple of years ago and was pleasantly surprised to hear them honour the audience with a highly entertaining and brassy (in both senses of the word) version of this much-covered track.

KW-expo2 starsExpo 2000

(0% native)

This was basically a single released for a trade fair. No real lyrics to speak of but pretty funky in its own way – turn the bass way up. There are a tons of remixes available now.

Kraftwerk aren’t without their highlights but overall leave me a little cold. The real reason, I suspect, for their huge reputation is the massive influence they’ve exuded, with big acts like Iggy Pop and David Bowie ranking among their fan base. While I find a lot of their music pretty soulless there’s no doubt that technically, they were way, way ahead of the game and as far as album art goes they’ve got more than a few classics.

If, like just about every up-its-own-arse clothes shop in the UK today, you’re into warmer, more accessible electronica like the ubiquitous Mylo or maybe Wolfsheim, then Kraftwerk are a pretty good history lesson. Be sure you know which language you’re getting – each album, as far as I know, was released in a German and English version.


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