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In praise of Kraftwerk

In praise of Kraftwerk
August 04, 2020 06:36PM
Around the time this CoVid lockdown began, KSER-FM began airing a new program, "Dead Electric," on Friday nights right after my show. It's a two-hour program of vintage synth-pop and electronica. The host, David Haldeman, is a top-notch DJ.

David's show on Friday 24 July was a full-fledged tribute to Kraftwerk, in memoriam to Florian Schneider. (It can be heard for just a couple more days on kser.org's replayer page, if you're interested.) His opening monologue was downright eloquent. It is with David's permission that I'm sharing the transcript here:

David Haldeman
It's 2014, and I'm on a packed subway in Philadelphia. Kraftwerk's song "It's More Fun to Compute" pops up at random on some playlist in my headphones. In my ears, it creates a menacing robot voice that repeats "It's more fun to compute," as a screeching synth lead and lurching bass line repeat relentlessly in the background.

I look around me and see everyone -- everyone -- staring at their phones. Not talking, not reading, not gazing out the window or at those around them ... just looking at the computers in their pockets. We are disconnected, detached, melded with technology. We're here, but we're not here. I judge them, of course, until I realize that I'm doing the exact same thing. And this whole time, a song from thirty years ago repeats, "It's more fun to compute ... it's more fun to compute ..."

Since their formation in the 1970s, Kraftwerk has spoken to us directly, simply, in almost child-like language, about a world that would soon become utterly saturated by technology. Their music simultaneously revels in technology while also warning us of its dangers. And it's that contradiction that makes their music not just innovative and interesting and influential, but elevates it to the level of art. Scary, beautiful, disorienting art.

We'll talk more about the band's history later in the show. But for now, just know this: Kraftwerk changed everything. They are frequently paired with The Beatles, among a lot of cultural critics, as the most influential musical artists of the 20th century. And they influenced everything from pop to dance to hip-hop to the avant-garde. If you've heard any electronic music, ever -- at least, post-mid-Seventies -- it was influenced by Kraftwerk.

Yet Kraftwerk is only a fraction as popular as The Beatles. So why is that? Beatles songs usually provide comfort and hope and fun and togetherness. Kraftwerk did none of this. Their music disturbs. Beautiful and exciting and inspiring though it can be, it speaks of detachment and technological dependence. The Beatles had "Love, love, love"; Kraftwerk had "Eins, zwei, drei, fier, fumpf, secht, sieben, acht."

And as I sit here in isolation for the ninth week, spending eight to ten hours a day on a computer, my only socializing now done with pixelated versions of my friends, it doesn't feel like The Beatles' world anymore. It's Kraftwerk's.
Reply Quote
Re: In praise of Kraftwerk
August 04, 2020 09:39PM
Delvin, what is this, this kraftwerk of which you speak?

I only post on a few sites, all music-related, and I’m sure I’ve written ad nauseam about kraftwerk everywhere. Yet I never tire of discussing them.

Your friend David makes a couple interesting points. I always figured the notion was “it’s more fun to compute... then not compute. Computers are fun!” I never thought they were theorizing “it’s more fun to compute... than interact with other humans!” Hmmm....

Beatles-kraftwerk comparisons? I won’t take anything away from Beatles songwriting, but for long-term influence over the sound of the future, kraftwerk absolutely wins hands down. Just turn on your local top 40 station right now if you don’t believe it.

I love that kraftwerk mention meeting Iggy Pop and David Bowie on the Trans Europe Express. Kraftwerk were of this world, and yet operating in a different world altogether.....

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 08/04/2020 10:15PM by Bip.
Re: In praise of Kraftwerk
August 05, 2020 12:24AM
Got to agree with Bip. The Beatles were one of the most influential bands...of the mid to late ‘60s. Their influence has steadily dwindled since then even as Kraftwerk’s visionary approach has grown in stature.
Re: In praise of Kraftwerk
August 05, 2020 08:19AM
The Beatles were a Wide Tail phenomenon. Massive initial widespread impact to dramatically less by now. Velvet Underground and Kraftwerk were a Long Tail phenomenon. Much slower rises to popularity but increased growth over time far above what I sense from The Beatles in the now. And I didn't parse "It's more fun to compute" in the same way as David Haldeman, not that it wasn't a provocative premise. As a computer owner in the year it came out, I totally got a positive spin from that proclamation. I enjoyed programming my computer. And back then you had to code if you wanted to do anything! Anything interesting, at least. Commercial software was just beginning to be sold in the '77-'81 window.

Former TP subscriber [81, 82, 83, 84]

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