Kraftwerk are a German electronic music band formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970 in Düsseldorf, and fronted by them until Schneider’s departure in 2008.
In the 1970s and early 1980s, Kraftwerk’s distinctive sound was revolutionary, and has had a lasting effect across many genres of modern music.
According to The Observer, “no other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture” and a wide range of artists have been influenced by their music and image.
Early Kraftwerk line-ups from 1970 to 1974 fluctuated, as Hütter and Schneider worked with around a half-dozen other musicians over the course of recording three albums and sporadic live appearances; most notably guitarist Michael Rother and drummer Klaus Dinger, who left to form Neu! The only constant figure in these line-ups was Schneider, whose main instrument at the time was the flute; at times also playing violin and guitar, all processed through a varied array of electronic effects.
Hütter, who left the band for six months in 1971 to pursue studies in architecture, played synthesizer keyboards (including Farfisa organ and electric piano).
The year 1975 saw a turning point in Kraftwerk’s live shows.
With financial support from Phonogram in the US, it was able to undertake a multi-date tour to promote the Autobahn album.
This tour took them to the US, Canada and the UK for the first time.
The tour also saw a new, stable, live line-up in the form of a quartet.
Hütter and Schneider both mainly played keyboard parts on synthesizers such as the Minimoog and ARP Odyssey, with Schneider’s use of flute diminishing.
The pair also sang vocals on stage for the first time, with Schneider also using a vocoder live.
Wolfgang Flür and new recruit Karl Bartos performed live on self-made electronic percussions.
Bartos also used a Deagan Vibraphone on stage.
The Hütter-Schneider-Bartos-Flür formation remained in place until the late 1980s and is now regarded as the classic live line-up of Kraftwerk.
Emil Schult generally fulfilled the role of tour manager.
They found immediate success with their first U.S. release, Autobahn, which went Top 5.
The requisite hit was an edited version of the 22-minute minimalist title track about a monotonous journey along the famed German–Austrian superhighway.
Kraftwerk’s next two LPs were paeans to such other modern-world wonders as the radio (Radio-Activity) and the train (Trans-Europe Express).
David Bowie cited Ralf and Florian as an influence for his Low and “Heroes” albums. (There is some evidence that Bowie’s “V-2 Schneider” is a tribute.) Kraftwerk confirmed its cold, conceptualist image with “Trans-Europe Express” and “Showroom Dummies,” both of which became late-’70s disco hits.
In 1977 the group toured the U.S. playing electronic instruments and dressed in mannequin outfits.
The members later threatened to tour by sending over robots in lieu of themselves while they rested in their studio.
The band headlined the U.K.’s Tribal Gathering concert in 1997 and has played select live dates, festivals, and raves.
In 1999 the world exhibition organization Expo 2000 commissioned Kraftwerk to record “Expo 2000,” the events theme song.