❏ You’ve no doubt heard the sad news regarding the passing of Kraftwerk founder, Florian Schneider, aged 73. A spokesperson said he “passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday”, his birthday being April 7. Schneider formed Kraftwerk with Ralf Hütter in 1970 and remained a member until his departure in 2008. He is pictured bottom left in our photo at Düsseldorf Hbf station with the rest of the band.
In a Kraftwerk feature for MOJO magazine Ralf Hütter responded to the question “How important was David Bowie’s infatuation with you?” thus:
“That was very important for us, because it linked what we were doing with the rock mainstream. Bowie used to tell everyone that we were his favourite group, and in the mid-Seventies the rock press used to hang on every word from his mouth. We met him when he played Düsseldorf (April 8, 1976) on one of his first European tours. He was travelling by Mercedes, listening to nothing but Autobahn all the time.”
In 1978 Bowie recalled the meeting in an interview: “I like them as people very much, Florian in particular. Very dry. When I go to Düsseldorf they take me to cake shops, and we have huge pastries. They wear their suits. A bit like Gilbert and George… When I came over to Europe – because it was the first tour I ever did of Europe (1976), the last time – I got myself a Mercedes to drive myself around in, because I still wasn’t flying at that time, and Florian saw it. He said, “What a wonderful car” and I said, “Yes, it used to belong to some Iranian prince, and he was assassinated and the car went on the market, and I got it for the tour.” And Florian said, “Ja, car always lasts longer.” With him it all has that edge. His whole cold emotion/warm emotion, I responded to that. Folk music of the factories.”
Kraftwerk immortalised the Düsseldorf meeting on the title track of the band’s 1977 album, Trans-Europe Express, in its lyric:
“From station to station, back to Düsseldorf City,
Meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie…”
David returned the compliment later the same year on the “Heroes” album, when he paid Florian the ultimate tribute by using his name for the title of V-2 Schneider.
❏ Bowie also spoke in some depth about Kraftwerk in an UNCUT interview several years back…
UNCUT: Many reasons have been suggested for moving to Berlin. Can you remember why the city appealed?
DB: Life in LA had left me with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. For many years Berlin had appealed to me as a sort of sanctuary. It was one of the few cities where I could move around in virtual anonymity… Since my teenage years I had obsessed on the angst-ridden, emotional work of the expressionists, both artists and film makers, and Berlin had been their spiritual home. This was the nub of Die Brücke movement, Max Rheinhardt, Brecht and where Metropolis and Caligari had originated. It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood. This was where I felt my work was going. My attention had been swung back to Europe with the release of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974. The preponderance of electronic instruments convinced me that this was an area that I had to investigate a little further.
Much has been made of Kraftwerk’s influence on our Berlin albums. Most of it lazy analysis, I believe. Kraftwerk’s approach to music had in itself little place in my scheme. Theirs was a controlled, robotic, extremely measured series of compositions, almost a parody of minimalism. One had the feeling that Florian and Ralf were completely in charge of their environment, and that their compositions were well prepared and honed before entering the studio.
My work tended to expressionist mood pieces, the protagonist (myself) abandoning himself to the zeitgeist (a popular word at the time), with little or no control over his life. The music was spontaneous for the most part and created in the studio.
In substance too, we were poles apart. Kraftwerk’s percussion sound was produced electronically, rigid in tempo, unmoving. Ours was the mangled treatment of a powerfully emotive drummer, Dennis Davis. The tempo not only “moved” but also was expressed in more than “human” fashion. Kraftwerk supported that unyielding machine-like beat with all synthetic sound-generating sources. We used an R&B band. Since Station to Station the hybridization of R&B and electronics had been a goal of mine. Indeed, according to a Seventies interview with Brian Eno, this is what had drawn him to working with me.
One other lazy observation I would like to point up is the assumption that Station to Station was homage to Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express. In reality Station to Station preceded Trans-Europe Express by quite some time, ’76 and ’77 respectively. Btw, the title drives from the Stations of the Cross and not the railway system.
What I WAS passionate about in relation to Kraftwerk was their singular determination to stand apart from stereotypical American chord sequences and their wholehearted embrace of a European sensibility displayed through their music. This was their very important influence on me.
UNCUT: V-2 Schneider – a tribute to Florian?
DB: Of course.
So long Florian.
❏ ABOVE: Kraftwerk playing Autobahn in 1975 on the BBC science strand Tomorrow’s World to demonstrate their “Machinemusik”. This was their first UK appearance on British television.
❏ ABOVE: View the long-haired radicals in Kraftwerk reinventing German music from “Stunde null” in the BBC Four documentary Krautrock: The Rebirth of Germany.
➢ Florian Schneider: the enigma whose codes broke open pop music – Alexis Petridis in The Guardian – “Schneider had kept such a low profile after leaving Kraftwerk that rumours of his death had circulated before, only to be revealed as erroneous.”
➢ How Kraftwerk’s synth wizard Florian Schneider rewired the world – Rob Sheffield at Rolling Stone – “It’s all electric energy, anyway,” Schneider said, summing up a sonic philosophy that upended the Seventies rock ideal, and influenced everyone from Depeche Mode to Derrick May.