At the start of his brand new Omnibus Press biography of Kraftwerk, author David Buckley writes:
“They almost always refuse to grant interviews, publicise their work, or to have photographs taken, except when they have new product to promote, which, at the current rate, is about once a decade. They certainly refuse to talk about their private lives, to appear on chat shows, game shows or entertainment programmes. Throughout their career they have refused big-name collaborations with the likes of David Bowie (the band’s first major media supporter) and even the biggest star on the planet, Michael Jackson. They have yet even to release a ‘best of’ record. They are not celebrities, they are not rock stars. Even in their home country, only music fans know who they are. If they are remembered by the wider population at all, it is for two songs, ‘Autobahn’, largely dismissed as a novelty hit, and ‘The Model’. ‘Are they even still going?’ is probably the most commonly posed question in relation to the band.”
In other words, writes Omnibus editor Chris Charlesworth, they’re perfect for a book. Artists who are secretive, with large cult followings, attract interest purely because no-one knows much about them and their fans are desperate for information. This might explain why the Kraftwerk book was reprinted within a week of being published, and hopes are high that there will be more reprints before the end of the year.
Kraftwerk: Publikation has been designed by Malcolm Garrett who has adopted the minimalist values of which the group themselves are famous for. His illustration on the front cover features a restrained drawing of a power station – ‘kraftwerk’ is German for power station – and thus the book resembles the kind of product that the group themselves might issue.
When Kraftwerk emerged as a mainstream pop act in 1975, their originality was beyond doubt. They did look like a seventies rock group – they looked like bank tellers, in matching smart suits and ties, and wore their hair short, parted neatly. At first not everyone understood their celebration of a post-war German culture founded on industry, or their view of a future that seemed to show science fiction morphing into science fact. Kraftwerk, however, were far from being humourless harbingers of a not-so-brave new world. Singing in German about the delights of driving on an autobahn, they were a long way from Californian rock but they were also witty and stylish… and perhaps all they were really exploring was the future of popular music seen from a middle-Europe perspective. Four album releases expressed – with both irony and innocence – many of the emerging concerns and preoccupations of post-war German society. Among other themes Kraftwerk explored travel (‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘Space Lab’), technology and communication (‘Computer World’, ‘Pocket Calculator’), Europe (‘Europe Endless’), and the environment (‘Radioactivity’).
The band staked their claim in modern music, first in Britain and then in the USA, where their work became hugely popular in clubs and went on to influence hip hop and techno in the 1980s.
Publikation contains exclusive interviews with ex-members Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos, as well as ex-band member Michael Rother, and artists such as Moby, Andy McCluskey (OMD), John Taylor (Duran Duran) and John Foxx. There is also revealing input from academics and writers, designers, conceptual artists and music business insiders. Together it makes for the most complete picture of Kraftwerk ever created.
Though born in Manchester, author Buckley now lives in Munich and was therefore ideally placed to research the book. He managed even managed to persuade former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos to contribute a foreword.
Are you a Kraftwerk fan? How do you feel the German pioneers have changed and influenced modern music?