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Kraftwerk by Mike Nessing

Fun, fun, fun at the Autobahn ‘till her daddy takes the T-bird away. Or how I finally discovered the passion behind Kraftwerk by Mike Nessing

The music of Kraftwerk had always struck me as distant, cold and calculated. It isn’t that I’m not a fan. I’ve heard most of their stuff and believe it to be great, just on a different plane. Music that comes from the brain and not the heart. I was very, very wrong. It required me to re-think it a little, but this music is as emotional and as heartfelt as any love song or for that matter, protest song that you can name.

So what was it that changed my thinking? Well, while looking at some performances on their website what really struck me was how their fans are reacting to them. They are literally losing their minds hooting, hollering and participating. I figured the audience at a Kraftwerk show would be pretty tame and reserved, the way I believed their music to be. The tune would end, and then there would be some polite applause. As these videos prove, that hypothesis was not even close:

So some obligatory internet research was mandatory. I must be missing something to be so far off base. The first clue I got was a quote from Kraftwerk leader Ralf Hutter that cites The Beach Boys as a musical influence. Like a “hot kiss at the end of a wet fist” there it was, everything I needed to know. The group’s biggest hit is “Autobahn”, a paean to the legendary German highway with no speed limit. Very similar to the way the Wilson brothers expressed their praise of the Pacific Ocean. It is in fact, a spot on comparison. Believe me, I’m not patting myself on the back over this. Quite the contrary, I’m kicking my own ass down the street for not picking up on it sooner.

Time to do some re-listening. I had a couple of their LP’s, specifically Trans Europe Express
and “The Man Machine”. Just as I suspected. Although their approach strikes me the same, I’m now listening to the end result in an entirely different way. “Neon Lights” may not be just a casual glance out the window, but actually a sobering wish for simpler times. Tunes like “Man Machine” and “The Robots” actually predicted the future. These are warning signs, more accurate now than they’ve ever been. We ARE Showroom Dummies. “The Model” is an eerie portrayal of how lost we are as a planet with our priorities completely screwed up. These guys might as well be the freaking Clash!

We should talk influences here as well and this end of the stick was no surprise to me. These guys have influenced practically every pop genre you can name. Disco, hip hop, house, even those crazy early ‘80’s new romantics owe a lot to Kraftwerk. They continue to influence current bands like Coldplay, who requested and received permission to use riffage from “Computer Love” on their 2005 single, “Talk”. Electronic music of course owes their entire existence to them,(along with those other German pioneers Neu!) and the list of bands that have used samples of their work read like a who’s who of the genre.

It was the emotion that I missed out on. Or at least the level of emotion. My friends and I would listen to music daily, and Kraftwerk was a great way to mix things up a little when we were tired of the soup de jour. Once we heard that our beloved Elvis Costello was listening to Kraftwerk almost exclusively on his tour bus back then, that was all the confirmation we needed that we were beyond hip. This music spoke to me, but on an intellectual level only. Something I could listen to while pretending I was smarter than everybody else. It never occurred to me that I could “rock out” to Kraftwerk. It took a live video of thousands of screaming fans to open my eyes.

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