Autobahn

And now for something completely different… Florian Schneider has passed away. French synthesiser virtuoso Jean-Michelle Jarre wished him Godspeed on eternity’s autobahn. Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet acknowledged his debt to the architect and builder of music’s new Metropolis.

In 1970, Florian Schneider founded the German electro pop group Kraftwerk which grandfathered most, if not nearly all, that followed. However, the band’s music, though outwardly beguilingly simple in structure and texture, proved impossible to replicate. Iconic British 1980s groups such as Joy Division and its reincarnated-self New Order tried very hard and drew oodles of inspiration from the German Meister Gesellschaft, but never came close to the original mesmerising Kraftwerk sound.

Called the ‘Beatles of electronic dance music’ (by The New York Times), Kraftwerk showed that accoutrements deemed essential to pop music, such as drums and guitars, could easily be replaced by new-fangled synthetic instruments. At a time when the music charts were dominated by glam rock bands such as Slade, Roxy Music, and the rather lazily-named The Glitter Band, Kraftwerk burst onto the boring scene with Autobahn, a 23-minute long hypnotic ode to high-speed driving on Germany’s fabulous freeways.

In a highly fruitful cross fertilisation, Kraftwerk paid careful attention to David Bowie’s Station to Station for its own ground-breaking Trans-Europe Express album, and saw the favour promptly returned on Heroes, the equally revolutionary LP Bowie released in 1977 and which paid tribute to the Kraftwerk leadman with its track V2 Schneider.

Mr Schneider once remarked that Kraftwerk was not so much a band as a concept: a meeting of man and machine, and a vehicle for the expression of ideas. Long before computers became ubiquitous, Kraftwerk had already incorporated the digital realm its music.

Taking great care to cultivate a meticulously crafted image and preserve their undeniable mystique – a quality not usually considered a key element of German culture – Mr Schneider and his three fellow band members operated a machine running with clockwork precision, projecting a uniform yet somehow always novel image.

After a 17-year hiatus, Kraftwerk in 2003 released its final studio album Tour de France Soundtracks, incidentally the musical backdrop to the writing of this journal entry.

Florian Schneider, born April 7, 1947, died last week from cancer. He was 73 years old.

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