MOJO magazine, delve into the prehistory of electronic music’s greatest group, to deliver the story of Kraftwerk that the curator of their official legend, the genius that is Ralf Hütter, would rather you didn’t read. With input from early collaborators, including Eberhard Krahnemann and Michael Rother, it starts in the ruins of post-war Germany, takes in “the best Beatles covers band in the whole of Westphalia” and ends with the revelation of Autobahn. The following video playlist tracks their rise – with five tracks representing their kosmische-krautrock infancy – and beyond, to their early-’80s pop regency and enduring status as icons of aheadness.
1. Ruckzuck, 1970
Live on German TV, with Kraftwerk modelling their groovy, pre-canonical sound – as hymned in the latest MOJO – as Ralf rocks a less-pervy-Irmin-Schmidt “look”. Some of Der Kinder look pretty spooked, while others appear to suspect some kind of art-scam is being perpetrated. Great free jazz apocalypse ending.
2. Truckstop Gondolero, 1971
With Neu!‘s Michael Rother (guitar) and Klaus Dinger (drums) providing motorik undercarriage and Florian looking a bit Village People in a pair of dungarees. And Ralf on sabbatical.
3. Koln II, 1971
As above, but more cosmic. An idea of what a free-er, more Krautrocky Kraftwerk might have sounded like.
4. Kakteen, Wüste, Sonne, 1971
As above, but lumpier – in a good way. Dinger has the dungarees this time, and he’s going bananas.
5. French documentary, 1973
A special on Kosmische Music featuring Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream, bizarrely introduced from a building site soundtracked by Little Walter. Nice footage between 1.50 and 6.00.
6. Tanzmusic, 1973
Dig the Werk’s Open University lecturer chic, Wolfgang’s moustache and the earliest evidence we can find of the neon signs.
7. Autobahn, 1975
Tomorrow’s World’s Raymond Baxter introduces the future of music. Kraftwerk promise jackets with electronic lapels that can be played by touch. But here’s another, excellent live version of Autobahn, with a starring role for the home-made drums.
Kraftwerk’s techno chic grows in sophistication, although the silver-gloved robot hands are a tad more Cyberman than Deep Blue. Still, what a heartbreaking tune.
9. The Robots
Delightfully camp promo, which sparked LED tie envy in my Middle School. Karl Bartos says he never really loved this look, the madman.
10. Neon Lights, 1978
A song of such melodic perfection that covers by Simple Minds, U2 and, er… Love Tractor cannot besmirch it.
11. Showroom Dummies
Hilariously literal promo for the Trans Europe Express tune. Best bit: “We look around… and change our pose”, but is that Florian flicking us the vees?
12. Pocket Calculator, Live in Utrecht 1981
Groinal thrusting from the quartet, mocking the edge-of-stage posturing of guitar rock groups.
13. And lest we forget, from the movie, Breakin’
“Turbo” does his broom dance to Francois Kevorkian‘s mix of Tour De France. Launched a thousand provincial shopping centre breaking “crews” of dubious skill.
14. The Telephone Call
See, Electric Café wasn’t so bad at all. Although some kind of post-apocalyptic techno-meltdown had clearly occurred since Computer Love. Bakelite phones? Circular dialing? Manual typewriters?
15. Kraftwerk documentary, 2001
Flür, Bartos and Stockhausen expound on the weird world of ‘Werk. No Ralf or Florian, obviously.
16. Duran Duran – Showroom Dummies, 2007
Possibly the worst thing you’ve ever, EVER seen.
17. Numbers/Computer World, 2012
And here they are, bang up to date at their MOMO, New York residency in June this year, with the song that predicted everything. Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben, acht!
Selected and annotated by Danny Eccleston