Kraftwerk (German for "power plant") is a German avant-garde electro-pop group from [[D�sseldorf]] who largely contributed to much of the subsequent uptake of, and interest in, electronic music. The techniques that they introduced and the equipment that they developed are now commonplace in modern music. Today many popular Techno DJs refer to them as one of their most important influence.
Originally called "Organisation", but later switching to "Kraftwerk", the band had as its principal members Florian Schneider and [[Ralf H�tter]]. Long time members [[Wolfgang Fl�r]] and Karl Bartos also collaborated in Kraftwerk, as have Emil Schult, and Kling Klang personnel such as Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz.
The input, expertise and influence of producer/engineer Conny Plank was also significant. Planck worked with many other leading German acts (including members of Can) and largely as a result of his work with Kraftwerk, Planck's studio in Cologne (K�ln) became one of the most sought-after studios in Europe in the late Seventies.
Kraftwerk's lyrics dealt with postwar European urban life and technology—travelling by car on the Autobahn, travelling by train, using home computers and the like. The lyrics are usually very minimal, but reveal both an innocent celebration of, and a knowing caution about the modern world, as well as playing an integral role in the rhythmic structure of the songs. Many of Kraftwerk's songs express the paradoxical nature of modern urban life -- a strong sense of alienation existing side by side with a celebration of the joys of modern technology.
After several early experimental albums their breakthrough came in 1974 (1974 in music) with the Autobahn album and the 22-minute title track (see "Autobahn" SAMPLE (252 kilobytes)), which was a worldwide hit and demonstrated their increasing reliance on synthesizers and electronics. This was followed by a trio of albums that were to exert a huge influence on popular music -- Radioactivity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977) and their masterpiece, The Man-Machine (1978).
Kraftwerk were certainly one of the first, if not the first 'pop' act to record using pure electronic (or electronically processed) instruments and sounds exclusively. Many of the vocals in Kraftwerk songs are processed through a Vocoder, or generated using speech synthesis software -- a Speak & Spell was used on their 1981 album Computer World. They also pioneered the use of backing tracks that were generated by the electronic sequencing of purely synthetic sounds.
Notably, all of their albums from Trans-Europe Express onwards have been recorded in two separate versions -- one with German vocals for sale in Germany, and one with English vocals for international sale. The single "Tour de France" featured lyrics in French.
Their music has been recorded by the classical ensemble the Balanescu Quartet. Five songs were arranged for strings for their album Possessed. Kraftwerk have also been extensively sampled by some influential musicians and bands including Afrika Bambaataa, Beck, The Orb, The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu/KLF, Madonna, Depeche Mode, De La Soul, R.E.M., Meat Beat Manifesto, Fatboy Slim, Chemical Brothers, the Bloodhound Gang, Carter USM, Aviador Dro and many more. In 2000, electronic musician Uwe Schmidt, recording as Se�or Coconut, released an album of Kraftwerk covers called El Baile Alem�n. The tracks were cleverly reworked in a Latin American music style.
Kraftwerk also pioneered the use of computer graphics as a backdrop for their shows. Their stage act involves the members standing behind minimalistic desks, controlling the various sequencers that drive the show. At times, mannequins built to look like the band members replace or accompany the live musicians. They do however state that a reasonable fraction of the instrumentation is actually played live, and that they do improvise somewhat from show to show.
After years of withdrawal from live performance, Kraftwerk began to tour again in the late 1990s and in 2004, and stated that they were working on new material -- though speculation about release dates fell through several times. Like a number of other recording artists, Hutter and Schneider appear to have become increasingly perfectionist in their attitude towards recording and releasing their music.
The growing time between recordings, the rarity of live performances and the increasingly exacting and protracted nature of the recording process were major reasons behind the departure of Flur and especially Bartos, whose improvisations were an essential part of the earlier Kraftwerk recordings
The single Expo 2000, their first new song in 13 years, was released in December 1999, and was subsequently remixed by contemporary electronic musicians such as Orbital. An announcement by their record company of a July 22, 2003 release also fell through, with the perfectionists delaying again for several weeks. The new album, Tour de France Soundtracks, was finally released in August 2003, making it the first album of new Kraftwerk material since 1986's Electric Cafe.
See also: Krautrock
- Tone Float 1970 (as Organisation)
- Kraftwerk 1971
- Kraftwerk 2 1972
- Ralf und Florian 1973
- Autobahn 1974
- Radioactivity 1975 (German title: Radio-Aktivit�t)
- Trans-Europe Express 1977 (German title: Trans Europa Express)
- The Man Machine 1978 (German title: Die Mensch-Maschine)
- Computer World 1981 (German title: Computerwelt)
- Techno Pop 1983 (Unreleased. In 2004, Electric Caf� was renamed to this, as a part of The Catalogue)
- Electric Cafe 1986 (Released in German with the same title)
- The Mix 1991 (a remix compilation of older songs; released in German with the same title)
- Tour de France Soundtracks 2003
- The Catalogue 2004 (All the albums from Autobahn to Tour de France Soundtracks remastered. German title: Der Katalog)