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Kraftwerk: Trans-Europe Express

In anticipation of tonight’s Kraftwerk documentary on BBC Four, I’ve been leafing through Tim Barr’s book Kraftwerk: From Dusseldorf to the Future With Love and very good it is too although I disagree with his claim that the band had more in common with Stockhausen and Russian Constructivism than Chuck Berry and Andy Warhol. Well the Warhol bit anyway as he famously declared: ‘I want to be a machine.’

A quote that could have come from Ralf Hütter at any point in just about the last forty years.

The single Trans-Europe Express came out in Britain in April 1977, just as a trickle of punk and new wave records was about to become a deluge and the record failed to take off.

Not that I’m suggesting that Kraftwerk were being seen in the same light as the self–indulgent dinosaurs of the mid–seventies.

Yes, they came from affluent backgrounds, key members Hütter and Schneider both trained at the Düsseldorf Conservatory and the track they were best known for at this time, Autobahn, lasted over twenty minutes in its album version but it would have been absurd to believe any of these facts meant they could easily be aligned with the so-called ‘progressive’ groups of the time.

Kraftwerk really were progressive.

Trans Europe Express Original ad

Nor did they possess much in common with Punk, although when questioned years later about any similarities between his music and punk, Ralf Hütter did note that both favoured simplicity and shared a minimalist attitude.

Kraftwerk stood apart from just about everyone back then, even their German contemporaries like Can and Cluster. In fact, in 1977, a highly successful ad used to promote Bowie’s album Heroes: ‘There’s Old Wave. There’s New Wave. And there’s David Bowie…’ would have been equally appropriate for the German act – and of course Bowie and Iggy get name-checked on Trans-Europe Express and Bowie talked up Kraftwerk at just about every opportunity around this time.

 
Before the seventies were out the influence of Kraftwerk could be seen and heard everywhere in British music, think The Human League, OMD, Gary Numan and Simple Minds for starters – and also from Glasgow, Berlin Blondes and Teutonic Veneer (anybody old enough and into the obscure enough to remember those guys?)

Released five years after TEE, the track Planet Rock by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soulsonic Force nicked its snake charmer melody from the Kraftwerk song and combined it with a TR-808 beat that is copied from Numbers, an under-rated track from 1981’s Computer World, although Bambaataa himself also likes to credit Yellow Magic Orchestra as a crucial influence on Planet Rock too.

Here it is:

 
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