Travelling further down my favourite 50 songs list, it’s time to take a trip to Dusseldorf city on the “Trans-Europe Express” to meet Kraftwerk, the electronic Beatles.
Many musical acts are called influential, but along with the aforementioned psychedelic moptops, Kraftwerk are surely the most significant band of the last 50 years. Their influence on techno, dance and electronic music as a whole is well established, but Kraftwerk’s tentacles don’t stop there. These pioneering Germans are massively important to the nascent rap scene (witness Afrika Bambaataa’s steal of “Trans-Europe Express” on the early hip hop landmark “Planet Rock”) as well as a whole variety of other disparate genres: post-punk, synth-pop/electro, even later R&B. David Bowie was such a fan that he named a song (“V-2 Schneider”) in homage to Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider on his “Heroes” album. The tribute was reciprocated on this very song with its mention of travelling “from station to station to Dusseldorf city, meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie”.
With Kraftwerk’s legacy, there are of course many songs to pick a favourite from, most also featuring their wry, dry German humour, which is often patronisingly neglected by undiscerning foreign listeners. As an example, I often think that “I’m the operator with my pocket calculator” may just be the greatest line in pop history. However, 1977’s “Trans-Europe Express” wins out as my selection, a tune that I was initially familiar with when younger via its “Planet Rock” usage, before discovering its true origins. Beautiful soaring melody lines, underpinned by the constantly churning, train chugging beats, plus the repetitive “Trans-Europe Express” mantra all combine to make this perhaps the quintessential Kraftwerk record.
Writing about Kraftwerk at the moment is also a little bittersweet; having never managed to see their live show (and missed out on a couple of occasions before for various reasons), I had tickets to see them play in Victoria Park 4 weeks from now, obviously cancelled since. No news as to whether they may play next year instead, but I’ve begun to accept that me seeing Kraftwerk is just not meant to be. However, I did come close when I was in Paris last April, courtesy of a new exhibition called “Electro: de Kraftwerk a Daft Punk”. I actually happened to serendipitously read about the opening of this expo in the Guardian whilst on the plane over, and with an enticing title like that had to make a visit part of my trip. Featuring as a key exhibit, the spectacular 3D film of recent Kraftwerk concert footage and projections backed by a bass heavy sound system was perhaps the closest I will now ever get to seeing these robots “live”.
VIDEOS AND OTHER STUFF
- “Trans Europe Express” original video on YouTube
- “Trans Europe Express” 2017 (projections and live)
- Kraftwerk on Tomorrow’s World, 1975 (Autobahn”)
- Kraftwerk on Tomorrow’s World, 1991 (“The Robots”)
- Afrika Bambaataa – “Planet Rock” video
- Other great Kraftwerk songs that just missed out include: Computer Love, Numbers, The Model, Neon Lights, Autobahn, The Robots.
- “Trans Europe Express” is featured on my 379 to 50: 1 to 25 Spotify playlist
- Also featured on my 379: Electronic Spotify playlist
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