From station to station: “Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution: A Documentary Film”

By on November 6, 2017

Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution: A Documentary Film is a mind-blowing three-hour tour, beginning with electronic music’s emergence in Europe at the end of the Sixties but mostly focusing on Germany’s Kraftwerk, through their most important and influential period until the near-present, examining the scope of that influence on other bands and musical genres down through the decades. Watch it now on Night Flight Plus.

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You’ll hear memorable Kraftwerk tracks — including a snippet of their 24-minute “Autobahn,” their breakthrough hit from 1974 — featured prominently throughout the three-hour film, in both live and studio settings.

Also featured are classics like “Trans Europe Express,” “Computer Love,” “The Robots,” “Pocket Calculator” and many other of their recordings.

You’ll also hear music by Krautrock faves like Can, Amon Düül, Tangerine Dream, Cluster (sometimes spelled Kluster), Neu!, and even lesser-known bands like Popol Vuh.

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Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution traces the rise of contemporary German music back far enough so that we hear how 1960s-era British bands — like the Beatles, who most famously played in Hamburg nightclubs, honing their live performance skills — would have an influence some of the early German rock bands.

We learn how Kraftwerk’s influence (one writer says it created a “nostalgia for the future”) trickled down and merged with other sounds as it filtered into (and even helped create) other genres, like techno and house music — British journalist Edwin Pouncey likens this impulse in Kraftwerk to its later manifestations in techno and house music — as well as electronica, ambient, disco, rock and hip-hop.

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We hear how this process continued, from station to station, from Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder’s 70s hits, on into the 80s-era new wave of groups and artists who followed in Kraftwerk’s warbling electro-shockwave wake, influencing Human League, Soft Cell, Simple Minds and Gary Numan, and many others.

The documentary traces that influence all the way down to the pivotal recordings by hip-hop masterminds like Afrika Bambaataa, who famously sampled (without permission) their “Trans-Europe Express” melody and the 808 beats in the rhythm track from their “Numbers” in his 1982 song “Planet Rock.”

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Produced and directed by Rob Johnstone, Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution — an unauthorized 2008 biographical survey from the UK’s Chome Dreams — is compiled with rare photographs, archival footage and re-purposed film clips, much of it from private collections, as well as exclusive and extensive Interviews with ex-Kraftwerk members and other key contemporaries in the 1970s German electronic and ambient music scene, in addition to context provided by German academics, and (mostly British) music critics and rock journalists.

These interviews include: ex-Kraftwerk members Karl Bartos and Klaus Röder; Dieter Moebius (Cluster/Harmonia); Hans Joachim Roedelius (Cluster/Harmonia); Klaus Schulze (Tangerine Dreams/ Ash Ra Tempel); Wolfgang Siedel (Eruption/Tangerine Dream/ Kluster); Conrad Schnitzler (Cluster); David Ball (Soft Cell/The Grid); deejay Rusty Egan (Visage, and the man on the decks at the infamous Blitz Club in the early 1980s); engineer Klaus Löhmer; Professor Diedrich Diedrichsen and Ingeborg Schober (German Sounds); Manfred Gillig-Degrave (Stereoplay, Audio, Musicwoche); David Stubbs (Melody Maker, Wire); Mark Prendergrast (author of The Ambient Century); and, Edwin Pouncey (Sounds).

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Read more about Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution below:

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Here’s what it says on the back of the DVD (2008):

As innovative as they are influential, Kraftwerk’s contribution to the development of electronic music since their formation in 1970 remains unsurpassed. Having inspired everyone from Bowie to Coldplay, Siouxsie to Radiohead, this bizarre collective have also proven partly responsible for entire genres to develop — electronica, techno and synth-pop to name but three.

This [film] reviews the career and music of Kraftwerk, from their inception in the late 1960s (as pre-Kraftwerk ensemble Organization), through their most celebrated period in the mid-1970s, and culminating with their resurgence during the 1980s with the popularity of synth-pop and techno.

The film further explores how Kraftwerk both fitted in and pulled away from the electronic wing of what is often lazily referred to as ‘Krautrock’. Sparing time also for many of the groups’ contemporaries from the same field, and tracing the unfolding of electronics in German contemporary music generally, this program presents a fascinating story previously untold on film.

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The advent of Krautrock music (in some circles the neologism is still considered a kind of anti-German slur) is explored here in great depth, not to mention the role classical music played in the development of electronic music, initiated by artists like Karlheinz Stockhausen (who infamously assembled many of his sound pieces out of found objects) and Pierre Schaeffer, the inventor of an embryonic form of industrial music dubbed Musique concrète.

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Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution also touches upon the dynamic personalities of individuals like Brian Eno and David Bowie, who later helped to promote the band in their earliest interviews.

It’s great to hear in-depth from Kraftwerk’s Karl Bartos and Klaus Röder, and although it would have also been nice to hear from Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter, although it’s likely that these two key individuals would not have been able to add much more to what we’re told here.

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Bartos was a member of Kraftwerk between 1975 and 1991, was originally recruited to play percussion on Kraftwerk’s US Autobahn tour, and was credited with songwriting on their Man-Machine, Computer World, and Electric Café (even singing one lead vocal on the latter).

He left Kraftwerk in August 1990, reportedly frustrated at the increasingly perfectionist attitude of founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider and their slow progress between albums.

Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution: A Documentary Film is probably as comprehensive a history of late 20th-century German experimental music as you’ll likely ever see, and we’re very happy here at Night Flight to now be able to offer it to our subscribers over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.