The groundbreaking German electronic quartet Kraftwerk — one of the most influential acts in popular music — returns to North Texas for the first time in about four decades with what’s billed as a “3-D concert” on Saturday at The Bomb Factory in Dallas.
To celebrate this rare occasion, we’ve come up with a list of a dozen popular but disparate performers whom you may not know are indelibly influenced by Kraftwerk.
Classically trained Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider formed the group in the late ‘60s, bringing the world of minimalist, avant-garde classical music and Bauhaus theories into the pop sphere with an insistence on making sounds only with synthesizers, turning the noises of everyday technology (cars, trains, computers, bicycles) into music, and discarding pop-music norms. Pretty radical stuff at the time.
But what started on the far-flung fringes of progressive rock ended up having a major impact on a variety of music styles, including hip-hop, electro-pop, industrial, disco, Detroit techno and EDM (electronic dance music).
Today, Kraftwerk’s music is one of the most sampled by other performers. They would even be parodied by Saturday Night Live’s Mike Myers with his “Sprockets” skits.
Meanwhile, the fine-arts world has reclaimed Kraftwerk as well. In the past few years, the group has played extended engagements and/or was the subject of exhibitions at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the Venice Biennale, London’s Tate Modern, Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Sydney Opera House.
Even though the group didn’t have many chart hits, its fan base embraces multitudes, in the same way that Prince and David Bowie spanned genres, races and musical preferences. There may not be too much that Dr. Dre, Coldplay and Bjork can agree on, but their love of Kraftwerk is one of them.
1 Afrika Bambaataa and Soulsonic Force, Planet Rock
Kraftwerk’s most transformative track remains 1977’s Trans-Europe Express/Metal on Metal/Abzug suite, a hypnotic, nearly 14-minute sonic tour de force that approximates a train ride across Europe. Surprisingly at the time, the dour Germans from Dusseldorf found themselves getting airplay on some black radio stations and in dance clubs in America, introducing their sound to the first generation of hip-hop enthusiasts.
In 1982, New Yorkers Bambaataa and producer Arthur Baker took Trans-Europe Express’ recurring groove and turned it into a first-wave hip-hop classic that soared into the top 10 of the dance and R&B charts. It would foreshadow hip-hop’s interest in Kraftwerk, with the nascent L.A. rap scene and Detroit’s Afro-futurist techno scene especially taking it to heart.
2 Coldplay, Talk
Many Coldplay fans may not know that this 2005 song’s signature guitar riff is a direct lift from Kraftwerk’s 1981 track Computer Love. (Well, it wasn’t exactly “theft” since Kraftwerk members do get a writing credit.) Coldplay leader Chris Martin was so desperate to use Computer Love that he reportedly sent a pleading letter to the notoriously reclusive and unresponsive band in grade-school German and they responded in the affirmative.
Computer Love was also covered by the classical Balanescu Quartet for its Possessed album, which also featured versions of several other Kraftwerk songs.
Listen to Coldplay here
Listen to Balanescu Quartet here
3 Donna Summer, I Feel Love
German-based producer Giorgio Moroder brought a hard, Teutonic edge to silky disco music when this song, co-written by Summer and Moroder, swept its way up the charts in 1977.
Writer Vince Aletti, who covered the disco scene for Record World magazine at the time, was blown away by it. He said that Kraftwerk’s “impact was immediately underlined by Donna Summer’s I Feel Love, which took the synthesiser rhythm and compressed and intensified it so it was both more physically exciting — like stepping into a tangle of high-voltage wires — and more commercial.”
Today, it remains a classic of the genre.
4 Jay-Z featuring Foxy Brown and Babyface, Sunshine; Jay-Z featuring Memphis Bleek, It’s Alright; Dr. Dre featuring Jay-Z, Under Pressure
Jay-Z has crossed musical paths with Kraftwerk many times. He relied on a loop of Kraftwerk’s The Man-Machine to provide the signature musical anchor for 1997’s Sunshine. For It’s Alright, the 1998 collaboration with Memphis Bleek, he used Kraftwerk’s The Hall of Mirrors.
Then there was the 2010 song he did with longtime Kraftwerk fan Dr. Dre, Under Pressure, which begins with a riff from Trans-Europe Express before turning into a pumping electro jam.
Listen to ‘Sunshine’ here
Listen to ‘It’s Alright’ here
Listen to Dr. Dre featuring Jay-Z here
5 Gary Numan, Cars
If it weren’t for Kraftwerk’s surprise 1975 hit single Autobahn, which was a German highway trip set to music, there might not have been a ready market for Numan’s electro celebration of the automobile four years later. This proved to be Numan’s best-known song and it was his only track to crack Billboard’s Hot 100 in the U.S.
6 New Order, Blue Monday
Kraftwerk’s Uranium is sampled in this hit 1983 New Order dance track, which is considered the biggest selling 12-inch disc of all time. But the German quartet’s influence was greater than just that one sample.
When questioned by the English music magazine New Music Express about Blue Monday’s impact, New Order’s Peter Hook wasn’t shy about the source of inspiration. “It’s a great compliment to be told that you’re one of the inspirations for dance music,” he said, “but the truth is that we were borrowing from Kraftwerk.”
7 Frank Ocean, Private Show
R&B sensation of the moment Frank Ocean was born in 1987, a decade after Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express was released and made its initial impact. But that didn’t stop him from appropriating its signature riff for this laid-back, handclapping and soulful 2011 groove.
8 Devo, Mechanical Man
Devo’s Jerry Casale once described his band as “Kraftwerk with pelvises,” as the group had a similar, if more smart-aleck, more aggressive and decidedly more American, attitude. Still, the uniforms, use of synthesizers and overarching concept — though Devo proclaimed human de-evolution as opposed to Kraftwerk’s better living through circuitry — showed off a definite influence. As Casale would go on to say, both were using “cerebral concepts and synthesizers.”
9 U2, Neon Lights
U2’s anthemic rock might seem at odds with Kraftwerk’s cool minimalism, but don’t tell that to Bono. His group recorded a cover of Kraftwerk’s gleaming 1978 track Neon Lights as a B-side for the 2004 single Vertigo.
The song has also been covered by Simple Minds, OMD and the Chilean act Señor Coconut y Su Conjunto, who recorded an entire Latin-flavored Kraftwerk tribute album called El Baile Alemán (The German Dance).
Listen to U2 here
Listen to Señor Coconut here
10 David Bowie, V-2 Schneider
Following his flirtation with American R&B that resulted in his Young Americans album in the mid-’70s, Bowie fell head-over-stylish-heels in love with German and electronic music, including Kraftwerk. He and his rock ’n’ roll friend Iggy Pop lived in Germany for a time and both hung out with Kraftwerk a lot.
Bowie made three albums — Low, Heroes and Lodger — that are collectively known as the Berlin Trilogy. It’s considered to be one of his peak creative periods. One of the Heroes tracks is V-2 Schneider, a tribute to Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider.
11 Daft Punk, Around the World
The French duo Daft Punk not only is influenced by Kraftwerk musically (the rhythmic repetition and distorted, robotic voices as heard on this 1997 song) but also in how it present or, more accurately, doesn’t present itself. The two men of Daft Punk never show their faces.
While the guys in Kraftwerk don’t hide under headgear, they avoid the spotlight, do little press and have toyed with the idea of sending out dummies to perform instead of performing themselves (they have used dummies onstage during the song The Robots).
12 Gustavo Cerati and Daniel Melero, Quatro
The late guitarist Gustavo Cerati was the lead singer of one of the most popular bands in Spanish-language rock, Soda Stereo. The Argentine trio could fill stadiums in Latin America and arenas in some U.S. cities.
But when he wasn’t rocking out on guitar, Cerati sometimes experimented with electronics, as he did in his collaboration with Daniel Melero on this propulsive 1992 tune that sampled Kraftwerk’s Sex Object.
More than that, the song’s very name — and also its only lyric — is a salute to the Germans: One of Kraftwerk’s most popular songs is Numbers, in which “one-two-three-four” is repeated in a variety of languages.
Kraftwerk: 3-D Concert
- 8:30 p.m. Saturday
- The Bomb Factory, 2713 Canton St., Dallas