'Watching Kraftwerk perform ‘Tanzmusik’ on early 1970s German TV gives a pretty good indication as to why the group are often celebrated as pioneers of modern electronic dance music and pop music more broadly.
Besides Ralf Hütter’s uncanny resemblance to Skrillex and the somewhat prophetic title of the track, it is the primitive drum machines, synthesized effects and easily accessible melodies that seem to offer a prototype dance recipe.
Kraftwerk were of course not alone in developing this blueprint for future music, but their influence is readily traceable.
The explicit influence of bands like Kraftwerk (for better or worse) is obvious through the endless sampling of their music: New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’ & Coldplay’s ‘Talk’, to name a few.
Kraftwerk’s implicit influence is sometimes harder to perceive but is felt through the growing gap between music and musician. The pre-eminence of DAWs over physical instruments as go to tools in the construction of songs, or the sound laboratory, was a German dream.
The trend of increasing anonymity in electronic music, (think Aphex Twin, Daft Punk, Gorillaz and more recently the phenomenon of Vocaloid artists, as documented in Billie JD Porter’s Channel 4 series ‘Sound and Vision’) all have their roots in Kraftwerk’s ‘Man Machine’.
Kraftwerk’s enduring success seems to originate in their readiness to draw upon disparate art forms and technologies to create.
In that 1973 TV recording of Kraftwerk performing ‘Tanzmusik’ this is clear. The non-accidental positioning of a traffic cone at the back of the stage hints at their debt to the Bauhaus movement. An echo affected flute running through a sound manipulation module evokes the musique concrete of the 40s.
Fast forward to 2017 and we can ask the following question: are those dreaming up the future of music today any better placed to innovate and inspire than their predecessors?
The internet has enabled a proliferation of experimentation through audience led platforms like Myspace, Soundcloud and Bandcamp. Beyond crude portmanteau genres, potential for collaboration and discovery seems genuine and endlessly fruitful. Music production is more accessible than it has ever been and music communities are able to form and flourish independent of geographical location.
However, changes in the ways we create and consume music continue to shake up the financial viability of making a career in music, perhaps to the detriment of artists themselves. The enduring legacy of streaming services, volatile social media activity and targeted, algorithmic advertising remains unclear. As Justin Robertson acknowledges, ‘models are in flux’.
For Robertson, musician, DJ, producer, and thinker, making music seems ‘more of a labour of love than it was in the past’. He acknowledges that bands like Kraftwerk were lucky to have existed ‘in a particular moment in history, when there was a music industry’. Yet he is hopeful that ‘something will emerge that allows people to make a life in music, because it's essential to have a thriving culture’.
Through uncertainty around the state and future of the music industry opportunities arise. Perhaps a synthesis of different art forms and technology akin to that which defined Kraftwerk’s brilliance will offer a new vision for a prosperous environment for music culture to flourish in.'