With the death of Florian Schneider, half of the creative partnership of Kraftwerk leaves the mortal plane for the great synthesizer in the sky. Kraftwerk have been called one of the most influential musical acts of all time — with some musicologists placing them on a plane of innovators that includes The Beatles and Chuck Berry. True, Kraftwerk never wrote a pop hit like “Johnny B. Goode” or “Let It Be.” But from the beginning of their partnership Schneider and his bandmate Ralf Hutter pushed musical boundaries, clearing the way for some of our favorite music. Though known for their use of synthesizers, Kraftwerk’s legacy goes beyond the electronic music they invented and its commercially successful dance genres or anything labeled “techno-” or “electro-“. From the post-punk of Blondie, Joy Division and Depeche Mode up through alternative music including Bjork, Nine Inch Nails, LCD Soundsystem and Radiohead, Kraftwerk has been either an influence or an influence on an influence.
Kraftwerk is also among the most-sampled artists of early hip hop, with crazy German computer beats emanating from house parties in the Boogie Down Bronx.
The group was on the shortlist for the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but didn’t make the cut, which rubbed at least one of the inductees the wrong way. “You see Kraftwerk and Todd Rundgren not get in,” Trent Reznor told Rolling Stone. “It’s like, ‘OK, what’s the criteria here? These guys should absolutely fucking be in there.’ Both of those that I mentioned were hugely influential. I don’t think I would be me had those guys not existed.”
Kraftwerk’s biggest “hit” in the United States was “Autobahn,” which rose to #25 on the pop chart. The 3:28 single version was an edit of the album track, which clocked in at over 22 minutes. Even if you’re familiar with Kraftwerk and “Autobahn,” you might not have seen this gem, an animated music video for a 12-minute edit of “Autobahn.” This 1979 clip was animated by Roger Mainwood, who was one of the army of animators who worked on the 1981 Heavy Metal movie (Mainwood’s segments were “Grimaldi” and “So Beautiful, So Dangerous”).
Years later, Mainwood, who died in 2018, would admit to being “embarrassed” by “Autobahn,” saying that “There was a lot of what you might call ‘psychedelic pop’ imagery around at the time that to be honest never had a great deal of actual meaning to it at all, and I guess I was tapping into that.” That may be the case, but we still like it.
Godspeed along that eternal Autobahn to Florian Schneider and Roger Mainwood.