[Review] Kraftwerk (1970)

They put the “rock” in krautrock with a steady beat and minimalist machine music.

Kronomyth 1.o: Rock on, sonic robots.

1970 was a seminal year for electronic music, as it saw the release of debut albums by Kluster, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Where Kluster and Tangerine Dream created dark symphonies of sound, the music of Kraftwerk is far more direct and accessible. Rock-based drum beats are featured alongside electronics, distorted violins, organ and a rare appearance of the tubon (basically a keytar with a giant tube at one end). There are similarities between the three bands, to be sure, but no one in their right mind would call Electronic Meditation or Klopfzeichen funky, and Kraftwerk is funky in a wonderfully futuristic way a lot of the time.

The opening Ruckzuck begins with mechanical flute-playing that quickly morphs into a hypnotic groove of drums, flute and keyboards. Here is a glimpse of the future, and not in the unholy marriage of circuits and cellos. Stratovarius prominently features the violin (to the surprise of no one) and is a wildly divergent piece that moves from music concrete to an early example of Robert Fripp’s discotronics. There is also some of TD’s exploration of space at work in “Stratovarius.”

Megaherz starts with machines and electrical hum before taking a warmer turn toward Oriental tones featuring flute and tuned percussion. It’s here especially where Kraftwerk’s intimate approach to their music separates them from their classically minded peers. Von Himmel Hoch (which translates as “from Heaven on high”) starts out with calming electronics but soon whips itself into a frenzy that sounds like, for the life of me, frog punk. It’s the only track on here to feature drummer Klaus Dinger, who would go on to form the highly regarded NEU! soon after.

Not being familiar with the early Kraftwerk albums, I expected them to sound more or less like the shapeless, terrifying soundscapes of Tangerine Dream and Kluster. But Kraftwerk is a very different album. The dynamic between Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Eselden isn’t of two improvisers wandering into the electronic fields where space and time don’t exist. It’s direct, purposeful, experimental music with a surprisingly good beat some of the time. It’s also a lot of fun to listen to, which was another unexpected surprise.

Original elpee version

A1. Ruckzuck (7:47)
A2. Stratovarius (12:10)
B1. Megaherz (9:30)
B2. Von Himmel Hoch (10:12)

All compositions by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben.

The Players

Ralf Hütter (organ, tubon), Florian Schneider-Esleben (flute, violin, electric percussion) with Klaus Dinger (drums on B2), Andreas Hohmann (drums on A1/A2). Produced by Kraftwerk and Conrad Plank; engineered by Conrad Plank.

The Pictures

Cover by Ralf Hütter. Photography by Bernhard + Hilla Becher.

The Plastic

Released on elpee in 1970 in Germany (Philips, 6305 058) with gatefold cover.

  1. Re-packaged with Kraftwerk II as Kraftwerk on 2LP in 1972 in the UK (Vertigo, 6641 077) with gatefold cover.
  2. Re-issued on elpee in 1979 in Japan (Philips, BT-8101).
  3. Re-released on 180g red vinyl elpee in 2007 in Italy (Crown, CR-04231).

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