Special to The Express
You probably have no idea who they are, but without them, none of the music you listen to would exist.
After a decade, the foremost pioneers of all things musically electronic, Kraftwerk, returned to the Bay Area on March 23 to show a sold out Fox Theater in Oakland how it’s done. The combination of immersive 3D graphics, booming bass, crystal clear sound and a selection of tracks from the band’s entire 40 year history coalesced into a glorious musical journey that spanned space, the inner world of electricity and the open roads of the German motorways. Plus it was funky as all get out.
Not only did Kraftwerk show their music still has the ability to put a serious boogie in one’s butt, but it when’s it’s all said and done, they proved that they deserve another distinction loftier than being the robot kings of rhythm — pop music prophecy.
Kraftwerk, hailing from Germany and starting in 1974 with the 22-minute title track from their fourth LP “Autobahn” began constructing entire soundscapes almost exclusively with the use of electronic instruments when previously they were used to augment traditional rock music.
On first listen, their music is dreadfully repetitive and nerdy. It seems robotic and detached but then eventually, it clicks in your ears. The track, performed in it’s entirety at the mid-point of the concert, is a warm-sounding, melodic drive across a lush German landscape. Never had driving sounded so triumphant.
The track cemented their central thesis that has carried the band through 40 of the most influential years in music history — man’s symbiotic relationship with technology.
Since the release of that track, they’ve played off of that dynamic, songs that bounce and repeat with a robotic rhythm but always maintain the warmth and emotion of human feeling.
Song after song predicted aspects of technology we enjoy today but were years off in the late 70’s and early 80’s — such as something as simple as hooking up through Facebook on “Computer love” or something as profound and existential as man’s ultimate joining together with the electronic space of the internet on “The Man Machine.”
That was all before there was even the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Not too long afterwards, other musicians started to take notice.
One of hip-hop and Electronic Dance Music’s (EDM) first boundary pushing singles were Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force’s “Planet Rock” in 1982 — a track based off of two Kraftwerk samples, “Trans-Europe Express” and “Numbers,” both of which beautifully banged out of the speakers this Sun. in Oakland. Kraftwerk has been a staple of rap samples for ages since then. Just Google “songs that sample Kraftwerk.” You’ll see.
Righteous jam after righteous jam boomed out of the pristine sound system at the Fox and reminded the audience just how far Kraftwerk has pushed music forward over four decades. They’ve written so many songs that now echo throughout the years in many varied genres. Just check out Jay Z’s “(Always be my) Sunshine” or Coldplay’s “Talk.” Both based entirely around Kraftwerk created hooks.
Just about any hit song played today that uses a synthesizer has it’s roots from the experimentation and striving audio perfectionism of the group.
The two-hour concert served as notice that when it comes to music played on electronic instruments, Kraftwerk is the one true king of creation in the digital realm.