Friday, May 08, 2020

Back to the future

Not for the first time, the death of a musician has left me cringing in shame at my own ignorance. Last week, it was pioneering Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen; this week, it was Kraftwerk founder Florian Schneider.

While I have a rough working knowledge of Kraftwerk, I'm certainly not as familiar with their records and history as all of the tributes to Schneider suggest that any self-respecting music fan should be. (I'd particularly recommend Jude Rogers' for the Quietus, incidentally - complete with references to his shopping trip for asparagus with Iggy Pop and Mute's Daniel Miller buying his vocoder at auction.)

Plenty of bands develop a distinctive sound, but how many can justifiably claim to have invented or at least inspired whole genres? Kraftwerk's adventures in electronica may have spawned everything from synth pop to techno and hip hop, but what's struck me most over the past couple of days is their impeccable punk credentials.

After all, this is a group who were derided or dismissed by uncomprehending rockist critics but who determinedly did their own thing regardless. As their British TV debut underlined, they embraced a DIY ethic, dispensing with "recognisable" instruments in favour of devices they'd made themselves, thereby making a far more radical break with the past than first-wave punk ever did.

That that debut should have come on the BBC's Tomorrow's World is extraordinarily apt, given that what at the time might (must) have seemed to many ears like esoteric and bizarrely alien experiments in sound have come to shape large swathes of the contemporary musical landscape.

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