Former KRAFTWERK percussionist Wolfgang Flür needs no introduction.
But the German music project U96 is still best known in the UK for a 1991 techno rework of the theme to the Second World War film epic ‘Das Boot’ composed by Klaus Doldinger.
Formed by DJ Alex Christensen, U96 also included a production team named MATIZ comprising Ingo Hauss, Helmut Hoinkis, and Hayo Lewerentz. U96 were to go on to have a number of Europop oriented hits including ‘Love See No Colour’ featuring Ingo Hauss on lead vocals.
After that, the story got confusing with Alex Christensen returning as U96 in 2006 without MATIZ. Then after a stint reviving BOYTRONIC with James Knights for the ‘Jewel’ album in 2017, Ingo Hauss and Hayo Lewerentz did a 2018 ‘Reboot’ of U96 without Christensen and Hoinkis.
One track featuring on the corresponding long player was ‘Zukunftsmusik’ (translated as “future music”) featuring guest vocals by Wolfgang Flür. Stark and Teutonic with robotic vocoder aesthetics and Flür’s distinctive vocal, the union was equal to ‘Activity Of Sound’, Flür’s collaboration with iEUROPEAN from 2014.
This ultimately planted the seed for this ‘Transhuman’ collaborative double album and ‘Zukunftsmusik’ reappears in an altered ‘Radiophonique’ edit which luckily is not that drastically different from the original version.
A three way musical partnership with a number of melodies created using computer algorithms, the album’s theme is the transformation of people through technology and its interference on Planet Earth. The opening title salvo ‘Transhuman’ is a marvellous slice of technopop with self-referencing namechecks, rich in klassische elektronische Musik that will forever be associated with Kling Klang.
More metronomic, ‘Hamburg – Düsseldorf’ is a trancier club excursion with the title phrase repeated using various vocal source techniques. ‘Specimen’ though is less impressive in its quest for atmospheric techno, but ‘Clone’ is more energetic and threatening although this really could be any instrumental European dance track from the last 30 years.
‘To The Limit’ recalls the Bernard Sumner / Johnny Marr side project ELECTRONIC and the hypnotic bassline from the track ‘Freefall’ and then partly morphs into some of the ‘Electronica’ adventures of Jean-Michel Jarre within the more dance DJ end of the spectrum and BOYZ NOISE’s ‘The Time Machine’ in particular.
‘Zufallswelt’ meaning “random world” takes a less frantic approach which adopts some Far Eastern flavours. Flür returns on lead vocals for ‘Planet In Fever’ and although cut from a similar cloth to ‘Zukunftsmusik’, it is perhaps not as fully realised although the overall sound design is an aural pleasure.
Speaking of which, ‘Shifted Reality’ is very pretty with the sparking ambience of its arpeggios while ‘Kreiselkompass’ is a pleasing second cousin, although again less fulfilled.
Meanwhile ‘Data Landscape’ provides a satisfying percussive tempo to the KOMPUTER pop proceedings and ‘Transhumanist’ is moodier with its sampled grunt but still melodic, glistening away within its crispy backdrop.
‘Sexersizer’ attempts to get saucy with a synthetic female voice asking the listener to “just call my number – you have the choice” over a hard throbbing house bassline, but it doesn’t really get to the point. Similarly ‘Maschinenraum’ utilises a sombre-paced sequencer engine room but the end result is more incidental.
Closing ‘Transhuman’, Ingo Hauss takes the lead vocals on ‘Let Yourself Go’ and it is the Europop U96 of old and anyone who ever danced to ‘Love See No Colour’ in a Hanover disco back in 1993 will adore this one. And if once wasn’t enough, a modern EDM remix by BEATSOLE of ‘Let Yourself Go’ complete with drops comes as an enjoyable bonus, although it sticks out like a sore thumb.
At sixteen tracks, this is a long record and when ‘Transhuman’ excels, it does it very well. But it is stylistically a mixed bag. But does this matter in these days of playlists, when a rather good eight track album can be knocked up with a running order of one’s own choosing?
This is a welcome collaboration between two generations of electronic music but in an attempt to appeal to two quite different audiences, despite the spiritual connection, listeners may find themselves needing to take sides.
Covering a wide variety of niches, KRAFTWERK and U96 fans will find their favourite moments but some careful curation and fewer tracks may have made this collection a more rounded experience.
‘Transhuman’ is released on 4th September 2020 by Radikal Records / UNLTD Recordings as a double red vinyl LP, CD and download
Despite his lukewarm review of NEW ORDER’s ‘Power, Corruption & Lies’ for ‘Smash Hits’, as a fan of their singles, Neil Tennant wrote: “I’m still looking forward to their ‘Greatest Hits’”.
Not appreciating a greatest hits of an artist who you admire is the ultimate in fan snobbery; that they are in a position of being able to release one is often a symbol of wider acclaim and success.
Despite what those too cool for school hipster types would have you believe, when you are 15 years old with just £4 in your hand, if you are choosing a record of an artist who you only know the singles of, you tend to opt for a compilation where possible, that is a fact.
The greatest hits compilation has its place in documenting the immediate appeal of an artist. It can often be the only release that most casual listeners need, especially if the albums were disappointing and featured all the wrong versions of their best songs as was the case with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD.
But then, duos like PET SHOP BOYS and ERASURE were just supreme in the singular format while conversely, there are those like HEAVEN 17 and VISAGE whose best work can be found on their first two albums. However, bands such as NEW ORDER could often be better represented by their singles rather than their albums, as many of them were standalone releases that were not included on their long players which were often quite different in musical style.
Now while something as “commercial” as releasing a greatest hits would have been an anathema to NEW ORDER’s label Factory Records in 1983, flush with unexpected success and cash, Tony Wilson wanted to play their singles using the CD player that came with his brand new Jaguar car.
Thus, the ‘Substance’ compilation was born in 1987; issued in a variety of formats including double vinyl, cassette, DAT and CD, the latter three variants made use of the extra playing time available and included bonuses such as B-sides, tracks only previously issued in Belgium, instrumental versions and those rarely essential dub experiments.
Perhaps not unsurprisingly despite its flaws with re-recordings, edits and omissions, ‘Substance’ has gone on to sell around twelve million copies worldwide and was many fans’ entry point into NEW ORDER.
A good compilation does the job of attracting new fans while providing something extra for long standing fans and completists where possible. New versions or up-to-the-minute remixes of established standards were the fashion for a period but thankfully, this marketing strategy is today generally considered passé and previously unreleased songs are now considered the main draw.
But ultimately, what makes a great greatest hits package is a seamless listening experience, although this is something which even the best acts don’t always get right despite the quality of their best output.
So The Electricity Club takes a personal look at the electronic legacy of greatest hits via twenty notable artist compilation albums, each with valid reasons for their inclusion, presented in yearly and then alphabetical order within. And as one great Northern English philosopher once wrote: “some are here and some are missing…”
ULTRAVOX The Collection (1984)
At the time of release, ‘The Collection’ was novel. Not only did it feature all thirteen Midge Ure-fronted ULTRAVOX singles to date, but in ‘Love’s Great Adventure’, it also included a brand new one too. Yes, 2009’s ‘The Very Best Of’ features four more tracks including the cancelled 1984 single ‘White China’, but honestly who really needs the singles from ‘U-Vox’? ‘The Collection’ was a perfect package that could be played from start to finish, from ‘Dancing With Tears in My Eyes’ to ‘Lament’ via ‘Vienna’.
The ideal DEPECHE MODE greatest hits package would be CD1 of ‘The Singles 86-98’ which ends with the ‘Violator’ 45s coupled with the innocent synthpop period gathered on ‘The Singles 81-85’. But as that doesn’t exist, the very first DM singles compilation wins over thanks to its inclusion of candid photos from the band’s history and some amusing negative review quotes, highlighting that once upon a time, DEPECHE MODE actually had a sense of humour. Oh! Those were the days!
The first compilation ‘New Man Numan’ was a 1982 singles collection that sold poorly as his star turn was on the wane. But by 1987, there was renewed interest in trailblazing exploits of Gary Numan; the ‘Exhibition’ double CD package featured not only his singles up to 1983 but choice album tracks from his imperial Beggars Banquet phase like ‘Metal’ and ‘Remind Me To Smile’ which should have been singles plus rarities like ‘On Broadway’ and B-sides such as ‘Do You Need The Service?’.
CHINA CRISIS had their fourteen track ‘Collection’ of primarily singles released in a wonderful limited edition double CD package with fourteen of their B-sides. Gary Daly and Eddie Lundon were better than their four Top20 hits suggested, with songs like ‘African & White’ and ‘Arizona Sky’ in particular deserving of much higher chart placings. Add in B-sides like ‘No Ordinary Lover’, ‘A Golden Handshake For Every Daughter’ and ‘Dockland’, and you have a near perfect document of their career.
The diminutive Glaswegian never stuck around in his bands for long but he had one of the most recognisable voices in pop, thanks to in his glorious falsetto. So what better than compiling his BRONSKI BEAT and COMMUNARDS singles alongside his solo work? From the poignant commentary on gay rights in songs like ‘Smalltown Boy’ and ‘Why?’ to the HI-NRG covers of disco standards ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’, ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ and ‘Mighty Real’, this was a fine collection.
After 1988’s financially disastrous ‘Spirit Of Eden’, EMI were keen to recoup their investment on the now departed TALK TALK and what better than with a compilation. While primarily based around their hit singles, ‘Natural History’ actually pulled off an accidental masterstroke by including the full-length album versions of songs like ‘Such A Shame’ and ‘Living In Another World’ which had sounded terrible as single edits. This all made for a better listening experience for those new to Mark Hollis and friends.
‘Discography’ gathered all of PET SHOP BOYS singles during what Neil Tennant has always describe as their imperial phase and could rightly be called one of the best greatest hits albums ever. Featuring four UK No1s, there were others like ‘Left To My Own Devices’, Being Boring’ and the Dusty Springfield duet ‘What Have I Done To Deserve This? that were equally as worthy. Later compilations like ‘PopArt’ mighty have ‘Go West’ and more, but ‘Discography’ captures the duo at their most consistent best.
Coming not long after ‘Discography’, ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’ saw ERASURE take on PET SHOP BOYS at their own game. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke may have only had three less UK No1s than Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe but that’s a bit like saying Nigel Mansell wasn’t a good as Nelson Piquet on stats alone. ERASURE have always been a better singles act than they are an album one, but while a second volume was added in 2009, this initial volume is the more essential purchase.
Los Angeles goth industrial specialists Cleopatra Records pulled off a major coup by licencing the music of KRAFTWERK from their then-US label Capitol Records for a compilation album. Covering the period 1975-1978, the main point of interest for Kling Klang enthusiasts was the first time on CD release of ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘The Robots’ and ‘Neon Lights’ in their single edits! ‘The Model’ retrospective was a good introduction to KRAFTWERK for the more cautious consumer.
Liverpool’s FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD are probably the epitome of hype over substance, but in their name came some magnificent ground-breaking singles. For a band who released only two albums, they have been documented more than most already with six greatest hits collections and a plethora of remix packages. The very first one ‘Bang!…’ was undoubtedly the best, serving the Frankie phenomenon in mostly bite size single edit portions with album highlights and perfect for the casual but interested observer.
The first John Foxx compilation ‘Assembly’ in 1992 while welcome, suffered from being selected by the man himself, as artists are not often the best judges of their own work. Much better and more comprehensive was ‘Modern Art’ which gathered all his singles into one place in their correct versions, while also adding a remastered version of the ‘Smash Hits’ flexi-disc ‘My Face’ as a bonus for Foxx aficionados as well as new material from ‘The Pleasures Of Electricity’.
Before Jim Kerr hectored audiences to show them his hands, SIMPLE MINDS were one of the best art rock bands in the UK, swathed in Eurocentric synths and rhythms. ‘Early Gold’ satisfied those who always felt the Glaswegians lost it after ‘New Gold Dream’ by including The Blitz Club anthem ‘Changeling’, the Moroderesque ‘I Travel’ and the glory of ‘Someone Somewhere in Summertime’. However, the magnificent ‘Theme For Great Cities’ is missing but you can’t have it all…
With its hotch-potch of wrong mixes and ordering, the first edition of ‘Singles’ is historically incorrect. But unlike ‘Substance’, it has the correct takes of ‘Ceremony’ and ‘Temptation’. Yes, there’s the album cut of ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ and an edited B-side version of 1963 as well, BUT as a listening experience, CD1 of ‘Singles’ does a better job of capturing NEW ORDER up to the end of 1987. ‘Blue Monday’ remains intact, and while the edit of ‘Thieves Like Us’ is annoying, ‘Confusion’ is more tolerable in abridged form.
First up, there is no ideal JAPAN compilation. But ‘The Very Best Of’ wins over because it was the only one that had the key Ariola Hansa era singles ‘Life In Tokyo’, ‘I Second That Emotion’ and ‘Quiet Life’ alongside the Virgin period that produced ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Nightporter’. However, the clumsy 1980 early fade of ‘Quiet Life’ was included rather than the sharper 1981 hit single edit. Also, were two versions of ‘Ghosts’ necessary when ‘Swing’ could have been dropped in? It all spoilt what potential this compendium had.
DURAN DURAN were described by The Guardian in 2015 as “an electronic band with a heavy rock guitarist bolted on” and that era of the classic Le Bon / Rhodes / Taylor / Taylor / Taylor line-up is captured in this 3CD package largely firing on all cylinders. Originally issued in 2003 as a lavish 13CD boxed set and featuring all their singles, extended versions and B-sides from that period, ‘The Singles 81-85’ is superior to the both the preceding ‘Decade’ and ‘Greatest’ compendiums.
“They only want you when you’re seventeen” sang LADYTRON on their single satirising modern day audition culture and perhaps not coincidently, their ‘Best Of 00–10’ featured that number of tracks. A fine introduction to the quartet via their more immediate songs like ‘Discotraxx’, ‘Playgirl’, ‘Runaway’ and the mighty ‘Destroy Everything You Touch’. Extra points were awarded for the right wing baiting revisionist cover of Nazi folkies DEATH IN JUNE’s ‘Little Black Angel’ in a defiant act of artistic and ideological subversion.
Often seen as Germany’s answer to DEPECHE MODE, CAMOUFLAGE added in elements of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA and have a marvellous back catalogue that is well worth investigating. ‘The Singles’ is a fine introduction, containing their signature song ‘The Great Commandment’ as well as ‘Stranger’s Thoughts’, ‘Love Is A Shield’, ‘Suspicious Love’, ‘Me & You’ plus a great cover of Moon Martin’s ‘Bad News’. With liner notes by The Electricity Club, what more could you want? 😉
Jean-Michel Jarre has several greatest hits albums but they all have been frustrating listens. This has largely been due to his synthesizer symphonies not being suited to sub-three minute edits, a flaw heavily exposed on the ‘Images’ compilation. But ‘Essential Recollection’ collected the French Maestro’s most accessible moments with sympathetic fades that captured the essence of his electronic wizardry. However, 2000’s ‘The Bells’ was odd inclusion in a collection that focussed on his earlier imperial phase.
SOFT CELL Keychains & Snowstorms – The Singles (2018)
No-one expected Marc Almond and Dave Ball to reunite as SOFT CELL for a final show in 2018, but a bigger surprise was a brand new single ‘Northern Lights’ b/w ‘Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)’. Both tracks were included on a new singles compilation which reminded people that SOFT CELL had five UK Top5 singles in just over thirteen months between 1981 and 1982. However, a minus mark gets awarded for using the inferior album mix of ‘Tainted Love’ instead of the chart topping single version!
As with JAPAN, there is no perfect OMD compilation. The brand has had some quite different phases, so means different things to different people. ‘The Best Of’ is still their biggest selling album but the comprehensive ‘Souvenir’ gathers all their singles, from the exemplarly ‘Messages’, ‘Enola Gay’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’ to the more recent ‘Dresden’ and ‘Don’t Go’. But while there’s duffers like ‘Stand Above Me’ and ‘If You Want It’, maybe it’s the ideal time to put those CD programmers and playlists to work!
“Meine Damen und Herren – Ladies and Gentlemen – Heute abend aus Deutschland – Die Mensch Maschine KRAFTWERK”.
Many electronic music fans know KRAFTWERK, but how many know their work in their native language? In days gone by, German editions of KRAFTWERK albums were sought after but expensive in the UK. School exchange trips often left little pocket money spare to make a purchase after buying the obligatory gifts for family.
But the ‘Computerwelt’ that KRAFTWERK predicted in 1981 has led to ‘Trans Europa Express’, ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’, ‘Computerwelt’, ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ and ‘The Mix’ (in Deutsch) being made available openly outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland for the first time. With the recent passing of founder member Florian Schneider, this wider international digital release of KRAFTWERK’s albums in German is particularly poignant.
Desiring a new Germanic cultural identity ignoring Trans-Atlantic rock traditions, KRAFTWERK fused sound and technology, graphic design and performance, modernist Bauhaus aesthetics and Rhineland industrialisation to conceive a Gesamtkunstwerk or “synthesis of the arts” that was to change the course of modern music.
Of course, KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough record ‘Autobahn’ in 1974 was unique in being very German but the willingness to gain a wider acceptance, particularly in the US, led to the bilingual format of its follow-up ‘Radio-Aktivität’ in 1975.
However, the ‘Radio-Aktivität’ title song was notoriously ambiguous in both English and German. The stance infuriated the increasingly strong Green political lobby in the Bundesrepublik. Meanwhile, KRAFTWERK did not help their cause by controversially having promotional photographs taken at a Dutch nuclear installation.
But in 1991, KRAFTWERK stopped sitting on the fence and notably reworked the track for ‘The Mix’ to contain an explicit anti-nuclear message to “STOP RADIO-AKTIVITÄT” while also highlighting the tragedies and disasters in Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield and Hiroshima.
Developing from the alles Deutsch ‘Autobahn’, ‘Trans Europa Express’ was the first KRAFTWERK album that was released in distinct standalone English and German versions.
Perhaps the most lyrical of all their imperial phase long players, it manifested an accessible spirit of cultural adventure In KRAFTWERK, thanks to their central European location in Düsseldorf.
Deep inside their psyche, ‘Europa Endlos’ was a forward thinking piece that, despite its nostalgic romanticism. was aspiring to a continent without borders that supported a vision of peace and unity. The syllable count on the title hook was more of a mouthful compared with the English version but the 10 minute journey was still glorious in whatever language.
Effectively a spoken word piece with a subtle footstep backbone, ‘Spiegelsaal’ worked like an original Brothers Grimm tale set to music. But with ‘Schaufensterpuppen’, the tight punchy rhythms complimented KRAFTWERK’s Teutonic lyrical sentiment in response to criticism that when performing live, they did not move and acted like showroom dummies. But of course, relishing the opportunity to turn a negative statement into their own positive, they revolted while “Wir gehen in den Club und wir fangen an zu Tanzen”.
By 1978, the classic KRAFTWERK line-up of Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos were at the height of their powers with ‘Trans Europa Express’ becoming an unexpected favourite on the New York dancefloors.
‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ possessed a sense of humour which was very apparent in ‘Das Modell’, already made third person gender thanks to the German quirk of the neuter designation for girls. KRAFTWERK were enjoying their local VIP status and stalking the Mora discotheque in Düsseldorf for attractive models and hoping to impress them.
Regularly taking their orders for expensive champagne, the club’s resident eccentric waiter was invited to Kling Klang to butt in and shout “SEKT! KORREKT!”, satisfied that he was earning even more commission.
‘Neonlicht’ though remains fabulous in Englisch oder Deutsch while on the title track, “Halb Wesen und halb Ding” translated directly as “Half being and half thing”.
The Giorgio Moroder-inspired ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’ though displayed Hütter’s minimalist interest in lyrics by preferring vocal expression using just singular words, but ‘Die Roboter’ made use of the Russian phrase “Я твой слуга – “Я твой работник” to reinforce KRAFTWERK’s view that they were Musikarbeiter or “musical workers”.
But 1981’s ‘Computerwelt’ was the one album though that lost some of its Germanic impact by being worked into English, with simple nursery rhyme lyrics being coupled to probably KRAFTWERK’s most accessible work in their history.
On the title track in particular, the darker more sinister implications of surveillance were highlighted in German.
While “Interpol und Deutsche Bank, FBI und Scotland Yard” paralleled the English version, there was the addition of “Flensburg und das BKA” who are respectively Germany’s DVLA and Federal Crime Agency.
The phrase “Haben unsere Daten da” highlighted how those security and financial institutions held personal data. ’Computerwelt’ may have been written nearly 40 years ago but the consequences of its prophecy are very relevant discussion points today.
But there was more in die Kristallkugel; substituting one of the bridging “Computer World” phrases with “Denn Zeit ist Geld”, die Musikarbeiter concluded that “time is money…”; this was before “Automat und Telespiel – Leiten heute die Zukunft ein – Computer für den Kleinbetrieb – Computer für das Eigenheim” anticipated that “Arcade games and video consoles introduce the future today, with computers for small businesses and computers for the home…”
Launched using their own KRAFTWERK branded Casio VL-80 musical calculator, ‘Taschenrechner’ had its own charm but would go on to be surpassed in affection by ‘Dentaku’ and ‘Mini Calcolatore’, respectively versions in Japanese and Italian. Meanwhile, the wonderful masterpiece ‘Computer Liebe’ mirrored the sentiment of the English translation, although the harsher intonation made the sentiment less forlorn and sympathetic.
However, ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’ remained Anglophile in its sentiment, while ‘Nummern’ and ‘Computerwelt 2’ were identical to the ‘English’ versions thanks to their international counting calls, although eagle-eared enthusiasts will have noted an extra “eins – zwei – drei – vier” dropped into the fade.
In the interim, there was what became an standalone single in ‘Tour De France’ released in 1983. The original was in French anyway and was rendered rather pointless in German as all the place names mentioned as part of the race route were in France anyway! Remixed by François Kevorkian in 1984, the New York-based Frenchman was recruited to help mix their next album which ‘Tour De France’ had originally been intended to be part of.
On the much delayed ‘Techno Pop’ née ‘Electric Café’ for 1986, ‘Der Telefon Anruf’ was distinctly more impactful in German with Karl Bartos making an impressive turn in his only vocal performance for KRAFTWERK. But the assertive automated phone messages became an even more sharpened metaphor for female empowerment.
Touching on a similar theme, ‘Sex Objekt’ was an ironic response that originated from one of the band making unwanted advances on a lady in a club. Now while it is amusing to hear Herr Hütter’s disdain at being treated as an object of lust, it’s the overlong passage of KRAFTWERK hacking through various slap bass, guitar and percussive presets like an online Yamaha DX7 tutorial that is now funnier!
However, tracks like ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ and ‘Musique Non Stop’ were phonetic and multi-lingual so language was no longer a barrier as the world got smaller and smaller. But with the lack of a sufficiently intriguing theme on ‘Electric Café’ proving underwhelming, KRAFTWERK lost crucial momentum creatively. And so it was that the classic RFWK line-up had split by the time of 1991’s ‘The Mix’, a largely disappointing digital rework collection of Die Klassik Werks that dated within a year.
However, it would be fair to say by this time KRAFTWERK had transcended their nationality and were no longer just a German band, but actually the most influential act on the planet. They could now present their work in any language and it no longer mattered.
Indeed, when ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ came out in 2003, there was no German or English edition.
There was just one release for all markets and the voices on it just happened to be in French; KRAFTWERK’s dream of ‘Europa Endlos’ was now reality.
In 1977, KRAFTWERK sang “Das Leben ist Zeitlos” or “Life is timeless” and now after five decades since releasing their self-titled debut album, so is their music.
Florian Schneider, co-founder of KRAFTWERK has sadly passed away at the age of 73 after a period of critical illness.
Born into a wealthy Düsseldorf family, his father was Paul Schneider-Esleben, a noted modernist archictect who had designed the Mannesmann-Hochhaus and Cologne-Bonn Airport.
Florian Schneider studied at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid where he met Ralf Hütter in 1968 during a jazz improvisation course. They formed the experimental group ORGANISATION who released just one album ‘Tone Float’ as a five piece in 1970 on RCA.
However, determined to have more control over their future musical endeavours, the pair formed KRAFTWERK and issued two self-titled albums in 1970 and 1972 under the helm of Conny Plank, each featuring colour variations of the now-iconic traffic cone emblazoned on the artwork. However, the story might have turned out differently in-between those two records.
Photo by Maurice Seymour
Hütter left in 1971 to continue his studies, leaving Schneider to continue performing under the KRAFTWERK name with Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, although they soon left to form NEU!
But Hütter rejoined Schneider and they began to use pre-programmed rhythm units instead of a conventional drummer and headed towards a cleaner, more minimal path that was less kosmische and rock, certainly compared with their German contemporaries.
The pair acquired their first synthesizers in time for 1973’s ‘Ralf & Florian’ and while Hütter took ownership of a Minimoog, Schneider favoured the ARP Odyssey alongside his trusty flute.
KRAFTWERK’s breakthrough came with the more electronically driven ‘Autobahn’ in 1974, their final album with Conny Plank and the rest is history. Their appearance on the BBC1 science magazine show ‘Tomorrow’s World’ notably ended with a knowing grin from Schneider, as if he was plotting to change the course of popular music…
‘Autobahn’ was a surprise hit as an edited single in the US and with that came opportunities for touring across the Atlantic. The addition of electronic percussionists Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos formed the classic quartet line-up of KRAFTWERK which released the highly revered long players ‘Radio-Activity’, ‘Trans-Europe Express’, The Man Machine’ and ‘Computer World’.
These records were to forever change the musical landscape and influence generations of musicians in synthpop, hip-hop and dance. In the UK, KRAFTWERK finally got the recognition they deserved when their 1978 recording ‘The Model’ reached No1 in the singles chart in 1982, demonstrating just how ahead of their time they had been. Without KRAFTWERK, it is almost certain that TUBEWAY ARMY, ULTRAVOX, OMD, DEPECHE MODE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, SOFT CELL and NEW ORDER would not have pursued electronics as a means of artistic expression.
But despite being considered the godfathers of modern music, things were not well in die Mensch Maschine. Ralf Hütter’s cycling accident in 1983 led to the cancellation of the ‘Techno Pop’ album during an existential crisis in their Kling Klang studio complex. The eventual reworked album ‘Electric Café’ in 1986 was a disappointment and precipitated the departures of first Flür and then Bartos.
Schneider stayed loyal to Hütter and although both ‘The Mix’ and ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ were considered underwhelming works artistically, KRAFTWERK were in demand as a live spectacle, with a notable appearance at Tribal Gathering in 1997 as well as undertaking their own successful headlining tours.
However, Schneider was known to suffer from stage fright and disliked the rigors of touring. Even within KRAFTWERK, he had become less involved in the writing process from 1977 and preferred to explore vocal processing, voice colouring technology using vocoders and speech synthesis using Votrax type ’n’ speak machines as debuted on the ‘Radio-Activity’ album and later a Texas Instruments language translator for ‘Computer World’.
Florian Schneider undoubtedly complimented KRAFWERK’s robotic image with a suitably futuristic audio aesthetic. Having not appeared with KRAFTWERK since 2006 due it was said to work on other projects, it was confirmed officially that he had left the band in November 2008.
Although enigmatic, Schneider’s eccentric persona won him a lot of fans, as indicated by the number of music pieces dedicated to him. David Bowie titled the ‘Heroes’ instrumental ‘V-2 Schneider’ as a tribute after the two bonded over a mutual love of vintage Mercedes cars and TUXEDOMOON’s Blaine L Reininger recorded the song ‘Rolf and Florian Go Hawaiian’ for his ‘Byzantium’ album in 1987. Meanwhile in 2009, British duo KATSEN released the single ‘Florian’ which musically was more than a musical homage to ‘Kometenmelodie 2’ from ‘Autobahn’.
Over the years, Schneider continued to cycle and visit music technology shows but there was no music. However in 2016, Schneider broke his musical silence and collaborated with Dan Lacksman from TELEX on the track ‘Stop Plastic Pollution’ to highlight the issue of ocean environment conservation as part of the campaign Parley For The Oceans.
Photo by Lutz Hilgers
More recently, Schneider had become less reclusive. He was photographed by Lutz Hilgers for the January 2017 edition of The Heritage Post in a variety of relaxed poses including riding tandem with a lady in a scenario that delightfully provoked the outrage of the German right wing. He was also spotted having coffee with Robert Görl of DAF and had been photographed in a friendly reconciliation with Wolfgang Flür.
It looked as though Florian Schneider had been enjoying his retirement from the music business, but was happy to use his profile for causes close to his heart. He was a true innovator who can rightly be called a legend for his part presenting an intelligent alternative to rock ‘n’ roll via KRAFTWERK’s concept for industrielle Volksmusik.
HILTIPOP is a comparatively new name in electronic pop but the man behind it is something of a veteran in the Swedish music scene.
Magnus Johansson cut his teeth as a member of ANTON WEBER, UZIEL 33 and TOPGUN but was also a member of 101, a DEPECHE MODE tribute band with members of S.P.O.C.K which reimagined what might have happened had Vince Clarke not left. But Johansson’s best known project internationally has probably been ALISON, a duo with Karin Bolin Derne that naturally paid homage to YAZOO.
Following their album ‘Duality’, ALISON went into hiatus and Johansson began working on solo material under the HILTIPOP umbrella. A triumphant early afternoon slot at Electronic Summer 2015 in Gothenburg showed great promise, but it would be 2018 before ‘The Pattern’ emerged, showcasing Johansson’s sombre darker-tinged pop style fused to a backdrop reminiscent of KRAFTWERK circa ‘Computer World’.
Two new singles ‘For Love’ and ‘Agogo’ have just been released, so Magnus Johansson took time out to kindly chat about HILTIPOP and his influences…
You first became known to some in the UK for your YAZOO-influenced duo ALISON who released an album ‘Duality’ in 2010; so what led you down the path of HILTIPOP?
HILTIPOP started out as a wordplay of my middle name, Hilti, back in the days when I did TOPGUN. TOPGUN was initially an electroclash quartet with ‘hits’ like ‘Star’ and ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik’ ending up on different compilations in 2003-2004.
During the recording of the first album 2005, the band transformed into my own solo project and as such, the music turned a lot darker and heavier, like a mix between industrial electro and EBM maybe… and with tracks like ‘Honey’ and ‘Alive’, the ‘TopGun Vs Hiltipop Rewired’ album emerged from that. And ever since, I kept the name for myself when not doing TOPGUN stuff.
ALISON also started out during this period in time with the obvious blueprint of YAZOO, hence the name. In Spring 2015, five years after the release of ‘Duality’, Karin and me got back together with an outspoken ambition to create new songs for ALISON. I demoed instrumental versions of ‘The Pattern’ and a couple of other songs, but they didn’t really fit the ALISON-formula so I decided to finish them on my own.
The thing is, since I had Karin’s voice in my head doing some of the demos, I ended up trying to sing like her, which I obviously can’t, but I guess it kind of works…
What have been the main differences in approach for you?
The main difference is that Karin can come up with spectacular melodies and vocals to any music, and I can’t, so as a result – when I do decide to sing – my melodies and vocals are more like an extra instrument, not so much a lead singer doing what he or she does best. And the song structures are worlds apart. ALISON is classic synthpop with really catchy choruses to sing along with, HILTIPOP most definitely is not.
‘Duality’ really still stands up after 10 years though!
I’m still proud of it and listening to it now, it makes me wonder how we got it all together sound wise… obviously by listening too much to ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ but so much more to ‘Speak & Spell’, and then trying to make my Pro-One sound like Vince Clarke’s, which never happened so I did most if it by sampling my Yamaha gear 😉
Who are the main electronic pop influences in shaping HILTIPOP?
John Carpenter, without a doubt! And all the old rockers trying to make it on the disco scene in the late 1970s, like Rod Stewart with ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ and EXILE with ‘How Could This Go Wrong’. Amazing stuff!
But the first track I recorded was ‘The Pattern’ and it really started out as an idea to make a dancefloor killer like ‘Jungle Love’ with Morris Day and THE TIME. Other than that, nowadays it´s not so much ‘electronic pop’ that influences the shape of HILTIPOP… it’s more about the electronics, the gear, the synths and the drum machines! That’s my main source of inspiration.
I love buying used gear, especially old drum machines. Going through the former owners’ patterns and finding completely weird and seemingly useless stuff that I can mix with the beats I want is always rewarding!
Apart from that it always comes down to one band and one track: SIMPLE MINDS and ‘Theme For Great Cities’! It´s the most perfect track ever recorded. And everything KRAFTWERK of course! In modern days, it´s still the Germans…
Without Anthony Rother, I’d still be making synthpop. And WESTBAM and the album ‘Götterstrasse’, the first time I listened to it, I was like “This is what HILTIPOP should sound like…” but at the end of the day, I’m well aware it doesn’t and I’m fine with that.
You appeared alone with just a backing track on a bright afternoon outside at Electronic Summer 2015 in Gothenburg where you impressed the crowd who also included Darrin Huss of PSYCHE. What can you remember about that performance?
I was extremely nervous! I had a frozen left shoulder and couldn’t really move and dance.
So I just hopped around the stage like a moron trying to sing as well as possible. But it was really fun! And then I met Darrin backstage and we spent hours discussing the genius of German record producer and songwriter Frank Farian and his masterpiece that is BONEY M!
So why has it taken so long to release material as HILTIPOP?
Life, haha! It’s been a while since Electronic Summer 2015 for sure. I had a couple of songs that I was proud of back then. After that I just never managed to get it right album wise… but now, with new material on the way, it’s all starting to make sense.
‘The Pattern’ was on the ‘Romo Night Records Vol1’ compilation that came out in 2018, what is the song about and why did you choose to finally make your debut release on that sampler?
The song is about me trying to find true love, as always!
My so-called lyrics have been the same in every song I’ve made since my first band ANTON WEBER back in 1985… just Google it or whatever and you’ll hear for yourself, it’s all “love love love, but it ain’t gonna happen…”
But really, ‘The Pattern’ debuted on 12” vinyl prior to the ‘Romo Night Records Vol1’ compilation. The magnificent Luke Eargoggle released the instrumental version on his Swedish electro label Stilleben in March 2018. It sold out so fast that even I didn’t get a copy!
‘For Love’ is an octave bass driven synthpop tune which comes in classic 12 inch extended version? So you’re not a fan of that modern remix madness where the reinterpretation has very little relation to the original song? Are you quite old fashioned in that respect?
I’m not old fashioned, just old! So old that I bought the original ‘Blue Monday’ with the expensive die-cut sleeve when it was released. And that track is absolute perfection; 7 and a half minutes long! Just love it. The same with ‘Jo’s So Mean’ with THE FLOWERPOT MEN… okey, it clocks in about 5:33 or something but it’s just a perfect long song, almost. Just a minute or two longer it would have been, well even longer and better…
Modern remixes are just meaningless. I love the old extended 12” versions from the 80s! Me and my brother Jay-Jay had this discussion just a few days ago, so I have my three favourites already listed: SPK ‘Metal Dance’ is by far my number 1, THE ART OF NOISE ‘Moments in Love’, GO WEST ‘We Close Our Eyes’, DEPECHE MODE ‘Shake the Disease’ and ‘Strangelove’.
What are your synthesizers of choice for HILTIPOP? Where do you sit on the hardware versus software debate?
The Roland Juno 60, always and the Prophet Rev-2, almost always.
But all of my synthesizers are always up and running, so I play and record the same parts live on different synths and keep the ones that work.
And I don’t debate! I use the Korg iPolysix all the time and it sounds like… well, ‘The Pattern’ is more or less recorded using only just that app!
‘The Pattern’ B-side ‘Looking Up From Down Below’ has a haunting melancholic feel, like an abstract OMD instrumental.
Finally someone who recognises it except me! I started out trying to make this Bowie/Eno-style ambient track and ended up with a melodic part in ‘Stanlow’-land by mistake and just went for it…
‘Hiltiheart’, the B-side of ‘For Love’ is perhaps more techno than synthpop and has some similarities in parts to ‘Blue’ by LATOUR which was used in the infamous night club scene in ‘Basic Instinct’, is that a coincidence?
In hindsight, you’re probably right… but it all started out, like so often, just playing around with the theme from ‘Theme For Great Cities’. Then I added the sampled sonar-like sound and I just went “plopp plopp plopp plopp – plop” and remembered it quite clearly from somewhere… then, boom! I re-watched ‘Basic Instinct’ the same day and felt quite guilty, in a positive way.
What’s going to happen to great songs like ‘Lick My Wounds’ which you showcased in Gothenburg and others like ‘The Man’ which have been previewed on Soundcloud? Is a long form EP or album on the way?
‘Lick My Wounds’ is remixed and ready for release as we’re talking! But I still haven’t decided in what format… probably an album; ‘The Man’ is still a big maybe.
I kind of like the idea of releasing a ‘proper’ A-side track in two versions and a weird but reasonably susceptible ‘B-side’ on Spotify, as I’m doing now.
Like in the early 80s when bands dared to experiment with the B-sides… ULTRAVOX, DEPECHE MODE and so on… ‘Passionate Reply’, ‘I Never Wanted to Begin’ and ‘Paths & Angles’ or ‘Oberkorn (It’s a Small Town)’ and ‘The Great Outdoors!’; my life wouldn’t have been the same without these!
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to HILTIPOP