Tag: Uwe Schütte

KRAFTWERK Future Music From Germany

Uwe Schütte is a noted KRAFTWERK scholar who curated the first ever conference on the iconic German pioneers in 2015.

A Reader in German at Aston University in Birmingham where he teaches and researches contemporary Austrian and German literature, the writer W.G. Sebald and German popular music, in 2017 he compiled ‘German Pop Music: A Companion’, a 270 page book discussing the post-war musical landscape of the country and its influence internationally.

Published as part of the Penguin on Design series, his new book ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music from Germany’ offers a German perspective of die Kling Klang Quartett in English.

This is the story of Die Mensch-Maschinen as a cultural phenomenon told crucially from a local point of view. Of particular significance in Schütte’s premise is the context of how after the Second World War, Germany was divided in two with the atrocities it committed very much in the minds of its population. Frankfurt and Nuremberg were occupied by the US Army while in Der Rheinland, Düsseldorf itself had the presence of the British Army; it was within this context that KRAFTWERK emerged.

Schütte discusses how since the Second World War, young Germans are educated about the Nazi atrocities and The Holocaust with the emphasis on peace and prevention of further conflict. Compare that to the British attitude to recent history where heroism and bravado are celebrated with war monuments, where Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists is considered a flawed man of the people (see the ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ song sketch from 1980), Edward VIII is seen as the king who gave up his throne for love rather than as the spying Nazi sympathiser he actually was and British Empire inventions such as the concentration camp are conveniently glossed over.

With a desire for 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.

Düsseldorf is just half an hour to Belgium and The Netherlands, and an hour to Paris so an accessible spirit of cultural adventure was to manifest itself in the creative minds of Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, thanks to their location and education. ‘Autobahn’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’ were deep inside their psyche, while ‘Europe Endless’ was forward thinking despite its nostalgic romanticism and dreamt of a continent without borders that supported a vision of peace and unity.

KRAFTWERK’s role as cross-cultural ambassadors was not just restricted to Europe, as urban America in particular embraced their vision and adapted it to their own forms as they became the bridge between electronic pop and dance music, having already straddled a line between improvisation and pop.

But while KRAFTWERK had been assertive in confronting and reclaiming aspects of Germany’s past, they could be vague when looking at their country’s more immediate future. One interesting aspect is Schütte’s account of how KRAFTWERK upset the powerful anti-nuclear lobby in Germany with their ambiguous lyricism on the song ‘Radio-Activity’ when originally released in 1975. The band did not help their situation by having promotional images photographed in atomic power installations.

But in 1991, KRAFTWERK reworked the track for ‘The Mix’ to contain an explicit anti-nuclear message to “STOP RADIOACTIVITY” while also highlighting the tragedies and disasters in Chernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield and Hiroshima; it was then updated in 2012 to mention Fukushima as part of the ‘No Nukes’ event in Japan put together by Ryuichi Sakamoto.

The artistic tensions that have led to Ralf Hütter remaining as the sole member from the classic RFWK line-up and KRAFTWERK effectively stalling as a creative force musically are given a positive slant by Schütte, despite only one album of new material appearing since 1986’s ‘Electric Café’ / ‘Techno Pop’ adventure.

A music paper once wrote about KRAFTWERK’s music “it’s good but is it rock and roll?” – well, of course it isn’t, THAT’S THE POINT! While KRAFTWERK have been less than productive on the new material front, they have continued their pursuit of modernism in the spirit of the Bauhaus movement, unifying art and technology, pushing forward innovations in 3D visuals and surround sound.

KRAFTWERK have certainly not done anything like going backwards to allow the turgid interference of drums and guitars to dominate their live sound in the way DEPECHE MODE have in their desperate attempts at validation from the predictable narrow-minded standpoint of the rock community. When Ralf Hütter was once asked by a British journalist whether KRAFTWERK songs could be played on an acoustic guitar, he gave the question the disdain it deserved and wryly replied “I play keyboards!”?

KRAFTWERK are the ultimate anti-rock icons. To that end, if they were to be inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, it would destroy everything their cultural legacy as pioneers of electronic music has established and make them just another boring rock band.

Uwe Schütte talked about what makes ‘KRAFTWERK Future Music from Germany’ unique, as well as how he believes the band’s legacy and future will play out.

There are already books on the history of KRAFTWERK, by Pascal Bussy, Tim Barr and David Buckley, among others, why does the world need another?

Yes, the three KRAFTWERK B-boys, as I call them in my book… Well, the books might share the same topic, but are all very different. Barr’s book is outdated, Bussy’s too. Buckley’s book does not use the many available sources in German, for example. And he focuses less on the performance history aspect. It is a very good book, but written by a British person for a British reading audience. My book translates the German cultural phenomena that is KRAFTWERK for an Anglophone readership.

Your book has a focus on design and image?

That is another distinguishing feature of ‘Future Music from Germany’. I treat KRAFTWERK as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a total work of art that exceeds music and performance and also incorporates the visual dimension: from the cover designs to today’s complete audio-visual package at the 3D concerts.

As borne out by the back photo on the original German Philips release of ‘Autobahn’, KRAFTWERK had long hair but had it cut short for the concert tour. How and why did this come about?

Ralf Hütter wanted to give KRAFTWERK a more sober, cleaner image, to distance the band from received notions of how a rock band should look and sound.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK rather likes the vintage suit look of ‘Trans Europe Express’. Which image was your favourite?

I love it, too, and discuss how I first saw the poster of the band members sitting at an outdoor café in their conservative attire in the book. I found it truly odd.

How important was Emil Schult’s graphical and musical contributions to the band?

Very, very important. And much underrated. I try to put the record straight.

You make an interesting observation as to how the original German lyrics to the ‘Computerwelt’ title track are more complex and sinister in their now timely observation of how data is being used and manipulated, compared with the simplified almost nursery rhyme take in English?

Yes, it is important to me to alert English-language readers to the differences between the two languages. I listened to KRAFTWERK singing in German for almost 40 years. They were essentially the only band using my native language – as a German, I equated pop music with English lyrics.

The reissues that made up ‘Der Katalog’ boxed set were quite revisionist on many levels. Was this necessary or an enhancement of the legend in your eyes?

Very necessary, albeit not perfectly done. I discuss KRAFTWERK as an ongoing, evolving art project, and the design changes were an important update of the Gesamtkunstwerk.

There were all the stories of Wolfgang Flür being written out of ‘Der Katalog’, but of course the irony is that Wolfgang’s face was cropped onto the face of Emil Schult for the back photo on the original German Philips release of ‘Autobahn’…

Yes, nothing new there. Karl Bartos was essentially eliminated from the oeuvre, too. But, although this is a dubious move on a moral level, it is a great improvement on an artistic level: the KRAFTWERK concept is all about eliminating personal, individual factors and foregrounding man-machine qualities.

If you read between the lines though, it would appear that Wolfgang Flür hasn’t actually contributed to a KRAFTWERK recording since 1978?

True, but he was important, as was Emil Schult, in various aspects that contributed to the success of the band project. My book, however, is little concerned with gossip or the human frailties or personalities issues at stake. The other books take care if that. As an academic, my interest lies in the conceptual ideas that dominate KRAFTWERK: the notion of the man-machine, the idea of the robot as its avatar, the Gesamtkunstwerk concept and such like.

What was your take on how Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür approached their autobiographies?

Well, I took next to no info from Flür’s book and quoted Bartos’ a few times concerning technical and musical info, on which he is very good indeed. I definitely preferred Bartos’ book.

As far as maintaining their own parts of the KRAFTWERK legacy, Karl Bartos at least performs his KRAFTWERK co-writes alongside his new compositions live, but Wolfgang Flür peddles that rather tedious ‘Musik Soldat’ DJ set accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation. Do you agree?

To be honest, I haven’t seen either show so far. I prefer to go to KRAFTWERK concerts, to be honest. I liked the ‘Off The Record’ album, though.

Karl Bartos was KRAFTWERK’s Alan Wilder, discuss…

True. Next question.

Do you think KRAFTWERK’s refusal to collaborate with other musicians (eg Michael Jackson) has been a hindrance or help to the band?

Provided the rumour re Michael Jackson is true at all… Bowie certainly looked for cooperation, and I am pretty curious about how the music they would have made would have sounded… but ultimately it was of course the right decision to turn down all offers and stay strictly true to the concept.

How much longer do you think KRAFTWERK can continue with their 3D / graphics based show? The template for this has been in place for over 15 years now…

Hopefully still for many, many years. As soon as Hütter won’t be able to perform for health reasons, the game will be over anyway. What I am truly curious about is which, if any, precautions he has taken to ensure the KRAFTWERK project continues beyond that point. Maybe a permanent exhibition of the “musical paintings” at a museum?

What still drives Ralf? Surely he could rest on his laurels and appreciate the band’s legacy?

Florian Schneider’s departure in 2008 was the best thing that could have happened to KRAFTWERK. It gave Ralf Hütter the opportunity to start touring extensively and to take their amazing show to as many people as possible. The man-machine concept only comes alive if KRAFTWERK perform their shows on stage. Admittedly, I begin to tire of it a little, having now seen it some 15 times or more, but everyone who sees it for the first time is blown away, and rightly so!

We now live in a technological era of the virtual pop star eg HATSUNE MIKU + GORILLAZ… can you see a time when Ralf and co “retire” and send robots out on tour instead of them?

No, not really. Though I would go and see it, for “professional reasons”, as it were, it would not really interest me.

KRAFTWERK were left behind musically and technologically a long time ago. Is there anything you can see the band doing to help reclaim their crown in this era or has that time come and gone now?

This question excludes the crucial and decisive visual aspect. KRAFTWERK are still at the forefront of music: There is hardly a better electronic music concert experience around than their 3D audio-visual package with the full wave-field synthesis sound system. I went to see MODEL 500 recently in Berlin. They are proof that Detroit techno is well past its prime. And a cheap KRAFTWERK performance imitation.

If KRAFTWERK did release an album, what concepts could they possibly use in it? There was a rumour a few years ago about a bio-fuels theme…

Ah, interesting, I hadn’t heard that rumour. I speculate about themes such as AI, genetic manipulation and other post-humanist ideas that would fit with the robot and man-machine concept. But all of this is idle speculation. What I hope for, though, is another EP in the vein of ‘Expo 2000’… Or some officially approved remixes, like the ones by HOT CHIP.

You have this theory in the book that there will never be a new KRAFTWERK album because of the magic number 8?

And it is very convincing, don’t you agree? And what is even more convincing is the fact that Hütter, even if aided by Fritz Hilpert, would not be able to pull off the feat of making an album full of exciting new tracks that would exceed, or even match the existing ones.

Why do you think Ralf appears to distance himself from the first three KRAFTWERK albums so much, to the point where he sees ‘Autobahn’ as a “year zero” for the band?

Yes, of course, it is part of the myth, though Florian Schneider was no different.

What are your opinions on RAMMSTEIN’s version of ‘The Model’?

Don’t get me started. I hate it, and I hate RAMMSTEIN, not because of their sh*tty music, which I am not bothered about, but because their records and videos promote nationalist political thinking in Germany. The band purposely encourages right-wing agendas.

I am not fussed about people abroad liking the music, or even thinking that the Teutonic clichés these millionaire musicians peddle have anything to do with Germany or German culture.

KRAFTWERK have once again been overlooked at not inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Do you have an opinion on this?

Yes, I do: It is a disgrace.

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Uwe Schütte

Special thanks to Matt Hutchinson at Penguin Music

‘KRAFTWERK Future Music from Germany’ by Uwe Schütte is published by Penguin Press, available from all good book retailers




Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
Additional Questions by Paul Boddy
27th February 2020

GERMAN POP MUSIC: An Interview with Dr Uwe Schütte

The development of modern German pop music represents a cultural insight to the history of post-war Germany, reflecting its political developments and sociological changes.

It is also emerging as a new field of academic study thanks to the worldwide success of KRAFTWERK who were honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2014.

As an aid to scholars, teachers and students of German studies, sociology, musicology, post-war history and cultural studies, Dr Uwe Schütte has compiled ‘German Pop Music: A Companion’, a 270 page book discussing the post-war musical landscape of the country and its influence internationally.

A lecturer at Aston University, Schütte curated ‘Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century’, the first academic conference discussing the pioneering legacy of KRAFTWERK in January 2015. Among the speakers were The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ Rusty Egan, Dr Stephen Mallinder of CABARET VOLTAIRE fame and Dr Alexei Monroe who contributes a chapter on the development of German Techno to ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’.

Schütte himself discusses the pioneering retro-futurist legacy of KRAFTWERK. Over 25 pages, he dissects their Industrielle Volksmusik with an academic synopsis of their output from 1974’s ‘Autobahn’, a release he describes as “The most important watershed moment in the history of popular music in post-war Germany” to 2009’s ‘Der Katalog’, a career retrospective which marked a symbolic break with the band’s past as Florian Schneider left the group and Ralf Hütter moved the iconic Kling Klang studio to a business park outside Düsseldorf.

Of course, KRAFTWERK emerged from the horribly named Krautrock movement which is analysed in depth by John Littlejohn, a Professor of German at Randolph-Macon College in Virginia. He highlights that much of this experimental music was instrumental and performed by groups or fluid combinations of musicians rather than solo artists. This reflected the form’s commune origins that came into being under the disillusionment of Germany’s recent past, the divided country’s military occupation and compulsory conscription, something which did not actually end in the reunified Germany until 2011.

Kosmische musik, as the locals preferred to call it, was also an exclusively West German phenomenon as the Communist DDR were more likely to clamp down on bearded, long-haired, drug taking types in its territory. Although a number of these groups like NEU! and HARMONIA did not get recognition until long after they had disbanded, TANGERINE DREAM ended up soundtracking Tom Cruise movies in Hollywood while CAN crossed over to an international audience and even scored a UK hit single with ‘I Want More’ in 1976.

Also discussed in the book to provide appropriate context is the conservative Schlager musical form which many associated with Germany before the influence of KRAFTWERK took a firm hold in dance music. Punk, Neue Deutsche Welle and Rap are also discussed, as well as Germany’s contribution to the Industrial genre through EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and RAMMSTEIN.

Over the University vacation period, Dr Uwe Schütte kindly chatted to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK about his overview of German pop music…

There are many books on German music and KRAFTWERK in particular, what inspired you to compile ‘German Pop Music – A Companion’?

Indeed, there has been a real upsurge in – mostly though not always – excellent books in English on topics such as KRAFTWERK, RAMMSTEIN, Krautrock, the Berlin music scene or German punk. However, what I felt was missing was a kind of foundational work, a book that provides an overview of the entire landscape of German pop music.

The approach to the book is quite different to others, more like an academic guide aimed at students rather than music fans?

Yes, it is an academic book from an academic publisher. What I tried to achieve as editor, however, was to make this introduction accessible to both the general public and an academic audience. And that means: the target audience comprises not only of students, but also language instructors who want to use song lyrics for teaching purposes, or – say – researchers on French punk, who need an introduction to German punk in English.

Ralf Hütter described KRAFTWERK as Industrielle Volksmusik; this is an apt description as KRAFTWERK’s melodies often came from a classical tradition with a catchy simplicity that wasn’t far off Schlager… what are your thoughts on this?

Ok, I accept “classical tradition” but not Schlager, my dear! Though you have a point, of course, as KRAFTWERK’s music indeed represents an elevated form of simplicity, and it is their very combination of avant-garde electronic sounds and captivating, simple yet sophisticated melodies that makes them great.

In the book, you are dismissive of ‘The Model’ which could be described as KRAFTWERK’s best and perhaps only pop song. As this is most people entry point into KRAFTWERK and one of the few synthpop No1s in the UK, what are your reasons for this view?

Well, I never really personally liked that song more than any of their other great songs. I think I am dismissive of it as indeed it is the odd one out on the futuristic ‘Die Mensch-Maschine’ album, and it is too close to a mainstream hit record for my taste.

But don’t forget: the book is academic in nature, and it is the essence of critical thinking to revise established notions and to question received beliefs… but, to be honest, I also did it to tease the readers a little! *laughs*

But the DURAN DURAN world of models, clubs and “KORREKT” champagne depicted in ‘Das Modell’ was a reflection of KRAFTWERK’s real lives off-duty… or does all this spoil the illusion of “der Musikarbeiter”?

Yes, you are right in this respect. The song is the one exception in a body of work that is dominated by the strictly adhered to aesthetics of man-machine, futurism, technology and so on.

‘A Little Peace’ by NICOLE is described in the book as representing the end of the Schlager’s golden era, but lest we forget, it was actually the third German song to become a UK No1 in 1982 after ‘The Model’ and GOOMBAY DANCE BAND at the height of the New Romantic movement…

Yes, and I hadn’t known about this success in the UK until I started work on the book. I only knew that NENA’s ‘99 Luftballons’, in the original German version, was a hit in the USA too. I still vividly remember both songs when they came out – I hated NICOLE and loved NENA.

While ‘The Hall Of Mirrors’ has one of the better lyrics and is almost a spoken word piece, on the whole KRAFTWERK did not break the lyric bank, as exemplified by the title repeats as the vocal toplines of ‘Spacelab’ and ‘Metropolis’?

Indeed, and I think that was a good strategy. The music is powerful enough to speak for itself. Better to forego song lyrics than to use crappy ones….

You rightly highlight ‘Computer Love’ as visionary, predicting the society’s reliance on internet dating and social networking in a world of personal isolation. In many respects, this is the most human of all KRAFTWERK recordings?

Yes, probably… and lonely KRAFTWERK fans will have a hard time meeting women at their gigs, as it is always mostly blokes in the audience. Clearly, female KRAFTWERK fans are more interesting because many male fans hold views of German culture that I sometimes find problematic as a German.

Also, being in favour of the Brexit and liking KRAFTWERK don’t seem mutually exclusive in this country, sadly.

Your text refers to another academic Dr Alexei Monroe’s assertion that ‘Numbers’ is “dystopian”… but surely, it’s a just a high quality novelty track with multi-lingual counting that’s got a good beat??

Alexei is spot on with his view, I think, and that is why I quote him. The genius of KRAFTWERK is that their art works perfectly on different levels. Children love ‘Die Roboter’ or ‘Autobahn’ for obvious reasons, yet these are two of the greatest works of art in twentieth-century music. And in the same sense, ‘Nummern’ is both a novelty song and a radical piece of concept art that sparked electronic dance music.

So what do you think of the view that the reclusive legend behind KRAFTWERK has perhaps caused them to be over-intellectualised in more recent years?

I guess I am the wrong person to ask this question. After all, it is my – self-chosen – job to intellectualise about the band, or to be more precise: their music and artistic concept. And, along with the publications by my colleagues, I think we only just started…

Do you have any purist view as to whether KRAFTWERK should be listened to in English or German?

Of course – in German only!

While German electronic pop music is of valid cultural importance, it did take British bands like ULTRAVOX, OMD, THE HUMAN LEAGUE and DEPECHE MODE to make turn the roots of it into an internationally recognised art form?

Yes, I think one can see this as an equalizer after KRAFTWERK had scored first… *laughs*

What did you think of the later German electronic pop acts that had European success while singing in English, like ALPHAVILLE, CAMOUFLAGE, WOLFSHEIM, DE/VISION and U96 after KRAFTWERK?

To be honest, I never really cared about them, except maybe for ALPHAVILLE. I truly love PROPAGANDA, though.

In the book, Alexander Carpenter asks the question “Industrial Music as ‘German Music’?” As a German living in the UK, how do you feel about the image and sound of more aggressive bands like DIE KRUPPS, DAF and RAMMSTEIN who actually sang in German?

It all depends. I have always been a devoted fan of EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN and really like much of the early DIE KRUPPS stuff. Their latest release ‘Stahlwerkrequiem’ is also a triumph, in my mind. Gabi and Robert from DAF are my heroes – hearing ‘Der Mussolini’ for the first time in a student disco was one of the things that changed my life.

RAMMSTEIN are just pathetic. To quote Ivan Novak from LAIBACH: “RAMMSTEIN are LAIBACH for adolescents and LAIBACH are RAMMSTEIN for grown-ups…”

What, to you, have been the true indicators that German pop music has indeed crossed over onto the world stage?

That is a difficult question… maybe that many people would agree to the claim that KRAFTWERK were more influential than THE BEATLES?

ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Dr Uwe Schütte

‘German Pop Music: A Companion’ edited by Dr Uwe Schütte is published by De Gruyter, available from all good book retailers



Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
11th April 2017