Ask Western pop music fans this question, and the chances are that the majority would reply with ‘The Beatles’. There is no doubt that the four mop-topped boys from Liverpool revolutionised the world of pop music and continue to be one of the, if not the most, popular bands ever.
But there is increasingly a view that, as popular as The Beatles are, there is another band that is arguably the most influential band ever. Listen to their music today, and you cannot but be amazed at how prescient their music was, when it was first released more than 40 years ago.
The band is Kraftwerk, founded by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1970. Their early albums were only modestly successful, but in the period from 1974 to 1982, they released a series of albums that marked them out as the pioneers of what we now call electronic or synth-pop and which influenced a legion of musicians since.
I cannot put it any better than Jude Rogers writing in The Guardian – “The sounds they invented have been sampled by hundreds of artists, from Madonna to R.E.M, from Missy Elliott to Fergie. Coldplay and Jay-Z have had hits with their elegant melodies and their image has influenced David Bowie, Daft Punk and Kanye West. We also now live in the kind of world their future-obsessed lyrics predicted: we find Computer Love online, models smile from time to time and Europe Endless exists.”
Writing in The Conversation, says, “Kraftwerk … established an entirely new way to think about how popular music should sound to make it a dominant art form for the 21st century.”
I must admit, that while I had heard of Kraftwerk before, I only first heard them seriously in the summer of 2015. I was on a long-haul flight to India, and the in-seat entertainment unit of the airplane had Kraftwerk’s album, ‘The Man-Machine‘ in their library. As soon as the first notes from ‘The Robot’ hit my eardrums, I was hooked. And by the end of the total playing time of a little over 36 minutes, I was left to pick up my jaw from the floor. The music had lifted me up, churned me around and left me so dazed, it was as if I was listening to my first ever music album.
A few months after that, I viewed a documentary about their series of performances at The Tate Modern in London and that gave me a greater appreciation of the role they have played in creating a genre and the influence they still exert on popular music and culture.
An influence that, according to many, is unsurpassed in the history of popular music.