How Kraftwerk Made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

The word “seminal” does a lot of work in expressions like “seminal band/album/track, etc.” Yes, it’s an adjective denoting “majorly influential,” even “essential.” It’s also an adjective relating directly to the male reproductive system. The conceptual use of the term does not necessarily exclude women, who can perfectly well be said to “seed” artistic movements. But it does suggest that creativity is an inherently masculine act. To take a broader view, we could say that art is non-binary; it includes all of the generative principles involved in the act of creation, including gestation, birthing, and nurturing new art forms.

In this vein, we might call German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk a “seminal matrix” of musical activity, an economy of creative work led by two fathers — Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter  — who midwived a techno/electro revolution, and — indirectly — through early spin-off projects like NEU!, an experimental post-punk/New Wave revolution.

The best known of the “Krautrock” bands to emerge in the 1970s, early versions of Kraftwerk included in its ranks German producer Conny Plank (unofficially) as well as drummer Klaus Dinger, and guitarist Michael Rother, both of whom went on to play in the aforementioned NEU! and “seminal” avant-garde bands like Harmonia and La Düsseldorf.

In its early, anarchic phase, “Kraftwerk’s music neither referenced nor evoked the robotic,” writes Simon Reynolds at NPR. “They started, in the final years of the 1960s, as post-psychedelic progressives — long hair and all. (Watch their first recorded gig in 1970 here.) In 1968, Hütter and Schneider met at the Academy of Arts in Remscheid, near Düsseldorf, where they studied piano and flute, respectively. Sharing an interest in improvisation and avant-garde electronics, as well as a fondness for The Velvet Underground, the Doors and the multimedia provocations of Fluxus, they joined with three other musicians and recorded the album Tone Float under the name Organisation.”

This early avant-garde phase continued for a time, but once Dinger and Rother left and were replaced by Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos, Kraftwerk began its unlikely climb up the charts, and into the hands of remixers and DJs everywhere, with 1975’s Autobahn. “That is the point at which they went from a krautrock curio to a world-historical force,” Reynolds writes, “when the single edit of the 24-minute title track became an international hit in 1975.” The song retains some instrumental elements from the band’s previous incarnations — “twinkling guitar and wafting flute feature alongside synth pulses and drum machine.”

But the melding of man and machine was well underway. “Crucially, it was music stripped of individualized inflection and personality” — not only were Kraftwerk beyond 70s gender stereotypes, they were charting the course for the post-human before the term had any currency. “We go beyond the individual feel,” Schneider told Sounds magazine. “We are more like vehicles, a part of our mensch machine, our man-machine. Sometimes we play the music, sometimes the music plays us, sometimes… it plays.” Kraftwerk may have played German stereotypes for humor in music videos and live performances, but their detachment was no act — their approach from the late 1970’s onward was entirely the opposite of rock and roll’s self (indulgent)-expression.

Why, then, does Kraftwerk belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? Just inducted this year, their presence is truly indisputable. It’s not much of an exaggeration to say, as the Hall of Fame does, that they “are the foundation upon which all synthesizer-based rock and electronic dance music is built…. Kraftwerk’s influence can be heard in the work of David Bowie and Brian Eno, the synth-pop of Depeche Mode, the electronic-rock integration of U2, the ‘robot rock’ of Daft Punk, the production techniques of Kanye West, and in countless EDM and dubstep artists.”

This is just to name a tiny sampling of the musicians influenced by the perfectionistic German foursome. The case can and has been made that for the sheer breadth of their influence, Kraftwerk is more important than even the Beatles to the history of popular music, for rather than mastering and transforming the music of the 20th century’s first half, they invented the rock and roll of the future. See many more classic Kraftwerk videos at this YouTube channel.

Related Content: 

The Psychedelic Animated Video for Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” from 1979

Kraftwerk’s First Concert: The Beginning of the Endlessly Influential Band (1970)

The Case for Why Kraftwerk May Be the Most Influential Band Since the Beatles

Watch Kraftwerk Perform a Real-Time Duet with a German Astronaut Living on the International Space Station

Kraftwerk’s “The Robots” Performed by German First Graders in Adorable Cardboard Robot Outfits

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Violinist Breaks a String While Performing Tchaikovsky in Concert, and Gracefully Recovers

Having evolved over centuries — indeed, millennia — the formal elegance and sonic beauty of stringed instruments continue to inspire their players toward ever-greater heights of virtuosity. But of course, the attainment of virtuosity itself doesn’t come easy, and whatever altitude you reach, you’ll still be dogged by some of the same problems you were as a novice. What violinist, for instance, could ever fully put out of their mind the possibility of a string’s breaking as they play, whether at home or in Carnegie Hall? Not celebrity player Ray Chen, surely, given that it’s happened to him at least twice in the past five years.

Being a Youtuber as well, Chen has turned these onstage misfortunes to his advantage. Just last week he put up “Violinist string BREAKS during Tchaikovsky,” a video that captures his latest such experience while playing with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra. Far from grinding to a halt, the performance continues with only a minor hitch.

After making a valiant attempt to soldier on short an E string, Chen switches to what appears to be the backup plan. Without the option of singing the blues while changing the string himself, as B.B. King did at Farm Aid, he swaps his instrument with that of the concertmaster, who passes it down the line. Unfazed, Chen continues playing right where he left off.

Chen followed a similar procedure after a string break in 2017, while playing in Brussels with the Taiwan Philharmonic. Then, as now, he uploaded the footage to his Youtube channel, where it has  racked up more than 1.6 million views. The brief clip also captures his final toss onto the floor of the spare pack of strings he’d had the good sense to place in his pocket beforehand. The accolades posted in the comments below bring to mind the story of 19th-century violinist Carl Herman Unthan. Born without arms, Unthan became a virtuoso by playing instead with his feet — which he also used to change a string that broke on him in concert. This proved astonishing enough that he’s said later to have deliberately weakened strings in order to repeat the spectacle for other audiences. Just imagine if he’d had Youtube.

via Laughing Squid

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Watch the Jackson 5’s First Appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show (1969)

Who discovered the Jackson 5?

Motown founder Berry Gordy?

Empress of Soul Gladys Knight?

Diva Diana Ross?

Everyone in attendance for Amateur Night at the Apollo on August 13, 1967?

For many unsuspecting Americans, the answer may as well have been television host Ed Sullivan, who introduced the “sensational group” of five young brothers from Gary, Indiana to viewers in December 1969, two years after their Amateur Night triumph. Thirteen years earlier, a wall of sound emanating from a live in-studio audience of teenage girls told Sullivan’s home viewers that another young sensation — Elvis Presley — must be something special.

The Jackson 5 needed no such help.

While there are many close-ups of their fresh young faces, the control room wisely chose to zoom out much of the time, in appreciation of the brothers’ precision choreography.

The brightest star was the youngest, eleven-year-old Michael, taking lead vocals in purple fedora and fringed vest on a cover of Sly and the Family Stone’s “Stand.”

Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, and Marlon provide support for a bit of hokum that positions Michael at the center of an elementary school romance, by way of introduction to a full throated cover of Smokey Robinson’s “Who’s Loving You”:

We toasted our love during milk break. I gave her my cookies! We fell out during fingerpainting. 

Author Carvell Wallace reflects on this moment in his 2015 New Yorker review of Steve Knopper’s biography MJ: The Genius of Michael Jackson:

Halfway through, he forgets his lines and freezes, looking back at his older brothers for help. It’s an alarmingly vulnerable moment, one only possible in the era of live television. You feel bad for him. It suddenly doesn’t seem right that a kid should be made to perform live in front of an entire country. Yet he somehow finds his way back and stumbles through.

When the music starts, we see something else entirely. The first note he sings is as confident, sure, and purposeful as any adult could ever be. He transforms from nervous child at a talent show into timeless embodiment of longing. Not only does he sing exactly on key but he appears to sing from the very bottom of his heart. He stares into the camera, shakes his head, and blinks back tears in perfect imitation of a sixties soul man. And it feels, for a moment, as though there are two different beings here. One is a child—a smart kid, to be sure, and cute, but not more special than any other child. He is subject to the same laws of life—pain, age, confusion, fear—as we all are. The other being seems to be a spirit of sorts, one who knows only the truest expression of human feeling. And this spirit appears to have randomly inhabited the body of this particular mortal kid. In so doing, it has sentenced him to a lifetime of indescribable enchantment and consummate suffering.

Michael’s explosive performance of the Jackson 5’s first national single, “I Want You Back,” released just two months before their Sullivan Show appearance, gives us that “spirit” in full force.

It’s also not hard to imagine that the brothers’ thrillingly executed choreography is the result of a literally punishing rehearsal regimen, a factor of the King of Pop’s troubled legacy.

The Sullivan Show appearance ensured that there would be no stopping this train. Five months later, when the Jacksons returned to the Sullivan Show, “I Want You Back” had sold over a million copies, as had “ABC,” which they performed as a medley.

Boyhood is fleeting, making Jacksonmania a carpe diem type situation.

The period from 1969 to 1972 saw an onslaught of Jackson 5-related merch and a funky Saturday morning cartoon whose pilot tarted up the Diana Ross origin story with an escaped pet snake.

It was good while it lasted.

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The Origins of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk: Vintage Footage of Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., Fred Astaire & More

The Chorus Project Features Teenagers Performing Hits by the Kinks, David Byrne, the Jackson 5 & More

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Wunderkind Musician Nandi Bushell Pays Tribute to Charlie Watts, Playing All of the Tracks on “Gimme Shelter”

We’ve featured 11-year-old Nandi Bushell here before. Perhaps you’ll recall her epic drum battle with Dave Grohl. Today she’s back, paying tribute to Charlie Watts and performing the individual tracks on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” First comes the guitar; then the bass, percussion and vocals; and next the drums–all the while she’s having fun. And you will too. Enjoy.

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The Awe-Inspiring But Tragic Story of Africa’s Festival In The Desert (2001-2012)

“Mali’s gifts to the world of music are lavish and legendary,” Nenad Georgievski writes at All About Jazz, though the world knew little about Malian music until American musicians began partnering with players from West Africa. In the 1980s, Stevie Wonder began touring with Amadou and Mariam, helping to popularize their form of Malian blues. In 1994, Ry Cooder recorded and released Talking Timbuktu with Malian guitarist Ali Farka Touré, whose “desert blues… was unconcerned with boundaries,” freely mixing languages and instrumentation with playing that drew comparisons to John Lee Hooker.

While audiences around the world encountered West African music as “world music” on the festival circuit, fans on the continent knew it as homegrown traditional sounds and contemporary African rock and pop. In 2001 they got the chance to gather for the first annual “Festival in the Desert” (Festival au désert) in Tin Essako, a rural village miles from the highway, as the Bandsplaining video above tells it. This brief explainer of the Festival’s impact and its tragic end in 2012 begins with references to Bono. But his role in the story is rather small.

More central are the Tuareg, or Kel Tamashek, nomadic people of Berber origin spread across several West African countries whose musicians have refined the sound of desert rock and turned it into rebel music. The sound was born in struggle, notes World of Music, in refugee camps and battlegrounds. The band Tinariwen — who formed in 1979 and have become “global musical nomads” since the first Festival —  met in “military camps set up in Libya by Colonel Ghaddafi to train young Tamashek men how to fight. During the [Tuareg] rebellion Tinariwen became the pied pipers of the rebel movement, and their songs galvanized the young dispossessed Tamashek youth.” Then they turned to seeking peace at the Festival in 2001.

Put together by Tuareg organizer Manny Ansar, the Festival was “based on a centuries-old tradition,” notes PeacePrints, “a meeting where the Tuareg tribes of the region meet once a year to play and share music.” By contrast, the modern Festival included ethnic and tribal groups from all over the country, and the world, and “focused on bridging the gap between tradition and modernity and also between local custom and international cometogether.” It was the only festival of its kind in Africa and attracted thousands of African attendees and a few hundred visitors each year.

Tragically, the festival came to an end in 2012 when Tuareg rebels took control of Northern Mali, renaming it Azawad, and were overrun by Islamic separatist groups. The country was placed under Shariah Law, and Ansar was exiled to Burkina Faso for a time. Outside of his own country, he continued to promote peace by co-founding a traveling festival called Caravan culturelle pour la paix.

The artists represented at Festival in the Desert tell stories of the fusion of tradition and modernity, of brutal conflict and the hope for peace through the sharing and fusing of cultures. Mali may be one of the poorest countries in the world when it comes to material resources, but it is one of the most musically rich. “Mali has many people, living in their districts,” say one musician in the trailer above for the documentary film The Last Song Before the War, “but everyone comes together in this festival.”

Or, at least, they did until 2012. The filmmakers unwittingly captured the very last Festival in the Desert before it was shut down by militants who “ruined the material, plundered the stage, burned instruments,” says Ansar. “I had to go on…. It was no longer a question of festivity, but about the survival of a culture.” See his statement at the time in the “Festival in the Desert — In Exile” video further up. For a totally different view of the Festival, read former MTV exec Tom Freston’s account of traveling there with Jimmy Buffett, Chris Blackwell (founder of Island Records), and a handful of other industry bigwigs scouting the next West African sensation.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Wes Anderson’s Animated Music Video for The French Dispatch, Featuring a Track by Jarvis Cocker

The French Dispatch came out nearly two weeks ago, after having been pushed back more than a year by COVID-19. But delaying the release of a Wes Anderson movie surely counts among the least regrettable harms of the pandemic, which has caused millions of deaths worldwide. Among the lives lost was that of Daniel Bevilacqua, known in France as the chanson singer Christophe. Set in that country — and more specifically, the fictional city of Ennui-sur-Blasé — in the 1960s, The French Dispatch features a reinterpretation of Christophe’s 1965 hit “Aline” that now plays as something of a tribute to the late pop-cultural icon. Sung by Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker, it comes accompanied by the Anderson-directed animated music video above.

Cocker has worked with Anderson before. In the director’s 2009 stop-motion adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox he provided the voice of a singing farmer named Petey; in The French Dispatch he does the same for a pop star called Tip-Top, and has even recorded a full-length album in character.

Released on the very same day as The French Dispatch, Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top contains a dozen covers of songs originally popularized by the likes of Serge Gainsbourg, Brigitte Bardot, Jacques Dutronc, and Françoise Hardy. (Attentive cinephiles, the core audience for all things Anderson, will also note the presence on the track list of Claude Channes’ “Mao Mao,” first heard in Jean-Luc Godard’s La Chinoise.)

Chansons d’Ennui Tip-Top exudes the retro-minded Cocker’s love of 1960s French pop music, just as The French Dispatch exudes Anderson’s love of… well, everything Anderson loves, much of which appears in the “Aline” music video. Its meticulously hand-drawn look comes from Javi Aznarez, who’d originally been hired to apply his art to the sets of the film itself. Following Tip-Top as he dances through an elaborate two-dimensional rendition of Ennui-sur-Blasé, it introduces not only the setting (in a stark cutaway manner reminiscent of The Life Aquatic) but all the major characters and the actors who play them. Owen Wilson, Anjelica Huston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray: the gang, it seems, is all here — “here” being a certain idea of postwar France best realized, perhaps, by imaginations like Anderson and Cocker’s.

Related Content:

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Behold 84 Great Novels Reinterpreted as Modernist Postage Stamps

Ali Johnson and Jim Quail of Liverpool-based design studio Dorothy had a hit with their music-based graphicswhich recast seminal alternativepsychedelicelectronic, and post-punk albums as oversized postage stamps.

Now, they’ve turned their attention and knack for highly condensed visual responses to the realms of literature.

Their Modern Classics collection, above, synthesizes 42 titles into something emblematic and essential.

How many have you read?

How many would you be able to identify based on image alone?

It’s easy to grasp why the horizon figures prominently in On The RoadThe Grapes of Wrath, and The Road.

And understandably, the eyes have it when it comes to 1984A Clockwork Orange, and Slaughterhouse-Five.

Elsewhere, the visual representations create connections that may take readers by surprise.

(Stay tuned for a master’s thesis that teases out thematic parallels between The Color Purple’s quilts and Holden Caulfield’s red hunting hat in The Catcher in the Rye.)

According to Johnson, she and Quail, avid readers both, fell out several times over which titles to include (and, by extension, exclude).

English teachers at middle and high school level will rejoice at the number of syllabus favorites that made the cut.

Potential stamp-themed creative assignments abound.

The conch may be an obvious choice for Lord of the Flies, but what of The Great Gatsby‘s green light?

Why not the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg?

swimming pool?

Or one of those beautiful shirts?


Then make your own stamp!

Students are far less likely to be conversant in the 42 earlier works comprising Dorothy’s literary Classics stamps, though musical and movie adaptations of Little WomenDracula, and Les Miserables should provide a toehold.

Our ignorance is such, we may need to reread Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jane Eyre … or at least Google the significance of a spoon and all those orange and red triangles.

(Back in our pre-digital youth, Cliff’s Notes were the preferred Philistine option…)

Dorothy’s stamp prints of Classics and Modern Classics are available for purchase on their website.

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primaologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Hear Brian Eno’s Contribution to the Soundtrack of David Lynch’s Dune (1984)

Though released just a few weeks ago, Denis Villeneuve’s Dune seems already to have garnered more critical acclaim than David Lynch’s 1984 adaptation of the same material. This comparison is, of course, unfair: Lynch was working under different conditions in a different time, not to mention with a markedly different cinematic sensibility. And in fact, Lynch’s version of the ambitious, saga-launching novel by Frank Herbert does have its fans, or at least viewers willing to praise certain of its aspects. Lovers of 1980s music, for example, value its score composed by the virtuosic rock band Toto — with the exception, that is, of a track from Brian Eno, Roger Eno, and Daniel Lanois.

Brian Eno in particular is credited with popularizing ambient music, and “Prophecy Theme,” heard on the Dune soundtrack album as well as in the film itself, conjures up an atmosphere as effectively as any other piece of his work in the genre. “David flew me to Los Angeles to see Dune,” Eno recalls in New York Times interview about his recently released compilation Brian Eno (Film Music, 1976-2020), which includes the track.

It wasn’t finished then. And I don’t know whether his intention or his hope was that I would do the whole soundtrack, but I didn’t want to, anyway. It was a huge project, and I just didn’t feel like doing it. But I did feel like making one piece for it, so that’s what I did.”

Dune was indeed a formidable undertaking, and one that ultimately proved too big for Lynch. Some fans would argue, even after the successful first installment from Villeneuve, that it’s too big for any filmmaker. But the world Herbert created, one both sweeping and uncommonly detailed, has inspired many a creator to produce impressive work for projects both realized and unrealized. Perhaps it counts as a missed opportunity that the latest Dune film, with its apparent clean-slate approach to previous attempts at adaptation, didn’t commission a score from Eno, whose signature sonic textures could nicely have complimented Villeneuve’s instinct for the sublime. But then, a studio can’t go far wrong with Hans Zimmer either.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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