Kraftwerk in 1981
Photo by Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider Made Music For Humans, Not For Robots
The synth pioneer’s computerized sounds belied the band’s big, beating heart
Quick, rattle off music’s worst, most obvious clichés: country music is exclusively about trucks, the Beach Boys only sang about waves, Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Then, add Kraftwerk, and their late founding synthesist Florian Schneider, to the list of the wronged. The prevailing narrative that the German electronic music pioneers are cold, calculated, lacking a megabyte of soul—a quality only unlocked by real instruments, mind you—similarly begs to be dragged to the Recycle Bin.
The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau described Kraftwerk’s 1975 album Autobahn as "a melody or two worth hearing twice emanated from a machine determined to rule all music with a steel hand and some mylar." About its 1975 follow-up Radio-Activity, Rolling Stone offered that "maintaining an icy detachment from its popularity... might have been the best attitude to assume." In a 2013 live review, Space March described the sight of them as "four oldish, unanimated German men standing in a row behind their black, faceless synth workstations."
Which isn’t wrong, exactly. No band has computer love like Kraftwerk—they’re known for performing amid futuristic video projections, plasticine doppelgangers of the band members, and conspicuous exposed wires. "Along came this music that sounded as mechanized as a Ford assembly plant," a statement read when the band won the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014, "and music would never be the same."
This wouldn’t be possible if their music was passive bleeps and bloops, the product of an app rather than a curious mind. Schneider’s passing of cancer "a few days after" his April 7 birthday at 73, as confirmed by the band and reported by The New York Times, serves as a chance for those on the fence about Kraftwerk to reexamine their run of 10 albums—which, as it turns out, aren’t tailored to robots' experiences, but humans'.
Like the by-all-accounts-bright Marilyn Monroe playing dimwitted dames so immaculately that viewers failed to separate fact from fiction, Schneider and co-founder Ralf Hütter did their bit so well that some likened them to a governmental task force hellbent on extracting humanity from music. But it’s worth noting that Kraftwerk wasn't predicated on computers from the beginning—far from it, actually.
An early version of the band (then called Pissoff) had a format not dissimilar to Jethro Tull—Hütter on Hammond organ, Eberhard Kranemann on bass, Paul Lovens on drums, and Schneider on flute. "I studied seriously up to a certain level, then I found it boring… I found that the flute was too limiting," he said in the 1993 book Kraftwerk: Man, Machine And Music. "Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesizer. Much later I threw the flute away."
Flute or no flute, the addition of gadgetry couldn't smother Kraftwerk's beating heart. Their greatest songs, like "Europe Endless," "The Model" and "Pocket Calculator," are full of wistfulness, playfulness, cheeky humor—qualities unreproducible by machines. "I find their music as impersonal as it is original," Can's keyboardist Irmin Schmidt admitted in the book, "but it is saved by its humorous side."
Take the former song, a co-write between Schneider and Hütter from their 1977 classic Trans-Europe Express, which is meant to evoke the feeling of traveling by commuter rail across Europe, watching the sights whiz by. "Promenades and avenues / Real life and postcard views," Hütter reports deadpan, answered by a lonely, percolating synth melody from Schneider. Almost everyone knows what it’s like to be gently hypnotized on public transport in an unfamiliar place; "Trans-Europe Express" nails it.
Then consider "The Model," a highlight from their 1978 album The Man-Machine. Here, their self-consciousness boils from mere artifice into laughs: the music is swanky yet devoid of swing, and Hütter sings about a seductive woman with his accent bleeding through: "She's going out tonight but drinking just champagne / And she has been checking nearly all the men." If Schneider added authentically sexy music, the joke wouldn’t land: the track seems to envision C-3PO on the dating market.
And Kraftwerk songs don’t get more delightful than "Pocket Calculator" from 1981’s Computer World. Over a danceable chiptune beat, Hütter warbles about all the things his Texas Instruments or Casio can do: add, subtract, control, compose. If you’re looking for a steely, forbidding electronic act, pick up an Autechre record; all the supercomputers on the planet couldn’t recreate the unfettered joy of this classroom-device jam.
It’s unclear if Kraftwerk will continue without Schneider co-manning the controls; while they haven’t released an album since 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks, they continued to perform live well past his departure from the band in 2008. Whether or not they’ll continue to don Tron-style jumpsuits and churn out mechanical rhythms, don’t forget that their man-machine is far more the former than it is the latter.
Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images
Recordings By Janet Jackson, Louis Armstrong, Odetta & More Inducted Into The National Recording Registry
Selections by Albert King, Labelle, Connie Smith, Nas, Jackson Browne, Pat Metheny, Kermit the Frog and others have also been marked for federal preservation
The Librarian of Congress Carla Haden has named 25 new inductees into the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress. They include Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation 1814,” Louis Armstrong’s “When the Saints Go Marching In,” Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Nas’ “Illmatic,” Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration,” Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection” and more.
“The National Recording Registry will preserve our history through these vibrant recordings of music and voices that have reflected our humanity and shaped our culture from the past 143 years,” Hayden said in a statement. “We received about 900 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry, and we welcome the public’s input as the Library of Congress and its partners preserve the diverse sounds of history and culture.”
The National Recording Preservation Board is an advisory board consisting of professional organizations and experts who aim to preserve important recorded sounds. The Recording Academy is involved on a voting level. The 25 new entries bring the number of musical titles on the registry to 575; the entire sound collection includes nearly 3 million titles. Check out the full list of new inductees below:
National Recording Registry Selections for 2020
Edison’s “St. Louis tinfoil” recording (1878)
“Nikolina” — Hjalmar Peterson (1917) (single)
“Smyrneikos Balos” — Marika Papagika (1928) (single)
“When the Saints Go Marching In” — Louis Armstrong & his Orchestra (1938) (single)
Christmas Eve Broadcast--Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill (December 24, 1941)
“The Guiding Light” — Nov. 22, 1945
“Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” — Odetta (1957) (album)
“Lord, Keep Me Day by Day” — Albertina Walker and the Caravans (1959) (single)
Roger Maris hits his 61st homerun (October 1, 1961)
“Aida” — Leontyne Price, et.al. (1962) (album)
“Once a Day” — Connie Smith (1964) (single)
“Born Under a Bad Sign” — Albert King (1967) (album)
“Free to Be…You & Me” — Marlo Thomas and Friends (1972) (album)
“The Harder They Come” — Jimmy Cliff (1972) (album)
“Lady Marmalade” — Labelle (1974) (single)
“Late for the Sky” — Jackson Browne (1974) (album)
“Bright Size Life” — Pat Metheny (1976) (album)
“The Rainbow Connection” — Kermit the Frog (1979) (single)
“Celebration” — Kool & the Gang (1980) (single)
“Richard Strauss: Four Last Songs” — Jessye Norman (1983) (album)
“Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814” — Janet Jackson (1989) (album)
“Partners” — Flaco Jiménez (1992) (album)
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow”/”What A Wonderful World” — Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (1993) (single)
“Illmatic” — Nas (1994) (album)
“This American Life: The Giant Pool of Money” (May 9, 2008)
Press Play At Home: Watch Dodie Perform A Morning-After Version Of "Four Tequilas Down"
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, singer/songwriter dodie conjures a bleary last call in a hushed performance of "Four Tequilas Down"
"Four Tequilas Down" is as much a song as it is a memory—a half-remembered one. "Did you make your eyes blur?/So that in the dark, I'd look like her?" dodie, the song's writer and performer, asks. To almost anyone who's engaged in a buzzed rebound, that detail alone should elicit a wince of recognition.
Such is dodie's beyond-her-years mastery of her craft: Over a simple, spare chord progression, she can use an economy of words to twist the knife. "So just hold me like you mean it," dodie sings at the song's end. "We'll pretend because we need it."
In the latest episode of Press Play At Home, watch dodie stretch her songwriting muscles while conjuring a chemically altered Saturday night—and the Sunday morning full of regrets, too.
Check out dodie's hushed-yet-intense performance of "Four Tequilas Down" above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Press Play At Home.
Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images
Melvin Edmonds Of R&B Vocal Group After 7 Dies At 65
Edmonds was the "soul" and "signature element" of the group said member Keith Mitchell
Melvin Edmonds of GRAMMY-nominated late-80s R&B vocal group After 7, known for hits like "Ready Or Not," has died at the age of 65.
His death was confirmed by After 7 group member Keith Mitchell via Facebook. The cause of death has not been officially released. Essence reports Edmonds died Saturday after battling a short illness. The singer had a stroke in 2011 among other health issues, according to CNN.
"I will miss you; I love you, and Melvin, your legacy will live on through the music we created together!!" Mitchell said in the post.
Edmonds was the "soul" and "signature element" of the group, wrote Mitchell, which the two co-founded along with one of Edmonds' brothers Kevon. After 7 had three singles land on the Billboard Hot 100 in the '90s. The singles, "Can't Stop," "Ready Or Not" and "Heat Of The Moment" all hit the top 20. The group was nominated for Best R&B Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for "Can't Stop" at the 33rd GRAMMY Awards.
Beyond a musician, Edmonds was a father of four and brother to five, including Kenny "Babyface," Marvin Jr., Michael, Kevon and Derek.
"Melvin's love for audiences and fans everywhere who supported our music is what drove him on stage and in life. He is and will be missed by my family, fans, and friends," Mitchell said.
Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Why Dead Poet Society's Jack Underkofler Has The "Least Picky" Backstage Rider
In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society lead singer Jack Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider
For their part, Dead Poet Society have decided to take the opposite tack, as their lead singer, Jack Underkofler, attests in the below clip.
In the latest episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, learn why Dead Poet Society's Underkofler is committed to having the world's most reasonable backstage rider—including one ordinary pillow to nap on.
Check out the cheeky clip above and click here to enjoy more episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas.