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    Showing posts with label Afrika Bambaataa. Show all posts

    We're Living In Kraftwerk's World, Finally

    Are we living in the future that Kraftwerk once imagined?

    It's become something of a cliché to say so, now that the German pioneers of electronic music have been inducted into the art-world canon thanks to an eight-date engagement at the Museum of Modern Art that wraps up Tuesday.

    But what do we really mean when we say that Kraftwerk predicted our present?

    Certainly, today's music owes a debt to the music Kraftwerk -- and Kraftwerk alone -- was making back in the 1970s and early '80s. It's compulsory to mention that hip-hop founding father Afrika Bambaataa sampled Kraftwerk in his early track "Planet Rock," but Kraftwerk's influence can be heard everywhere from Coachella's Sahara tent, where the festival's biggest house and dubstep DJ's perform, to Top 40 radio, where Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Katy Perry can be heard crooning over synthetic bloops and blips.

    (I can remember hearing Fatboy Slim's subtly sampled "Praise You" not long after it came out -- sometime in 1998 -- and thinking, "My God, everything has changed. No one will ever settle for music made without digital trickery again." Of course, I was wrong -- but not entirely. And even though that was 14 years ago, it was also almost a quarter century after Kraftwerk released its groundbreaking album, Autobahn.)

    Kraftwerk's Rolf Hütter is too smart to claim credit for inventing electronic music. "We're the antenna catching information, the transmitter giving information, back and forth," he told The New York Times in a recent interview. But Kraftwerk gets credit for being first. At a time when music's biggest names were rocking arenas, igniting disco infernos, hopping the soul train or leaving the lite on, Hütter and his bandmates (he's the only original member left) were trying to sound like computers.

    What made them do that?

    For one thing, they needed a differentiator -- what used to be called gimmick. No one else was making pop music that sounded like it originated on a mainframe. But it's also true that, for Germans in the 1970s, looking forward was probably a lot more fun than looking back. If the past was defined by political catastrophe, and the present by tension and division, perhaps the future would be better. And if it wasn't going to be better -- was, in fact, going to be even worse -- who better to warn of the dangers than four Germans whose society had been through the fires of hell?

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