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We Are the Robots.

In the early seventies, a group of  German unassuming young men formed a musical group that eventually inspired a whole generation of musicians. They helped formed several genres that will include hip hop, synthrock, electronica, and an urban dance craze called break dancing. These are the men of Kraftwerk. It is very difficult to analyze just one song in this assignment, and going for broke, I will analyze two of their songs. I cannot analyze one song without mentioning the other in this piece so bear with me, I promise it will be worth it.

Click below for sample of pure awesomeness.

Man Machine

History

First off,  this pioneering group of tech heads and electro geeks were formed by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider in 1970, while they were students at the Düsseldorf Conservatory in the late 1960s. They started off as an experimental musical duo and were part of a German Music scence during the late 1060’s early 1970’s era which was known as “Krautrock” to the British press at the time. They  later added two electronic percussionists, Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos, and this changed the dynamics to the whole of their sound. During the recording of their album Autobahn, they shifted away from experimental music, to more of a pop music style. But this was still different than any thing that was out there because the themes of most of the songs dealt with the communication and the future of globalization of mankind. There is a sad element to the songs, in which some of the topics also dealt the loneliness of losing your identity in this fast moving world and consequences of global business and communication. This subject became more apparent in the release of Man-Machine in 1978. But before then, they were creating these albums and became interested in fading one song into another creating what seems like one long song from beginning to end. Of course the combinations of these songs could only last so long because LP’s only gave them a certain number of minutes to arrange these intricate pieces.

Analysis

The first song that I will analyze is the very influential ” Trans Europe Express,” from the album of the same name which was released in 1976. TEE can be best described as the Cha Cha Cha, meets a watch factory with Peter Lorre, singing in the background. While this may not sound like a song that while inspired a new generation of electronic artist, but upon further listen, its simple 4/4 beat is layer with rhythmical overtones that is arguably more advanced than any modern drum machine artist have matched till this day. But as complexed as the beat is, its balanced with minimalist keyboard arrangement. The first riff is a gradual rise in crescendo symbolizes the grandeur of a Cross-Europe rail system that that can be interpreted as a Europe that will be united with no borders through commerce and communication. The chorus riff resembles what you would hear in church in Transylvania.

Click below for sample.

Trans Europe Express

This song was nothing like anything you heard in the radio at the time, especially in 1976, when disco was becoming the dominant form of music. The dance music during that era was composed of real musicians that usually had real horn sections that accompanied them during recordings and appearances like Soul Train and live concerts, Kraftwerk was the anti-disco group in a sense that their image were robotic, soulless, clean shaven,  plastic skin. This image would help the image of many early eighties artists like Thomas Dolby, and Gary Numan. And their music was created using synthesizers and drum machines, marrying man and machine, leading to the next ground breaking song.

Although “Computer Love” was the first single single that was released from their 1981 album “Computer World“, “Numbers” was the real underground hit to come out of that record. If TEE was the groundbreaking electro record, then Numbers was the song to blow open the genre. This song inspired many beat makers to think outside of the box of creating complex beats that destroyed many of the early hip hop, rock, and funk beats that existed before. The tempo of this song is a bit quicker than TEE and the drum pattern will become the most copied beat next to “Funky Drummer” by James Brown. While the beat is simple enough, boom pat boom pat boom pat boom boom pat boom, the role of the high hat and other drums parts sound like  burst of electric particles that dance from ear to ear in a frenetic yet rhythmical in a way marching bands beat on the snares at a Rose parade. The lyrics are really just numbers spoken in different languages to the rhythm of the beat, with the German voice concealed through a vocoder, sounding like a droid in Star Wars while sprechen sie deutsch. While the music itself has a cold metallic texture on the surface, if feels very organic, almost alive while playing through  headphones.

Click below for sample.

Numbers MP3


The rapid tempo and frenetic percussions are relentless  and have inspired many to use this beat in electro pop songs such as ” Play at your own Risk” By Planet Patrol, “Planet Rock” by Africa Bambaattaa and the Soulsonic Force, both major hits to the break dancing, pop locking, robot dancing youths of the streets of inner cities. Numbers also inspired Freestyle, also know as Latin Hip Hop,  a form of dance music with its syncopated 16th note high hats and 128bpm tempo. Both TTE and Numbers were combined by Africa Bambaataa in their dance classic Planet Rock at a time when portable stereo systems , also known as “Beat Boxes” were carried around the streets of NYC and an occasional break-dance competition would appear and disappear just as quickly.

Both of these songs are what I consider “Primary Jams” in which other artists use the riffs or beats to create newer songs based on them. This is also called “biting“, meaning that they took it without permission and consider it as there own. Some other songs that I consider Primaries are ” Funky Drummer” by James brown and “Cavern” by Liquid Liquid and “Genius of Love” by the Tom Tom Club.


So what does all mean?

Kraftwerk were mostly interested in the relationships between man and computers, and also mankind’s achievements as a species as it overcame diversity through technology and science. But there is also sad message thats hidden deep in its narrative  that despite of all its advances with communication and technology, there is a sense of isolation in the human soul, despite the advancements that supposed to brings us all closer together. But thats not the irony. The true irony is the artists who were inspired by Kraftwerk and succeeded in bringing the masses together on songs like Planet Patrol and Planet Rock, which drove people to the dance floors and created the biggest parties at the time.  I should know, I was there.

The End.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio1/documentaries/060807_kraftwerk.shtml

http://www.poecker.homepage.t-online.de/HomepageClassic01/discog.htm

http://www.whosampled.com/artist/Kraftwerk/

http://www.kexp.org/learn/documentaries.aspx?docid=11#2

http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=biting

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~ by Nelson Torres on October 1, 2010.

3 Responses to “We Are the Robots.”

  1. Nice analysis! It is really amazing that just one group could help form so many genres that at first glance seem to have nothing to do with one another. It shows just how connected music is.

    I had never even heard of Kraftwerk before reading your analysis. I listened to the song clips first and loved how futuristic it sounds. Human beings can be easily isolated through technology, for example, by hiding behind computer screens, but we all crawl out of our holes in order to celebrate music together. We are isolated by the technology that also brings us all together.

  2. The amazing thing is that most of songs were recorded before the 1980’s. This stuff is still ahead of its time today.

  3. One of my all time favorite groups! And I can see how it is hard to limit yourself to one track when there is such an complex history begging to be analyzed here. Their sound really was unique, and seminal to so many artists who followed in their wake.

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