End of the road for Kraftwerk founder

Dinosaur rock fans aged 45 and over will remember the pulsating, eerily monotonous yet pioneering electronic sound of the smash hit "Autobahn" that launched the German band Kraftwerk on to the popular music scene back in the 1970s.

Yesterday the German music world was stunned by the news that Florian Schneider, their co-founder and an inventor of the "Krautrock" genre, had quit after 40 years with the group. The news was broken on the Kraftwerk website in the terse style used for their minimalist lyrics: "Florian Schneider leaves Kraftwerk after a 40-year partnership," the post announced. "This partnership has generated incredible music and huge advances in music technology."

Fans wanting more explanation about Schneider's departure could expect to be disappointed. Kraftwerk are one of the rock world's most reclusive bands. Visitors are banned from its Kling Klang recording studio in Düsseldorf which boasts only one telephone – that does not ring.

The band are due to go on tour as support for Radiohead in South America in March. Schneider's departure was not expected to affect Kraftwerk's plans. However there was speculation in the German media yesterday that he had left to begin a solo career.

Schneider and co-founder Ralf Hütter started Kraftwerk in 1970 with Schneider playing flutes, synthesisers and electric violin and Hütter on electronic organ and synthesisers. The lyrics of "Autobahn", released in 1974, amounted to not much more than: "Fahren, Fahren, Fahren auf der Autobahn" which translates as "Driving, driving, driving on the Autobahn" but the electronic sound was unique in its repetitiveness and topped the charts. The track was the inspiration for Kraftwerk's 1975 Autobahn tour which resulted in the band's classic line-up as a quartet of Schneider, Hütter and electronic percussionists Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos.

After years in which the band failed to make a single live appearance, Kraftwerk bounced back in 1990 and began touring Europe again. In 2005, Kraftwerk produced Minimum-Maximum, their first live album.

Last year the band were back on tour in Ireland, eastern Europe, America and Australia. Schneider dropped out of the touring line-up in April last year. He was originally rumoured to have left the band in November. With characteristic tardiness, Kraftwerk have now made his departure official.

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