Work of art? Academics to study influence of Kraftwerk

Two-day “Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century” conference

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The Independent Online

The electronic music, robot-like performances and repetitive beats of the German band Kraftwerk ushered in a brave new world of pop and earned the group global fame.

Now the influence of the group, whose hits include “The Model”, “Autobahn” and “The Robots”, is set to hit new heights with the world’s first international academic conference about their work.

For not only, it seems, did they “change the course of popular music” but they were prophets of the world as it is today, predicting everything from the rise of celebrity culture to the US and other governments’ use of computers to spy on people.

The conference, “Industrielle Volksmusik for the Twenty-First Century”, was initially designed as an afternoon seminar, but quickly mothballed into a two-day conference with speakers from Germany, the UK, Finland, the Netherlands, the United States and Austria.

Its organiser, Dr Uwe Schütte, of Aston University’s German department, said he was surprised that so many people were taken aback that academics were gathering to discuss a band whose heyday was in the 1970s.

 

“Kraftwerk are these days not just a pop band or electronic music artists, they developed into a kind of total work of art.  They are a pop band, they are producing music you can dance to in terms of low-brow entertainment, but at the same time they are high-brow art.

“Due to a certain degree of snobbery it’s seen as odd or contradictory to bring Kraftwerk and an academic conference together.”

The highlight is expected to be a talk by former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür,  given the band’s reclusive nature. Their studio in Düsseldorf boasted only one telephone – that did not ring.

Dr Schütte said Kraftwerk’s influence on pop could not be underestimated.

“You just need to look at popular music or chart music today. It’s predominantly electronically produced on computers. They were the first to envision that the music of the future would be electronic,” he said.

Their work spawned 1980s acts such as Depeche Mode, the Human League and Gary Numan and their influence can be seen in techno, hip hop and house music, he said. Dr Schütte said they were still important today, describing Daft Punk as a “straightforward copy of Kraftwerk – two robots making this machine music.”

The conference will be held at Aston University in Birmingham on 21 and 22 January.

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