Andy Gill: The Lennon and McCartney of electro-pop

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The departure of Florian Schneider from Kraftwerk marks a significant shift in the pioneering electronic group's musical chemistry. After a fruitful partnership lasting almost four decades, the creative core of Schneider and fellow founder member Ralf Hütter has been broken, which to electronic music aficionados is the equivalent of Lennon and McCartney splitting up.

Hütter and Schneider formed Kraftwerk in 1970, originally as an experimental duo creating spacey, rather formless soundscapes. But as the potential of new synthesiser technology became evident, they hit upon their Great Breakthrough, combining metronomic machine rhythms with lush melodies rooted in American pop and German Romanticism. Their 1974 album Autobahn, whose 22-minute title-track celebrated driving with the same pleasurable spirit that the Beach Boys brought to surfing, proved a surprise hit in Europe and America. Their 1977 masterpiece Trans-Europe Express became an unlikely influence on the fledgling hip-hop scene in America when it was sampled by Afrika Bambaataa for the seminal 1982 track "Planet Rock". The group were also a crucial inspiration for both the Detroit techno scene and its European equivalent: acts such as The Human League, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, OMD, Cabaret Voltaire and Ultravox all acknowledged a huge debt.

Since their 1970s heyday, however, Kraftwerk have been increasingly inactive. Their last album of original material was 2003's Tour De France Soundtracks, their sonic love-letter to cycling. Indeed, they have developed such an obsession with the sport that each year they are reputed to ride the Tour De France course just for fun, clad in an all-black livery that echoes their onstage garb.

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