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|> Interview: Kraftwerk   [R. Huetter + F. Schneider]

11/76 - by Paul Alessandrini [Rock + Folk Mag.]

Q: Why did you make that trip to Los Angeles last summer ?

A: We made the final mix at the Record Plant studio. But it's mostly because our album evokes the european culture, it is spiritually european and it's a new conscience that we discovered during our trip on the american continent in 75.
Everybody asked us how was life in Germany, in Paris. People wanted to know where was our culture at that point. People used to say that we were not rock n' roll, then thanks to these trans-atlantic trips we discovered our cultural identity as Europeans.

Q: In your show, you played two new songs refering to Europe : "Europe Endless" and "TEE". Do you really believe in this european consciousness ? Aren't you german anymore ?

A: It's not a nationalist feeling... The culture of the Rhine area is our cultural background. What amazed us in the States, is that everyone shows his own background much more than in Europe, although we have museums and a very rich history. In the States however, there are only "blocks", then people are asked to show this background on a psychological and individual level...

A: (Florian) : When you are in an american studio, there's a distance which allows you to see all this very clearly.

A: (Ralf) : In Germany, the young guys play american music, and we, in Hollywood, play germanic music...

A: (Florian) : When I heard american musicians, of course it had nothing to do with those young Germans who think they play "american"...

Q: Don't you think you're in the same position as Fritz Lang making some american product (thriller) in Hollywood, but movies full of an expressionist german culture ?

A: Yes, in a sense. Distance allows to see more clearly. To get conscious of things, you must go out and watch. For us, the problem was to go outside ourselves, of our existence limited by the same tours in Germany, to look at our own culture in a distance.

Q: Could you explain your present success by this consciousness ?

A: I don't have any rational explanation, so much more so as people, in France for instance, buy our records but don't really come to our concerts.

Q: So, how do you explain this difference between the albums and the gigs ?

A: The album always starts from a concept : "Radioactivity" came from an idea that fascinated us for a long time, the concept of the radio and all the phenomenon of the airwaves, the transmission of any radio-active material.
We are thrilled by that stuff, end the idea of that album was in our heads for at least three years. During our first tour in the U.S., we have visited all the independant radios, for we used to see ourselves as a radio station... but it's impossible to start something like that in Germany, because of the state monopole. So, the only way to do it is through records, and to use concerts to amplify even more the "media record".
But few people still come to our shows, because it's difficult for them to imagine that it's a band who plays that music and that it can be reproduced live. They thought it was only studio work... like Sgt Pepper, for instance, which the Beatles couldn't play live because they knew three chords only.

Q: Some nasty people compared the success of "Radioactivity" to the success of "Pop Corn"...

A: "Pop Corn" was only a "gimmick composition". There was nobody behind it, whereas for "Radioactivity", it's our duty (and perhaps even yours) to show what's behind it.
It was indispensable for us to produce that album and to go beyond it. It's a stage and the witness of a moment.

Q: That record obviously fascinated such people as Bowie or Iggy Pop...

A: It's normal. It's a little bit like a snapshot, a diaphragm that puts light exactly on a mental and musical aspect that nobody had considered before.
Here, people have always taken pictures of English and Americans, and we had to turn the camera and to take a picture of ourselves, to expose ourselves to the media, because the post-war german generation remained in the shadow : those who are older than us had Elvis or the Beatles for idols... those are not bad options, but if we completely forget our identity, it becomes quickly "empty" and not consistent. There's a whole generation in Germany, between 30 and 50, who has lost its own identity, and who even never had any.

Q: So you pretend being able to help the german youth to find their own identity ?

A: The living culture of Central Europe has been cut in the 30s, and all the intellectuals went to the U.S. or to France, or they have been eliminated. We take back that culture of the 30s at the point where it was left, and this on a spiritual level...

A: (Florian) : Electro-acoustic instruments have been developped in Europe, in Germany, in France...

Q: So you make a connection between a culture of the past, but using modern tools, and using the mass media in the american way...

A: The tape recorder has been invented in Germany! We also use microphones in Germany. But of course, there's no question of a national cult...

Q: For some people, you're doing a primary music, although your musical justifications are highly intellectual.

A: It is true that it's very hard to compose something as simple as "Autobahn", hard to draw the shortest line between two points...

A: (Florian) : It's like in science : it can seem very simple, atoms and radioactivity... once it's been discovered !

Q: Is it because you need to feel close to the audience that you have chosen the world of rock music and that you mention the Beach Boys as your reference ?

A: Yes, in their songs they managed to concentrate a maximum of fundamental ideas. In 100 years from now, when people will want to know what California was like in the 60s, they only had to listen a single by the Beach Boys.

Q: So, in the same way, when people will want to know about Europe in 1976, they'll listen to Kraftwerk ?

A: Yes, I hope so. If our communication system works really fine...

Q: So, in which direction are you working ? Towards something even more "robotic" ?

A: The "movie" side of our work will be extended. When you work with tapes, it spins, it becomes a film-media, beyond music. I don't mean we are going to produce films - we already shot a very short one - but we will rather, during the shows, include electronic ballets in which we will be acting ourselves, making movements with our bodies, movements that correspond to certain vibrations... some new concepts on which we are working for our next tour.

A: (Ralf) : we have machines which allow us to make our ideas come true, and while they are doing it, we can go even further, to a next step.

A: (Florian) : The other german bands, with the help of their machines, are making a trip backwards, while we are rather making a trip forward.

Q: As for the other german "spacey" bands, it looks like they refuse to see the machines for what they are, and that they propose meditation instead. For you, machines exhibit themselves and become a form of provocation, of agression...

A: It's agression and agressive beauty.

A: (Florian) : We also have melodies, we try to create a contrast between those two elements.

A: (Ralf) : We compose our melodies as we hum in the studio, and the rythm comes from the sounds of the machines.

Q: As for what people see on stage, is it a conscious reference to the great german expressionist movies like "the cabinet of doctor Caligari" ?

A: Yes, indeed, we worked on that...

A: (Florian) : sometimes I'm scared by all that stuff on stage, it's so hard. There's too much noise, but it works like a sado-masochist fascination.

A: (Ralf) : In electronic music, unlike people think, psychology plays the greatest part.

Q: When we went together to the exhibition of "Machines Celibataires", you looked fascinated by the most evil machines...

A: We are also single (celibataires) ourselves (laughs) !

Q: Tell me about your meeting with Bowie and your projects...

A: We should have worked together already, but the success of the last album forced us to tour until october, and our projects were postponed. But with Bowie, what makes us closed from each other, it's mostly similar considerations about psychology.
It's the same with Iggy. By the way, we have dedicated a song of our new album to them (TEE)... They're just like us, big fans of trains. No other band could evoke the world of trains better than us, I think.
The metallic music, metal on metal... We are going to record with Bowie. He will come to Dusseldorf pretty soon for that. We still don't know what we're gonna do together, it's mostly an encounter...

A: (Florian) : We have always been interested by what Bowie is doing, especially in his last albums. He started from hard rock, and he's now on the step of electro-acoustic music, while we went the opposite way, from electronic music to rock music... So I think that what will happen will be thrilling.

A: (Ralf) : I think it's the same kind of research for a synthetic man. We were fascinated by the creation of that concept and we tried to develop it by ourselves, without the help of a producer. Anyone who is working in show bizness wait for someone else to create their specific image. We said to ourselves : we don't want to wait, we will discover ourselves alone.

A: (Florian) : Usually, behind the stars, there's always some Colonel Parker...

Q: But do you think people are doing the equivalent of your work in movies, painting, etc.

A: Emil, who works with us, is a student of Joseph Beuys, the most famous german master of visual art, one of the creators of the Fluxus group, interested in actions and happenings.
Emil works on the visual side of our shows and writes some of the lyrics. In Germany, for about 5 years, there's a great movement of parallel movie makers from which we feel quite close.
For instance, Fassbinder used our music for his next movie "La Roulette Chinoise", and we will work with him again in the future. All this paranoid consciousness is specific to german movies. Every young german movie maker is scared by the camera...

Q: Just like in expressionist movies in which there was always a poetic vision of reality...

A: Yes, exactly.

Q: What is the subject of "Europe Endless", this new composition that you sing on stage ?

A: We travelled all over Europe, and especially after a tour in the States, we realized that Europe is mostly parcs and old hotels... "promenades and avenues"... "real life"... real life, but in a world of postcards. Europe, when back from the States, it's only a succession of postcards...

Q: Did you go to some concerts during your trip in the States ? Did you see the Beach Boys live ?

A: Yes, we have seen them in a big stadium. It was gorgeous, like a rebirth. There's a wonderful and very poignant song in their last album, "Once in my life". I'd like to dare to say once in my life what Brian Wilson says in that song...

Q: Where does your passion for the Beach Boys come from ?

A: The intelligence of their thoughts regarding american reality put onto records.

A: (Florian) : When we reached California and Hollywood, we were able to say : yes, it's exactly like that, like in the songs of the Beach Boys.

Q: And would you like people to say the same thing about your music and Europe, and especially Germany ?

A: That's exactly what Bowie told us : when he came to see us in Dusseldorf in his Mercedes, he took the highway while listening to "Autobahn" on the car stereo. He said : it's exactly like that, everything is in your tune.

Q: And with Iggy Pop ?

A: We met him in a lift, and it's been a true contact right away. I always liked what the Stooges were doing : they "dared". With electronics, you can hide yourself behind the machines, or you can expose yourself.
There are various ways of exhibing oneself. We are perhaps also interested in Iggy because of the Fluxus happenings in which I was involved when I was student... "action, action baby !" With electronic instruments, you can be alone, all alone on stage, like Iggy : you don't even have a guitar to hide yourself.
To some physical discoveries of rock music can correspond some fundamental and terrible psychological discoveries, like reading a book that changes the vision of the world you had before. After that, you never walk quite the same way...

Q: Why are you using this strange system in place of drums ?

A: Iggy Pop, for instance, was a drummer and he stopped to go even further. He became a singer. With drums, the drummer hides himself behind an "action".
Our purpose was to open, to go one step beyond and to produce music for loud speakers. We couldn't achieve this with a traditional drummer : with our two percussionists, we worked for months to develop that system, and it changed our lives.

Q: What do these two drummers represent compared to the duet of the two of you ?

A: They are part of Kraftwerk. Of course, with Florian we play music for 10 years, while they work on our side for 3 years only and they penetrate only slowly the Kraftwerk universe.
We couldn't play our music with anybody. It's important to be able to understand each other, because electronic humour is not obvious for everybody.

Q: Please give an example of this electronic humour...

A: Well, you can listen to "Autobahn" and then drive on the highway. Then you'll realize that your car is a musical instrument. So many things can be funny... It's a real philosophy of life that comes from electronics.

Q: Same thing about your taste for costumes and grey shoes, perhaps ?

A: Yes, everything comes from a consciousness in front of tape machines, cameras, all those machines produced by electronics.

Q: What is exactly the role of Emil ?

A: He is our medium. He writes lyrics, takes care of the lights.

A (Florian) : when I met Emil, and when he showed his comics to me, I thought they looked like our music.

Q: Could you split up some day ?

A: We already tried, but it didn't work. Our understanding is too stimilating : we discovered lots of things bacause we were together, and loneliness could never have taken us where we are now. It's a necessary duality... kling - klang.

Q: And the new album ?

A: It will be released in january. We still have a lot of work to do, because since we had the chance to play the new songs live, we know what doesn't work.
On one side, our music is very simple, built around a story board, and at the same time very experimental. The new songs are always born from the old ones, like the new branch growing on top of the old one. In the name of the album, there will be of course the word "Europe", and the sleeve will be made from a set of mirrors reflecting our pictures.
By the way, there is a song called "The Hall Of Mirrors" in the album : the story of what we did since the beginning, our psychological trip, in some ways the other side of the background.

Paul Alessandrini - 1976
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