Kraftwerk, Autobahn and a new era of electronic music: “It’s like an artificial joke”

The story of a musical revolution by the "German Beach Boys"

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Autobahn also generated unprecedented interest in German music worldwide. Bowie relocated to Berlin, Eno worked with Rother in Harmonia, and Conny Plank became Europe’s premier electro-pop producer. Meanwhile, music industry scouts came looking for the next Kraftwerk.

“Suddenly US record companies were coming over trying to sign everybody who could hold a guitar,” laughs Rother. “We had several offers. Capitol sent us this huge contract, 40 pages or more, and they offered quite a lot of money. In the end we didn’t sign. But the impact Autobahn had on me was I started thinking about using voices, and on Harmonia’s Deluxe you can hear an echo of that.”

The success of Autobahn allowed Kraftwerk to break loose from Plank and take their production in-house, upgrading their Kling Klang base into an autonomous studio. When they began making the LP, Kraftwerk were underground experimental musicians. By late 1975, they were an unlikely chart act. “Strangely, we never felt like pop stars, I cannot explain why,” says Flür. “We were natural guys with natural needs, nothing special. It felt at that time like we were real friends. Until 1981, at least. We had reached our Computer World tour and record, the peak. Suddenly there were other interests for most of us.”

Autobahn became the first in an unbroken run of brilliant, progressive, highly influential Kraftwerk albums. Four decades on, it still stands as the Big Bang moment that ushered synthesisers, vocoders and sequencers into the mainstream. In 2012, Kraftwerk’s 21st Century lineup began playing Autobahn in full around the globe, to rapturous sell-out crowds. But even before that, the epic title track was a fixture in every live show. This retro-modernist road trip sounds more vintage than avant-garde now, but it is still a timeless design classic and show-stopping reminder of when Kraftwerk went electric, composing the shiny soundtrack to tomorrow’s world.


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