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Music Blogs

Why Kraftwerk are more important than the Beatles

  • By MisterCharlie Author Avatar
  • 5 December 2012

The man machines of Kraftwerk have just announced a forthcoming 8 night residency, taking place in the Tate Modern next February. Over the course of the 8 evenings they’ll play each of their pulsating electronic pop albums in full, and the reason this should get you incredibly excited about these gigs is this – and the easily shocked amongst you may want to look away now -  Kraftwerk are more important to the history of music than The Beatles.

OK, so I know this is sacrilege, but stop spitting blood for a moment and listen... Yes, The Beatles made great albums, and great singles for that matter. I’m not for a second disputing the joy and intricacy to be found in a career that could swerve from the hard rock of Helter Skelter to the oom-pah surrealism of Yellow Submarine (we’ll just gloss over Ringo’s contributions for the moment), but, still, I think there is a compelling argument to say Kraftwerk matter way, way more in terms of influence and innovation.

The Beatles started their career aping skiffle and American RnB. What they did, they did well, but essentially what they did was copy. A huge amount of their early success, sales and influence can be put down to the crazy politics of race. If ‘race music’ hadn’t been so stupidly segregated in America, it’s very doubtful that the country would have gone so mental over a band playing songs that had been blaring out of black radio stations for years. In an incredible selling-ice-to-eskimos move, the mainstream needed a white face fronting it’s RnB before the charts could be conquered.  For example: watch The Isley Brothers performing Shout in 1959

 

Bear in mind that this is recorded a a year before The Beatles even existed, let alone released records. Now watch the Fab Four performing it (and- fair play- doing a good job), and tell me that the lads from Liverpool do anything other than imitate the masters, without having the moves...

It took 7 albums for the band to get to the genuine innovations of Revolver, and up til then, great pop music aside, they pretty much absorbed influences, packaged them up, gave them a sprinkle of magic, and regurgitated them. They were great with a catchy melody and a wry lyric, in the same way that many men had been great before them. Musically they were easy to 'get', and essentially traditional.

Kraftwerk are something entirely different.

We’ll never be able to hear the first ever great guitarists, the first ever amazing drummers, or the first ever legends of the piano. However, recording technology makes it possible to listen to Kraftwerk reinventing music, being the artists right there at day dot, harnessing the creative power of the first drum machines, the first synthesizers. The music they created on their run of game changing albums, beginning with the machine rhythms of third effort Ralf und Florian, was an entirely modern hybrid of man and machine, utterly unlike anything that had come before- or was even possible to come before. Whilst The Beatles distil centuries of musicians playing acoustic instruments, Kraftwerk invented a whole new language of sound. They even invented new instruments! It’s the difference between playing Hamlet and writing it. Check out the tinfoil clad drum machine from this early clip -- and this is in their basic stage before the full vision was realised...

 

 

They broke songs out of the traditional verse – chorus – verse formats and reconfigured them to reflect the motorways and skyscrapers of the modern world, making metronomic tunnels of chrome plated rhythm and melody. Rather than copy American RnB, Kraftwerk had American RnB copy them. The shuffling pulse of Trans Europe Express became the backbone of New York electro, helping birth the rambunctious new forms of hip hop and techno. Listen to the track and it still sounds like a chunk of the future coming to bitcrush your brain--

 

So whilst The Beatles may be cited as an influence, it’s incredibly hard to separate them from everything that happened before and around them. They were masters of a familiar form. Take them out of music and there are hundreds of other bands who made the same innovations -  the Beach Boys spring immediately to mind.

Kraftwerk were a form unto themself - a mere 10 years before there was no one doing anything close to what they did. 10 years later, in the mid 80s, the world was just starting to catch up. Now their ground breaking use of electronic rhythm and synthesized instruments can be heard everywhere, from the biggest pop records to the most obscure indie.  

So yeah, I think they're more important musically than The Beatles. I'm not saying they're better..! But this is why you should see them play at the Tate. The words living legends are thrown around to the point of meaninglessness, but applicable in this case. They were the first, and their legacy as true innovators who changed the face of popular culture will stand forever more.  

Ticket details for the gigs are here

 

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