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Fun facts about influential Rock Hall inductees Kraftwerk

The music of Kraftwerk is a combination of danceability and cultural commentary. [Kraftwerk / Redfern]
A profile of Kraftwerk's band members, has them sporting identical haircuts and red shirts.

Born in the 1970s, Kraftwerk may not be a household name, but its influence on popular music is considerable. Musicians ranging from David Bowie and Donna Summer, to Depeche Mode and Akron’s own DEVO have felt the impact of this band from Düsseldorf.  

The Rock Hall’s V.P. of Education Jason Hanley explains why Kraftwerk belongs in the hall of fame.

Cross-genre influence

David Bowie name-checked Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider with the tune “V-2 Schneider” on his popular “Heroes” album. Donna Summer producer Georgio Moroder was inspired by the pulsating electronic sounds of the German band to create one of her biggest dance hits, “I Feel Love.” New York hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa sampled a riff from Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express” for his hit song “Planet Rock.”

“Without Kraftwerk, we wouldn't have any of the synthesizer-based dance music or the electronic music experimentation we have today,” Hanley said. “They really are at the center of taking electronic music and making it part of popular culture.”

Predicting the future

"They saw so many trends in modernization that were happening in the 70s that we're living with now," Hanley said. "The song 'We Are the Robots' asks whether society and our love of technology is turning us into machines. Somehow, it's hard to look at all of us with our little phones and constantly connecting to them, and not connect that back to the idea that we are the robots.

“Kraftwerk put out songs like ‘Home Computer,’ which was only a dream at that point. Or ‘Pocket Calculator,’ this idea that we would all carry around a little personal electronic assistant. Kraftwerk saw all of that in the 1970s and early 80s.”

What’s in a name?

“Kraft” means power or force in German, and “werk” refers to a factory.

“When put together in German, it basically means power station,” Hanley said. “And I think it was no mistake that Florian Schneider and Kraftwerk co-founder Ralf Hutter picked that name. They both were living in Dusseldorf, which at the time in the late 1960s was still recovering from World War II. It was a factory town. It was a recovery engine for the entire industry of Germany at the time. And when they looked out their window of their apartment, they saw factories belching steam and the sounds of the clanking throughout the night. And that attracted them.”

American cousins

Akron’s DEVO was also born in a rustbelt town in the early 1970s. They, too, found inspiration in a post-industrial landscape and felt a strong kinship to Kraftwerk

“When Mark Mothersbaugh and the gang go over to record their first DEVO album, they do it in Germany with Konrad Plank or ‘Conny,’ as he was known, who was the producer of the first several Kraftwerk albums,” Hanley said. “And in fact, Conny had a mobile recording studio over there that was in a trailer park in an oil refinery, which the symbolism there is interesting for both DEVO and Kraftwerk, of course.”

Fun, Fun, Fun

But, in addition to the seriousness of cultural decay, Kraftwerk knew how to have some fun with music history. Their first hit song, “Autobahn” had a sly nod to California car culture. The tune takes the listener on a leisurely drive down a famous German highway.

“But, it has a great line that says, ‘wir fahren auf der Autobahn,’ which means, we're riding on the Autobahn,” said Hanley. “The chorus goes ‘fahren, fahren, fahren, auf der Autobahn,’ which sounds exactly like “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys. But of course, in a very stoic German way. It's not TOO fun, but it is fun riding on the Autobahn.”

Members of Kraftwerk looking to catch the next train out of their hometown station [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]

David C. Barnett was a senior arts & culture reporter for Ideastream Public Media. He retired in October 2022.