electro-pop of the 1970s
Self-stylising as machines:
electro-pop of the 1970s

The Düsseldorf band Kraftwerk apparently became acquainted with each other at one of the early Can sessions and, beginning in 1970, produced at first minimalist and electronic-inspired avant garde rock.

Only in their fourth album did Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter find their way to pure electronic sound. In Autobahn (1974) emerged a dense and coloured texture composed of uniform machine-like rhythms, modulated harmonies and robot-like voices. The band’s own Klingklang Studio enabled an early form of "amateur” production. Kraftwerk’s studio technology lived from improvisation and tinkering. The standard rhythm of an electric organ was rebuilt into a rhythm machine.

Transeuropa-Express (1976) unexpectedly proved to provide keywords for the early hip-hop kids of the Bronx and formed, in 1982, the foundation for Afrika Bambaataa’s electro-milestone Planet Rock – a precursor of early techno projects in Detroit. An often underestimated aspect of this music is the self-stylisation as machines, a unique mix of corporeality and technology. The Detroit techno pioneer Carl Craig recalls that Kraftwerk were "so stiff that they were funky”.

Influences on electronic dance music

Hardly less influential for electronic dance music was the work of the producer Giorgio Moroder in Munich. In 1970, Moroder was already responsible for the first pop song produced with a synthesizer, scoring a small hit with the "synthie pop” Son of my father. Love to Love you Baby in 1976 was a 17 minutes, purely synthetic dance ecstasy oriented on orchestral Philadelphia soul, to which the expatriate American Donna Summer orgasmically moaned – and was therefore banned by the BBC. In the U.S.A., the song became a number one hit. It also initiated the "maxi-single” and became, with its completely synthetic endless rhythm, an inspiration for house music.

Another musical line arose in the Düsseldorf group Neu!, a splinter of the original Kraftwerk members. Their early instrumental classic Hallogallo, which the influential British DJ John Peel introduced on his BBC broadcast in 1971, is a 10 minutes ambient guitar piece with a monotonous, yet light, rhythm. Like the similarly oriented bands Cluster, Harmonia and La Düsseldorf, Neu! inspired the ambient works of Brian Eno and his collaboration with David Bowie during the latter’s Berlin phase in the mid-1970s. They are regarded as having pointed the way for post-rock and ambient techno in the 1990s.

The producer Conny Plank, who died in 1987, looked after their sound. A former collaborator in Stockhausen’s studio, he was the grey eminence of krautrock. He modelled himself on Jamaican studio artists like Lee Perry and King Tubby who, with their "dub” effects, had already introduced in 1970 pioneering studio techniques consisting of echo, reverberation and multi-track recording. In addition to his influence on the major krautrock works for Neu! and Cluster, Plank’s clear, hard drums and unexpected sound effects are superimposed over pieces by the Einstürzenden Neubauten and New Wave greats like Devo, John Lydons PIL and Ultravox. He was the sound engineer for one of the most important and popular German productions: Kraftwerk’s Autobahn in 1974.