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Culture

Kraftwerk is Back

For almost two decades, the legendary German electronic formation Kraftwerk was silent. Now, the pioneers of electronica have returned with a new album top Germany's charts.

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Kraftwerk: the forefathers of electronic music.

Anyone who may have claimed that Kraftwerk had disappeared from the musical landscape is now eating their words. "This is not a comeback. We were never gone," Kraftwerk's Ralf Hütter said in a statement.

The founding fathers of electronic music released their new album Tour De France Soundtracks this week. It marks the first Kraftwerk studio album since 1986's badly-received Electric Café.

The centennial of the Tour de France this summer was the ideal opportunity for the avid cyclists to come out with new material. But the idea was actually an old one. The original song "Tour de France" from 1983 has now been expanded by a prolog and a new version, which is broken down into three "stages." The new album also includes seven new songs.

A part of musical history

A lot has happened in the music world since Kraftwerk brought out their last album. But the course of contemporary music is inconceivable without their influence.

Following the boom of folk music and the hippie movement in the 1960s, the world rediscovered rock music in the 1970s. But four Düsseldorf students calling themselves Kraftwerk -- which means "power station" in German -- wanted to do something different.

They drew on the influence of experimental electronic forces such as composer Karlheinz Stockhausen to create minimalist music on synthesizers, drum machines and tape recorders. Live performances often included the band leaving the stage and look-a-like robots playing the songs. Their first single "Autobahn" in 1974 marked Kraftwerk's breakthrough and established them as the representatives of hi-tech, computerized music.

Kraftwerk's influence can be found in techno, house and electro-pop. They had an impact on an entire generation of English new-wave acts, such as the Human League, Gary Numan, Depeche Mode and OMD. David Bowie claimed to have long been an admirer of the group. His track "V-2 Schneider" on the album Heroes is named after Kraftwerk member Florian Schneider.

Taking their time

For many years, rumors circulated that Kraftwerk was about to release a new album. But the band, which is notorious for its aversion to public interviews and publicity hype, didn't make information available on the album's due-date.

So what were Kraftwerk's core duo Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider up to? The "musical workers," as they call themselves, allegedly spent almost every day in their legendary KlingKlang Studio in Düsseldorf to work on new compositions.

Yet the outside world hardly heard a sound, apart from the EXPO 2000 jingle and the related single. Critics received the song composed for the world fair in Hanover somewhat reservedly and many claim it was solely written for the substantial (undisclosed) price tag.

Kraftwerk Tour de France, Cover des neuen Albums

Kraftwerk: "Tour de France Soundtracks"

The new album Tour De France Soundtracks is seeing a different track record. It has stormed the German charts and is holding the number one spot. Considering that most of Germany's top hits are more rock-oriented, the success of Kraftwerk's classic electronic sound comes somewhat as a surprise.

Yet the album has gotten mixed reviews. Many critics feel the band is offering nothing new. Of course, expectations were high after so many years of absence from the musical stage. But, on the other hand, Kraftwerk has no need to be something new. They already did that -- over 30 years ago.

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