The Grammy Academy honored German band Kraftwerk with a Lifetime Achievement Award last year. The techno pioneers joined six other winners of the award in 2014, including the Beatles and the Isley Brothers.
The artists, songs and albums that receive Grammy Awards tend to be among the most commercially successful in the year leading up to the annual awards ceremony. But a different set of criteria govern the Recording Academy's special merit awards, announced in advance of the prestigious event.
Of this year's Lifetime Award designees, the head of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow, said, "This astoundingly unique and gifted group have created some of the most distinguished and influential work in our musical history. Their legacies are timeless and legendary, and their creativity will continue to influence and inspire future generations."
That sort of praise is probably exactly what Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider were after when they founded Kraftwerk in 1970, but audience's initial response signaled none of the reverence they would later inspire. The two musicians were ahead of their time - even two years before founding Kraftwerk, when they created their first joint musical project under the name Organisation.
It took audiences a while to understand that Kraftwerk had set a musical revolution in motion. But the group's breakthrough came in 1974 with the album "Autobahn."
Hot on the heels of that success came the LPs "Radio-Activity" and, in early 1977, "Trans-Europe Express." They showcased the band's musical trademarks: monotony, repetition and motion; instead of flowery sentiments, their lyrics consisted almost entirely of statements that could have been taken directly from informational signs and labels.
"From the beginning, we had a concept of electronic folk music. It's a kind of anticipatory music, looking ahead to the age of the computer," said Ralf Hütter of his band's philosophy.
Calling Kraftwerk a "band" at all is questionable. From the start, it was a two-man collaboration. Both musicians saw themselves as servants of machines and their fellow performers as musical "staff members." Each "natural" instrument was replaced with an electronic device. The Düsseldorf musicians' joint performances on stage grew increasingly steeped in machines. Ultimately, they took themselves off stage altogether; robot figures took their places instead.
The Kraftwerk legend
Part of the Kraftwerk myth relates to its members' demands for strict privacy. People not directly associated with the band are prevented from entering their inner sanctum, the Kling Klang Studio in Düsseldorf.
Interviews remain rare, and when they do take place, reporters often find themselves sitting face to face with robot dummies, rather than the group's members in person.
In 2009, founding member Florian Schneider left Kraftwerk, leaving Ralf Hütter as the sole remaining "man-machine," as he likes to call himself. He oversees Kraftwerk's legacy and tours occasionally. In one interview, Hütter announced that he would like to change his last name officially to Kraftwerk.
Over the years, Kraftwerk's style inspired artists as varied as Björk, Blondie, David Bowie, Daft Punk and Depeche Mode, according to the Los Angeles-based Recording Academy, which hosts the Grammy Awards.
The list of artists who say they have drawn on Kraftwerk's work as a point of reference is nearly endless.
Seven Lifetime Achievement Awards
The Academy is also honoring the Beatles' contributions to music history this year. The other Lifetime Achievement honors in 2014 go to Mexican songwriter Armando Manzanero, country singer Kris Kristofferson, funk band the Isley Brothers as well as - posthumously - the blues musician Clifton Chenier and violinist Maud Powell.
The 56th edition of the Grammy Awards is being held on Sunday (26.01.2014) evening.