A German academic looks back at the music, art and influence of Germany's inimitable electronic band, linking their work to the traditions of the Bauhaus and 1920s German aesthetics as well as the nation's cultural wariness in the aftermath of World War II.
That [the music's] apparent simplicity was achieved through considerable complexity of thought and practice is one of the many contradictions that Uwe Schütte explores in this highly stimulating critical biography ... a pleasure to read ... Constructing a personal biography of Kraftwerk would be extremely difficult, and Schütte takes the group on its own terms—writing clearly about each phase in its existence, with digressions into subjects such as Joseph Beuys, Warhol, the history of machine music, and the role of trains in the Holocaust. Most of all, his book sent me back to those core eight albums.
Schütte’s attention to the visual elements of Kraftwerk is one of the book’s strengths. He shows many of the band’s artistic influences, from El Lissitzky to Andy Warhol. And the visual angle fits the arc of Kraftwerk’s long history ... The book does justice to the importance of the visual artist Emil Schult, the group’s long-time collaborator and unofficial fifth member, who designed many of Kraftwerk’s album covers ... Schütte, who grew up in Germany, gives a granular sense of the specifically German aspects of Kraftwerk’s context ... Schütte also parses German terms closely, explaining at length why all English translations of industrielle Volksmusik, the term Kraftwerk coined to describe their music, are unsatisfactory ... This sort of cultural translation is generally helpful, although at times the book reads like a careless, over-literal translation from German ... There is a valid point to be made about reflexive stereotypes in early UK and US media coverage of Kraftwerk, but here, Schütte does not make it well. Elsewhere, the book is marred by dismissiveness and curmudgeonly gripes.