Kraftwerk is a German band formed in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, who both produced Techno Pop with Karl Bartos in 1986. Techno Pop was Kraftwerk’s 9th studio album. Originally released as Electric Cafe, Techno Pop is the original working title of this album, re-released in 2009. Techno Pop was my album of November and December 2020 but required its own separate post to highlight just how enjoyable it is. This is the album which has seen me at my most productive. My usual revision album would be Tour De France by Kraftwerk while I was in school, however, this has now been superseded and with good reason. The only difference in the 2009 re-issue is that there is an additional track, House Phone, previously released as the B-Side of “The Telephone Call” or “Der Telefon-Anruf” 12-inch single in 1987.
Ralf Hütter – voice, vocoder, keyboards, electronics, mixing engineer
Florian Schneider – vocoder, speech synthesis, sound design
Karl Bartos – electronic percussion (and voice on “The Telephone Call”)
Henning Schmitz – sound engineer (Kling Klang Studio)
This was the first album Kraftwerk released in the three years since Tour De France. The possible reason for this is below. Listening to this now without the pressure of the years of waiting Most of the album was recorded using the same instrument as Tour De France, an Emu-Emulator, which is a digital sampling synthesizers using floppy disk storage, if you can believe it. This is pictured below. As you’ll be aware I am a big fan of synth of all descriptions so this was a great discovery. From the opening notes of the first track, above, you can see this wonderful instrument at work.
When Electric Cafe was reissued on CD in 2004 with the name Techno Pop it put an end to such speculations and confirmed the sorry truth: Techno Pop had been recorded and slated for release in 1983, but a crisis of confidence – as well as a serious cycling injury sustained by Ralf Hütter – had seen its release postponed. After the album had been mixed in New York none of the band was happy with it, and the decision was taken to scrap it and start again. The change of name to Electric Cafe was presumably born of embarrassment that even as fastidious a group as Kraftwerk had taken the best part of five years to produce 35 minutes of music. And not very good music at that. Or so went the critical judgement of the time as far as the last point is concerned. Drowned In Sound
The first three tracks on this album are variations on the same theme, described as a masterpiece of “monomaniacal rhythmical development” by Drowned In Sound. Transitions between tracks are sublime and barely noticeable. The final part of the second track is a superb low end synth line which moves beneath synthesised marimba and xylophone patterns quite deftly. The band continue with the intensity of the end of track 2 into Musique Non Stop. This was a sparse rhythm track which is impressive seen alone but uniquely so seen as part of the album as a whole.
The final four tracks always fly by for me. House Phone was added to the re-release for reasons I am not fully clear on. The Telephone Call is a wonderful track and is the only Kraftwerk song which features Bartos as lead vocalist. This track on the Kraftwerk live album Minimum Maximum is one of my favourites on that album. Sex Object is a bit more divisive and certainly not what one would expect given the previous Kraftwerk Catalogue.
If techno, according to Derrick May’s famous definition, was the sound of Kraftwerk and George Clinton trapped in an elevator with nothing but a sequencer to occupy them, then ‘Sex Object’ is what happened when Clinton got swapped out for Mark King. Drowned In Sound
Ending with Electric Cafe, a sort of Franco Germanic techno meld, the album always leaves me feeling satisfied. It is balanced, has some wicked and novel synth work, and is a remarkably fully realised vision. It spurns me on and has been at my side through some of my best work. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Rest in peace Florian Schneider-Esleben (7 April 1947 – 21 April 2020), immortal of pop.