5 things you should know about Kraftwerk

Find out what happened when the electronic music pioneers played India for the first time in 1981.
The Man Machine in full flow in 1991 as Kraftwerk perform a live set
Kraftwerk as they were in 1991 © ullstein bild / Contributor / Getty Images
By Chris Parkin

Düsseldorf's man-machine experiment, Kraftwerk, are, as we're sure you're sick of hearing by now, one of the most influential acts of all time. They pushed electronic music into new realms, soundtracked b-boy battles and acid-house raves, inspired countless new genres from synth-pop and hip-hop to house and techno, and their live shows remain among the most thrilling (and confusing) spectacles in the world of music.

Led by co-founder and the band's only remaining original member Ralf Hütter, Kraftwerk are back on the road again, 40 years after the release of their sixth album Trans-Europe Express. To celebrate their ongoing journey, we've dipped into two fascinating Red Bull Music Academy stories to bring you five more things you need to know about these robot-pop pioneers.

Kraftwerk were TV stars in India... sort of

Electronic music might have been rarer than platypus teeth in India in the 1970s and early '80s, but Kraftwerk could be heard in every household with a TV. By the time the German four-piece made their live debut there in 1981, their song Neon Lights was being used to soundtrack a 10 minute break between programmes on TV channel Doordarshan, accompanying a hand-painted slide asking viewers to wait for the next programme.

They made a lot of friends there

When they played their first gig in India, at Bombay's Shanmukhananda Hall on September 25, 1981, Kraftwerk performed to around 2,000 people and bamboozled the crowd when, 15 minutes into the show, the band walked on to replace their famous mannequins. After the gig, Kraftwerk invited audience members – some dressed in Man Machine outfits – on stage to play around with their synthesizers.

Kraftwerk pose at the Keio Plaza Hotel, Tokyo, in their full Man Machine regalia.
Ralf Hütter (second from the left) and band © Shinko Music / Contributor / Getty Images

They blew a lot of minds in India

Kraftwerk's Indian debut was the first time anyone in the country had seen custom-made visuals running on a loop during songs – and it made quite an impression on nine-year-old Ashim Ahluwalia. "It looked like a set of a sci-fi film with all these buttons blinking," he said. "As a kid, I was really into it. I remember a back-screen projection, of railway tracks and power lines, and it blew my head off."

Read the full story of Kraftwerk's 1981 trip to India here.

Kraftwerk make it sound easy

"Sometimes you think of something ahead and then you play it," Ralf Hütter told British music writer Jon Savage in a 1991 interview. "That's one way of doing it. Then you play while you play; I have singing fingers, talking fingers. Florian has a talking typewriter. While you press the phonetics and the letters, you hear them, so it's a speaking or singing typewriter… It's distorted from an industrial product, part of a big Siemens computer from the old days, and Florian persuaded a technician to modify it. That's the voice you hear on a lot of our records. I play mostly keyboards, plastic knobs, just black or white notes. There's nothing to it. As we go along, I sometimes don't know where it's coming from, and that's the best way I can explain it. It's nearly automatic, very relaxing and easy, and the music is like a gift coming through your fingers."

Ralf Hütter saw the future in 1991

"I do think we're in a new musical age," Hütter told Jon Savage. "We're in the middle of a revolution, there's one phase already finished. Miniaturisation is continuing. Trans-Europe Express was done with huge machinery, and all this smaller stuff, transportable computers, will be great. We're still carrying a lot of weight from city to city. We're dreaming of carrying a briefcase from place to place with a laptop, little samples – little keyboards can be done already."

Read the rest of Jon Savage's interview with Ralf Hütter here.

Electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk performing in Düsseldorf, Germany in 2013
The Man Machine in full effect © ullstein bild / Contributor / Getty Images

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