With its suitably restrained jacket design and a foreword from Karl Bartos, Kraftwerk: Publikation looks like it might just be a Kling Klang product. It isn’t, of course. The shutters remain firmly down at that particular location. And Florian Schneider’s staying schtum too. So Munich-based author David Buckley has teased out some more information from Kraftwerk’s garrulous Lothario, Wolfgang Flür, and has romanced the sober and sensible Karl Bartos (who has a solo album on the way) into talking about his experiences. He’s talked at length with several of the other musicians who passed through the ranks before Ralf and Florian finally settled on the version of Kraftwerk that started to come together with 1974’s breakthrough album Autobahn.
Flür is in mildly disapproving mode about Ralf’s continuing the Kraftwerk project long after what he considers to be its sell-by date and reveals that he was asked to rejoin the band by Hütter in 1997: “He tried to buy me back with a big pile of money”, he says. The meeting, typically Kraftwerkian in that it took place at a Düsseldorf café under a chestnut tree, the protagonists elegantly consuming coffee and plum tart, ended with Wolfgang unburdening himself of years of resentment: “You broke everything with your bicycle”, he recalls telling Ralf, “you couldn’t care less what happens to Karl and me”. This exchange is possibly the equivalent of David Bowie and Lou Reed’s famous fist-fight in 1979, physical blows sublimated into an emotionally suppressed chat over kaffeeundkuchen. There are plenty of other snippets to widen the eyes; Ralf offered Kraftwerk as support act to Depeche Mode, but Gahan et al refused, saying, “It’s not the real Kraftwerk”; the unedifying story of how Ralf and Florian excised Conny Plank from the Kraftwerk project after his considerable contribution to Autobahn; details about Florian Schneider’s wealthy upbringing and his unpleasant, famous architect father; Florian’s phone call to Pascal Bussy after his Kraftwerk biography Man, Machine and Music was published during which Florian said, in French (naturellement): “Your book is shit”, and the interviews with Michael Rother and other early collaborators are fascinating.
Like all books about Kraftwerk, this one circles around the band’s core, allowing tantalising glimpses of its inner workings, but fails to penetrate the inner sanctum. Ralf Hütter comes out of it as a man atrophying in the centre of a complex and mysterious machine he has built to ensure his immortality, whose vision of The Man Machine was less a cute and smart glimpse at the way technologically advanced societies were heading, but rather a more frightening and personal expression of his own human destiny.
It is almost certainly too late for any book to fully tell the Kraftwerk story, Ralf and Florian surely aren’t going to talk to anyone now, and even a Ralf Hütter or Florian Schneider autobiography (and it would be a foolish person indeed to bet the farm on either ever happening) would probably be an oblique exercise in revisionism. Having said that, Buckley’s Kraftwerk book is the best one yet, is clearly a labour of love, and has uncovered plenty for the Kraftwerk obsessive to get their teeth into.
Kraftwerk: Publikation by David Buckley is published by Omnibus Press and available from Amazon plus a variety of other retail outlets
Mark Roland is Deputy Editor of Electronic Magazine which is available at WH Smith and online at http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/music-bookazines/electronic-special/
This review was originally published at Electronic Magazine’s Facebook page and reproduced with the kind permission of the writer. The pilot issue of Electronic features an archive interview with Kraftwerk from 1977. A preview can be viewed at http://issuu.com/futurepublishing/docs/electronicmag