This Month in Electronic Music History, Vol. 3: May

We’re officially delving in to our third segment of “This Month in Electronic Music History.” We’ve touched on various topics so far, including Frankie Knuckles and the birthplace of house music at The Warehouse, the founding of the Roland Company, plus different tracks that played a staple part in the growth of electronic music. It’s viable to consider the roots of electronic music, along with how social and technological trends affect its growth to further understand the modern EDM we see in mainstream today.

Events in History: May 1975 / 1978

It all began in 1968, when students Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider met studying classical music at Düsseldorf Conservatory. The duo’s first recorded performance is on the 1970 album Tone Float with psychedelic krautrock quintet Organisations.  Afterwards, Hütter and Schneider created their own group under the name Kraftwerk. (The German definition for powerplant, or a “method of producing electricity,”) Kraftwerk certainly enveloped the mantra of their name. Taking this concept, along with inspiration from the German avant-garde movement, Hütter and Schneider experimented with mechanical sounds from daily life in their music.

In 1975, when Klaus Roeder and Wolfgang Flür became additions to Kraftwerk they quickly grew to mainstream success. Their first record, Autobahn, released May 3, 1975, reached #5 on the U.S. Billboard 200 the week of its release. Roeder left prior to completion of the album, so they recruited Karl Bartos on drums. In contrast to their previous, more mechanical-heavy style, this album featured more synthesizers, including the Minimoog. The 22-minute minimalist track describes a journey through the famous German-Austrian highway.

The four musicians took a unique, almost businesslike approach to music, remaining uniform in still-like posture and wearing business suits in front of synthesizers. Their albums took on varying themes related to technology that was accessible to various audiences. Radio-Activity took on the concept of radio communication, and train travel in Trans-Europe Express. Their May 19, 1978 album The Man Machine blurred the lines of mechanical music, even taking on robot personas (The Robots) of their own to create an album deprived of human touch. In contrast to Trans-Europe Express and Radioactivity, The Man Machine sounded more like pre-defined new wave electro-pop. The album ventures into sci-fi related connections between humans and technology, as well as more danceable portrayals of glamorizing urbanization.

Events in History: May 2017

Kraftwerk certainly made a monumental impact on the various types of electronic music we’re familiar with today. Now, in 2017 we are able to access their varying stunning live performances through Kraftwerk 3-D: The Catalog.  On May 26, the group is releasing a stunning audio/visual documentary of performances at different art museums. This release also coincides with Kraftwerk’s sold out UK 2017 tour, which begins June 2 in Dublin. The Catalog comes with a 4-disc Blue Ray set with the concert of all eight albums: Autobahn, Radio-Activity, Trans Europe Express, The Man-Machine, Computer World, Tour De France, Techno Pop and The Mix all in HD. You also get a copy of the tour’s projection and films, and the deluxe edition includes tons of stock photos from the tour. Make sure to check out the trailer below!

Songs in History: May 1981

Kraftwerk’s The Man Machine further instilled their impact on the development of electronic music. Continuing their consistency of designing albums related to technological themes, on May 10, 1981 Computer World released. This album encompassed the growth of global technology and invention of computers. The album took on the familiar minimalist and futuristic sound we love and know today. Take a listen to It’s More Fun to Compute to see a fun example of how specific styles resonate in our favorite electronic artists today.

Pitchfork and Slant Magazine listed Computer World at #44 and #25, respectively, on their list of “Top 100 Albums From the 1980s.” Rolling Stone also listed the album as #10 on their 2012 list of “The Greatest EDM Albums of All Time.”  Kraftwerk continues their success throughout the 80s and 90s with albums like Tour De France, Electric Cafe (aka TechnoPop), and The MixComputer World brought Kraftwerk’s electronic sound into the mainstream, as synth-pop and electro gained mass recognition.

For a killer, yet more contemporary live performance from Kraftwerk, check out their 2-hour 2014 set at Cirkus in Stockholm. Listening to this set was definitely an inspiration while writing this article. It further shows how this group was ahead of their time in regards to electronic music, and how our favorite genres in modern EDM shaped due to their style.

What are some of your favorite Kraftwerk tracks? Can you recall some important moments in electronic music history? What are some additional topics or songs to cover in future segments? Share your responses with us in the comments!

And make sure to check out Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of “This Month in Electronic Music History” for more monthly historic events.

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