Gerhard Richter Archives – Telekom Electronic Beats

“We don’t orientate ourselves by the vanguard beats of others” – Max Dax interviews Tosca

 

As Tosca, Richard Dorfmeister and Rupert Huber released their first album, the wittily titled and groundbreaking Opera, in 1997. However, their friendship began much earlier, in school, where their shared love of musical experimentation, particularly with tape machines, proved a fertile basis for long-term collaboration. Their music while highly exploratory is also hugely popular; a distinctive take on downtempo and ambient music, uncoupled from the formal imperatives of electronic music made for the club. The duos latest album Odeon is released this month and Electronic Beats editor-in-chief Max Dax met up with them to discuss, among other things, the emotional resonance of Vienna, the joy of soundscapes and the essential records of Miles Davis. ~ All photos by Luci Lux

Even though you travel the world, you still consider Vienna as your hideout and refuge. Do you consider Vienna as an epicenter or is it more like a city on the periphery?

Richard Dorfmeister: The world is a ghetto. I strongly believe in the idea that home is where your roots are. Home, to me, can be the town where I am currently based; I can work with my laptop in New York, in Dresden or on some remote Austrian glacier. But for seven years now I have lived with my family and my three kids in Zurich. So, frequently coming back to Vienna to work there together with Rupert on new Tosca material always feels like really coming home—from a place I now call home.

How did Tosca’s music change as a result?

RD: I wouldn’t say that Tosca’s music changed as a result of my traveling schedules, but certainly our working patterns have altered. Now every session has an end after three or four days. We both consider the time we have as very precious and valuable. So, as a result, we’re probably more focused than before.

Rupert Huber: As opposed to the days gone by when we could endlessly work on new material as there was no time budget involved.

RD: I like the term ‘budget’. Time has become a currency to us. But besides that, coming back to Vienna always triggers childhood memories—as well as more recent ones—as this is the capital I was born in. You can’t erase strong feelings like that. The mood is present even if we encapsulate ourselves in our studio in the basement of the house where I used to live. Our studio is like a cosmos: once you enter the studio you’re cut off from the world that surrounds you, there are no seasons and there’s no time of day. I really love to be separated from the world like that when it comes to work. But I can’t shake off the feeling that I’m home.

RH: A studio has to be, by definition, sealed off from the outside world and not only for acoustic reasons. I couldn’t focus in a studio that offers me, say, a beautiful view. I prefer working in seclusion.

I recently interviewed Irmin Schmidt of CAN fame and he loves to have a view. When it was hot in summer in Weilerswist they would even leave the studio door open—you can hear children playing in the distant background on some of their recordings…

RH: If you left the door open to our studio you’d hear people yelling at each other, car accidents and street traffic.

RD: It never crossed my mind to sell the studio and build a new one in Zurich.

Tosca’s Opera album from 1997 started as a pop album but tilted over into a dystopian soundscape after a couple of tracks. The album certainly helped to define how we perceive Vienna today. I remember having dinner with Arto Lindsay when Opera was just released and he remarkably stated that he’d forever link the musical freedom you’d expressed on the album with the city of Vienna.

RD: Wow! He said that? Great! I too love these soundscapes most. The deluxe version of our new CD Odeon has a bonus live disc of pure ambient soundscapes. Whenever Tosca comes close to this kind of music we are getting somewhere particular. Unfortunately, you can’t perform these kind of ambient concerts everywhere. People are still not that open.

Why is it you like the soundscapes so much?

RD: I guess it’s the cinematographic quality they have. When you listen to forty minutes of sound without beats it gets trippy and I’m fully aware of the fact that there’s only a fine line between boredom and absolute trippiness.

RH: It took us some time to create this atmosphere on stage. We needed special equipment to do so and now we’ve assembled all the gear we can perform like we want to. The Odeon live bonus CD is a first glimpse of what you’ll hear from us in the future.

What seemed to have been the obstacle?

RH: We didn’t have the new version of Ableton Live. Now that we do it allows us to intuitively alter the tunings and the tempos of our pianos and everything else while playing live. This piece of software enables us to be rid of pre-set patterns.

RD: The different tunings of the sound sources proved the biggest problem when it came to live performance in the past.

RH: It’s never easy to tune a piano to start with, but even when you’ve finally fine-tuned your instrument you have to sync all the other audio sources with the piano tuning.

RD: I envy real musicians for that reason. Take Miles Davis’ band from the ’70s, when they went electric. They didn’t have to bother about midi or whatever. They’d tune their instruments and then play.

 

 

Which Miles Davis albums do you consider essential?

RD: The usual ones: Agartha, Pangaea, Live Evil. That kind of stuff.

What about The Cellar Door Sessions or The Complete Jack Johnson Sessions?

RD: I’ve heard about them. They’re the original sessions that were then treated and edited by Teo Macero, right?

Right.

RD: Didn’t they release The Complete On the Corner Sessions as well?

Yes, it’s pure dope. I’m not at all surprised that almost every musician or producer who works in the field of electronic music calls these ‘making-of’ box sets an incredible source of inspiration.

RH: That’s uplifting to hear because I’m actually, more often than not, disappointed when I try to talk with people about this exact kind of music. They haven’t even heard of that body of work. All they come up with is Brian Eno. I mean, nothing against Eno, but Miles Davis is, well, miles ahead.

RD: I recently had this discussion about the sources and roots of Kraftwerk and CAN. How come that electronic music in the ’70s went through the roof in West Germany of all places…?

Stockhausen probably, and his WDR Studio für Elektronische Musik in Cologne certainly was a major reason.

RD: I think so too. If you talk about electronic music you have to talk about Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Miles Davis too. That’s when the tape machine came into play.

Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay of CAN were students of Stockhausen. Whereas Kraftwerk were heavily influenced by the Dusseldorf Kunstakademie, namely Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter—even though they didn’t do music at all. 

RD: I understand what you mean. It’s probably the spirit of that particular time and place which made things possible. I mean, it’s obvious that Kraftwerk didn’t try to enhance the musical ideas of other musicians who went before them. It’s crystal clear to me that the concepts came from the art world.

Now Kraftwerk are taking their music into the museums. They performed at the MoMA in Manhattan, at the Kunstsammlung NRW and are due to perform at the Tate Modern. This raises an interesting contradiction: If they consider their music as an artistic performance that can be exhibited then how does improvisation fit into the equation?

RD: The unforeseeable element is the key essence when making music. Especially when you don’t only improvise but also start to use dub effects. Then the whole set-up finally becomes totally unpredictable. But regarding Kraftwerk, I think the essence is that they have a strong framework of pre-set structures, but in between those they are allowed to improvise. I don’t think that art performed in a museum implies that improvisation is not allowed.

Richard, you’ve been one half of Kruder & Dorfmeister. By what means is Tosca a counterpart to K&D?

RD: Well, obviously Rupert and I don’t even try to do club music with Tosca. Even if we use beats we don’t orientate ourselves by the vanguard beats of the others. Tosca is more about style than about beats. As a DJ I could easily include dubstep into a set of mine, but even if I like it the sound wouldn’t become part of Tosca.

What kind of music does rub off when it comes to Tosca?

RD: It’s basically music from the ’80s. I’ve probably heard too much music in my life so now most of the new music that comes out leaves me completely unimpressed. When you’re young and your memory is a blank slate you’ll fall in love with every kind of good music that you hear for the first time. Don’t get me wrong—I envy the beginner’s mind for its openness and naivety. Every impression you get as a beginner is a strong impression. Of course I do envy anybody who experiences such a strong impression.

Can you recall such a strong impression in your own life?

RD: Of course. Watching Stop Making Sense by Talking Heads for the first time blew my mind. Nobody had ever seen such a thing onscreen before. I liked Some Kind of Monster by Metallica and Everyone Stares by Stewart Copeland of The Police fame too. But as I said before, I’m mostly impressed by the music that hit me when I was still going to school—The Doors, Serge Gainsbourg, Arto Lindsay, black soul music, funk and Studio One reggae. It was the heyday of new wave, only a couple of months before hip-hop and rap blew everything away. I mean, there were musical revolutions going on!

What about Falco, to name another musician from Vienna?

RD: Falco was pop. We didn’t care about pop.

RH: He was commercial.

But didn’t you often spin Falco’s hit “Ganz Wien” as part of Kruder & Dorfmeister’s DJ sets?

RD: Of course! That’s his best tune. We had the pleasure of meeting him one year before his death. We respect him. Why shouldn’t we? But when we were young we were so much more strict than we are nowadays.  ~

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Matthias Mühling on Kraftwerk

When I was studying, the term “curator” didn’t exist in German. It’s only over the past twenty years that it’s started making its appearance from Anglo-Saxon art circles, and it’s definitely had an affect on the way German curators have begun to grasp their own identities and functions. I would say at the Lenbachhaus, we’re much more interested in serving the artist than curators who ascribe themselves a form of authorship of what they present. To that extent, there was lots of trust in Kraftwerk putting together large parts of the exhibit on their own. They knew exactly what they were doing, and I wouldn’t have thought to interfere with such a huge, technical multimedia installation based on my competency in hanging pictures. In that sense, the exhibit wasn’t a lot of work for me. Of course, convincing people that a Kraftwerk exhibition should take place—that I had to do. At the Lenbachhaus, we’re particularly fascinated by the idea that there is no difference between so-called “high” art and art as entertainment.

 

That’s probably one of the most discussed issues within art history in the twentieth century and certainly part of the great utopian vision of the avant- garde. However many people want to claim that there is less and less of a distinction to be drawn, it’s not something that you see reflected in reality. In museums, you still only find “high” art. Over and over again, contemporary fine art has found itself in crises and hoped to find its way out through some other discipline: fine art and film, fine art and fashion, fine art and pop music, fine art and pop culture . . . But usually it ends up with classically trained artists who only kind of have one foot in some other discipline.

 

We as a museum are forced to ask ourselves how we can best reflect contemporary, twenty-first century culture. And when we really take that question seriously, we realize we can’t be comfortable with doing, say, an exhibition on pop music exclusively with works by Martin Kippenberger. That’s also a very interesting project, and I guess somehow a connection between the two can be drawn, but Kippenberger isn’t an example of something in popular culture that’s had the kind of massive, significant stylistic influence that I’m referring to—like it changed people’s conception of pop music or had a lasting aesthetic effect outside the art world. In my opinion, the only real example of something so far reaching would be Kraftwerk. They’ve always been devoted to offering a complete artistic package in terms of performance and visual accompaniment—it’s practically synaesthetic in a good Wagnerian sense. But beyond that is the band’s self-reflective nature that we know so well from fine art, one that’s so unambiguously connected to the cultural history of the Rhineland.

 

Kraftwerk makes pop music about pop music. They incorporate “everyday” sounds—trains, bicycles, cars—as a form of self-reflectiveness, like how Gerhard Richter “exhibited” the brushstroke. But Kraftwerk’s art is also intimately connected to a certain “generosity”, if you can call it that. What they do is entertaining, humorous, danceable and thought provoking. That’s an incredibly rare combination. Kraftwerk refuse to accept the notion that doing something serious or profound has to be obscure or difficult to consume. That combination of entertainment and artistic clarity is nothing short of remarkable. At the MoMA performances, the visuals for “Morning Walk” were an excellent example of that. On the one hand it evoked classic German romanticism—small moonlit hamlets—but on the other the very specific historical provincial, bourgeois narrow-mindedness of the Federal Republic of Germany, which I personally can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s because it’s such a strong reflection of something I grew up with.

 

Kraftwerk’s performance at the Lenbachhaus in 2011 was the first time the band played an entire concert in 3-D, but I should men- tion that we were also very, very proud to have had the 3-D video and sound installation without the band as well. For us, that aspect of the exhibition was a logical consequence of the disappearance of the performers, with music existing and being played on its own by machines. When we were thinking about how to exhibit Kraftwerk, it was obvious that we did not have to have something “behind glass”, so to speak. We didn’t want to be a local museum that covered the local and generic history and devel- opment of the band. We wanted a contemporary exhibition that had little or nothing to do with relics of Kraftwerk’s past—their old synths or vocoders or whatever. That would have really been the wrong approach to something so timeless.~

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

 

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Klaus Biesenbach on Kraftwerk

Honestly, I don’t really know anything about the music world—I just know a lot of musicians.

So when I first contacted Kraftwerk in 1998 for the Berlin Biennale, while I was working with Christoph Schlingensief, I had no idea what to expect. I think at the time, Kraftwerk were at a point in their career when they had yet to decide if they really wanted to commit to the art world. The thing is, 1998 was also the height of the Love Parade in Berlin, and the organizers also asked them to take part, which they didn’t do. But I think maybe they were scared off because we both asked at the same time. It took a while, but they answered our call in 2007. That’s when we first started putting this in the works.

What we’ve done in the MoMA atrium is pretty much recreate Kraftwerk’s Dusseldorf-based Kling Klang studio, down to very minute details. Attending every show and being so caught up in the process, I’ve experienced the retrospective in a very specific way: The first night I was completely exhilarated; the second night I was irritated by the rhythm and duration; the third night I was completely addicted. It was like being on a bicycle, cruising along, eventually having to go uphill, and then coasting back down again and hitting your rhythm. Then it’s in your body. When I did the interview with Jon Pareles for The New York Times together with Ralf [Hütter] the word “tangible” kept coming up. Ralf said that when he speaks during concerts, he does so from inside the music. For the Trans-Europe Express show, they performed ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ which is all about Echo and Narcissus. These are the audio and visual reflections that are both sent and received, like a radio station transmitting and receiving, an artist looking and being looked at. It’s an excellent metaphor of what’s been done here at the MoMA, which has cost a considerable amount of money to produce and involved an incredible amount of building and restructuring. My colleague from the Whitney thought that the exhibition space had already existed. No, this was created to bring people into the image, into the cube. And within the cube, people are inside the cone of 3-D projection, which extends from the screen onstage to the projector in the back. Both the band and the viewers are literally inside the art. You can’t stand on the side. I told people when they watch, they have to be in the cone.

During the first dress rehearsal, when the sub-bass came on during ‘Kometenmelodie 1’, several light fixtures started rattling. We took the frequency out, because I thought the building would collapse—I thought the paintings would fall off the walls. We ended up solving the problem of course, but it gave us a scare. The fact of the matter is that when you’re curating, especially doing a retrospective, you give up your own personality. It’s the strangest thing. When I was doing Marina Abramovic, I had to completely dive into her world and live her speed and velocity. Or better: stillness and duration. It’s an intimate experience with a work of art. It means you have to be completely available. So I’ve been listening to Kraftwerk straight for the past four months. You know, with every artist, there’s a first work where the nucleus of all future ideas is contained. And that’s extremely important to know when creating a retrospective. Here it’s Autobahn, for me. That’s subjective, of course.

I think Kraftwerk have been artists from the very beginning, but they were kidnapped by their mainstream success. Of course, everybody is happy to be kidnapped by success, but it makes it more difficult to recognize who and what they are. Still, in the sixties and seventies their studio was right next door to Gerhard Richter’s. They could have drilled a hole in the wall and been right there. But honestly, not a lot of people have understood the extent to which Kraftwerk are and were artists, in Germany especially. Of course, I assume that people like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke got it. Joseph Beuys got it. Werner Herzog and Fassbinder got it. Katharina Sieverding got it. But not many others.

For me, Kraftwerk are very much children of the BRD, the Federal Republic of Germany. I am like a grandchild of the country, and Kraftwerk are father figures. The BRD, like the GDR, dissolved—it doesn’t exist anymore, but artistically speaking, it was all about Kraftwerk, Heinrich Böll and Joseph Beuys. It used to be that Germany had the first truly active Green Party, and culturally—in art and music—this played an important role. Beuys sang ‘Sonne statt Reagan’, and there were massive anti-nuclear protests, especially against the stationing of Pershing missiles. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz featured Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’, of course. I see all this in a very specific historical context, but also in an artistic one. The incredible thing is how Kraftwerk have been capable of not just updating but upgrading their material over the course of their careers.

Somehow it seems like people haven’t understood that the retrospective is an exhibition and not just a concert. People just don’t get that, and it’s been very hard to get people into a different mindset. It’s like with movies—film was the leading art form of the twentieth century, and it still hasn’t really made it into art museums. Museums can be so slow. With a time delay, art arrives with cinema, which is something I’m trying to push. I did Doug Aitken at MoMA which was big, cinematic images with no sound, then I did Pipilotti Rist, which was cinematic images with sound, then came Marina Abramovic, which was cinematic image with sound and live performance. And now it’s gone one step further. Kraftwerk is the fourth step. But there’s a fifth step, and I’m not sure what it is yet. A few months ago I went to the Cologne Cathedral to check out Gerhard Richter’s stained-glass works. And all I could think is what it must have been like a few hundred years ago to come from some mud-hut, some tiny town with no electricity, no heating, and see this incredible thing with image and sound. That’s what I imagined seeing and listening to Kraftwerk to be.~

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwer Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more – Read them here.

Photo: Luci Lux

 

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A week in the life: 168 hrs Kraftwerk, NYC part 1

Photo: Max Dax

Few bands cast a shadow as long (or wide) as electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. The influence of the band’s trail-blazing retro-futurism, conceptual precision and electronic minimalism is difficult to overestimate, extending beyond numerous genres of electronic music into the broader realm of art and popular culture. And the art world seems to have caught on. This past April, New York City’s Museum of Modern Art presented Kraftwerk Retrospective 12345678, a series of eight sold-out 3-D concerts, one for each Kraftwerk album, beginning with 1974’s Autobahn and ending with 2003’s Tour de France Soundtracks. The result was an audiovisual tour de force that put the “werk” into Gesamtkunstwerk— with peerless kraft.

TUESDAY

Klaus Biesenbach, Director of MoMA Ps1 & Chief Curator At Large at the Museum of Modern Art

Photo: Luci Lux

Honestly, I don’t really know anything about the music world—I just know a lot of musicians. So when I first contacted Kraftwerk in 1998 for the Berlin Biennale, while I was working with Christoph Schlingensief, I had no idea what to expect. I think at the time, Kraftwerk were at a point in their career when they had yet to decide if they really wanted to commit to the art world. The thing is, 1998 was also the height of the Love Parade in Berlin, and the organizers also asked them to take part, which they didn’t do. But I think maybe they were scared off because we both asked at the same time. It took a while, but they answered our call in 2007. That’s when we first started putting this in the works.

What we’ve done in the MoMA atrium is pretty much recreate Kraftwerk’s Dusseldorf-based Kling Klang studio, down to very minute details. Attending every show and being so caught up in the process, I’ve experienced the retrospective in a very specific way: The first night I was completely exhilarated; the second night I was irritated by the rhythm and duration; the third night I was completely addicted. It was like being on a bicycle, cruising along, eventually having to go uphill, and then coasting back down again and hitting your rhythm. Then it’s in your body. When I did the interview with Jon Pareles for The New York Times together with Ralf [Hütter] the word “tangible” kept coming up. Ralf said that when he speaks during concerts, he does so from inside the music. For the Trans-Europe Express show, they performed ‘The Hall of Mirrors’ which is all about Echo and Narcissus. These are the audio and visual reflections that are both sent and received, like a radio station transmitting and receiving, an artist looking and being looked at. It’s an excellent metaphor of what’s been done here at the MoMA, which has cost a considerable amount of money to produce and involved an incredible amount of building and restructuring. My colleague from the Whitney thought that the exhibition space had already existed. No, this was created to bring people into the image, into the cube. And within the cube, people are inside the cone of 3-D projection, which extends from the screen onstage to the projector in the back. Both the band and the viewers are literally inside the art. You can’t stand on the side. I told people when they watch, they have to be in the cone.

During the first dress rehearsal, when the sub-bass came on during ‘Kometenmelodie 1’, several light fixtures started rattling. We took the frequency out, because I thought the building would collapse—I thought the paintings would fall off the walls. We ended up solving the problem of course, but it gave us a scare. The fact of the matter is that when you’re curating, especially doing a retrospective, you give up your own personality. It’s the strangest thing. When I was doing Marina Abramovic, I had to completely dive into her world and live her speed and velocity. Or better: stillness and duration. It’s an intimate experience with a work of art. It means you have to be completely available. So I’ve been listening to Kraftwerk straight for the past four months. You know, with every artist, there’s a first work where the nucleus of all future ideas is contained. And that’s extremely important to know when creating a retrospective. Here it’s Autobahn, for me. That’s subjective, of course.

I think Kraftwerk have been artists from the very beginning, but they were kidnapped by their mainstream success. Of course, everybody is happy to be kidnapped by success, but it makes it more difficult to recognize who and what they are. Still, in the sixties and seventies their studio was right next door to Gerhard Richter’s. They could have drilled a hole in the wall and been right there. But honestly, not a lot of people have understood the extent to which Kraftwerk are and were artists, in Germany especially. Of course, I assume that people like Gerhard Richter and Sigmar Polke got it. Joseph Beuys got it. Werner Herzog and Fassbinder got it. Katharina Sieverding got it. But not many others.

For me, Kraftwerk are very much children of the BRD, the Federal Republic of Germany. I am like a grandchild of the country, and Kraftwerk are father figures. The BRD, like the GDR, dissolved—it doesn’t exist anymore, but artistically speaking, it was all about Kraftwerk, Heinrich Böll and Joseph Beuys. It used to be that Germany had the first truly active Green Party, and culturally—in art and music—this played an important role. Beuys sang ‘Sonne statt Reagan’, and there were massive anti-nuclear protests, especially against the stationing of Pershing missiles. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz featured Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’, of course. I see all this in a very specific historical context, but also in an artistic one. The incredible thing is how Kraftwerk have been capable of not just updating but upgrading their material over the course of their careers.

Somehow it seems like people haven’t understood that the retrospective is an exhibition and not just a concert. People just don’t get that, and it’s been very hard to get people into a different mindset. It’s like with movies—film was the leading art form of the twentieth century, and it still hasn’t really made it into art museums. Museums can be so slow. With a time delay, art arrives with cinema, which is something I’m trying to push. I did Doug Aitken at MoMA which was big, cinematic images with no sound, then I did Pipilotti Rist, which was cinematic images with sound, then came Marina Abramovic, which was cinematic image with sound and live performance. And now it’s gone one step further. Kraftwerk is the fourth step. But there’s a fifth step, and I’m not sure what it is yet. A few months ago I went to the Cologne Cathedral to check out Gerhard Richter’s stained-glass works. And all I could think is what it must have been like a few hundred years ago to come from some mud-hut, some tiny town with no electricity, no heating, and see this incredible thing with image and sound. That’s what I imagined seeing and listening to Kraftwerk to be.

 

 

WEDNESDAY

Juan Atkins, electronic musician and founding father of Detroit techno

Photo: Luci Lux

The first time I heard Kraftwerk was on The Electrifying Mojo’s radio show in Detroit in the late seventies. This is when FM radio was still young, and there were only, like, three stations. There really was no specific format for FM radio at the time—DJs were allowed to do what they wanted. You heard them play entire albums when they felt like it, which couldn’t be more different from today’s radio format. Mojo used to play ‘Trans-Europe Express’ and ‘We Are The Robots’ pretty regularly, but the first time I heard ‘Robots’ I just froze. My jaw dropped. It just sounded so new and fresh. I mean, I had already been doing electronic music at the time, but the results weren’t so pristine—the sound of computers talking to each other. This sounded like the future, and it was fascinating, because I had just started learning about sequencers and drum programs. In my mind, Kraftwerk were, like, consultants to Roland and Korg and stuff because they had these sounds before any of the machines even appeared on the market.

Needless to say, Kraftwerk definitely influenced my sound, because when I heard their music I automatically knew I had to tighten up what I was doing; I had to make it cleaner and better—though not necessarily more minimal, because what I was doing was pretty minimal for the time. A lot of people think that I was copying Kraftwerk directly, but that’s absolutely not the case. For me, they weren’t any more of an influence than, say, funk—P-Funk especially. I actually had a chance to talk to Florian [Schneider] when we played Tribal Gathering together a few years back. We met up behind the Detroit stage and chatted a bit and I was really surprised to learn that Kraftwerk were hugely influenced by James Brown. Of course, P-Funk was made up of at least half the JB’s first line-up, so somehow Detroit techno was a very natural, even “fated” progression. I mean, there were other funky electronic bands around—Tangerine Dream and Gary Numan and all that—but none were as funky as Kraftwerk­. I mean, you could actually play the stuff on black radio, and that wasn’t a small feat. You could go to an all black club in Detroit and when they put on ‘Pocket Calculator’, everybody just went totally crazy.

Kraftwerk’s minimal lyrics were part of their overall concept, and definitely contributed to their special blend. I can say for sure that they put Germany on the map for me. When I was a kid in school in America, the only thing we learned about Germany was World War II. Also, I always had this impression—independently of the war—that Germany was very logical, very machine-oriented. And without a doubt, when I went to the Man Machine show at the MoMA retrospective, I could definitely hear the way they combined the machine-driven syncopations with a more human take on improvisation. And the visuals were phenomenal. I had only heard after the fact that Ralf Hütter had played an important role in choosing both Francois K and I to do our DJ sets for the Kraftwerk exhibit at the geodesic dome at PS1. I’m proud to have been a part of it.

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