It’s an impossible question I know, but what do you say when people ask you what your favourite record is? I have loads of favourite records, but the one I always choose when someone asks me that question is ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk. ‘The Model’ was my introduction to Kraftwerk and I can still remember hearing it for the very first time, it sounded like nothing I knew at that time, like something from the future. I loved it and then I loved the album, and then I loved the previous album. I’m sure you know how these things go.
But the fascination of Kraftwerk wasn’t just about the music. There’s also the style, the image and those shadowy figures behind the showroom dummies, and they fascinated me too. There have been other books about Kraftwerk (I’ve read them) and there will be further books about Kraftwerk (I will read them too) but, for my money, right now you’re not going to read a better one than ‘Kraftwerk – Publikation’ by DAVID BUCKLEY, a perfect subject for a ‘We Love This’ feature…
Yes. Author David Buckley is a longtime supporter of this website and he very kindly agreed to answer a few questions about the book exclusively for This Is Not Retro, so here you go, the inside track…
THERE ARE QUITE A LOT OF BOOKS ABOUT KRAFTWERK ALREADY AVAILABLE, WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO DO ANOTHER ONE, AND HOW DIFFERENT IS IT TO OTHER TITLES OUT THERE?
Sorry to be contrary at the very start of our chat, but I don’t think there have been many Kraftwerk books. In English, there’s Pascal Bussy’s, Tim Barr’s, and Wolfgang’s autobiography. All three are very readable. I winced when I read that Florian called Pascal Bussy up and told him that his book was shit! Wolfgang’s book is revealing although at times, perhaps a tad too revealing (those of you who have read the book may agree, particularly a certain anecdote about the impact of the Who’s ‘My Generation’ on the teenage Wolfgang!) For a band that has been so influential, I think they have had minimal book-length coverage. David Bowie has had hundreds of books written about him and they still keep coming, and people still buy them.
HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT THE TASK OF WRITING THE BOOK? DID YOU HAVE AN IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANTED TO WRITE AND THEN GO AND RESEARCH THAT, OR DID YOU START WITH RESEARCH AND SEE WHAT CAME OUT OF THE PROCESS FOR EXAMPLE?
I have always wanted to write a Kraftwerk book and I really wanted to write a book for Omnibus Press because the commissioning editor, Chris Charlesworth is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The idea was, in fact, mentioned to me over ten years ago by my then editor Ian Gittins. I had read Bussy, Bar and Wolfgang’s books years ago, and purposely didn’t re-read them when I started writing this book as I wanted my book to be fresh and different. I am trained as a historian so my research process is quite thorough, but I’m also a fan too and so my books are a mixture of the ‘serious’ and the partisan. A decisive influence came from the book’s designer, Malcolm Garrett. He told me to make the book as much like an official Kraftwerk book as possible. His cover art is stunning, by the way, one of the best covers of any music book for my money. I then gave him some visual ideas for the inside and he designed the book. I then had the idea of ordering the book into 8 large chapters in line with Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’ sequence, and then to further divide these chapters into 8, so we had the 64-bit (ho ho!) history of the band. It was a good discipline to write like this.
IT SEEMS YOU GOT TO KNOW SOME OF THE PREVIOUS MEMBERS OF KRAFTWERK VERY IN THE PROCESS OF WRITING THE BOOK, KARL BARTOS IN PARTICULAR, DID GETTING TO KNOW THE CHARACTERS CHANGE ANY OF YOUR PRECONCEPTIONS AT ALL?
My initial worry was that I wouldn’t be able to get to speak to past members of the band once we found out that Kraftwerk supremo Ralf Hütter wasn’t rushing to be involved. But over the months I managed to trace and interview more people connected to Kraftwerk than I thought I would. And it was great fun too.
I very much like Karl; we’ve had so many fun Skype chats. He’s wicked! Sadly, a lot of the things he told me were off the record but I’m sure his autobiography will contain some of these anecdotes.
What became very clear is that Ralf and Florian were and are very controlled. Karl said that he never once saw either of them drunk for example. They ran Kraftwerk. Karl was keen to point out that He came from a very different social strata. He had to keep werking and when Kraftwerk ground to a halt, he and Wolfgang suffered.
Wolfgang was very friendly too, and also has a great sense of humour. Karl and Wolfgang are warm people; you cannot help like them.
ALTHOUGH YOU INVITED THEM TO TAKE PART IN THE PROJECT NEITHER OF THE TWO KEY MEMBERS OF THE GROUP, RALF HÜTTER OR FLORIAN SCHNEIDER, TOOK YOU UP ON THE OFFER. DID YOU EVER EXPECT THEM TO BECOME INVOLVED AND IF THEY HAD, HOW DIFFERENT WOULD THAT BOOK HAVE BEEN?
It’s a fact that many publishers actively DO NOT want the official endorsement of the band. They would claim that official books become whitewashes, and although this can be the case, my view is that the main reason publishers don’t want official books is that they have to pay more! I certainly wanted Ralf’s involvement. He is the main man and I was very keen to talk to him and try to chip away at the patina of reserve that he projects in interviews. People who have met him say he speaks excellent English and that he is considerate and polite. However, they also say that he reveals very little we don’t already know. I would have taken a different approach and would have asked him questions journalists would never have asked him; such as, ‘Why did you try to get Wolfgang back in the band in 1999?’ Or, ‘How many of your tunes were steals from existing works?’ He probably wouldn’t’ have answered these either though! As for Florian, I couldn’t get any sort of official communication to him although he was at Kling Klang when I arrived with Wolfgang for my little tour in November 2010. Hysterically, the shutters came down as we were standing outside! We must have been seen on the surveillance cameras!
HAVE YOU HAD ANY FEEDBACK ABOUT THE BOOK FROM THE GROUP THEMSELVES?
To be fair, the book only came out at the very end of August so, apart from Karl, nothing much as yet. Karl read the entire manuscript and we made changes very carefully together. The fact that he wrote the foreword indicated that he enjoyed what he read. I know ex-member Eberhard Kranemann will be pleased that finally a Kraftwerk book recognises his involvement. Michael Rother, who was in the band in 1970-71 also gave me an excellent interview. I gave every interviewee the chance to review and modify their interview quotes pre-publication. The official line is that Kraftwerk were formed in 1970 by Ralf and Florian but the origins of the band go back to 1967. Indeed, for a period in 1970 and 1971 Ralf wasn’t even in the band. I hope Ralf, Florian and Wolfgang see this is a serious but affectionate book about a band I care deeply about.
CAN YOU REMEMBER YOUR OWN FIRST KRAFTWERK ‘MOMENT’?
Yes! Well, I think I can. The first time I heard ‘Autobahn’ the single was one Tuesday in May 1975. I know it would be a Tuesday as I rushed home from Rudston Road Primary School in Childwall, Liverpool to listen to the Top 30 on Radio 1. So, I will have heard the song then. However, I also have a strong recollection of hearing ‘Autobahn’ on my small, red, transistor radio whilst I was in the toilet, which would also have been one Tuesday in 1975 I mean, what’s a toilet for if it’s not for listening to the radio!
CAN YOU STILL LISTEN TO KRAFTWERK IN THE SAME WAY HAVING COMPLETED THIS PARTICULAR JOURNEY AND HAVING IMMERSED YOURSELF SO FULLY IN THEIR MUSIC?
An excellent question. I have to say that I hardly played a song by David Bowie for three years after he attacked my book Strange Fascination on his official website although I have made friends again with his oeuvre and now listen to Bowie all the time, particularly Low, ‘Heroes’ and Lodger. I have to say that I was also rather Roxyed out after writing about Ferry and Roxy. But, as things stand, I am listening to lots of Kraftwerk still. Strangely, some tracks which I never used to care for, such as ‘Musique Non-Stop’ are now amongst my favourites.
HOW IMPORTANT DO YOU THINK KRAFTWERK’S INFLUENCE WAS ON THE MUSIC OF THE 80S IN PARTICULAR?
The first thing to say is that I love music from every decade from the Sixties onwards. There’s great music today but it is seldom in the charts which are almost uniformly awful. Even most young people think the charts are terrible. I think I have grown to love the Eighties more and more. At the time, I definitely though that the Eighties sort of ran out of steam around early 1984 and then it was 1988 with tracks such as ‘S-Express’, ‘Buffalo Stance’ and ‘Beat Dis’ that I regained my interest. Although now, even songs which I thought were a bit uncool in the mid-Eighties I find myself downloading such as Foreigner, Alison Moyet, Howard Jones, even Sting! So, really, I am a hopeless Eighties fan. In this context, your website is fantastic in letting everyone know 1. How great the music was and 2. That these people are still going and playing well. Kraftwerk’s influence is massive in the early Eighties. You can hear bits of Kraftwerk in the Human League, Depeche Mode, John Foxx, Duran Duran, Yazoo, Eurthymics, Heaven 17, Simple Minds, OMD, Erasure, New Order, The Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell – some of my favourite groups. For me, it still makes this music sound modern in a way that guitar-based music of that time often now sounds derivative and old (although there are exceptions, of course). And then into the mid-nineties, Underworld, Orbital, The Chemical Brothers all had the Kraftwerk genome in there, rock acts such as Primal Scream also had the Motorik influence, then Kylie and Madonna, then Little Boots (is there a more Kraftwerkian song than ‘Stuck On Repeat’?) and then onto today where bits of Kraftwerk appear in Grimes and also in weird places like on the new Cornershop. So, their influence is on electronic music, pop and on certain strands of rock too. However, Karl Bartos was very keen to point out that when Bowie and Iggy championed Kraftwerk and Neu! it gave them a huge boost and critical kudos. That really kick-started their impact in the UK at least.
I THINK YOUR NEXT BOOK WILL ALSO BE OF INTEREST TO PEOPLE WHO VISIT THIS WEBSITE, IT’S CALLED ‘ELECTRIC DREAMS’ ISN’T IT? CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT ONE?
Yes, I am very excited about it, although I must apologise to everyone who has already ordered it as it’s been delayed a couple of times. It will be out in 2013. It’s a book about the Human League and Heaven 17, the Sheffield scene, and electronic music in the UK. I have probably hundreds of hours of interviews in the can, including a two-hour one with Martin Rushent who produced Dare and who sadly passed away last year. I’ve been able to track down and interview many of the ex-members of the League including several interviews with Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh, and I interviewed Phil and Susan for Mojo too so, I hope this will be a really interesting book. The funniest part has been reconstructing the origins of the Human League through interviews with friends of the band in the seventies; some wonderful, loony anecdotes and also some really profound conversations about class, gender, music, sex and death from some wonderfully warm and interesting people. I just need to finish writing it now!
We’re also running a competition with THREE COPIES of ‘Kraftwerk – Publikation’ to be won. To enter you just need to fill in the form below, answer the question, and press ‘send’… it’s as easy as that. All the correct entries received by the competition deadline of 5pm (UK) on October 26th 2012 will be placed into a virtual hat and the winner will be drawn at random and notified by email at the email address they use below.
KRAFTWERK’S ‘THE MODEL’ BECAME A NUMBER ONE SINGLE IN THE UK AFTER RADIO STATIONS STARTED PLAYING IT AFTER FINDING THE TRACK ON THE B-SIDE OF WHICH 1981 SINGLE?
Only one entry from each email address will be accepted and duplicate entries from the same email address will be removed before the winners are selected.
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