Kraftwerk 1

Kraftwerk

Philips, 1971

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/18/2007

According to Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider, the masterminds behind German band Kraftwerk, this album does not exist. In fact, they seem to believe that the real history of Kraftwerk does not start until Autobahn.

This, of course, is, to use Kraftwerk’s vernacular, scheißdreck. (If the Web site I got this from is accurate, that means bullshit.) Not including one album recorded as Organisation, Hutter and Schneider recorded three albums that were developmental in terms of Kraftwerk’s sound. To ignore a release such as their self-titled debut from 1971 does the band an injustice. Long out of print, the mystique of just why the band doesn’t acknowledge its existence any more is enough to send people searching for these Holy Grails.

Now, I’ll admit that I’m probably the ideal candidate to listen to this, simply because I have zero knowledge of any of Kraftwerk’s more popular material. I literally approached this disc with a clean slate, having no preconceived notions of what it should sound like based on material I already knew.

Admittedly, Kraftwerk is not a group you’ll embrace upon first listen -- or 10th. In regards to this disc, Kraftwerk 1 is a hodge-podge of trance-like, repetitive melodies combined with ambient noise, creating less music and more of a mental picture that the selections merely provide the framework for. And, for the first half of this disc, they manage to do quite well.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The opening track, “Ruckzuck,” is probably my favorite, creating a computerized techno vibe, nearly two decades before either techno took flight and before computers dominated the musical instrumentation (in all fairness, a lot of the instruments, such as flute and drums, are performed on actual instruments). It’s hard to say just what it is about this track that captivates me as a listener, since it goes from the techno-beat to what sounds like the equivalent of a hard drive crash and restart with the ambient noise. Whatever the case, it’s a very strong first statement.

The follow-up track, “Stratovarius,” dares to shock the listener by opening the track with about three minutes of screeches that sound like the antithesis to the track’s name. Yet somehow, it fits with what Kraftwerk tries to do with this track, and it soon settles in to its own repetitive vibe that, again, captures the listener and dares them to use the 12 minutes of the track to create mental pictures, rather than to use it as background music.

If only the second half of Kraftwerk 1 was as strong as its first two tracks. “Megaherz” starts off sounding a little like you’re in the Krups steel factory before dissolving into some Jon Lord-like organ noise (albeit without tune or rhythm), then becomes its own ambient noise track for so long that you may find yourself checking the player to make sure the track didn’t stop. (As many times as I’ve listened to this track, I still get caught by this, and always check.) “Megaherz” soon becomes almost like listening to an electronic version of ocean waves -- serene enough, but lacking any real emotion or excitement. I will admit, though, this particular track grows on me the more I listen to it.

This leads the listener into the final track, “Von Himmel Hoch.” Like its predecessor, there is enough silence in the beginning of the track to make you wonder if something has gone wrong with the playback. Soon, the track becomes an almost sinister background piece, with what seem to this listener to be deep electronic growls. At times, it almost feels prehistoric, what with a club-like drum beat and the bass growls (which, according to the article on Wikipedia, is an instrument called a “tubon”).

In fact, the whole basis of “Von Himmel Hoch” seems to be minimalist instrumentation, even minimalist performance until about eight minutes into the track. The result, not surprisingly, is the most minimally enjoyable piece on the disc -- which is a shame, really, because it seemed to have potential.

Hutter and Schneider can deny this disc’s existence all they want, but I personally think it’s an interesting, if flawed, first chapter to the band’s history. Yes, it’s a difficult listen, and Kraftwerk is very much an acquired taste. But even with this disc’s flaws, it does leave me wanting to explore the fathers of Krautrock more deeply.

Rating: C+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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© 2007 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Philips, and is used for informational purposes only.