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Florian Schneider - 1947-2020

  by Maarten Schiethart

published: 27 / 5 / 2020

Florian Schneider - 1947-2020


Maarten Schiethart reflects on the groundbreaking career of the late Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider

Born into a well-to-do family - his architect Father designed Cologne Airport - Florian Schneider-Esleben grew up with electronic devices which in those days counted as advanced machines. Twisting knobs and tapping keys on synthesizers as a curious and adventurous child, Florian Schneider benefited in every way possible from an undeniably privileged childhood. At music school in Dusseldorf he befriended Ralf Hütter. WIth Schneider translating as tailor and hüter as custodian, the pair might have felt the need for a challenge, triggered by the mere implications of their surnames alone. Schneider and Hütter would indeed change the world. Try to imagine current popular culture without repetitive electronic music. The music of Kraftwerk initiated an entire new genre. And did so with visual style. With neatly combed hair, and fancy dressed in futuristic uniforms, Kraftwerk portrayed robots on stage propagating mobility on albums like 'Autobahn', 'Trans Europe Express' and 'Tour de France'. The sarcasm of 'Radio Activity' - "It is in the air for you and me" - went over many. Abroad Kraftwerk were and are still very much admired for their musical innovation. The sarcasm and irony is perhaps a peculiar perspective, should you not know that back then an autobahn, for example, could be the guarded corridor through East Germany to West Berlin. I wasn't there for protests against nuclear plants, but must have drawn inspiration from Kraftwerk's 'Radioaktivität'. Kraftwerk never took a political stance and rather neutralized discussion by baffling everyone with new music. Kraftwerk were often dismissed by puritans, unawares of the synthesizer being a wholly new vital instrument in music, for not playing genuine music on acoustic instruments. Born after World War 2, Kraftwerk were also still held and seen as Germans. Living thirteen miles from the border in 1975, I could only get 'Radio Activity' but not 'Radio-Aktivität' from the local record store. But even their abundant avalanche of new ideas and approaches to music and composition couldn't stop Kraftwerk. How Fritz Lang influenced cinema, what Bauhaus meant to architecture, might look a little pale compared to Kraftwerk's drastic influence on music and popular culture. Florian Schneider shaped the sound of the latter half of the 20th century.

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