Kraftwerk’s connection to R&B and black DJs in America

Written by on May 23, 2020

Pioneering hip hop musician Afrika Bambaataa’s love for Kraftwerk is evidenced by his groundbreaking 1982 electro track “Planet Rock” (above). Indeed, Bambataaa’s underground DJ sets in black nightclubs were a key point-of-entry into the United States for many international electronic musicians in the early 1980s, from Yellow Magic Orchestra to Gary Numan. I hadn’t realized though that Kraftwerk readily acknowledged that it was a two-way musical conversation: Black American music, particularly R&B, was a massive influence on Kraftwerk’s music. In The Wire, John Morrison writes:

In an interview with Dan Sicko, the late author of Techno Rebels: The Renegades Of Electronic Funk, former Kraftwerk percussionist Karl Bartos gives an essential statement on the influence of black R&B on the band’s work: “We were all fans of American music: soul, the Tamla/Motown thing, and of course, James Brown. We always tried to make an American rhythm feel, with a European approach to harmony and melody.” When exploring the band’s early work, this rhythmic influence does occasionally peek its head up through their abstract sound. On “Tone Float” (the title track from founder members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider-Esleben’s pre-Kraftwerk 1970 debut album as members of Organisation), the band can be heard experimenting with a rhythmic framework similar to the “Bo Diddley” beat, the heavily accented drum pattern that dominated rock ’n’ roll in the 50s and early 60s. For their first release as Kraftwerk, the “Bo Diddley” beat remerges, albeit with an aggressive Jazz flair courtesy of drummer Charly Weiss providing the driving pulse for the the album’s ten minute closer “Vom Himmel Hoch”. In 1974, both Kraftwerk and James Brown delivered “Autobahn” and “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”, two landmark releases that each stretched their subdued, mid-tempo grooves and repetitive conceptual lyrics across extended ten minute plus running times. By 1977, Kraftwerk had fully developed their practice of fusing European electronic music with black American rhythms, forging an aesthetic that reached critical mass with the release of Trans Europe Express.

Kraftwerk And Black America: A Musical Dialogue(The Wire)

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