February 24, 2011  |  Collection & Exhibitions
Riding the Trans-Europe Express

Kraftwerk. Trans-Europe Express. 1977. Kling Klang Records

Kraftwerk. Trans-Europe Express (American version). 1977. Kling Klang Records

An American friend recently introduced me to Sprockets</a>, a fictional West German TV show created by actor and comedian Mike Myers. Myers, wearing round wire-rimmed glasses and a tight black outfit, plays Dieter, the finicky show host. Each show consists of Dieter interviewing different hosts and ends with a session of frantic robotic techno-dancing, an obvious allusion to the German band Kraftwerk, whose track “Electric Café” is the Sprockets theme music. Only when my friend told me how incredibly foreign this particular niche in German culture of the 1970s and 1980s was for him did I realize how very familiar it is to me, as well as to many other Germans. </p>

Kraftwerk. Trans-Europe Express (American version). 1977. Kling Klang Records

Kraftwerk. Trans-Europe Express (American version; back cover). 1977. Kling Klang Records

In the industrial Ruhr Valley next to Düsseldorf, where Kraftwerk (German for “power plant”) was founded in 1970, the band had a major impact on my generation’s feeling of local identity. Combining machine sounds with the looks of a more stylish version of the socialist factory worker, Kraftwerk seemed to represent the sophisticated side of this blue collar area and its so-called rough charme. The impact that Kraftwerk has had on musicians all over the world has been much larger, reaching from Krautrock to Detroit punk and techno. It is to acknowledge the importance of Kraftwerk on music in the 1980s and 1990s that the band’s quintessential album, Trans-Europe Express</a>, is installed very prominently in the entrance area of the Looking at Music 3.0 exhibition. Afrika Bambaataa’s song “Planet Rock” and Jay-Z’s “(Always Be My) Sunshine”—both of which are also featured in the exhibition—sample Kraftwerk extensively, exemplifying the band’s continuing influence on hip hop.</p>