The Delta Blues Of Germany

Mar 17, 2015

Kraftwerk performing live
Credit bluesmuse / Flickr / Creative Commons

You may not be aware of this, but the last four decades of music have been heavily influenced by German underground rock from the 1970s.

Post-war social conditions had left Germans searching for their own identity. There was a thirst for something other than American and British pop. Groups of social outcasts and radical communes realized they could make their own music and bands with names like Can, Neu! and Amon Düül II were spawned. Their new sound turned away from traditional song formulas and pop pretense, and instead picked up on the minimalism, electronic technology and sonic experimentation of the classical avant-garde.

Called “Krautrock” by Western critics, these acts were mostly obscure, other than Kraftwerk, which had a novelty android aesthetic that twice brought them to the U.S. top 100. Krautrock bands made full use of the recording studio to reach meditative states with brave use of simplicity and repetition to underline a focus on sonority.

Visionary art-rockers like David Bowie appropriated Krautrock’s clean lines and weird sounds. Later electronic bands like Depeche Mode acknowledged the influence of Kraftwerk, as did early hip hop artists like Afrika Bambaataa, who made it possible to breakdance to the synthetic rhythm and vocal effects. The seeds of Techno, Electro, and EDM were sown when cutting-edge Chicago House DJs like Frankie Knuckles spun repetitive, bass-heavy Kraftwerk records at dance clubs.

Krautrock is so influential, it could be thought of as the Delta Blues of Germany.