Back at the end of 2014 the French magazine Tsugi devoted an issue entirely to Kraftwerk. They gave me a 4 page feature where I was asked to choose my top 10 Kraftwerk cover versions and I promised to post an English language version of the text here in the new year. Seeing as the magazine should have been and gone from the shelves by now, here it is.
The questions from Tsugi magazine:
When and how did you discover Kraftwerk ?
When I was 11 in early 1982 ‘The Model’ became a no.1 hit in the UK and I was suddenly aware of this ‘new’ electronic group from Germany in the charts alongside The Human League, Depeche Mode and Gary Numan. As a result EMI reissued most of their back catalogue and I bought Man Machine, Computer World and Trans Europe Express on cassette which I loved.
What do you like in Kraftwerk ?
The melodies first and foremost but also the electronic drums and percussion, I just find the songs very pure, simple and timeless. Plus they were singing about the future, robots, spaceships, computers etc. and that appealed to me rather than love songs at that age even though they wrote those too.
Do you have a special story related to yourself and Kraftwerk ?
I actually first heard them when I was about 5 years old on a tape my dad had recorded from the radio although I didn’t realise it was them until much later. The song was ‘Autobahn’ and I always remember liking it when it came on the tape but was a bit scared of the breakdown part with the motorway sounds as it reminded me of the Cybermen in Dr Who. When I bought the reissues of their albums later on I realised that I already knew ‘Autobahn’ although it was a very edited radio version, not the long LP one.
Why are you so passionate about Krafwerk’s covers ?
Being a fan of the band was difficult because they didn’t release anything new for so long so I began to seek out cover versions as a way to fill the gap they had left. It happens with many artists who don’t release new music regularly these days – Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin are just two examples. Fans show their love of an artist by covering their songs.
Do you think that sometimes covers are better than originals ones ?
Occasionally they can be, when someone takes the song into a new style or territory and these are the ones I primarily look for. I don’t see much point in recreating a techno version of a Kraftwerk song although people have done it very well. For me the most interesting ones are those that transpose the songs into a new style but still retain the essence or ones that take the song to an extreme that becomes comedic.
How many covers have you ?
Of Kraftwerk, probably about 300 but there are many more out there, for every cover I hear and like I probably hear another two techno / electro / house versions that I discard because they are just poor copies of the originals.
What are your 10 favorites cover records and for each, could you explain me why?
Gaudi & Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Dil Da Rog Muka Ja Mahi (KKK vol.7)
An Indian version of ‘The Model’ but only just, I’m not sure how I found this, possibly on a now discontinued blog of cover versions of various artists. I think the blogger listed 70 different versions of The Model alone.
Makoto Inoue – Europe Endless/Neon Lights (KKK vol. 1 & 3)
Beautiful Gamelan versions of these rarely covered songs, this cover really takes it to another genre entirely, transposing the melodies to sound like an ancient tribe is playing the songs. Nothing electronic about it at all, in fact a lot of my favourite covers are ones that take Kraftwerk’s songs into other genres of sound altogether.
Das Erste Wiener Gemueseorchester (First Viennese Vegetable Orchestra) – Radio Activity (KKK vol.2)
The whole thing is played on vegetables, I’m not kidding and it’s as mad as it sounds but you can heard the song in amongst all the weird sounds. One of the weirdest Kraftwerk covers I’ve ever heard.
Miladojka Youneed – Pocket Calculator (live) (KKK vol.2)
A rawkus almost country version with saxophone and harmony singing. you can almost see the stetsons on their heads. This sounds as if the group has learnt the song from reading the notes and lyrics in a book but never heard the original but they sound like they’re having such a great time playing it.
Satoru Wono feat. Meiwa Denki – Dentaku (KKK vol.2)
A Japanese version with very busy percussion and woodwind instruments, very odd but works perfectly. The vocals still sound robotic but there are spoken in Japanese making this even more alien, the playing is very mechanical and precise despite the organic sounds of the instruments.
Alenia – Home Computer (KKK vol.4)
Quite a straight electronic version but I brings something to the original I can’t put my finger on, maybe this is one of those covers that makes the song perfect for today’s clubs, it’s a bit heavier than the original but still quirky.
6Blocc – Digits (KKK vol.5)
A very detailed dubstep version that updates ‘Numbers’ for the dance floor, it cleverly re-edits the drums and bassline into a half time skank and just about keeps everything from falling down.
Case Managers – Autobahn (KKK vol.5)
Absolutely bonkers Australian version, sounds like it was recorded live at the BBQ after many beers had been consumed, very funny. The singers (all male) seem to get drunker and drunker as the song progresses, the absolute opposite of what Kraftwerk are on record.
Menschmaschine – Spacelab (KKK vol.8) Beautiful jazz version, just stunning, the whole build up of the intro had me from the first listen and I’d say this is probably one of my favourite Kraftwerk covers ever. In fact I recommend the whole Menschmaschine album of jazz cover versions of Kraftwerk’s music
Scala & Kolacny Brothers – Das Modell (KKK vol.8)
‘The Model’ is the most covered song in the band’s catalogue but this one is by a female choir from Belgium. Again another example of a version where there are no electronics and the song is easily carried by the melody and lyrics across to another genre.
You can find all my Kraftwerk Kover Kollection mixes so far here:
Can’t say enough good things about Shindig! magazine, a decent blend of well-written articles and reviews on as much new as old music in the psyche, prog, rock and experimental vein.
Not as dry and repetitive as Record Collector and digging a bit further underground than Mojo. This month’s issue contains a Rocket Recordings mix CD by Cherrystones too.
I took part in an article about parenting and DJing, talking about my experience playing at the Big Fish Little Fish party. It’s over on Inverted Audio and it’s actually part 4 of a series with lots of other DJs talking about their take on partying after parenthood. Talking of BFLF, I’ll be taking to the decks for a second time with them this coming autumn in South London, announcement soon…
Nice to run across a little plug for The The’s ‘GIANT’ 12″ I share billing with in the latest issue of Classic Pop magazine (issue 11, Kate Bush cover). For all those who remember Smash Hits from back in the day and yearn to break free of the endless rehashing of the Beatles/Stones/Who/Dylan/Zeppelin pop/rock mafia in the other music monthlies – this is the mag for you. Not as lightweight as Smash Hits but not as nerdy as Record Collector, it finds a fine balance between in-depth interviews, retrospective pieces, current reviews and where are they now and what have they been up to news.
In other The The news (try saying that when pissed) it’s only 3 weeks until I get to quiz Matt Johnson about the making of ‘Soul Mining’ over at Rough Trade East on June 30th. The same day sees the release of the 30th anniversary edition of the album of the same name. You can find out more info here.
In last weeks ‘Found in Sounds’ the PIL riot in New York is covered first hand with a great cover quote and photo of Lydon. Irmin Schmidt is quizzed about working with Bruno Spoerri and witnessing Cage’s ‘4’33″‘ for the first time. There are vintage film listings from London’s Leicester Square cinemas, Garry Bushell declares his love of Adam Ant‘s music (finally) and The Sweet talk about touring with ‘monster dicks’.
Fantastic Mod cover design from a 1979 issue of Sounds. Below, Soft Cell reveal that they’re doing ‘a Northern Soul number’ in their live set, Savage Pencil then and now (check out the Battle of the Eyes exhibition at Orbital Comics at the moment), Tommy Vance on John Lydon, an advert for the Boy store, a Blondie gig has some very cool guests and reviews of Prince live in NYC and at his first gig in the UK at the Lyceum in 1981.
Last year I purchased a huge pile of Sounds newspapers from a seller on eBay covering the years 1980-1983. I’m slowly going through them day by day and either scanning or snapping things that I find interesting. This can be news items, adverts, interview snippets, comics, covers or other trivia that has become more interesting with the passing of time. Sounds was a weekly music paper along the lines of the NME and Melody Maker in the UK, all three published on a Wednesday and all now defunct except for the NME, which is recognisable in name only from its 80’s heyday.
Sounds was always known for favouring Rock, Heavy Metal and Punk, with a straighter, less arty bias to groups. They didn’t have the Paul Morleys, Ian Penmans, Nick Kents or Simon Reynolds‘ writing for them, instead they had Garry Bushell who championed the Oi movement with its dodgy skinhead bootboy overtones. During the period that these issues cover, the ‘Futurist’ movement is emerging, what’s now known as ‘Post Punk’ or ‘Synth Pop’ but back then was a product of digital technology becoming more affordable mixed with the Blitz-era nightlife and the ‘New Romantic’ scenes.
I’ve been posting images daily on my Facebook account but will do weekly round ups here if I can as the material can be illuminating with the benefit of 30+ years of hindsight. What smacks most is that nothing really changes much, bands are still built up and lauded only to be ridiculed and knocked down once they’re successful. You can spot the hype from the hope and certain names crop up again and again, week on week, clearly getting the preferential treatment afforded by friendships with certain journalists regardless of their merits. The industry is always on a downturn with profits threatened by some new format, this time it’s the cassette that’s killing music with just the first hints of the CD revolution to come. Albums and singles, now considered bonafide classics, are savaged in the review columns and information on forgotten or lost bands is ripe for rediscovery via the all-knowing web.
All in all I find it a fascinating weekly soap opera and I’ll be sharing the highlights here.
First up, a ‘Futurist’ chart followed by photos from a Futurist ‘summit’ interview where members of The Human League, Throbbing Gristle, Non, Nurse With Wound and Lemon Kittens largely argued against being labeled with the term.
Next, ‘Cassettes: Is this the Future of Rock’n’Roll?’ with Island Records‘ 1+1 tapes causing a stir because they feature an album on one side and a blank side for recording your own sounds on the other. Then, as the ‘tape war’ hots up, labels are too busy scrambling to notice a certain ‘laser disc’ quietly arriving on the scene.
The cassette hoo-ha was one that was largely antagonised by Malcolm McLaren, who was an open advocate of home taping and used it as a gimmick to sell the band he was managing, Bow Wow Wow. It was a lucky coincidence that the fashion of the day was a swashbuckling pirate look and the combination of that and the term ‘pirate’ being someone who made bootleg items was too good to resist.
Record prices rise shock! Vinyl goes up from 99p to £1.20 and labels want the shops to bear the brunt. In other news, heavy band get banned from working mens clubs for being too loud and not packing away fast enough. Rock n Roll. Lastly, as he’s been in the news this week for playing live in London, Prince’s first gig in the UK, advertised at the back of the paper amongst all the other concerts that week, only £3.00 on the door.
The now defunct weekly UK music paper, Sounds, had a reputation for championing Rock and Heavy Metal above everything else. Writers Garry Bushell and Jon Savage raved and wrote about Oi and Punk respectively but there was more to the paper. 1977: The Queen’s Jubilee and the height of Punk in the media, right? Not by late November in Sounds it wasn’t, this was also the year ‘Trans Europe Express’ was released.
A stark cover featured Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider photographed on the banks of the Rhine in their hometown of Dusseldorf by Caroline Coon, a two page interview leading the first part of a look at ‘New Musick: The Cold Wave’. Interviews or pieces on Eno, Throbbing Gristle, The Residents and Devo all appear by Savage, Jane Suck and Hal Synthetic (love these writing pseudonyms). Not very Rock or Punk.
The Kraftwerk interview is fascinating, with Florian almost adding as much as Hutter and the two finishing each other’s sentences. Hutter mentions the term ‘Electronic Body Music’ and they talk about putting together comics detailing the themes of their music, I wonder what happened to them? Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flur aren’t even mentioned although they do appear in at least one of the photos in the piece. It’s interesting to note that Ralf and Florian picked the journalist up from the airport and showed him about the city before the interview was conducted inside their Kling Klang studios. That certainly wouldn’t happen today. See more photos from the shoot, including a smiling Ralf & Florian that were not featured in the article, here.
The Eno piece is typical, well… Eno, he talks and talks about his ideas, just as he always does, with his sideways looks at subjects ranging from dub reggae to Eskimos engineering US Air Force jets in Alaska. There’s no attempt at cross examination and the ‘interview’ is distilled from five hours of chat into two Eno’s: the non-musician and the theorist. Along with Throbbing Gristle refusing to issue forth any kind of manifesto but the paper giving their ‘2nd Annual Report’ a 5 star review and a fairly scathing feature on the Residents, it’s an odd collection. The rest of the paper features things like ads for The Damned’s second album, Kiss’ ‘Kiss Alive II’ and the new Rick Wakeman LP, live reviews of The Jam, Richard Hell and Blondie sit with articles on Pub Rock and The Eaters (no, me neither) and a very early Savage Pencil episode of ‘Rock & Roll Zoo’.
This post has very little to do with anything currently happening in the music world but it’s come about because I’ve had my head buried in a huge pile of Melody Maker papers from ’88 and ’89 recently. They’re a fascinating snapshot of particular music scenes as they happened, at a time when current political events were also included alongside the music features although this had largely been phased out since the early 80’s. Anyway, onto the subject matter in the title, the return of Sigue Sigue Sputnik for that difficult second album and what was, effectively, the death of the band’s original run even though they’ve resurrected themselves several times since in different forms.
The original hype had died down, they’d hit big with ‘Love Missile F1-11′ but the singles had seen diminishing returns. Their look was a love it or loathe it mix of cyberpunked up futuristic sloganeering with band leader Tony James playing the media game as best he could with both sides winning and grabbing headlines until the first album dropped. With Giorgio Moroder‘s name firmly back on everyone’s lips these days, his finest moment (‘I Feel Love’ aside) is still the Sput’s debut album in my opinion. It dazzles as an example of a multi-layed, sample smogasboard, throwing everything AND the kitchen sink into the mix, dubbing the life out of it and to hell with the song arrangements.
But that was ’86 and now, as Acid House had bought us the second Summer of Love in ’88, we find the unthinkable on page 2 of the November 12th issue of the Melody Maker:
For me, this killed any anticipation or will to listen to the band in a single one page advert. Not that there were hoards of fans anticipating a come back, by this time the press had long since turned on them and James and lead singer Martin Degville were regularly ripped to pieces in the weeklies.
Firstly, the photo of the band. So wrong. This wasn’t ‘The 5th Generation of Rock n Roll’, nor was it ‘High-tech Sex and Rockets (baby)’. It certainly didn’t look like ‘T-Rex cuts Disco at the roots of Dub’ either. This was a bunch of pasty holiday makers jumping on the Acid bandwagon, laughing it up by the pool in Ibiza. To add insult to injury the words ‘Produced by Stock Aitken Waterman‘ rolled across the bottom of the ad. How could this have happened? The unthinkable. SAW stood for everything that was wrong with the latter half of the 80’s chart slide into cheese, chintz and manufactured, identikit Pop pap.
You almost have to admire the balls of a band who had any prior cred even dreaming of getting into bed with the trio, especially with Sputnik’s previous rep. Sex, Violence, Designer Drugs and Video Games were definitely not on SAW’s remit. Theirs was love, love, love all the way to the bank, dripping with a sugar sweet innocence that would barely even dream of intercourse before marriage. All thoughts of being taken seriously were out the window at the sight of this ad although they’d taken the precaution to pre-empt the backlash. ‘The group you hate to love’ is bigger than the single title and the multiple format ‘products’ are ‘flogged to death’. James knew exactly what he was doing and was launching some damage limitation before they were shot down.
And shot down they were, despite the Hit Factory’s incredible run of hits in the 80’s, the combination of SAW and SSS could only manage no.31 in the UK charts. It didn’t help that the song, ‘Success’, was an out and out stinker, an unashamed piece of commercial crap that screamed, ‘Love us!’ in a desperate attempt at attention seeking without a whiff of their previous danger. Coupled with the blatant Acid House iconography and mixes, at least six months too late (even Bros had Acid remixes by this time) – it just felt so wrong. The image said summer holidays and here we were nearly at Xmas, they were back but already four months too late. This unfortunate review appeared in the same issue of the Melody Maker as the ad above, it was custom on the weekly singles review page to place single of the week in the top left hand corner of the page.
They were following where they had led before and they’d let down their guard with their image, something James has even admitted to in his excellent breakdown of the group’s career on Sputnikworld.com. “What you see is as far removed from those original first photos of the band in the subway at midnight as you could possibly get. We had looked like no other band on the planet. Now when I look at the Brazilian footage, I see exactly what we had become – five blokes by the swimming pool in our swimming shorts having a laugh.”
The album followed six months later and - ‘Success’ aside – it’s actually pretty decent. Thankfully that was the only SAW production on the album and they largely mined the same vein of Suicide-meets-Eddy Cochran-plus-samples of their debut. Unfortunately it lacked ‘the shock of the new’, rather ‘more of the same’ only minus Moroder this time. That’s a bit unfair actually, there were some changes, the singles, ‘Dancerama’ and ‘Albinoni vs Star Wars’ were different and the closing track, ‘Is This The Future’, a ballad that is probably Degville’s finest moment. The genius tagline of ‘…this time it’s music’ on the ad always makes me laugh.
From here though it’s a free fall of bad management, estrangement and apathy as the money and momentum runs out and so does the band’s interest. They had some success in Brazil and a final, fourth, single was pulled from the album in the form of ‘Rio Rocks’. ‘A slogan free advertisement’, reads the bottom of the advert – even James was admitting defeat here, the band split shortly afterwards, less than a year after the comeback.
No more to be said, read the story behind the cover here.
From an issue of i-D magazine dated Aug ’86, this recently turned up in an expedition in the Secret Oranges archive (incidentally it’s Steve Cook‘s birthday today). A rather risqué ad for Sigue Sigue Sputnik‘s debut album, ‘Flaunt It’, which I seem to remember got banned from most publications at the time. I’m a big fan of Sputnik, especially this Giorgio Moroder-produced album and its surrounding singles, so you’ll occasionally see posts about them featured here.
Tony James, band leader and general mastermind behind them recently wrote up their history at length on their newly-launched website and it’s a candid, no-holds-barred read. As with any history, it’s his version of events and I’m sure there’s another side to it but he’s very forthcoming about the failings of the second album and the record industry crap that went with it. There are also all sorts of outtakes and demos up online under the heading ‘Demobomb’ which are pretty illuminating in terms of how they got their sound.
Also below is the news piece from Sounds the week the band signed their ‘million pound’ deal. This was quite something at the time as the band had a lot of hype surrounding them without a recording to their name but had managed to get the sort of double page features in the music press usually reserved for established artists. Also if anyone has a sealed copy of the cassette on card version of this album, (see above) packaged to look like a toy, then I’m still looking for a copy.
Just out is issue 3 of Classic Pop magazine with a 4 page article I co-wrote with editor Ian Peel about the 80’s music design work of the XL design studio. You don’t hear much about them but they’re a big passion of mine because they largely defined the look of the Zang Tuum Tumb label from 1983 through to the end of the decade, greatly influencing myself in the process.
Whereas some had Saul Bass, Hipgnosis, Peter Saville or Vaughn Oliver, I had XL who, in conjunction with press officer Paul Morley and another group, The London Design Partnership, created the look of my favourite record label of the 80’s. They did many other sleeves for pop acts on other labels as well but the combination of their work with design briefs from Morley (collectively XLZTT) really stands out from the pack and it’s this that we focus on.
I found this on the web recently – a Record Mirror cover from 1978 featuring Kraftwerk by Andy Johnson. Some may know Andy by his other pen name: Andy Dog, he’s also the brother of Matt Johnson (The The).
He had this to say about it: “Blimey, what a find! Yes that is one of mine. For your information it was originally commissioned by (the now acknowledged literary expert and renowned author) Tim Lott and was completed with a certain technical difficulty (because the gouache paint kept bubbling instead of laying flat) in my tiny bedroom (shared with Matt) above the pub in Loughton where we lived at the time. I think I got paid about £95 for it. When it came out I was so pleased I walked into Hipgnosis on Denmark Street and showed it to Peter Christopherson and said “how about giving me a job?” He was v. polite but declined….”
Last month I was asked to write my thoughts about how Kraftwerk had influenced modern day DJ and Dance Music Culture by Jude Rogers for a piece for The Observer. I got a bit carried away and here’s an extended version of the full piece I submitted:
Everyone knows Derrick May‘s proclamation that Techno was the fusion of ‘Kraftwerk and George Clinton meeting in an elevator’ but the band had a stake in the Hip Hop community many years before. As soon as Afrika Bambaataa and Arthur Baker took the beat from ‘Numbers’ and the melody from ‘Trans Europe Express’ to form the classic ‘Planet Rock’, Kraftwerk became part of the foundation of Hip Hop. Even before that, Grandmaster Flash would play ‘Trans Europe Express’ in it’s entirety in his infamous DJ sets, using its side-long length as one of his ‘bathroom break’ records.
No matter that the new wave and post punk groups had already claimed a stake with their synth and indie pop, the group became one of the building blocks of the Electro sounds coming out of New York, even more gleefully championed by the west coast who liked their tempos faster. That ‘Tour De France’ soundtracked the best scene in the film ‘Breakin’ shows how much their uptempo beats appealed to the crews back when breakdancing was as strong an element of the culture as the DJ and MC.
[youtube width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Njs3RmdwGUE[/youtube]
After this the band would be sampled endlessly, if not as obviously as ‘Planet Rock’. The group sued Bambaataa’s label, Tommy Boy, for thousands of dollars and Techno soon arrived, claiming its stake in the band. The 80’s generation that were inspired by Hip Hop and Techno to start DJing and beat making grew up to be the producers and ‘superstar DJs’ of today.
[youtube width=”640″ height=”380″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4DE5iDd4iHA [/youtube]
Check the intro to ‘Leave Home’ by The Chemical Brothers for their clever appropriation of ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ from the ‘Radio-Activity’ LP or Jay-Z‘s backing track on ‘Sunshine’ for his take on ‘Man Machine‘. LCD Soundsystem‘s ‘Disco Infiltrator’ owes a big debt to ‘Home Computer’ and even Coldplay got in on the act by asking for permission to interpolate the melody of ‘Computer Love’ into ‘Talk’. In more contemporary dance scenes – hear dubstep producer 6Blocc’s cheeky reinterpretation of ‘Numbers/Computer World 2′ disguised under the title, ‘Digits’.
[youtube width=”250″ height=”250″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-0WeRH-7ac[/youtube]
Across the pond Juke/Footstep producers like DJ Clent and Traxman have also been shoe-horning Kraftwerk samples into some of their songs, guess which track they sampled on ‘The Robot’?” Kraftwerk have been part of the lineage of dance music culture since the late 70’s, approaching it without them is like taking the ‘Apache’ break out of Hip Hop and the 808 drum machine out of Techno.
But it goes even further than that, the band lurk in some of the most unlikely corners outside of the music industry too, ingrained in people’s lives as much as any band like The Beatles or The Stones. Soda Jerk – a duo from Australia who make video cut ups and installations – have an on going project called ‘Astro Black’ which features the quartet amongst many heroes of black music. In their own words. “Astro Black is a multi-channel video cycle informed by cultural theories of Afrofuturism. Taking the cosmic jazz musician Sun Ra as a point of departure, this ongoing speculative history seeks to draw out the nexus of science fiction and social politics in Black Atlantic culture.” One excerpt called ‘We Are The Robots’ features Kraftwerk playing sequences from their own music in a jam session with the mothership from ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ which responds with fragments of tracks that have sampled the group (!)
I’m frequently asked how I find all the various cover version in my Kover Kollection mixes (vol. 8 debuts tomorrow) but the truth is, once you start looking, they are everywhere, just not always in plain site. A quick web search for a title + ‘cover version’ is much like turning over a stone in a rock pool, teeming with life you can’t immediately see. Another example, I received a magazine by my friend Sarah Coleman just before Xmas, she had a feature on the back page about her favourite design classic – the 45 adaptor. Which record was the dink pushed into?
I was thrilled to find some words of mine about Kraftwerk‘s influence on modern electronic music in Jude Rogers‘ piece in today’s Observer magazine. You can read the piece online here.
The last of the European kids’ magazines I discovered last May with Steve Cook: covers from French girls magazine Lissette, a feature on going to a TV station and numerous gorgeous masthead designs for different sections within the mag.