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The King of Synth-Pop Florian Schneider remembered

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Florian Schneider (right) and Kraftwerk in Helsinki 2018 (Image via Wikimedia Commons)

Kraftwerk founder and synth-pop virtuoso Florian Schneider has died following a battle with cancer. He was 73.

He was born Florian Schneider-Esleben on 7 April 1947 in a French-occupied part of Germany to a father who worked as an architect.

The family moved to Dusseldorf when Schneider was three and Schneider later went to an art college, where he hooked up with Ralf Hutter and started playing experimental music.

Schneider’s primary instrument was the flute and Hutter’s was the Hammond organ. Bassist Eberhard Kranemann and drummer Paul Lovens soon joined the line-up that became Kraftwerk.

In the literal German, kraftwerk means “powerhouse” or “power station”.

Schneider was a dab hand in the studio and was soon experimenting with different instruments and technology. In addition to straining his flute until it begged for mercy, he played violin, electric guitar and various synthesisers. He loved fuzz and wah-wah effects.

The as-yet unrecognised Schneider caught the ear of none other than David Bowie and heavily influenced the rock god’s famous "Berlin period" — the fruit of which can be heard in 'V-2 Schneider'.

Schneider, however, was a creative guy and wanted to explore music to its fullest.

He said:

“I had studied seriously up to a certain level, then I found it boring. I looked for other things, I found that the flute was too limiting. Soon, I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesiser. Much later, I threw the flute away. It was a sort of process.“

Bandmate Ralf Hutter said of Schneider,

He is a sound perfectionist so if the sound isn’t up to a certain standard, he doesn’t want to do it. With electronic music, there is no necessity to ever leave the studio. You could keep making records and sending them out. Why put so much energy into travel, spending time in airports, in waiting halls, in backstage areas, being like an animal, just for two hours of a concert? But now, with Kling Klang studio on tour with us, we work in the afternoon, we do soundchecks, we compose, we put down new ideas and computer graphics. There’s always so much to do, and we do make progress.

The somewhat stilted and unashamedly German band did indeed make progress.

They burst onto the international music scene as “Krautrock” with songs like 'Autobahn', released in 1974. An ode to highway travel in their native Germany, 'Autobahn' was imbued with sound effects of cars and horns.

This was a surprise international hit, cracking the top 20 in the UK, Canada and the Netherlands. It also charted in Australia and the USA.

In later years, Kraftwerk classics like 'Das Model' (The Model) became beloved of “Rage” afficionados.

Kraftwerk ran their own studio called Kling Klang and famously said:

“We have invented our own machines. We have enough money to live, that’s it. We can do what we want, we are independent, we don’t do Coca Cola adverts, even if we might have been flattered by such proposals, we have never accepted.”   

Schneider succumbed to cancer fairly quickly after being diagnosed. He has influenced legions of musicians from Neil Young and Simple Minds through to Depeche Mode, Madonna and Daft Punk. In fact, Kraftwerk were the vanguards of the whole synth-pop movement.

Before his death, Schneider famously said:

“Kraftwerk is not a band. It’s a concept. Die Mensch — machine, the human machine. We are not the band. I am me. Ralf is Ralf. Kraftwerk is a vehicle of our ideas.”

Jenny LeComte is a Canberra-based journalist and freelance writer.

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