Florian Schneider, co-founder of Kraftwerk – the electronic pop group seen by many as having done more to shape the face of modern music than any other band since The Beatles – has died from cancer at the age of 73. In keeping with the private, reclusive, some might suggest idiosyncratic way in which he lived his life, it is understood that Schneider died last week, had already been buried and the news of his passing has only just emerged within the last few hours.
I first became aware of Florian Schneider and the music of Kraftwerk in 1978, buying their album The Man Machine upon its release in May of that year. By then Kraftwerk were already seven albums into their recording career. Since that time and in reflecting both their huge and enduring influence, they have only released three more studio albums, the last of which Tour de France Soundtracks came out in 2003. Five years later Schneider left the band in circumstances and for reasons that have never been explained such was the mystery surrounding the man.
Yet it is with Kraftwerk that Florian Schneider’s name will be forever most associated. As noted by William Cook in The Spectator they were the first band to embrace modern technology not only in the instruments that they played, but also in the subject matter of their songs. Kraftwerk’s prescient nature and innate ability to be years ahead of their time is perfectly illustrated in the song ‘Computer Love’ – taken from their 1981 album Computer World – in which they foretell the phenomenon of internet dating.
Alongside fellow co-founder Ralf Hütter he developed Kraftwerk’s pioneering sound into one that provided a template from which musical genres as diverse as post-punk, New Romanticism, techno, acid house, hip-hop and even BritPop emerged. Without Kraftwerk there would surely have been no Joy Division, Suicide, OMD, Sonic Youth, Stereolab or countless other bands inspired by their beautifully harmonious, innovative electronic blueprint.
I had the greatest of fortunes to see Florian Schneider perform with Kraftwerk at Manchester Apollo in March 2004 in what to this day has to be amongst the top five musical performances I have ever experienced, an incredible distillation of sound and vision into what was its purest form.
Photo of Florian Schneider taken from the cover of Kraftwerk’s 1977 album Trans-Europe Express