Kraftwerk (German: [ˈkʁaftvɛɐ̯k], lit. “power station”) are a German band formed in Düsseldorf in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Widely considered innovators and pioneers of electronic music, Kraftwerk were among the first successful acts to popularize the genre. The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s before fully embracing electronic instrumentation, including synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Wolfgang Flür joined the band in 1974 and Karl Bartos in 1975, expanding the band to a quartet.
On commercially successful albums such as Autobahn (1974), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), and Computer World (1981), Kraftwerk developed a self-described “robot pop” style that combined electronic music with pop melodies, sparse arrangements, and repetitive rhythms, while adopting a stylized image including matching suits. Following the release of Electric Café (1986), Flür left the group in 1987, followed by Bartos in 1990. Founding member Schneider left in 2008.
The band’s work has influenced a diverse range of artists and many genres of modern music, including synth-pop, hip hop, post-punk, techno, house music, ambient, and club music. In 2014, the Recording Academy honoured Kraftwerk with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. They later won the Grammy Award for Best Dance/Electronic Album with their live album 3-D The Catalogue (2017) at the 2018 ceremony. In 2021, Kraftwerk was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in the early influence category. As of 2022, the band continues to tour.
Ralf und Florian (English title: Ralf and Florian) is the third studio album by the German electronic band Kraftwerk. It was released in October 1973 on Philips. It saw the group moving toward its signature electronic sound.
Along with Kraftwerk’s first two albums, Ralf und Florian to date has never been officially re-issued on compact disc. However, the album remains an influential and sought-after work, and bootlegged CDs were widely distributed in the 1990s on the Germanofon label. In 2008, Fact named it among the 20 greatest ambient albums ever made.
As indicated by the title (and like their previous album), all the tracks were written, performed and produced by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, with the sessions engineered by the influential Konrad “Conny” Plank. The album has a fuller and more polished sound quality than previous efforts, and this is clearly due to the use of a number of commercial recording studios in addition to Kraftwerk’s own yet-to-be-named Kling Klang. The colour photograph on the back of the cover gives a vivid impression of the bohemian state of Kraftwerk’s own facilities at the time – including egg-box trays pasted, nailed, or stuck on the walls as acoustic treatment.
Fact stated that the album’s sound “sits halfway between LSD-fried Kraut prog and the refined minimal art of classic Kraftwerk.” The album is still almost entirely instrumental (some wordless vocalising appears in “Tanzmusik”, and “Ananas Symphonie” features the band’s first use of a machine voice created by an early prototype vocoder, a sound which would later become a Kraftwerk trademark). Instrumentation begins to show more obvious use of synthesizers (Minimoog and EMS Synthi AKS), but most melodic and harmonic keyboard parts are performed on Farfisa electronic piano/organ. Flute and guitar are still much in evidence. The band was still without a drummer, and several tracks, particularly “Tanzmusik”, make use of a preset organ rhythm machine. “Kristallo” features a striking rhythmic electronic bassline (actually created on the EMS synthesizer with the aid of the vocoder), however, in general the album is much gentler and less rhythmically precise than Kraftwerk’s later electronic work.
The LP included a “musicomic” poster insert of cartoons by Emil Schult, who had been playing electric violin live with the band (although he does not feature on the album recordings). Schult remained a collaborator of Kraftwerk’s. The cartoons illustrated each track on the album, as well as the city of Düsseldorf, with the caption “In Düsseldorf am Rhein, klingt es bald!”, which translates literally in English as “In Düsseldorf on the Rhine, it will sound soon” (perhaps the phrase “the sound gets around” captures the snappy feel of the maxim better). This is a reference to Kraftwerk’s Düsseldorf-based Kling Klang studio.
The album was a modest success in Germany. Drummer Wolfgang Flür was recruited to play with Ralf and Florian for a subsequent promotional TV appearance in Berlin, for the German WDR TV arts show Aspekte. He became a member of the group thereafter.
No material from this album has been performed in the band’s live set since 1976. Though the electronic sound of Ralf und Florian is more stylistically similar to Autobahn than it is to Kraftwerk’s first two albums, the band is seemingly reluctant to consider the album a part of its canon – Schneider in later interviews referred to the first three Kraftwerk albums as “archaeology”. The band hinted that the album may finally see a re-mastered CD release after issuing the boxed set The Catalogue in the autumn of 2009. (wikipedia)
Continuing to work with Conny Plank, who once again provides a compelling job as producer and engineer, Kraftwerk went right ahead and named their new album after their two remaining members — an understandable enough move. Like the first two albums, Ralf and Florian still has not seen official re-release, for all that one can practically taste Kraftwerk’s leap into the beyond on it. Given that this was the last album before the most famous lineup was formed and Autobahn was released, it’s appropriate to listen to Ralf and Florian as a harbinger for the future, though perhaps all too easy. Take it on its own terms — a further investigation of electronic possibilities in a more open-ended, less constantly structured fashion than would be the case later — and Ralf and Florian becomes most enjoyable.
“Kristallo” certainly shows how Kraftwerk was right on the verge — various sequencer-driven rhythms and pulses provide the bed for what sounds like a free-flowing harpsichord solo or its near equivalent. “Tanzmusik,” meanwhile, captures the sheer sense of beauty often present in the band’s glory days, complete with what sounds like celebratory handclaps and bells, though crucially lacking the elegant melancholy that gave later songs total heft. “Tongebirge” is another one of the tracks that shows Kraftwerk right on the cusp of future changes, Schneider’s swirling, lovely flute performance further treated with reverb and flange, while Hütter adds some immediately familiar (from later albums) synth tones. There’s still no core rhythm or melody, though, the immediate distinction between this era of the band and the later one. Parts of the lovely, piano/flute-led “Heimatklänge,” meanwhile, suggest some of David Sylvian’s early instrumental solo work in its sweet appeal. Another hint of the future appears with the final song, thanks to the electronically distorted opening vocals chanting the title of “Ananas Symphonie.” The inclusion of what sounds like steel guitar and banjo at the end is something else again. (by Ned Raggett)
Ralf Hütter – vocals, keyboards, organ, electronics, bass guitar, guitar, zither, drums, percussion
Florian Schneider – vocals, keyboards, electronics, flute, violin, guitar, percussion
The UK edition:
01. Elektrisches Roulette (“Electric Roulette”) 4.23
02. Tongebirge (“Mountain of Sound”) 2.51
03. Kristallo (“Crystals”) 6.17
04. Heimatklänge (“The Bells of Home”) 3.39
05. Tanzmusik (“Dance Music”) 6.37
06. Ananas Symphonie (“Pineapple Symphony”) 13.56
07. Ananas Symphonie (“Pineapple Symphony”) (incomplete) 4.41
Music is composed by Ralf Hütter & Florian Schneider.
Many thanks to James Eldred for the high-quality scans of the ultra-rare cartoon poster, which was only included with the German first edition !