Remembering Kraftwerk’s Pioneering Co-Founder, Florian Schneider

Remembering Kraftwerk’s Pioneering Co-Founder, Florian Schneider

Kraftwerk (Florian Schneider second from left) live in 1981. Photo by Gie Knaeps/Getty Images.

Florian Schneider co-founded one of the most influential music groups of the 20th century when he introduced a multi-media creative vehicle called Kraftwerk to the world at the dawn of the 1970s. Sadly, it has just been announced that the pioneering German musician has passed away after a brief battle with cancer, aged 73. 

“Florian Schneider has passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday,” a statement from the group said. “In the year 1968 Ralf Htter and Florian Schneider started their artistic and musical collaboration. In 1970 they founded their electronic Kling Klang studio in Dsseldorf [Germany] and started the multi-media project Kraftwerk. All the Kraftwerk catalogue albums were conceived and produced there. In 2014 Htter and Schneider were honoured with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.”

Kraftwerk | “The Robots”

Kraftwerk’s visionary synth-music introduced electronic instruments into popular music a full decade before it would become the overarching sound of a generation. It could certainly be argued that it was indeed their very arrival on the airwaves that fanned the flames of MTV-new-wave-powered-synth-pop groups like Depeche Mode and the Human League that exploded out of the ‘80s. 

This video flashback to one of Kraftwerk’s very first recorded live performances from 1970 stands as testament to how incomparably ahead of, well… anything that most mortals imaginations could possibly conceive. As the audience watches on, they are almost visibly aware that they are witnessing history in the making, while the band deliver a performance captivating for its innovation, mesmerising for their sheer commitment. Florian Schneider’s credentials are listed as “flute, vibes” – and it's no exaggeration.

The revolutionary influence of Kraftwerk’s entirely creative process quickly captured the imaginations of fellow innovators of the era, in particular, a young David Bowie who ceremoniously played the group’s 1975 Radioactivity album before many of his 1976 concerts and even penned a tribute to the musician called “V-2 Schneider” on his Heroes album the following year. The driving influence of the German electro-technocrats robotic, symphonic sound shines through on the track, while Bowie’s triumphant saxophone solo orbits in the forefront – making for a surprisingly coherent amalgamation of technically opposing musical genres. 

David Bowie | “V-2 Schneider” 

While their earlier work was largely instrumental and experimental, it was the ingenious commix of experimental instrumentation and Ramones like pop vocals that made 1974’s Autobahn album the group’s defining crossover moment as it picked up significant air play on U.S. radio. The elegant blend of textured electronics and classic pop melodies may have been as obscure and rebellious as any anti-establishment rock act of the era, but their entirely futuristic take on the concept placed them in a class of their own. Not to mention, the sheen of timelessness that comes from Schneider’s purely inspired addition of flute to the album’s title track. 

Kraftwerk | “Autobahn” 

Kraftwerk’s vast influence filtered into all forms of electronic music; their influence can be heard in everything from dance-pop to hip-hop, genre-bending EDM and beyond. Track’s like their 1978 cycling anthem, “Tour de France” was miles ahead of its time, melding rhythmic breathwork with mechanical, synthetic beats to create a robotic piece of music, so emotional that it has the power to transport you into the rider’s seat, staring down the road, pumping the pedals with relentless rhythm, propelled by heartfelt determination and euphoria on the horizon.  

Kraftwerk | “Tour De France” [2009 Remaster]

While Schneider’s bandmate and Kraftwerk co-founder, Ralf Htter was the voice and spokesman of the band, he is the first to credit his curiously press-shy musical partner as the driving force behind the band’s boundary-pushing sound. “Florian is a sound fetishist. I am not so much, I’m maybe more a word fetishist,” Htter told Mojo in 2005. “These roles are not an obligation; they have just developed over the years as our preferences.” 

Obligation or not, Schneider’s enduring dedication to intrinsically melding machine’s with beauty and emotion is a legacy that has undoubtedly expanded beyond the realms of music. As we increasingly search for new ways to use technology to connect with each other and express creativity and emotion, Florian Schneider’s guiding presence is one that will be sadly missed – but strongly felt for decades to come. 

Kraftwerk | “The Model”

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