Why Kraftwerk matters so much

EDC, dance music and the German electronic pioneers

Kraftwerk brings a 3D performance to the Cosmopolitan this week.
Photo: Juerg Mueller/AP Photo/Keystone
Annie Zaleski

Last weekend, three-night crowds of 140,000 flocked to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for Electric Daisy Carnival, a marquee event that reaffirmed Vegas’ status as an EDM hub. But the ongoing electronic music explosion in the city—and the enduring global popularity of the genre—arguably would not be were it not for the work of a studious group of German musicians known as Kraftwerk.

Formed in the early ’70s by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, the band embraced nascent electronic technology—everything from vocoders to Minimoog keyboards to percussion—in conjunction with organic instruments such as flute, violin and guitar. The results were otherworldly and futuristic, highlighted by the undulating New Age blissout “Autobahn,” robotic disco-techno trot “Trans-Europe Express,” proto-New Wave gem “The Model” and the loopy synth-pop literalism of “Pocket Calculator.”

It’s easy to hear Kraftwerk’s musical influence in the output of artists such as OMD, Gary Numan, Richie Hawtin and LCD Soundsystem, but the group’s cultural influence might be even greater. Kraftwerk didn’t view electronic music as a novelty or a fad. Quite the opposite, the group was scrupulous about elevating the genre like a fine art form, and treating it with immense respect and gravitas. This legitimized electronic music’s existence, and paved the way for it to filter into the mainstream through a variety of other acts.

Kraftwerk’s members always sought out the newest, most innovative gear to augment their music. And if the means to create certain sounds didn’t exist, they’d simply build gear that would produce them. (Shades of EDM’s more forward-thinking DJs and producers?) Live, the band members toy with elaborate visual effects—as they will at Saturday’s 3D concert at the Cosmopolitan—and their performances famously involve identity disguises or deliberate performance art, aspects familiar to fans of Daft Punk and Deadmau5. Above all, Kraftwerk challenges its listeners to imagine the possibilities afforded by technology—and embrace what happens when reality catches up to idle daydreams.

Kraftwerk June 28, 8 p.m., $40-$60. The Chelsea, 702-698-7000.

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