4. Kraftwerk - Trans-Europe Express
Why can't I study? It's a question I ask myself all the time, even on today of all days. There's a whole pile of photocopied papers pertaining to refugee law that I refuse to even contemplate reading. But maybe putting on "Trans-Europe Express" will help. I'm only just getting into Kraftwerk now, and I notice that when I listen to "Europe Endless" I actually start becoming less emotional and more inclined to work. Rolf & Florian's music and their image complement eachother so perfectly it's frightening. The other thing I think of is their reputation as the Godfathers of Techno in relation to their actual recorded output. In a sense its vastly overrated. While I can certainly see enormous similarities between this music and stuff by Derrick May, or Orbital or even Underworld, it's actually when these artists are furthest away from the dancefloor aesthetic that they begin to sound like their idols. Kraftwerk's world is too clean and shiny, seeming to advocate not bodily expression but rather bodily repression. The pulsating rhythms they employ aren’t about movement so much as a smooth, motionless glide. How they ended up siring electro and subsequently techno then is not an example of their vision, but rather a classic example of brilliant mis-interpretation (in other words, getting it right by getting it wrong) on the part of Black Americans.
This is not to dismiss Kraftwerk’s legacy though; “Trans-Europe Express” is one of the most amazing albums I’ve ever heard, just not for the reasons usually stated. What I love about this album is actually its delightful eeriness (check “The Hall of Mirrors”), and the group’s surprising talent for writing excellent, if disturbing songs. Songs which seem to scream “Slow down!” to the rest of the world by presenting just what we’re hurtling towards. That we didn’t end up adopting the cyborg-future they avertise doesn’t invalidate the power of their message, though arguably we have merely become inhuman in different, subtler ways.
In the end I guess it comes down to what you listen to music for: context or enjoyment (that’s an unfair manipulation, I know). Whether or not Kraftwerk presaged the future seems like an irrelevant question to me, because I’m much more interested in exploring the one they created.