John Foxx recently suggested to Classic Pop magazine that the way to create unique music is to wipe Kraftwerk from our memories.
Really? How is that so, given they are one of the bands that have most influenced his own sound and he considers ‘Neon Lights’ (The Man Machine, 1978) one of the most perfect pieces of electronic music ever written
But he insists:
“If I was starting again, I’d have to ignore Kraftwerk.; become post-digital. In some ways you’ve got to put masterpieces on hold to allow your music to come through. I think in generations to come we’ll look at Kraftwerk in the same way we look at Frank Sinatra: as an interesting but irrelevant force – that’s inevitable. There will be a new kind of music based on another premise, which may be around now but hiding in plain sight.
That’s usually what happens – I hope it does.”
So what does he mean? And why have so many people figured that he’s got it all wrong?
It occurred to me that Foxx is considering the same principle that Nigel Kennedy recently spoke of on Radio 4’s ‘Mastertapes’ when he was being interviewed about his 1989 recording of the Four Seasons. Kennedy explained how difficult it is to compose classical music that doesn’t sound like it was influenced by or in some way based on, or even simply that ‘sounds a bit like’ works by Vivaldi or Bach. Their reputation is so powerful and the range of compositions so vast that they are the benchmark against which all symphonies are considered.
Well, similarly Kraftwerk in popular music. Many genres, artists and musicians have elements of Kraftwerk in them – from dance to minimalist electronica. From progessive krautrock to visual art. Throughout the development of popular music since about 1980 it seems that sampling, sounding or looking like and generally referencing Kraftwerk is a statement of credibility. From Bowie to Bauhaus and New Order to Coldplay – in fact anyone who has ever used a synthesizer has probably been tagged with the K-word at some time.
Which makes it very difficult to be original in that field. A field in which John Foxx is also considered to be some kind of flagbearing pioneer, though he too owes a significant debt to the ubiquitous Germans. Perhaps when Foxx talks about becoming ‘post-digital’ he means ‘post-Kraftwerk’, in a similar way in to that in which he has taken his own music into an overgrown London, a post-apocalyptic, post-modern and ‘unplugged’ environment?
His most recent work explores treated piano and ‘real’ string instruments, composing ethereal choral harmonic and ‘classical’ pieces – moving into an area of composition that is free from the kling klang of melody, rhythm and perfect structures.
He hints that perhaps the ‘next big thing’ is already out there and we just haven’t realised it’s potential or significance yet. Or is it going to be something entirely unique and ‘different’, making electronic music in a way that Kraftwerk never did and never having anything to do with them? In an age where back catalogues of bands that aren’t making music anymore is as accessible as anything genuinely ‘new’ it is true that the legacy of Kraftwerk will remain powerful for all eternity, but…
It’s more than that. It’s more than music, or art. Or the merging of one with the other to become something else altogether. The legacy of Kraftwerk, indeed the very aspiration and more recent embodiment of Kraftwerk, is about replacing the human being with a machine. The band’s live shows now do not require the presence of band members and, in effect, the band no longer exists. In whatever ‘real life’ is anyway. Kraftwerk is an icon, an image, a concept. A legacy and a ‘thing’.
Wait – isn’t Foxx himself approaching that point of his career? He is a brand, a ‘thing’, more often re-issued and repackaged now than present and actually ‘recording’? Hmmm…
Modern art increasingly furthers the relationship between man and machines, and contemporary high-end technology seeks to make mankind more and more redundant through convenience, economy and accident. Elements of art and technology, through media and design have become each other. Foxx would suggest that a forest was a factory. A system. Man is making robots to replace even himself!
There are computers that compose and generate music without human intervention.
Artificial life forms. Intelligent and smart.
Don’t forget, there were Metamatic painting machines in the 50s after all
Let’s run to meet the tide tomorrow
Leave all emotion dying there…
Who wants to be a machine anyway?