Pioneers

Only one week goes by and I’m having to amend that list again: folks who made a huge impact on modern dance music – pioneers and giants who’ve all sadly left us – James Brown, King Tubby, Tony Allen – and now Kraftwerk founding member Florian Schneider. Such are the times that it`s looking like Sundays will for the foreseeable future be given over to remembering those we have lost. 

Florian Schneider

My introduction to Kraftwerk wasn`t directly with the band, but rather through other artists who’d sampled their music. I’m guessing that’s true for most people, since the list of electronic acts who’ve borrowed from Kraftwerk is kinda endless. Endless. 

For me, personally, knowledge of Kraftwerk came care of hip hop – NYC`s Zulu Nation, Africa Bambaataa, and Planet Rock. There was a record that blew my mind – right from its opening shout of “Party people!” – which sounded as if it had been recorded at a riot – to the Sci-Fi steals from Kraftwerk`s Trans Europe Express and Numbers. 

This was my portal into electro – my portal into electronic music full stop.  Or should that be Musique Non-Stop? 

All those sides that took their cues from “The Master Of Records” Bambaataa, and Kraftwerk – Ralf Hütter, Wolfgang Flür, Karl Bartos, and Schneider. Tunes on Tommy Boy, like Special Request`s Salsa Smurph – another stowaway on the Trans Europe Express. Fearless Four`s make over of Man Machine, Rockin` It, on Enjoy. Let alone the countless post-punk bands who turned to Kraftwerk`s metallic funk as a means to overthrow overblown, outdated and bloated, rock. The only time ever I met Bambaataa he was in HMV on Oxford Street – shopping for Kraftwerk records. 

Then there was Derrick May`s infamous soundbyte – that techno is George Clinton’s Parliament stuck in an elevator with Kraftwerk. Without Kraftwerk there’d be no electro – and no techno. 

Initially the only Kraftwerk vinyl I owned was a 45 of Tour De France, which I bought when it was at the top of the pop charts, in `83 – fascinated by its percussive collage of heavy breathing and spinning gears. My old man was / is a cycling nut – though he never shared this with me. It was / is an enthusiasm that he kept to himself. 

Little Richard, rock and roll, was Mum’s passion. I have 100s of 1950s and `60s hooks lodged in my brain, from when she would  jive around the kitchen – twistin` again – brightening the poverty and the drudge. Dion & The Belmonts, Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee*, Johnny Kidd & The Pirates. Saving the last dance and shaking all over. Elvis, oh Elvis, and Little Richard. 

My folks had met at a dance – at The Cat`s Whiskers on Streatham High Road – or maybe it was The Locarno – and they’d both been music mad. For Dad it had been The Stones – but in order to put down a deposit on the place that I called home between the ages of 4 and 17 – they’d had to save, and sell everything. Including their records. Dad never stopped reminding me of the sacrifices he`d made, and as a kid there was no vinyl in the house. No music save the radio – and a shoebox of 45s Mum had secreted away – which while the old man was out at work I`d play on a portable Dansette, that my Grandad, Mum`s Dad, had given me. Grandad had also donated his brittle shellac Doris Day and Goons 78s. So The Deadwood Stage – Whip crack away – and Ying Tong Hiddle I Po did battle – South East London Soundclash style – with Tutti Frutti, Good Golly Miss Molly and Long Tall Sally. 

In 1955 had there ever been another black artist allowed to really crossover to a white audience – to get that American checkerboard moving and integrated? There most definitely had never been anyone allowed on TV – of any colour** – who embodied such a flamboyantly “punk” establishment and norm-baiting fuck you.

Dad forbade me from buying records – so predictably as soon as I got a Saturday job – at around 13 – that’s where all my money went. By the time I was 15 I had piles of Kraftwerk-inspired electro imports stashed under my bed. I guess in the same way that normal teenagers have porn hidden. I never really drew any distinction between Tutti Frutti and Tour De France. Both were, still are, and will always be, joyous creations, timeless inventions – and treasured means of escape. 

Illustration of Little Richard by Jim Blanchard.

*Bobby Vee and Bobby Darin – but surprisingly I was actually named after Bobby Moore – captain of the World Cup winning England football team.

**In 2020 it seems crazy that we should still refer to each other in terms of skin colour. 

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