Sad news for the music world today as it was announced that Florian Schneider, cofounder of the iconic German act Kraftwerk, has died aged 73 after a struggle with cancer.
The news was broken by Kraftwerk cofounder Ralf Hütter, who stated that a funeral was held in the week prior by family and friends. The news was confirmed also via Sony Berlin. The private nature of the announcement is in keeping with the band's aversion to the spotlight, and Schneider in particular being known for valuing his privacy, with his only recent public appearances being in 2015, release the environmentally themed "Stop Plastic Pollution" in support of Parley for Oceans.
Florian Schneider was born into a post-war Germany in 1947, and grew up amid a time of reinvention and earnest industrialisation of the country's economy. With a privleged upbringing (Schneider's father was noted archtect Paul Schneider-Esbelen, who among other landmarks designed Cologne's airport).
His early musical adventures fell into the Krautrock label, an ephemeral genre and post-rock cultural catch-all (much like French Touch that would apply in France in decades later). Footage can be seen of performances with future Kraftwerk bandmate Ralf Hütter, in their short-lived band Organisation. Moving on from playing the flute, Schneider's evolution towards synthesisers would feed into the birth of what was to become Kraftwerk.
As I covered in the Kraftwerk feature earlier this year (and a little love note to "The Robots" and "Autobahn"), the band's career trajectory is nothing if not amazing. With a cultural impact that would be as significant over time as The Beatles or any other major recording artist. Arguably even moreso given the entirely new ground being broken, leading to the creation of Techno, House, Breaks, Electro, Hip Hop and beyond. Schneider and band would go on to create over eleven albums, dominate the charts for decades, win multiple Grammy awards, and tour the world throughout each era of tecnbological advance.
Leaving Kraftwerk and an enigmatic legacy
Florian's choice to depart the band in 2008 was both no surprise and something of a shock. Even as far back as Kraftwerk's early days, which former Kraftwerk drummer Wolfgang Flür recounts in his tell-all book I Was a Robot, Florian was known to drift in and out of interest in the band. His passion for cycling was characterised by Flür as bordering on obsession, and by no small part influenced the concept and recording of 2003's "Tour de France Soundtracks".
The lines further blur given the Florian's reclusive lifestyle was notable even for the off-the-radar Kraftwerk overall. There's the anecdotes of bizarre day trips with Iggy Pop and wonderful tributes from David Bowie of course, but fan experinces largely revolve around pilgrimages to the Kling Klang studio space in Dusseldorf.
Aside from the difficulties with former band members, and various legal action around the (largely technical) allegations in his book, Schneider was the quiet and solitary robot, having drifted away from the band after his departure. Bandmate Hütter told the Guardian in 2009 that Schneider “worked for many, many years on other projects... He was not really involved in Kraftwerk for many, many years,” and later said that they hadn't kept in touch after Schneider left.
This slow fade in some way highlights the ultimate success of Kraftwerk's vision. Not only of precise and melodic music, but a futuristic vision of abstraction from the obsession of identity. Both for the freedom that allows, and for the benefits for society (perhaps even avoiding a repeat of what had occurred in Germany prior to Schneider's generation coming of age). Kraftwerk continues to perform in various forms, both human and robotic, but ultimately the enoourmous impact of the band, and the timelessness of some of their music, ensures them an eternal place in music history. And a reprieve for music journalists struggling to collect more than single answer replies to their questions, as we can see from this awkward interview in Brazil in 1998...
For a band as influential as this it's no surprise that the tributes have been flowing. Twitter and Instagram posts from virtually anyone associated with electronic or early pop music abound. Schneider's impact is immense. A steady flow of touching YouTube videoes are also being published, from the personal to the more official. This one from the BBC hits the mark, and underscores the immense cultural contribution that Kraftwerk had in the UK from the 1970s on.