Kraftwerk Electric Cafe
“Kraftwerk really were the men who ‘rubbed the twigs together to make fire’ in the very first instance. It’s absolutely miraculous really to think that they were so far ahead of their time. Electronic music as we know it today simply wouldn’t be in the shape it is right now without Kraftwerk having made those very first initial moves that they did way back in the late 60’s. They do really draw this phenomenal emotion out of the machines that they’re using.
I think you could argue that many other electronic producers music is much colder than Kraftwerk’s and, much as they like to kind of isolate themselves as human beings from the media and almost entirely from the process, they like to give it this scientific aesthetic. Yet still it touches people so profoundly. I mean, literally at the very core of their souls. Their music is so profound at a human level it touches people deeply emotionally.”
Mary Ann Hobbs, Broadcaster, DJ
On December sixteenth, 1986, German band Kraftwerk finally released their ninth studio album – Electric Café. The album had a prolonged and difficult gestation – taking almost half a decade to produce and seeing the band face some of its most turbulent times. Many of the delays arose following an accident involving Ralf Hutter, who was hurt while out cycling on the Rhine Dam. There were qualitative concerns later, as band members disagreed over whether the album was good enough or not. Band members wanted the album to be ground breaking and delayed its release while they sought to create cutting edge sounds. Electric Café was the last album to feature the classic Kraftwerk line up of; Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider and Karl Bartos. Wolfgang Flür got a polite mention too, but isn’t listed amongst the record’s musical or production credits. Electric Cafe was the first Kraftwerk LP to be created using predominantly digital musical instruments, although the finished album was still recorded on analogue master tapes. The record was given a subsequent lease of life, being re-issued in October 2009 under the original working title, Techo Pop. The 1986 release failed to make waves commercially and initially received lukewarm critical responses. Subsequently, critics have re-evaluated the work and upgraded their estimations.
Despite moderate critical success and recognition in some dance charts the album didn’t sell well. In October 2009 Electric Cafe was re-released, under its original working title Technopop. Although the album’s not considered to be one of Kraftwerk’s finest, Electric Cafe nevertheless represents an important signpost in the group’s history – and the last output from the eighties line-up of the band. Electric Cafe saw the group beginning to use sampling technology and taking steps towards fully digital recording.
Today, it still sounds fresh, thanks in no small part to the album’s crisp production and mastering. But ultimately, the album took its toll on the band, who then waited another sixteen years to release any new material. It lacked lyrical depth and the atmosphere of self-doubt in which it was made permeated the songs. The delayed gestation period meant that by the time it was released the band had lost momentum and music had moved on. Its themes were techno-dread and the band admitted they lost much of their humanity during the record’s recording. Though Kraftwerk spent much of their career being ahead of their time, by the time they released Electric Café, the world had caught up.
Gareth Jones, Producer / Mary Ann Hobbs, DJ, broadcaster BBC 6 Music / Daniel Miller, founder of Mute Records / Peter Hook, The Light, formerly New Order / S Endz, Swami / Presenter; Ian Camfield / Assist. Producer Oliver Carter / Exec. Producers; Andy Ashton, Mike Walsh