Music

“They’re cold, geeky geniuses”

British Electro legend Gary Numan pays tribute to his bookish German forbears, Kraftwerk...

“It was probably John Peel that first played me Kraftwerk. It would’ve been the mid-to-late Seventies and it was probably Trans-Europe Express he played. I don’t know if any of my friends even knew about them – they were all David Bowie or T Rex fans – but I loved it. They had cool sounds and simple melodies, sometimes two or three notes would do if they were just the right ones. They sounded very different to anybody else. They’d find a certain groove or a vocal sound that fitted together perfectly.

“The sort of music I wanted to do when I got involved in electronic music, though, wasn’t what Kraftwerk were doing. They went for the full artificial sound, whereas I really liked guitar, bass and drums and I wanted to add another electronic layer to that. Kraftwerk were completely electronic and non-conventional, and I really admired it. I just sat back with Kraftwerk and thought, ‘F*ck me, that’s clever! I would never have thought of that. How do they get those sounds? Where do they get the idea to do it in the first place?’ I thought it was genius.

“It was partly their aesthetic that was so fascinating. Our impression of Kraftwerk was that they sat in a room surrounded by wires, not really talking, just tapping Morse Code messages to each other. That they were a little bit geeky and very cold. Somebody once told me they actually used mannequins at gigs and they weren’t even there, but it’s all part of the mystery about them – the reluctance to interact with humanity while engaging with machinery.

“We shared a fascination with the idea of mankind merging with machines; for me it came from an interest in science-fiction and I did a couple of albums – maybe three – that had sci-fi references. With Kraftwerk, that seems to have been their whole reason for being. The whole thrust and continuing theme of what they’ve done was this interaction between man and machine. For them it was a career, for me it was a flash, a moment.

“But their lasting legacy is one of acceptance – they made electronic music cool at various points, acceptable to a vast amount of people. They haven’t varied it particularly or moved sideways or reinvented themselves. Like the Rolling Stones, they’ve done what they’ve done for 40 years, and done it well. It’s a remarkable achievement.”

Gary Numan: Now… And Then app for iPad and Android tablet is out now

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