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Kraftwerk: I Was A Robot, by Wolfgang Flur

I think it's impossible to overestimate the impact that Kraftwerk has had on popular music. Anything with a drum machine and synthesized basslines can trace its ancestry back to the German pop group that first unleashed “Autobahn” on the world, way back in 1974. And while they used electronic drums then, it wasn't until much later that they started using drum machines and sequencers.

As drummer/electronic percussionist during the band's most popular and creative period, Wolfgang Flur is in a unique position to share some history of the band. It's a lively, engaging memoir in which he mainly talks about growing up, joining the band, designing and building instruments, and adventures on the road. He also takes numerous opportunites to talk about his current project, Yamo. I don't recall Flur's name ever being listed as a composer on any Kraftwerk tracks, subsequently there's very little technical info on how specific songs were conceived or constructed, but all in all, its very pleasant reading and an interesting look at what was previously unknown territory—the day-to-day lives of the members of Kraftwerk and the origins of some of their more memorable concepts. There aren't any heroes or villains, just four people making music and touring the world.

Which is why it's puzzling that Kraftwerk founders Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider took legal action against Flur to prevent publication of this book. The second section of the book (this is the second edition) talks about this at length, but even Flur seems mystified by the lawsuit and doesn't understand why it was brought on. The only explanation I can come up with (more through deduction than evidence) is that Hutter and Schneider feel the Kraftwerk story is one that either should not be told (to retain an air of mystery), or should only be told by them. But they go further; apparently newer reissues of Kraftwerk Cds don't even credit Flur or his fellow percussionist, Karl Bartos (though on a recent visit to a music store, Kraftwerk CD covers still showed all four faces). It all begins to look kind of petty, and sad.

Still, even though Flur hasn't been a member of the band since 1987, its shadow will probably cast itself over his career for a long while yet—as the title of his book makes all too clear. Flur writes well, and fluidly, though the second section contains way too many pages of letters from fans that offer support; they get a bit tedious. Still, recommended reading for those interested in the history of electronic pop music—just don't expect shocking hijinks, or slander, or whatever else might have caused folks to break out the lawyers.