Author Topic: Did cycling kill Kraftwerk?

Did cycling kill Kraftwerk?
« on: March 01, 2013 »
Jack Thurston at The Bike Show writes:

On the eve of Kraftwerk’s eight night residency at the Tate Modern, Jack is joined by David Buckley, music writer and author of a new biography of the German electronic pop pioneers. Among the revelations in his book is evidence that a serious obsession with cycling contributed to the slowing of the band’s musical output in the 1980s and, ultimately, the break-up of the group’s classic line-up. Jack and David talk about Kraftwerk’s journey from experimental music-making to the pinnacle of influence over pop, rock, hip-hop and dance music as well as their love affair with riding their bikes.

Did Cycling Kill Kraftwerk?

On the contrary, it has been persuasively argued by music historian Günter Grasshopper that Kraftwerk very nearly killed cycling.

The 80s were difficult times. Mountain bikes and fixies were in short supply because of bottlenecks in trendiness, so most had to content themselves with their brother's old 10-speed. The 1979 movie Breaking Away left millions disillusioned upon discovering that Italians, previously thought to be charming, couldn't be trusted with frame pumps. The brief era of good feeling ushered in by ET which reached a crescendo with Pee Wee's Big Adventure quickly dissipated after Quicksilver. Basically, cycling was on shaky ground.

Enter Kraftwerk.

A German band noted for repetitive driving rhythms and for wearing their Düsseldorf school uniforms on stage, Kraftwerk released the single Tour de France in 1983, the same year "The Professor" Laurent Fignon first took the yellow jersey and Michael Jackson first walked on the moon. Goaded by founding member Ralf Hütter to take up cycling and vegetarianism while they were at it (unusually for Germans, they drew the line at nudity), the group followed their leader with enthusiasm.

They rode everywhere together, from the bucolic Rhine valley to gritty industrial estates, chasing their muse and tinkling a bell at it when it got in the way. Their adventures were closely watched by a starstruck media; Der Spiegel devoted a 12 page spread to their visit to the Berlin Wall, where Hütter spray-painted 'Ja Nicht' in large bleeding letters, prompting much discussion. The publicity inflamed the nation's interest in cycling. Soon wave after wave of Aryans were marching into bike shops. This boosted the economy, which gave greater confidence than ever to Chancellor Kohl: he began to envision a powerful new Germany, a Germany which could move past its past and stride with confidence into the future. Unfortunately his PR department christened his campaign with the slogan 'Heil the wheel' (it rhymes in German). This prompted immediate mobilization of the Allied Powers, which quickly squashed what some historians were calling a worrying trend.

Time magazine pilloried Germany, bicycles, and Kraftwerk (also on the ropes as a result of legal action by the Flann O'Brien estate for their album The Man-Machine). The demand for all three collapsed overnight. It would take the rise of the European Union and its need for a strong leader, a loosening of the aforementioned bottlenecks, nostalgia, and the heartwarming Michael Jackson song Heal The World to resurrect them.

20% of the Jackson Five on typical 10 speed, handed down by Tito

This post was the subject of a tweet which has the distinction of being retweeted by Rouleur, and has been stuck to the top of the board index despite that AG doesn't normally accept honours. A CBE was once mooted, which while pleasingly in the middle of the pile of distinction, could not seriously be considered due to a ribbon allergy.