Kraftwerk and the Secret Break

To the world, Kraftwerk was known as innovators of electronic music. They have several albums under their belt, and they have a unique and interesting stage show. But to me, and most of my Hip Hop peers, there are known for their “Breaks”. Before I knew who Kraftwerk was, or before I knew what they even looked like, I knew their breaks.

When Hip Hop was born, it was more than music. It was a culture, with Break Dancers (B-Boys) dressed in sweats suits, Tennis shoes (Pumas) and fat laces. They performed acrobatic dance styles over repetitive grooves called break beats. In fact a break beat was essentially a live sample loop made by finding the  “break” or groove on a record, and repeating it by bouncing between two turntables. Kraftwerk was perfect for this. It was repetitive, it was different sounding, it was polyrythmic, and it was instrumental.

 

With that said, there where only 3 songs of Kratwerk that people used:

  • Trans Europe Express
  • Tour De France
  • Numbers (the song where I learned to count in Japanese)
  • (Radio Activity was later remade, and the remake was popular.)

 

These breaks where popular, and used frequently. This is why they became one of the biggest influences on electronic music. Part of the early Hip Hop Sound was modeled after them. There was a whole electro funk movement that sounded like these Kraftwerk breaks. They used electronic drums, synthesizer keyboards, repetitive grooves, and vocoded vocals. This made Hip Hop popular in the dance clubs. Notable Artist Include:

  • Africa Bambata  (and the Soul Sonic Force) using “Trans Europe Express” for his cult classic song “Planet Rock”.
  • The Egyptian Lover – Artist from the West Coast who song “Egypt Egypt” utilizes the breathing sound from “Tour De France”.
  • Nuclues – had a hit song with “Jam On It”. They may not have used a Kraftwerk sample, but they had that “electro” sound.

This electro funk hip hop went on to spawn several sub genres of hip hop including house, techno, west coast, and bass music.

 

This is ironic, because at the same time this electro movement was happening, Kraftwerk were still performing as a group and producing records. This is in stark contrast to the Kraftwerk image. Starting in 1974, Kraftwerk changed their image  to characterize their German Heritage. They adopted lab coats, and glasses. They focused on technology and invention. They became disciplined robots on stage and made songs about German and European life. Then a group of African American took the structured European sound of Kraftwerk, and morphed into a wild and rebellious expression of the African American experience.

 

Even when I listen to these old Kraftwerk songs today, I listen in disbelief. I here those songs, and I hear those breaks. They make me want to spin on my back, perform Flares, 1990’s, and start to Pop Lock [sic..these are all Hip Hop dances]. I think of Hip Hop and B-Boys. So it blows my mind when I look at the album covers, the videos, and listen to the rest of songs. I find this clean cut German group. They are so different from the image in my head, that they are alien. Those songs that the breaks came from are just so funky, and ahead of their time, I do believe they where made by Aliens. Nothing else at the time sounded like this. I can listen to this over and over, and find something to learn off of it. It was clean, and simple. I call it minimal. They found the essential elements of the groove, and used them in a masterful way. They had magic at that time that transcended time. It is too bad that their differences kept them from collaborating with the early Hip Hop groups at the time. They might have benefited more from the growth explosion of the Hip Hop Phenomenon. Nevertheless, you can still find Kraftwerk in my iTunes collection.

Share