Wolfgang Flür will always be a Kraftwerk kid at heart
He used to be a robot, but he’s all right now. Wolfgang Flür is one of the most famous musicians in the history of electronica, and as he runs through a soundcheck in the Arctic environment of an underground car park on the outskirts of Drogheda (where he played last month as part of the Co Louth town’s annual arts festival), it’s obvious that this most dapper gentleman wears the fame and recognition very well.
Flür was the drummer for Kraftwerk from 1974 to 1987, when the Düsseldorf quartet released pioneering, iconic electronic music albums such as Autobahn, Radio-Activity, TransEurope Express, The Man Machine and Computer World. As such, he played a central role in the development of a musical language that has influenced and informed much of what passes for pop music these years.
“My first ambition, musically, was to copy The Beatles,” says Flür, now seated upstairs on a couch in the car showroom, his every movement and utterance (plus those of yours truly) captured on a video camera that his Turkish wife is pointing in his direction.
“What else could I do? We had no music of our own, and in the ’60s there was no chance to play at any venues other than school halls, garden fairs, gymnasiums or private parties. And when we gigged we had to play what was in the Top 10.”
Flür’s first pop band, The Beethovens, was founded in 1966. He recalls meeting every Saturday afternoon, listening to Radio Luxembourg, and deciding what songs they would cover.
“We heard many pop bands on that radio station,” he says. “The Beatles, Tony Sheridan, Cliff Richard, Lovin’ Spoonful, Herman’s Hermits, loads of other acts. This music was so different to our Schlager music, a form of easy listening music – which was all we had.
“It was music my generation hated, the music of our parents; they danced to it, but we just couldn’t get into it.”
The first blip that flagged something different for Flür was in a new band, Spirits of Sound, which he co-founded with guitarist Michael Rother in the late 1960s.
“We started to write original music, but unfortunately we never recorded it,” Flür says. “We had no money. We played live, and the music was very different from The Beatles – some- thing akin to King Crimson, psychedelic.”
A couple of years passed. Rother was cajoled into joining another group, and Flür started working as an architect.
Then: 1972. A knock on his door. Flür opened it to see Florian Schneider and Ralf Hütter standing there.
“They said they wanted me for their band. They were laughing as they asked, but I was not so amused, and so I refused to rehearse with them; in fact, I refused to have anything to do with them. But they came back a few times, refused to take no for an answer, and they explained why they had always too many problems with drummers. I asked them why, and they said that the drummers just drummed too much.
“Theirs was a minimal group, they said, but I had no idea what that meant. We play experimental music, they said. And then I remembered I had seen them playing in a gymnasium. To me, however, the music was like air- planes flying over. Too much noise and repetition. I told them I was a pop musician, but they were very insistent, so I was interested – if just a bit nervous.
“But some day after I went to their rehearsal studio, and for the first time in my life I heard the sound of synthesizers. I was amazed. More than amazed. Blown away, to be honest.”
The rest is history, and an inventive, innovative history at that. Flür’s solo work from the 1990s onward has been sporadic: collaborations (Pizzicato Five, Mouse on Mars); autobiography (2000’s I Was a Robot); and, more recently, as Musik Soldat, a fancy soubriquet for what you and I might term DJ, but which Flür seriously describes as “music presenter”.
Kraftwerk may be in the past, but Flür fully realises that everything he’s done since leaving the group in 1987 has been predicated on his crucial involvement during its inarguable golden period. He shrugs his shoulders, implying more pragmatism than resignation. His wife continues to film his every move.
“When the door is opened for me to do things, I have the Kraftwerk brand, and there’s good in that. That brand can also be something like a stigma, however, which obviously isn’t good.
“But, look, we are sitting here because I was once a member of the group, and if that was not in my biography, then we wouldn’t be here. People come to see me because they’re curious to see if I play Kraftwerk music – but I don’t.”
Some day after I went to their rehearsal studio, and for the first time in my life I heard the sound of synthesizers. I was amazed. More than amazed. Blown away, to be honest
‘When the door is opened for me to do things, I
have the Kraftwerk brand’