Un­re­pen­tant Werka­holic

Wolf­gang Flür will al­ways be a Kraftwerk kid at heart

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

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.”

Sounds spir­its

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.”

Go­ing solo

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

Flür now

‘When the door is opened for me to do things, I

have the Kraftwerk brand’

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