Kraftwerk – Elektro Kinetik (1981)
Kosmische/Krautrock seems to be an important rite of passage for almost every curious music head and most will have investigated at least two 70s German bands*, one of which will certainly be Kraftwerk, by the age of 25. In the pre-file sharing age of course, this required putting in a fair amount of effort; albums weren’t always available on CD and the originals were rarely cheap – Julian Cope’s hyper-enthusiastic 1995 book Krautrocksampler did wonders for the music, but not so much for those who were cash-strapped and wanted to get their hands on it. To get hold of many of these records, it was all about taping off your friend who usually dubbed them from a cool dad’s or elder sibling’s LP, or perhaps borrowing knackered copies from your local library, or if you were really lucky, buying them cheap when the library sold off all their vinyl.
There was always another way though. If you wanted certain tracks, or even just one, maybe for DJing with, second hand artist anthologies, like this Vertigo release from 1981, were the best option; you could get some relatively rare music and even play it out, without breaking the bank. And now records like this are somehow more alluring than the readily available, if expensive, pristinely packed ‘exact reproduction’ reissues of original albums. They represent, I’m sure for many like me, a kind of cultural purpose that exists in a hinterland between their current state of near-obsolescence and the original intentions (as introductory ‘brochures’ and extra income for record companies) behind their release.
I bought Elektro Kinetik a long time ago from House Of Rhythm, a second hand shop in Walthamstow, where I grew up. In fact, I may have bought it when it was still called Sounds Familiar, part of a chain that had another branch in Romford. I don’t remember the year and nothing really changed between the two names; the shop was always managed by a tall bloke whose semi-long, lopsided hairstyle made him look like a roadie for The Mission, though he always seemed to be playing 80s soul/boogie while he vigorously cleaned dusty discs, smoking constantly and occasionally sipping from a can of cheap lager. The other cheap constants were the price stickers they used, which were a complete bugger to get off cleanly, as illustrated by the terribly spoiled cover above.
The main reason I bought this one was the beautiful ‘Tanzmusik’ from the Ralf & Florian LP, the last of the ‘disowned’ Kraftwerk albums before the band’s self-acknowledged classic era began with Autobahn. The fact that the single version of the latter’s title track is included was a bonus for me. Also included is the second half of R&F‘s ‘Ananas Symphonie’, whose main theme is a wonderfully languid guitar (Yes, Kraftwerk, guitars!), which makes it more akin with Neu! or Ash Ra Tempel than Trans-Europe Express. Still, you can feel their style gradually edging away from the stretched out experiments of Kraftwerk 2 – a couple of great tracks from which are also on here – towards the more tightly focussed, strongly melodic and fully electronic sound they’re famous for. In fact, I sometimes wonder if the only reason Ralf & Florian sits outside of the sanctioned canon is the fact that Ralf still has long hair on the cover.
This marvellous performance of ‘Tanzmusik’ which features Wolfgang Flür, who isn’t on the record, shows the group were still performing it when on the cusp of their next phase:
*This one was going to a be kosmische double header, but you can wait for the next part.