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"Kraftwerk": I Was a Robot Paperback – 25 May 2003
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Flur is pretty straightforward and honest in his writing and comes across as a man who, despite his good looks, was remarkably self-conscious and plagued by low esteem. Right at the start he rants against the post-war "weak" fathers (like his own) whom his generation had to put up with, never getting a word of encouragement from them. He comes across as over-sensitive at times to what he sees as slights from Ralf and Florian, and naive at others, particulary with regard to money, contracts etc, but at times you feel there really is something to gripe about, as when Florian turns up in a brand new expensive sports car and takes the two "employees" (Flur and Karl Bartos, who were both employed on a wage, and given extra money when on tour) out for a spin in it. A bit too much of the book is taken up with his sexual adventures and he is forever praising women's faces, legs or breasts like some lascivious character from a 70s Carry On film. However, the extended reports of the US tour to promote Autobahn as well as the global 1981 tour to promote Computer World shed fascinating light on the group. They could let their hair down and party when they wanted to, dispelling the increasingly staid image they would come to project as die mensch maschine, yet the dichotomy between the tightly-knit upper class unit of Ralf and Florian and the two employees is always there. Ralf and Florian liked the good life, and would always stay in a more expensive hotel than the one Karl and Wolfgang were put in, and the endless meals in good restaurants (Florian is quite the gourmand, it seems) started to make Flur feel the financial pinch. So much so in fact that he secretly went off and did a little nude modelling for a men's magazine in order to earn some more cash: Florian was not amused when he found out.
The post-split Yamo sections are rather uninteresting by comparison, and there's a couple of chapters which document his anaesthetic-induced delusions featuring "Mother Kraftwerk" during an hours minor investigation at the hospital which I skipped. The oft-mentioned solo CD "Time Pie" hardly merits much attention (it has no Wikipedia entry, I notice) other than some strange reluctance upon the part of EMI to promote it, but the final part of the book cataloguing Ralf and Florians' attempts to ban this book brings it to life again. Given he can't say much, no doubt, due to injunctions, what does come across is that the initial objections seemed to centre on some early and unflattering band photos that Flur had used, and possibly references to his wages and money. Kraftwerk as a band on a major label must have made a huge amount of money (Autobahn was a big worldwide hit single and album, after all) yet Flur says he was told often that money was tight, and that studio equipment was expensive, swallowing all the costs. Flur views finding that Ralf and Florien has lodged a US patent in the late 70s claiming to have invented the Kraftwerk electronic drum pads a major betrayal, arguing that he in fact designed it. (Interestingly, later reissues of Autobahn credit Ralf and Florien with playing electronic drums, and Flur with playing electronic drums on the Komemelodies only). Finally, an interview he conducted with the widow of legendary producer Conrad Plank, in whose Cologne studio the very first three Kraftwerk albums as well as the "year zero" Autobahn were recorded and produced, casts a further shadow over the reputation of Ralf and Florien. She reveals Plank got a single 5000 DM payment for Autobahn from the pair, and was credited with engineering and not much more, despite the closeness of their relationship since the late sixties and the effective production apprenticeship they got from working with Conny. Subsequently, Ralf and Florien would retire to Dusseldorf and equip themselves with the tools needed to never be dependent on another's studio again, and the Kling Klang legend was born.
As for new material in the book, bearing in mind I've never read any earlier versions, I'm sure that the epilogue is new, based on a review of one of the first 3D concerts in 2013 that Wolfgang wrote for The Quietus. Ralf no longer looks the toned athlete he had become in the 90s, when his passion for cycling had replaced his passion for music-making (it's a pity Flur doesn't share his views on Tour de France Soundtracks with us; he has a fair bit to say on the moneymaking Expo2000 jingle after all). There is some ridiculing of the band's "middle aged man in lycra" stage look. But Florian, who of course departed some years earlier, is mentioned with some warmth and affection when it comes to describing a couple of chance encounters Flur has had with his former bandmate in recent years, which goes some way to dispelling the sour notes that build up in the last few chapters.
I'd have liked far more on Kraftwerk though beyond info on building cases and touring. I wanted to know about their methods, composition techniques etc, all of which were lacking (because of the litigation?) Well worth a read though for all that.
On the up side, it is very well written- it's chatty and descriptive, and quite evocative of the time and atmosphere. Unlike the other reviewer here M.A.Harwood I was more inclined to see Flur's side of the deep split within Kraftwerk by which the 'founding members' appear to have stabbed him in the back and even attempted to derail his post-Kraftwerk career.
On the down side, Flur apologies in the introduction for a lack of 'techie' information about electronics and the sounds they used, but even so a bit more emphasis on the music would have been good- not synthesizer settings but at least some more about the inspiration. Plus, Flur is clearly very keen to plug his new musical project Yamo, and doesn't ever miss an opportunity to mention "Yamo" or "Time Pie" (the name of the album) in every chapter, which can get a bit annoying.
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