Guest Article: Jeremy Pritchard (Everything Everything) on Kraftwerk
Jeremy Pritchard, bass player of intelligent pop quartet Everything Everything shares his classic album with The 405, the impact it has had on him and its prominence as pioneer of "The Sad Party".
Kraftwerk, Computer World (EMI 1981)
My first introduction to Kraftwerk, as a child was the relatively alienating Radioactivity album, and I never gave it a second thought. Years later, with our curiosity and horizons blown in all directions by Radiohead's Kid A and an interest in synthesiser music well instilled, my friends and I investigated The Man Machine; the album that precedes my chosen classic. At first I found the sound of the band dated, rather camp, and somehow impossibly naive. But we kept sticking it on, in amongst Aphex Twin, Boards Of Canada, Brian Eno and the other electronic music we were listening to at the time, and its place in that lineage sort of settled in my mind. At first, my problems with Kraftwerk were superficial. As a child of the 90s, I had also initially baulked at the (then) unfashionably big snare reverbs and chorused guitars in The Smiths' sound, only to break through this and relish the very essence of a unique pop group.
When I heard Computer World, I fell in love with a sound, an image, an approach and a band that still fascinates me, and has certainly been a considerable influence on Everything Everything, mostly through my insistence. Computer World cemented my love of Kraftwerk and I probably think about them every day. I was one of a houseful of stoned teenagers on holiday in Devon when I first heard the record, captivated by the modernity and infectiousness of the rhythms and drum sounds (best exhibited on 'Numbers/Computer World 2'). It is the underpinning pulse, the effervescence present throughout that pushes the whole thing forward, making it move, making it danceable.
Beyond this irresistible fizz there is an inimitable combination of seemingly contradictory elements that underpins all Kraftwerk's work: neat minimalism in a sound that still inspires messy hedonism, industrial and brutalist constructivism coupled with a yearning, innocent humanity. The album perfects a simultaneous celebration and suspicion of technology. It's this complexity and depth of thought, coupled with their insistance on presenting themselves as a traditional human four-piece band (despite what some people saw as their apparent quest to eventually become mechanoid) that makes Kraftwerk infinitely more interesting than a thousand other faceless, soulless electronica artists.
There is a slightly loose concept to Computer World. It does pretty much what the title would suggest - it explores the emergence of new digital technology and its effect on the way we live. It does so passively (the title track), humorously ('Pocket Calculator') and at times it is eerily prescient, particularly on the album's most tender moment 'Computer Love', which basically predicts internet dating, as well as the reliance upon technology that most of us now have. 'Deeper Understanding' by Kate Bush is often credited as being a record that foretells this creepy obsession with technology, but Computer World came out eight years previously, in 1981. Thirty two years ago. I never cease to be amazed by its continuing relevance.
It is not generally considered the best Kraftwerk album. As I understand it, most aficionados prefer the more recognisably European, Kraut and prog leanings of 1977's Trans-Europe Express, or the iconic crystalline pop of The Man Machine from 1978 that has come to typify the group for most people. But of all their albums, Computer World has aged the best and still sounds startlingly modern. When people talk about Kraftwerk's influence on black American music it's always Afrika Bambaataa's 'Planet Rock' (which uses Trans-Europe Express as its basis) that is cited as sole evidence. Whilst that is an important record, this attitude kind of pisses me off, as it fails to acknowledge that Kraftwerk's influence goes beyond a wholesale lifting of one song. The flexing, pulsing sound of Computer World was still influencing Detroit Techno and Chicago House well into the mid nineties, while Cybotron and Juan Atkins made careers out of copying its techniques all through the 1980s. Kraftwerk was about the only group to survive US radio's wholesale switch from rock to disco. Computer World's ultra-minimal, elongated, sumptuous squelch makes it the template for all future techno (and its groovier cousin electro, for that matter).
It feels industrial, even more so than the literal klang of Trans Europe Express's 'Metal On Metal', and it's the evil tonality of the last two tracks (essentially two versions of the same melodic idea, amalgamated into one piece when the band plays live) that gives this impression. You can sense bands that have since been tagged 'industrial' like Nine Inch Nails and Rammstein within it. Incidentally, the closing track, the playfully titled 'It's More Fun To Compute', contains one of my favourite moments in pop music one minute in.
It is oh-so tender too, though. I sometimes think 'Computer Love' might be the most beautiful song I have ever heard. It walks the line between solitary misery and dance floor euphoria so perfectly. I love the way the whole thing subtly shifts up half a gear at 3:20, edging it toward a kind of dejected bliss. In Everything Everything, we talk a lot about this particular elusive mood, which we have dubbed "The Sad Party". We love a sad party; we think it's the best thing you can do in pop.
Komputer Welt is just wonderful. I can't recommend it highly enough.