Last night was the second in succession where I found myself listening to the musical legacy of someone whose work was very close to my heart, and instrumental in my understanding of music… two fundamental planks of my musical taste. Members of two bands that have spoken to me again and again over the years.
At first glance Dave Greenfield of The Stranglers and Florian Schneider of Kraftwerk might seem to have little in common. While the former developed his style through the pub and and punk rock scenes of 1970s London, the latter’s development on the face of it seems to be more refined through the post-classical scene of (high-)modernist Germany in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Practically, both were essentially one-band musicians, Schneider being a member of Kraftwerk for 35 years, while Greenfield was in The Stranglers for 45 years. This in itself, of course, does not make them similar; and I think I need to say here that the cultural impact of Kraftwerk far outweighs that of The Stranglers. Nevertheless, both were groundbreaking bands that perhaps were never really given their due, particularly at the time they were breaking the ground.
Kraftwerk were seen by many within rock as being something of a liminal presence because of their use of electronics and ‘man-machine’ philosophy. The Stranglers were similarly never given the credit of being the first band to break out of punk into ‘post-punk’, ‘Black and White’ being released ahead of anything by Joy Division, Wire, The Pop Group, The Gang of Four, or even Magazine; probably because of their perceived arrogance and ‘fuck you’ personas.
Both bands, while innovative, also used humour as part of their music; often as a way of repelling critics. So while ‘Nice n’ Sleazy’ and ‘The Robots’ might not immediately spring to mind as easy bedfellows, there is a certain affinity here in the way that the respective bands put their points across… including respectively on stage with strippers and robot models of the band.
Each have also reflected on their own cultures and delved into politics through their work, compare for instance ‘Nuclear Device’ with ‘Radioactivity’. The point I’m trying to make is that both had an intellectual hinterland that they are perhaps not best known for.
However, it is not these sorts of similarities that I want to dwell on, but rather the impact they had on me. As I have written elsewhere The Stranglers had a massive effect on me growing up, as did Kraftwerk. In one sense they did this in different ways. While The Stranglers were aggressive, Kraftwerk were sublime. The Stranglers were rooted in rock, whereas the sounds that Kraftwerk developed pretty much came from nowhere, apart maybe from some elements of the work of Karl-Heinz Stockhausen.
However, in one very important way they affected me the same… through their sense of pop… through the wonderful tunes that weaved their way through their music. Both bands could be accused of being cold, or lacking emotional intelligence or feeling… and yet both for me were quite the opposite.
For me both Kraftwerk and The Stranglers have a warmth flowing through them that hits me right in that place in the soul that can only be fed by affecting melodies. Listen to such as ‘Always The Sun’, ‘European Female’, ‘Duchess’ and ‘Golden Brown’ and you get a raft of timeless motifs that you can come back to again and again.
Similarly if you go on to hear ‘Computer Love’, Neon Lights’ or ‘Europe Endless’ you also get that real sense of a band that is not only at the top of its game, but that can really plumb the depths of feelings…
I am not saying that everything about these two bands can be viewed in the same light and compared. What I am saying is that both have had a fundamental effect on me over the course of many years. The fact that Florian Schneider and Dave Greenfield have been absolutely central to how I feel deep down about music makes news of their passing on successive days very hard to take.
Finally, I don’t think these deaths have really affected my sense of mortality like the deaths of Bowie and Lemmy (see here) did, but they have left me feeling sad that people who were so instrumental in my life have died. However their legacies are so strong through their discographies and live performances that I will feel that they will also endure in some way, quite apart from the robots and strippers… and for that I am very grateful.