Florian Schneider, co-founder of highly influential electronic pop group Kraftwerk, has died at the age of 73.
The German quartet set the template for synthesiser music in the 1970s and 80s with songs like Autobahn and The Model.
They achieved both musical innovation and commercial success, and inspired scores of artists across genres ranging from techno to hip-hop.
Midge Ure described Schneider as “way ahead of his time”, while singer Edwyn Collins summed it up with: “He’s God”.
Schneider formed the group with Ralf Hütter in 1970, and remained a member until his departure in 2008.
A statement said he “passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday”.
Tributes flowed from the music world. Spandau Ballet’s Gary Kemp said Schneider was “such an important influence upon so much of the music we know”, and had forged “a new Metropolis of music for us all to live in”.
Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes remembered hearing Autobahn and “how radically different it sounded from everything else on the radio”.
It “sparked my lifelong admiration for their innovation and creativity”, and the group’s “influence on contemporary music is deeply woven into the fabric of our pop culture”, he wrote.
OMD said they were “absolutely devastated” at the news, and Jean-Michel Jarre also paid tribute.
The long list of artists to have been influenced by Kraftwerk included David Bowie, who named the track V-2 Schneider on his Heroes album after Schneider; as well Depeche Mode, New Order and Daft Punk.
Coldplay used a section from Kraftwerk’s Computer Love in their hit Talk, while Jay-Z and Dr Dre borrowed from Trans Europe Express for their track Under Pressure. Kraftwerk reputedly turned down Michael Jackson, who wanted to collaborate.
The group faced resistance in the British music press at first, but went on to achieve both musical innovation and commercial success.
They broke through with the hypnotic Autobahn in 1975, and went to number one in the UK with the double A-side single The Model/Computer Love in 1982.
Even Kraftwerk’s image was mechanical – during the 1970s, they began to portray themselves as robotic figures, dressed identically and standing in a row behind keyboards on stage.
With striking album covers adding to their visual impact, their artistic as well as musical identity led to a series of acclaimed residencies in galleries like New York’s Moma and the Tate Modern in London in the 2010s.
Schneider had left by then. He and Hütter remained famously enigmatic, but Hütter told The Guardian in 2009 his bandmate had not been “really involved in Kraftwerk for many, many years”.
During the mid-70s, the band’s allegiance to what they called “robot pop” set the sonic template for everything from hip-hop to house music via EDM and techno.
In some quarters, they were dubbed “the electronic Beatles”, and it’s hard to disagree.
Electronic music had existed before – from the musitron solo on Del Shannon’s Runaway to the mind-expanding Doctor Who theme, recorded by the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in 1963.
But Kraftwerk developed a new musical vocabulary, sculpting hypnotic, low-frequency sounds that celebrated Europe’s romantic past, and looked forward to its shimmering future.
Such an important influence upon so much of the music we know, from Bowie, to electronica, much of the 80s and beyond into modern techno and rap, Florian Schneider was forging a new Metropolis of music for us all to live in. RIP #FlorianSchneider #Kraftwerk pic.twitter.com/y2nXuAY66e
— Gary Kemp (@garyjkemp) May 6, 2020
We are absolutely devastated to learn that one of our heroes Florian Schneider has passed away. pic.twitter.com/Y2dnYfxkj8
— Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (@OfficialOMD) May 6, 2020
— Jean-Michel Jarre (@jeanmicheljarre) May 6, 2020