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2013-02-09

FINANCIAL TIMES / UK

THE KRAFTMAN'S CONTRACT
By Ludovic Hunter-Tilney

(...) Airbrushed from Tate Modern’s Kraftwerk shows, Karl Bartos is still more prolific than his ex-band (...)

Karl Bartos joined Kraftwerk in 1975 when they were looking for a drummer to tour their album Autobahn. Of course the German electro-pop eccentrics didn’t do anything so commonplace as put adverts in the music press (“Wanted: impassive drummer. Must have own suit”). Instead they rang up their local conservatory in Düsseldorf, where Bartos, then a young man of 22, was a music student. (...) His professor, who hadn’t heard of Kraftwerk, simply said: “Karl, here’s a job.”

Bartos’s “job” lasted 15 years, during which time Kraftwerk produced their best work. Initially he combined his music studies with playing for the band; then, after graduating, he became a full-time member. Behind the walls of their secretive Kling Klang studio, his role became increasingly important. He co-wrote songs such as “The Man-Machine” and much of 1981’s Computer World, rated as the band’s crowning achievement, and after which they tailed off into stagnation and uncertainty.

These days Bartos, now 60, is a non-person in Kraftwerk’s official history. Other than the melodies he composed, he has been airbrushed from the band’s current “retrospective” at Tate Modern. He left in 1990, frustrated at the group’s inactivity. Since then he has released three collaborative and two solo albums. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk have managed just one: 2003’s Tour de France, whose title track was co-written by Bartos 20 years previously. (...)

His new album Off the Record is about his time in Kraftwerk. “For the first time”, he says, speaking in English, “I had the feeling: now is the time to do it.” He made it by digging out notebooks and cassettes from the attic in his Hamburg home and adapting fragments of melodies and song ideas that he’d notated years ago. The result revives the classic Kraftwerk sound of pulsing rhythms, optimistic synthesiser melodies and robotic vocals.

Off the Record contains a lush Kraftwerkian song in which he sings about saying goodbye to the “showroom dummy” that used to impersonate him at Kraftwerk’s shows. (...) Off the Record must do his talking for him: the Kraftwerk record that Kraftwerk, it seems, are unable to make." (...)


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