My 5-year-old’s favorite band is Kraftwerk, so we spend a ridiculous amount of time listening to their music. I downloaded a BBC Four documentary, “Kraftwerk: We Are The Robots,” for him to listen to on our walks, and when our local record store was out of stock of any Kraftwerk CDs he didn’t already own, we bought a used copy of Kraftwerk: Man, Machine, and Music.
I got really interested in Kling Klang — the private, secretive studio in Dusseldorf where they recorded my favorite records. Kraftwerk were really smart about taking any profits from their music and channeling them back into equipment and studio space so that they could remain independent. “We have invested in our machines, we have enough money to live, that’s it,” said Florian Schneider. “We can do what we want.”
But even though they could work whenever they wanted to, however they wanted to, this didn’t mean they weren’t disciplined. “We are not artists nor musicians,” said Ralf Hütter. “First of all we are workers.” Wolfgang Flür describes a typical working day:
In the Kling Klang studio of my time, we met up every evening around 7 or 8. Then we would watch mostly TV news. After, we drank mostly coffee or went for an ice cream at a nearby ice cream shop. Then we went to the next room, which I called the rehearsal room — the “Kling Klang.” And we made some Klang. Or Kling. It depended how we felt. Someone came up with a headline of a newspaper or maybe a TV report, then some melody was played around that theme. It developed over the following days, more and more. Lyrics came up, rhymes as well. And last, not least, a rhythm was drummed. That’s how it worked.
Again, they had all the time and space they wanted, so they could experiment. “We are playing the machines, the machines play us,” said Hütter. “We would improvise,” said Karl Bartos, “jamming together for two or three hours.” Each band member had his own little workstation, but sometimes they’d sit behind the console and just let the machines run. Later, they’d listen to the tapes, figure out which sections they like, then turn those sections into songs. Maxime Schmitt, one of their friends and collaborators, said it was a lot like working on a film, editing from rushes. And even though they often used more pro studios to mix their records, the recording all happened in Kling Klang.
Here’s the boy in our own little Kling Klang, listening to a mix: