Their seminal albums include The Man Machine, Autobahn and Trans Europe Express and their cool and unique Teutonic sound influenced the likes of David Bowie before going on to permeate hip hop, dance music and techno. Indeed, the lead singer of 80s electronic group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark believes they changed the world more than The Beatles.
Topics that are being debated, with the help of power-points for the largely white, male middle-aged audience, include the cultural and historical origins of the Man-Machine and post-human authenticity.
Stephen Mallinder, from Sheffield’s Cabaret Voltaire, kicked off the event with his talk entitled Modernity and Movement, explaining how Kraftwerk directly influenced them when they formed in 1973.
“It’s really interesting talking about music from the early days,” he said. “It’s reinforced thoughts I already had and what it meant to be making music at that time and growing up listening to Kraftwerk. It was an introduction into a different world. We listen to music, we dance to music, why not get together like this and discuss music?”
But why Birmingham?
The rhythmic and repetitive beat of the single Autobahn, released in 1974, set out to capture the monotony of driving along one continuous road. Birmingham’s own Autobahn, the M6, is well known for providing a monotony all of its own.
“I have been to many gigs in London and in Manchester and I’ve certainly experienced the M6 – I am familiar with the concrete around here,” said Professor Hillegonda Rietveld, who talked about retro-futurism at the conference. “The familiar bump and rhythm of that motorway, I won’t forget.”
As for organiser Dr Uwe Schütte, reader in German at the university, the undeniable appeal of the kraut rockers will never abate, despite Wolfgang Flür, a member of the feted group between 1973 and 1987 missing his scheduled appearance. “I am amazed that no one else has done this before, that is the reason why I organised it – a conference was long overdue,” he said. “They are the most important band in the world in the way they changed music. They called it future music and their future is our present.”
Here at Jammy Toast we don’t really know much about retro-futurism or modernity but we do like a bit of Kraftwerk!