Florian Schneider, co-founder of German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk, has died of cancer aged 73. It is believed he passed away in April and has since been buried privately, but the news was not revealed to the public until the last 24 hours.
Kraftwerk are regarded as one of the most important electronic bands of all time, spearheading the use of technology such as the synthesiser and setting a template that had a deep influence on rock and pop music from the 1970s through to the current day. New Order, Daft Punk and Depeche Mode all owe a lot of their sound to Kraftwerk for starters, while David Bowie paid tribute to Schneider on his song V2-Schneider off his “Heroes” album in 1978.
Born in 1947, Schneider was the son of Paul Schneider-Esbelen, a noted architect who designed Cologne’s airport. Schneider first played music in various groups while studying in Düsseldorf, beginning in a band called Pissoff. He originally teamed up with Ralf Hütter to form the group Organisation, before the pair went on to form Kraftwerk in 1970.
Schneider played the flute, violin and guitar, though often filtered through electronic processing. His interest in electronic music grew. “I found that the flute was too limiting,” he later said. “Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesiser. Much later I threw the flute away; it was a sort of process.”
After three albums with Hütter in the mid-70s, Kraftwerk released Autobahn and expanded to a quartet. The album was composed primarily on synthesisers, and its highly original sound and witty lyrics made it a hit, reaching the Top 5 in the UK and US. Schneider remained a member of Kraftwerk until his departure in 2008.
Not only were Kraftwerk highly influential in electronic music, they were also central in carving out a new musical identity for Germany and are often referred to as the “electronic Beatles.” The group began as part of West Germany’s experimental krautrock scene in the early 1970s alongside other iconic bands such as Can, Neu!, Amon Düül II and Tangerine Dream. However, Kraftwerk set themselves apart by fully embracing electronic instrumentation, including synthesisers, drum machines, and vocoders, melding pop and rock sensibilities with experimental new approaches to making music that laid the way for generations of musicians across the world.
The music industry has paid tribute to Schneider, with artists of diverse eras and genres expressing the profound impact Kraftwerk had on them. The 1975 rocker Matty Healy tweeted: ”I am incredibly saddened by the passing of Florian Schneider. All of us in modern music, owe him so much. Rest in peace xx.”
Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos paid tribute to both Florian and The Stranglers’ keyboardist Dave Greenfield, who also died this week, as he wrote: ”Sad to hear about Florian Schneider and Dave Greenfield. Two big inspirations in my life.”
Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet also took to social media to mourn the loss, saying Schneider had ”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.”
RIP Florian Schneider, co-founder of German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk (1947-2020).