[KRAFTWERK] Interview with Karl Bartos in De Morgen (the compete text)
nicolas.villeminot at orange.fr
Sun Oct 17 21:08:24 CEST 2010
Wow ! Thanks a lot for the translation of this great article !
Very interesting to learn that Karl and Alan Wilder are in contact,
I am a big fan of Depeche Mode myself :)
Now, I can't hardly wait to read Karl's forthcoming biography.
De : kraftwerk-bounces at activerecord.com
[mailto:kraftwerk-bounces at activerecord.com] De la part de Ivo Peeters
Envoyé : dimanche 17 octobre 2010 20:02
À : kraftwerk at activerecord.com
Objet : [KRAFTWERK] Interview with Karl Bartos in De Morgen (the compete
(This is the complete interview. Sorry about the possible translation
Karl Bartos about the inheritance of Kraftwerk
Interviews with him are rare. Communication with the outside world happens
mainly via e-mail or the telephone. Karl Bartos (58) belongs with Kraftwerk
to the founders of electronic music, and is partly responsible for a few of
the most innovating records in history. But after sixteen years he parted,
frustrated because of the lack of progression. Since then Bartos
sporadically releases cds himself, and next weekend the living legend
performs in the Concertgebouw in Bruges. I am not extremely proud of what
we have achieved.
by Bart Steenhaut (BS)
Those who want to meet Karl Bartos need some patience. A first attempt to
interview him three years ago resulted after back and forth mailing into
nothing. And also this this time the meeting was delayed a few times.
Whether we can not just send the questions? Even when I am standing a few
days later at the central station in Hamburg, where we should meet, I
receive at the latest moment a new time and location. Finally I shake hands
with him in a restaurant of the museum somewhat further. And then the man
who was a robot in a previous life appears to be a nice personality, who
talks full of fire about his passion, and who gives a detailed explanation
about the marriage between music and visual design, a combination which is
on the program in Bruges. For those who wonder what I will be doing there:
it will be a best of with all hits in which I had a share The Robots,
The Model, Tour De France combined with work from my solo records.
Besides I will be taking care of live visuals for the first time.
BS: Just to know: why do you almost never speak to journalists?
KB: Mailing is far more easy, and I can do it in my free time. But ok: a
real conversation is much more personal then writing an e-mail. Much more
intimate, too. Nevertheless: thanks to the development of the internet it
has become much easier to communicate. During the seventies Kraftwerk only
lived in magazine. Nowadays I have direct contact with my audience. My
address is on the website, and recently I have been chatting via Facebook
with Alan Wilder of Depeche Mode. You can now talk directly to people who
are called famous. Through the mails I receive from fans, I now know
better than before how my music is experienced in the outside world.
BS: Do you sometimes answer such a mail?
KB: No. Only when it contains a really interesting question.
BS: You left Kraftwerk because you were frustrated that everything went so
slow. But Communication, your last solo album, is also already dating from
seven years ago.
KB: Next year there will be a new one. Promised. (smiles) In the meantime I
was offered to teach at the university of Berlin. Not about music, but about
sound. I did that for five years, but now I stopped with it. I was tired of
the endless shuttling between Hamburg and Berlin.
BS: Did the students know who you are?
KB: In any case, I never had an empty auditorium. The art department of the
Berlin University is one of the biggest in the world. In Europe there is not
a single institute that can equal this. Honestly speaking: I found it
inspiring myself to work with my students. They have stimulated my curiosity
BS: Did they secretly ask for an autograph?
(smiles) No. As teacher you have another relation with your students. The
only thing they expect is that you teaches them something. I was famous in
my previous life, but in the academic context this was not important.
BS: And yet: the music of Kraftwerk was never so popular as today. The bands
who cite you as a big influence from U2 over Coldplay to Depeche Mode,
Underworld and Editors are countless.
KB: That is true. We were just lucky that we were one of the first bands who
combined classical, electronic music with pop. When you do something first,
people will always remember you. The artistic value is at that moment
actually not so important. The first man on the top of Mount Everest. The
first man on the moon
Those are the names who reach the history books. The
same goes for Kraftwerk.
BS: Now you suggest that your reputation as founders of the electronic music
is purely coincidental.
KB: It is like that. I cannot say that I am extremely proud of what we have
achieved. But shall we talk about something else?
BS: No, since this is really crazy. Without Kraftwerk the record shops would
be only half as big. There would not be electronic music, no techno, no
house, no drum n bass. Even no hip hop, because the first songs of the
genre were based on samples of your songs.
KB: So what? If we wouldnt have done that there certainly would have been
another band. The time spirit was good, and we acted accordingly. Nothing
more, nothing less. It always goes like that, isnt it? In the beginning of
the sixties there were hundreds of bands like The Beatles. Everybody
rejected them. The only one who did not was George Martin. And at that time
he was a nobody. His job was recording obscure comedy records. And The
Beatles of course were also nobodies. Of course: they had a name in
Liverpool, but they were only playing rocknroll covers, just like
everybody. The only difference was that they did with a certain sense of
humour, and with the energy of young teenagers who did not have anything to
lose. Also: while Gerry & The Pacemakers looked very ordinary, The Beatles
had a much stronger look. That was something decisive, certainly in the
BS: Do you have an explanation for the fact that the music of Kraftwerk has
become as timeless as the music of The Beatles now?
KB: Yes. That is because of the way our brain is storing melodies. I do not
need to play than the three first notes of a song, and you will remember the
rest yourself. Ticket To Ride, Autobahn, the German national anthem
That way you have easily five hundred melodies in your brain. And the more
refined the melody, the easier it will be settled in your subconscious. That
is where the composer Arnold Schönberg really failed: a melody only works
out when you can sing it, otherwise the human brain will not record it. So
if you ask me how pop music will have been evolved within 300 years, I can
only guess. But I know that people still will be listening to Bach and
Beethoven. En to The Beatles and maybe Kraftwerk too. It seems that there
enough people who are able to store our melodies into their memory.
Moreover, that is the reason why lullabies are going from one generation to
another: every mother sings the same songs to her children. And those will
pass them afterwards to their children.
BS: Solo as well with Kraftwerk you recorded into different languages. Is
that important for you?
KB: The real language is the music itself. Music answers questions that
nobody asked. It will make you feel at ease, and the more you get older you
will discover that it contains more than you thought when you were young. At
that time I didnt understand it. Some people are happy when they find a
partner for life with which they can marry, and a god to believe in. For me
music stands next to god. It is now much more important for me than when I
was twenty. John Lennon once said that his rock music was real, but his life
wasnt. I agree with him on that. In the best music you will meet yourself.
To stay at The Beatles: as teenager I was a big fan, after that I didnt
listen not or hardly not during thirty years, and when I became fifty their
songs again began to play important role in my life. Because I listened to
them with different ears. Unbelieveable that Lennon wrote In My Life when
he was in his twenties. Read those lyrics and you will think that someone
from eighty was holding his pen. Only now I realized how much more was there
to be found in such a song. The artistic value of it is timeless.
BS: That is valid for Kraftwerk too.
KB: Probably. When last year the compilation box was released, I feared a
moment that Ralf Hütter changed the music here and there. But luckily he did
not. I myself would not have changed anything. Those Kraftwerk records are
perfect like that. Only he couldnt resist to change the sleeves.
BS: You mean: he removed your name as well of that from Wolfgang Flür from
KB: Well yeah. Look, in the classic period of the band you had four
musicians delivering creative contributions and who co-wrote the songs. We
were young and it was fun collaborating. Its like you were making a puzzle
of which all pieces perfectly fitted into each other. But when we were
getting older, the magic was fading, just like with The Beatles. Only they
reacted better: when it went wrong they all went their own way. They made in
ten years time so much fantastic music, and they did not want to spoil that
by releasing some inferior records afterwards.
BS: What you want to say is: Kraftwerk should have stopped in the beginning
of the nineties?
KB: Yes. Because we didnt know what do anymore. The band could have taken
some vacation, like OMD did. Andy McCluskey a good friend of mine, by the
way had the feeling that they arrived at a dead point. Then he became,
behind the scenes, the driving force behind Atomic Kitten, a girl trio which
have had several hits. And now OMD exists again, and the group sounds
freshes than ever. Kraftwerk on the other hand
. Enfin, I shouldnt be
making statements about that.
BS: Why not? You were part of what is considered as the classical line up of
the band. And otherwise there will only be the official version as told by
Ralf Hütter: it doesnt matter who is in the band. Everybody can be
KB: I didnt speak to Ralf already for years, and he hardly does interviews.
So there is only a small chance.
BS: I did speak to him five times during the last years.
KB: (surprised) Really? What impression did you have about him?
BS: As musician I think its a genius. But as a human being he has his small
disadvantages. You never know what he is thinking, because he hardly shows
emotions during conversations.
KB: That is one of the reasons why I finally left. I hated those power games
(machtsspel, cant find a good translation) and I didnt like it that he did
not wanted to make some new music. It all took much too long. To come back
to the compilation box of last year: on seven of the eight cds I am part of
the band. And I also co-wrote a considerable part of the song. I receive
what I find logical royalties for those. But I had to fight to get them.
And together with you I have to find out that my name is deleted everywhere.
Do you know that I had to buy the box myself? You do not think that it is
possible? Nowadays, every band is reuniting, but I know one thing for sure:
the classical line up of Kraftwerk will never be performing on any stage
BS: Were you surprised when Florian Schneider one of the two founders
left after 38 years?
KB: No, at the time I left in 91 he wasnt part of the band anymore. At
least: he was put aside creatively. I wonder how long he thought about
leaving before finally quitting. I knew he wasnt happy, but there was so
much money coming in that it must have been very difficult to turn his back
on Kraftwerk the child he raised himself. The only thing that Ralf and
Florian was tying, was the business. Even now, because as co-owner of the
band name he still gets paid a lot. I myself call it rather Ralfwerk in the
meantime. Because what you see at a stage isnt hardly related to Kraftwerk?
Suppose the Rolling Stones go on tour with besides Mick Jagger only some
session musicians. Well, with Kraftwerk it is the case nowadays.
BS: Wolfgang Flür wrote a controversial book after his departure in 86
about what was going on behind the scenes of the band. Very clarifying, but
since then I cannot listen to the music anymore without thinking about those
power games (machtsspelletjes). Shortly: I rather would have not read it.
KB: I understand. Wolfgangs book came much too early. He was too young, too
emotional too, when he wrote it. A lot was going about it those days Ralf
did his best to forbid the book but after all I found I Was A Robot a
soft version about the facts. I am now, twenty years later, busy writing my
biography, and believe me: I will not make any attempt to disguise the
BS: Because Hütter denies your place in history?
KB: (long thinking) I do not even know whether it is that. When one asks
Woody Allen how he estimates the value of his own work, he always answers
that the answer will not cause moving his life forward. Everywhere in the
world I meet people that tell me that my music was influential and
groundbreaking. Nice, but I would rather receive ten euro in stead of a
BS: You get royalties. Seems sufficient to me.
KB: OK, but I do not want to be reminded everytime to what I realized. On
top: when I now perform, I cannot even put ex-Kraftwerk on the posters.
Because the band name is a trademark. This makes me sad and cheerful at the
same time. Recently Alan Wilder asked me to tour with him through the
States. It seemed something to me, but when his agent found out that in the
communication any reference to my previous band was not allowed, he reacted
difficult. That is the reason why I seldom can play at festivals. Alan
doesnt have that problem. He is still on speaking terms with the respect of
Depeche Mode. That cordiality is excluded, and I can only regret this.
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