Salon des Refusés: Kraftwerk

Jan 24th, 2017 | By | Category: Essays, Salon des Refusés

In 1863, the Salon des Refusés was launched to counter the conservative aesthetics enforced by the Academy of Fine Arts in the annual Paris Salon. That year, the “rejects” included such later revered painters as Manet, Courbet, Whistler, Pissarro and Cezanne. Perhaps it is now time to establish a Salon des Refusés for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame‘s rejects.

The rules of eligibility for induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame include “Besides demonstrating unquestionable musical excellence and talent, inductees will have had a significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

And yet many artists who have had huge impacts on the development and evolution of rock & roll have been snubbed over and over, including: Kraftwerk, Chic, Big Star, Roxy Music, Brian Eno, New York Dolls, T. Rex, Television, The Slits, X-Ray Spex, Sonic Youth, Joy Division.

Kraftwerk is arguably the most influential group in popular music since Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees The Beatles. In order to craft a more European rock sound, many of the late ’70s and ’80s new wave and synth pop artists like Eurythmics, Ultravox, Gary Numan and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark turned to Kraftwerk, . . .

. . . Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductee David Bowie‘s “Berlin Trilogy,” which was also greatly influenced by Kraftwerk and other Krautrock bands (reinforcing their influence secondhand), and Roxy Music (though in that case it might  have been as much Bryan Ferry’s visual style as the band’s music).

The robotic Germans . . .

. . . also begat some of the most dominant post-rock genres, so they may have actually been more influential than the Fab Four, whose British empire did not shine far beyond rock and pop.

Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s trendsetting early hip hop 12″ “Planet Rock” . . .

. . . mashed up two Kraftwerk songs, “Trans Europe Express” . . .

. . . and “Numbers.”

Pretty much all of electro grew from “Planet Rock”‘s roots.

Derrick May (AKA Rhythim is Rhythim), generally regarded as the creator of techno music, famously described the genre’s sound as “The music is just like Detroit, a complete mistake. It’s like George Clinton and Kraftwerk are stuck in an elevator with only a sequencer to keep them company.”

Sure, it could be argued that hip hop, electro and techno are distinct, non-rock genres, so much of Kraftwerk’s “significant impact” falls outside of rock & roll. However, the Hall of Fame has been very inclusive in their past use of the label. The brick and mortar (actually, more glass and concrete) Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is currently hosting an exhibition titled “The Roots and Definition of Rock & Roll,” which is introduced on the website with the following statement:

Each year, with the announcement of the next class of nominees for induction, a debate swirls as to what music is consider ‘rock and roll.’

The debate really flared up when rappers began being inducted, including Tupac in the latest batch. In response to the 2016 induction of N.W.A., Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees KISS‘s Gene Simmons said, “[I] respect N.W.A, but when Led Zep gets into Rap Hall of Fame, I will agree with your point.” (That is one of the more polite things Simmons said.)  The Induction Process page now prominently features this pull quote from Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Inductees N.W.A.’s Ice Cube’s acceptance speech:

Rock & roll is not an instrument; rock & roll is not even a style of music. Rock & roll is a spirit. … It’s been going since the blues, jazz, bebop, soul, R&B, rock & roll, heavy metal, punk rock and, yes, hip-hop. And what connects us all is that spirit. …Rock & roll is not conforming to the people who came before you, but creating your own path in music and in life.

In the mind of the Hall of Fame, “rock & roll” clearly refers to popular music associated with rebellious youth, both as creators and consumers. Which means Kraftwerk surely deserves to be honored, both for its “unquestionable musical excellence” and its “significant impact on the development, evolution and preservation of rock & roll.”

(This piece was originally published on Societe Anonyme Inc.)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Comment