Kraftwerk - Techno Pop

This sleeve design is unusual : this legendary release from Kraftwerk is either famous and...never existed! Or about.

 After the release of "Computer World", one of Kraftwerk most influencial album ever, the band went  for a worldwide tour, that turned out as a huge success. The band then took a very long time before releasing anything.

Early 1983 saw the release of the maxi-single "Tour De France", the tribute of the band (and especially of Ralph Hütter) to their favourite sport, that they were practising heavily. In fact, they were getting truly fascinated by it : not only were Ralph & Florian running up to 200 km per day, but they felt it was a new field for thinking, just like the rise of the computer age for their previous album. Cyclism involving as much technology, technical excellence as imagination, they must have seen it as another way of exploring this man-machine relationship they were dealing with since "Radioactivity".
Tour De France - Maxi-single (1983) - Front
Tour De France - Maxi-single (1983) - Back
This fascination had another deep influence on the band : Ralp Hütter had a terrible accident  while biking, having him in coma for two days, and suffering multiple head injuries. This is the usual explanation of why the next album, announced for summer 1983, got delayed a first time.
Named "Technicolor" at the very early stages of production, it was now entitled "Techno Pop".  Advertisement had been done, and the cover art showed, but the schedule became foggy, and the record eventually disappeared from the planning of Electrola/EMI.
Advertisement For the release of the album "Technopop" - 1983
This record, named "Technopop", was to features 4 tracks : a very long one, occupying the whole of side A, named "Techno Pop", and 3 tracks on side B : "Sex object", "Telephone Call" and "Tour de France".
Technopop - 1983 (Back cover)
Technopop (1983) - Inner Sleeve
Of course, Hütter's accident was one reason for the hesitation of the band. But there were some others.
First, the penalty of leadership : the band had their style heavily copied or imitated. Their sound had become so influencial, especially on the rising Hip-Hop/Electro scene in the US, that it was difficult for them to emerge now. They had to be sure that their next act would be another big leap forward. They had to reinvent a musical language that would go beyond the syncopated rhythms and sequenced melodies they pionneered, and that were adopted everywhere, from Africa Bambaata to Art of Noise, or even pop bands like OMD, Human League or even Duran Duran !
Second reason ? Their obsessive relationship to technology. Recording tools and instruments were evolving fast. Kraftwerk, as one of the most advanced bunch of musicians in the world, were already seeing the advent of the revolution that was to hit the rest of us in the end of the 80' : sampling, and digital recording. So they became obsessed with being the first ones to use its potential, and to embrace this new sound, in order to make it the soundtrack of the "next" Future. And sadly, "Technopop" had already been recorded in analog...
So there it was : they simply dropped it, and went back to work at their Kling Klang Studio, in Dusseldörf.

(Note : it should be noted that this infatuation for cycling was mostly the one of Ralph Hütter. Other band members seem to have questioned it, and as much as the very slow process of creation, it may have been a reason for the growing tensions between the core members (Ralph & Florian) and the other members of the band (Karl Bartos especially). So these tensions may also partially explains the cancelling of the release...)

The band spent the next 3 years digitalising their equipement, and no-one heard of anything until september 1986, when the single "Music Non Stop" went out, followed by their next real album : "Electric Café". It featured deeply reshaped version of Technopop's tracklisting, except for "Tour De France", that had disappeared in the process. It also had a very different sleeve, reflecting a real change of concept and tone.

Electric Café (Gatefold's front cover with German sticker)  - 1986
But the story of Technopop wasn't over : in the 00', when the band remastered all their albums, they renamed "Electric Café" as "Techno Pop". A strange decision, indeed, but a proof this 1983 hiatus remained an important point in their career, and maybe an unsatisfying one.

And what about the lost track, the orphan single "Tour De France" ? Well, in 2003, Kraftwerk released its first  album with real new materials, a good 17 years after "Electric Café"! This "Tour De France Soundtracks" album, entirely devoted to their love of cycling was the final point to this whole "Technopop" story. 

In fact, "Technopop" was an hybrid release, in-between two concepts :  cycling as a man-machine technology, and the dawn of digital music. Kraftwerk finally separated the two of them into two concept albums. A logic decision, but that took 17 years in the making!

Here's for the historic background. Now for the sleeve design.  The image shown here are all coming from internet unoffical leaks. The consistency of these leaks, and most of all the consistency of it with the 1983 advertisement seems to indicate it truly was the sleeve design of this record.
I suspect that this album lay-out (just like most of the Kraftwerk's Artworks until "The Mix", in 1990) was the work of Emil Schult, Kraftwerk's fifth musketter, and possibly a collective work of the whole band for the concept and image, as usual with them.
There's a lucky guy owning a copy of this artwork... or is it ?
(image found on the Internet)
For Kraftwerk, sleeves were always part of the act of making a record. They had this global artistic approach that includes everything, from live set designs to custom-made sequencers or instruments, and from live dress codes to the music video. It comes from something most people misses about Kraftwerk : since their beginnings, they are not a music band. They are conceptual artists, which work heavily rely on music. And it was outstandingly innovative when they invented it, circa 1975!
And look at the titling of the print advertising for "Techno Pop" : It describe their work as "Music that carries ideas"...
On this specific sleeve, the style was surprisingly retro. But in fact, if you look at their previous sleeves like "Man Machine" or "Computerwelt", the vision of the future of Kraftwerk has always been a bit retro : Man Machine was obviously Constructivist, and having for example a song named "Metropolis". And "Radioctivity" :  totally 1940'!

The other point was that they were sticking to their "iconic" vision of the band : this Beatles-inspired law of 4, and this strange balance of cult of personnality and having these persons always presented as a group, as a mechanism that always functions as a collective, as a system. Well, as... a machine!
A Kraftwerkian concept, applied here down to the physical activity of cycling. And it comes as no surprise that they got so fascinated by cyclism : it is a group sport, relying heavily on strategy and technology. And it is a popular technology. A true technopop.

Note : Most information here are coming from interviews of Kraftwerk, or former members of the band (Emil Shult and Karl Bartos). Another interesting source about Kraftwerk is the excellent book from Pascal Bussy "Man, Machine & Music". As Kraftwerk is a notoriously reclusive group, there is lots of speculations about the grey zones of the band's history. But we tried to remain into the facts, or at most, the highly plausible ;-)

1 commentaire:

  1. Great article! Note the cyclists' faces were altered for the "Tour De France Soundtracks" release; Karl and Wolfgang are omitted! Sadly, this edited version was also used for the CD release of the 1983 "Tour de France" single.