Wolfgang Flür (ex-Kraftwerk) interviewed about U96 collaboration and other recent work

Photo by Markus Luigs

This past fall saw the release of TRANSHUMAN, a collaboration between German electronic group U96 and former Kraftwerk member Wolfgang Flür. We previously ran an interview with U96’s Hayo Lewerentz, and now we present an email interview with Flür.

Flür played percussion with Kraftwerk from 1973 until 1987. After stepping away from music for many years, he returned with such projects as TIME PIE and ELOQUENCE. In 1999, he put out an autobiography, I Was a Robot, covering his early life, time with Kraftwerk, and later work. In recent years, he’s been doing live appearances with his MUSIK-SOLDAT multimedia show. Flür has a new album, “Magazine,” due out in 2021.

A new limited edition, double-180g, red-vinyl release of TRANSHUMAN has just come out on Radikal Records/UNLTD Recordings (it can be purchased here.)

What about the U96 and their music made you want to embark on a collaboration? Creatively, what were you looking to get out of the project?

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly when Hayo spoke with me about collaborating with some songs. In any case, I felt honored and interested and asked for some samples or soundtracks he might have already prepared with his partner Ingo. They actually sent me, I believe, three soundtracks with working titles. One of them immediately thrilled me. It was something for a longtime idea I had already discussed with Jürgen Engler of DIE KRUPPS for a collaboration. I needed some harder stuff for this longtime idea of the German history of the Nibelungen saga, to be precise, the Hildebrand and Hadubrand story in the original old German language. I had to learn it a bit during my secondary school at the age of 17. Our German teacher had given us lessons in such. Since then, I have had this strange speech in my mind and never forgot it. Three days, I practiced speaking the old language until it was free of speak-errors for recording. The Hildebrandlied (Hildebrand song) describes a famous hero epic. I wanted to show other nations how we used to sound in the 9th Century.

This song was the start of more collaborations with U96, such as ” Planet In Fever,” “Sexersizer,” “Zukunftsmusik,” and others. As I come from synth-pop, these tracks are much different on my forthcoming album MAGAZINE than on TRANSHUMAN. U96 soundtracks were inspiring me for pop visions. Working with Hayo and Ingo is a lot of fun, and we have a lot of respect for each other. These guys are very different from my former mates in Kraftwerk.

Did you and U96 have general roles within the creative process, such as focusing on types of parts (rhythm, melodic, etc.)? Or was it completely open?

Everything was completely open. Hayo and Ingo had no idea what I would deliver to them after my editing of their soundscapes. I can imagine they were pretty astonished and shocked when they got the tracks back. I had changed whole arrangements in my direction and added vocals from singer Miriam Suarez as well as my own speech and vocals. Remember, I had never sung tracks nor spoken in Kraftwerk. My voice is my new instrument since “Time Pie” (EMI 1997), my first recording after my voluntary split from the electro-quartet. Since “Time Pie”my self-confidence had grown, and I did not drum anymore.

In some ways, “Transhuman” evokes Kraftwerk more than some of your other post-Kraftwerk work (“Eloquence,” for example, tends to be warmer sounding). Given also that Kraftwerk had a profound impact on the techno scene U96 emerged from, I’m wondering if you were consciously thinking about to what degree the influence would come through on the album?

I don’t think of things such as this when in the creative process. I write my lyrics, invent my melodies, create special sounds with the intention that all is after my fancy and we’re having a delightful piece of music. I’m a visionary, and I let my thoughts flow and not think about the past or Kraftwerk music. The present is what counts. My melodies might remind one of my former band. Yes, that was actually one of the reasons why I once joined them – the romantic melodies compared with technical made music. U96 are pretty close to this mixture, and that’s why I loved to work with them. On MAGAZINE, my next album, you get more warmth and more melodies, more storytelling, more singing…

In your book I Was a Robot, you mention how Kraftwerk was not interested in outside collaborations. As you’ve gone on to do many, could you discuss the importance of working with others for you as an artist?

That’s easy to explain. I don’t see myself as a solo artist. I need colleagues, partners. I crave teamwork in making music. A mental exchange and topical criticism are important. Collaborators work like a band to me. You won’t believe how many emails and telephone calls, and trips between Hamburg and Düsseldorf and between Düsseldorf and Hebden Bridge (my UK Partner’s home). In the last five years, I have also had a UK partner – Peter Duggal.

With him, I see it as a band too, a very creative duo! When I have my ‘writing lessons’ (Karl Bartos’ term) with one of these colleagues, I feel like a member of a group that strives for good music results.

Having early on played in more traditional rock bands, did you feel drawn to electronic music right away when you had the opportunity to be a part of it? Was there any hesitation with the concept of moving from a standard drum kit to an electronic one? (in terms of the sound/style itself.)

It was indeed a big transformation. Changing from a regular drummer to an upright-standing electronic percussionist was not an easy thing to accept. It needed time getting used to such unusual and minimal performing which was announced as ‘modern drumming’ by the media. The sound it made was what really counted and helped me to truly enjoy it. Over the months and years with Kraftwerk, it was the only direction for me, and I was at least jointly responsible for the development of the world’s first electronic drum-pads-board. Remember?

When you started, electronic musical technology was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Do you feel that gives you a different perspective on creating music than someone who had things like MIDI and computers available to them from the start?

Yes, it does. Approaching music and pop songs creation needs, at first, an idea, a vision. If someone has something to tell to the people, he doesn’t need MIDI. He doesn’t need computers. These tools are helpers at the least… other instruments to say, as in our era when using tape machines, organs, flute, and first synths. Later, I met many artists who started creating music on their instruments without any theme or title. For them, themes develop during playing their daily mood and something can happen, not must happen! When I start being creative, I mostly have a whole concept in my brain, a theme and the final written lyrics which produce melodies at the same time. I feel good having grown up in a time where I had the chance to detect and practice all these amazing developments. With today’s techniques and our efficient world wide web, I can work with everyone who thinks similar (if our chemistry fits).

There was a break between your time in Kraftwerk and becoming active in music again. What inspired you to get back into music? Did you have a clear sense as to what you wanted to do sound/style-wise?

No music was planned after my split from Kraftwerk, no style, no sound. Seven years later, the Bosnian War brought me back to music when I suddenly saw myself writing my own first song lyrics for the murdered children of a Sarajewo Kinderheim. Can one believe that I was electrified with music again through war? I must admit, the song helped me more than the poor children.

Generally, it was a bad time for us Europeans to see Balkan people killing each other in such a horrible way – women and children included. I wrote LITTLE CHILD for them as a benefit and recorded it with a young man in his home studio near Düsseldorf where I was invited to have a look at MIDI and computer recording in an early DAW. It was 1993! Very simple then, very unreliable too! But also very thrilling. And, coming back to your question, nothing was planned by me – a miracle so to say…

When I had published my autobiography, I WAS A ROBOT, in 1999, my German publisher had the idea “why not make a single for the book, Wolfgang?” In fact, that was the start of my current direction for creating new music. My partner at the time, Stefan Lindlahr, and I had produced something that the German dance music label HOLON wanted to release and create dance-mixes for club play. It was a good decision because we suddenly had a #4 single on the German dance charts with double vinyl. HOLON gave me the entry point for collaborating with their other signed artists. I now had contact with techno musicians who made ‘better techno’, which I call ‘intelligent techno.’ It sounded more like film music than this awful love parade music like West Bam or similar. With HOLON, I had some contacts to German and Italian creators who made remixes of my music too. I learned from them and I got deeper involved in this genre which helped me develop my sound for my current appearances aka MUSIK-SOLDAT, a dance music and video entertainment show which is very successful worldwide. I liked the EBM style of Nitzer Ebb, the electro-pop of the Irish Mylo, I still like the Norwegians Röyksopp and similar artists, the music of UK Peter Duggal and Meriton Ajdini of Switzerland. And of course the Hamburg U96 with their emphasizing techno tunes.

No question, if artists are being sampled from other artists worldwide like the music of Kraftwerk, one can only be proud. The only thing is that sampling must be asked permission from original creator. There’s nothing more to say about that.

Could you discuss your new project, “Magazine”? Are you collaborating with anyone on that? I’ve seen that you’ve been posting short musical snippets. Has the feedback played a role in shaping it?

MAGAZINE was produced over the last five years, together with my UK partner Peter Duggal as well with my partners from Hamburg, U96. Detroit techno king Juan Atkins was also invited into the project. I became friendly with over the last years in London, Paris, Cologne, and Düsseldorf. I even brought the man here for a show during the DIGITALE Festival in November last year. Atkins contributes to two songs of MAGAZINE with brilliant synthesizer bass lines on POSH and on SYMPHONY OF MIGHT. I have also invited Midge Ure to play with me. His idea was to contribute with DAS BEAT (one of my favourite tracks).

There is also a song about my UK partner’s birthtown Birmingham – an homage to the city. Here we’re having Peter Hook playing his famous high bass. I was successful and happy with the invitation of Claudia Brücken formerly of Propaganda to sing the vocals.

CINEMA is dedicated to the French movie world (I’m a complete cinephile!). The track came together with the Belgium musician Fabrice Lig. NIGHT DRIVE was shaped together with Peter’s friends from the London electronic dance band Anushka. We also produced a song from a musicscape supplied by the English record producer and Mute Records artist MAPS; the resulting track: ‘SAY NO!’ (probably the most important song on MAGAZINE). PROPERTY came together with music parts of the Frankfurt musician Anthony Rother.

Within the last mentioned tracks, I’ve used literature texts from international authors Heinrich Heine and Wolfgang Borchert.

The short melodies I have published on facebook.com/musiksoldat since last August had many astonishing and positive reactions from our fans but played no role in shaping the tracks. These were already done (fourteen by the way).

With Musik-Soldat, you bring together imagery from your past with current musical projects. What were your motivations and goals when you started doing this?

In 2014, I was asked to DJ at the small Berlin Club 103 and I refused to do it, claiming I was not able to do it since I was not trained as a DJ. I was in luck because the guy who asked me was a good DJ at least and offered me training. I learned to play tracks via CD deck with the necessary crossovers, speed adaption, and some effects added. Later, I bought a MAC laptop and played my songs from there. Over the years, my program grew and grew, and I added more and more videos to my set. Then I started to produce new videos myself with photo master Markus Luigs who is also my “style police “and the graphic designer of my album covers, inner sleeves, and press photos.

However the program was named MUSIK-SOLDAT by my wife because she saw me once marching on the stage like a soldier. That was because I was mocking about soldiers. People know that I’m an unashamedly hardcore pacifist since my youth and against all weapons, violence, and the whole military. Later, this became a running part at the end of my show when I put on a Kaiser Wilhelm spiked helmet and march in front of my audience at the edge of the stage from left to right and back and finally wave goodbye with the soldier’s greeting – an ironic and cynical act. In the background of stages, I show scenes from a famous anti-war movie about German Zeppelins trying to throw bombs on London’s Trafalgar Square. Fortunately, this fails because they have a saboteur on their aircraft.

I play tracks in dance speed from my own productions, Kraftwerk tracks (dance mixes), tracks from friends and colleagues whom I’m friendly with and which touch me. It is not a regular DJ thing. I’ve delivered a highly attractive performance which garnered me invitations to the Singapore Grand Prix Festival, the Montreux Jazz Festival (with Chemical Bros on the same stage) and also an invitation to the famous Glastonbury Festival in South England. Due to the COVID pandemic, this was unfortunately postponed.