When Carl Bartos, a teenager, told his parents that he wanted to devote his life to music, his father was so furious that he tore his son’s acoustic guitar to pieces.
After listening to the Beatles at age 12, something had woken up in him—”I wanted to feel how they sounded,” he says—and so he overtook that broken guitar. Hearing Hendrix tripping over LSD was another portal. “Music spoke to me in all the languages of the world at once,” he recalls in his memoir. “I understood its message to the last frequency. Never before has the essence of music been so clear.”
Memoir, The Sound of the Machine: My Life In craftwork And Beyond is an incredibly detailed book about Bartos’ life: from those important childhood moments, the years he spent at the Robert Schumann Conservatory in Düsseldorf where he studied percussion, through his time known as the classic Kraftwerk line- Considered up – Bartos, Ralph Hutter, Florian Schneider, Wolfgang Fleur – in which he played from 1974 to 1990.
Kraftwerk was looking for a percussionist for some live dates and Bartos was recommended by his professor. After being called into their infamous and secretive Kling Klang studio, they immediately clicked with Hutter and Schneider. “We were attracted to each other and it just felt pure,” he recalls. “I knew from the first meeting it was something special.”
Bartos’ joining coincided with the release of Autobahn, a record – especially its title track – often considered a benchmark for modernism in pop music, its pulsating groove extending into the future. Work on the concept album Radio-Activity soon began, and Bartos became an embedded member, contributor and co-writer. Subsequent albums Trans-Europe Express, The Man-Machine and Computer World (1977–1981) are an immaculate, unmatched record that shimmers and shines with a metallic luster; Equal parts meticulous pop and futuristic sci-fi sound, they became the blueprint for electronic pop in the ensuing decade. Bartos says that Kraftwerk’s mission was to invest technology with humanity, to make it “feelable and visible – and this was different from all the electronic pop music we inspired. He treated electronic instruments just like guitars.” ; They played only in the tradition of English pop music. But the craftwork was different because we wanted to expose people to the technique.”
Not only was the band steadily climbing creative peaks in the studio, but their dynamic was at its most friendly and accommodating. Some were staying together at a place Bartos described as “mythical parties”, although he would not be drawn to the juicy details. For those we should instead turn to Fleur’s memoir I Was A Robot. “A Super 8 projector would be playing sex movies on the wall next to the bathtub,” he wrote. “Everything would be covered in bubble bath and red wine, and candlelight would illuminate the sweaty scene. These parties were like Sodom and Gomorrah.” It feels weird with such a mysterious and secretive band that were experimenting using robot nicknames – and Bartos’s book plays to type by focusing on working methods, the creative process, and technology.
In 1981 they toured successfully – despite their equipment weighing seven tons – and the following year was UK No. 1 with The Model. They were at their creative and commercial peak, with Bartos writing that Computer World was “our most successful attempt to translate the dialect of the man-machine metaphor into music”, but Kraftwerk would not perform live for nearly a decade as they disappeared. The studio. “We slept throughout the ’80s,” Bartos says. “It was actually a dramatically huge mistake.”
The next album, 1986’s Electric Cafe, was a huge change. “The problem started when the computer came into the studio,” Bartos says. “The computer has nothing to do with creativity, it is just a tool, but we have outsourced creativity to the computer. We forgot about the center of what we were. We lost our physical sense, now each other Not looking into my eyes, only looking at the monitor. At the time, I thought innovation and progress were synonymous. I can’t be so sure now.”
It turns out this member of a group that has ushered in a new era of tech-heavy music of the future is a techno-skeptic, but Bartos insists that the era is what most people refer to as peak craftwork. Add to that, he was largely produced by the analog band. They were pushing the limits of primitive technology to its fullest extent, and for Bartos, these limits led to innovation. But when presented with endless options, there was nothing to rub against, only an infinite horizon. “We stopped being creative because we were solving problems,” he says.
The pace of work slowed down a lot. Hutter’s newfound obsession with cycling became a priority and studio sessions were often a few half-hours in the evening. In addition, they became obsessed with other people’s records, often making trips to discos to play early mixes of their tracks, to see how they sounded against the fresh cuts of the day. He started chasing the zeitgeist instead of setting it up. After hearing New Order’s Blue Monday, they were so impressed that they sought out its sound engineer, Michael Johnson, and flew to the UK to mix the Tour de France – a standalone single from 1983 – but that version decided to never release it.
“Things started to look more and more desolate,” Bartos says. “Instead of remembering how our most authentic, and successful music was made, we focused our attention on the mass-market music zealot. But comparing our own ideas to other people’s work was anti-constructive and counterproductive. We Music became designers, consumer music creation only headed towards winning against other competitors. Our imagination lost its autonomy. It seemed we had forgotten how our music came about in the first place.”
Flor lost patience and left to make furniture and Bartos prepared an exit, with growing issues surrounding songwriting credits and payments, as well as refusal to tour. “It was an absolute nightmare,” he says of the time. Although typical of Hutter and Schneider’s differing perspectives at this point, there was little in the way of reaction or drama when they eventually left in 1990.
This began a period in which he felt “too little” but he soon began working with Andy McCluskey in the Dark with orchestral maneuvers, as well as writing songs, as well as the side projects of Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr. Collaborated with Electronic on their second album. “They saved my life,” he reflects. “Because I knew I wasn’t alone.”
McCluskey recalled expressing interest in working together with Bartos, saying that “one of the 12 disciples invites you to join his gang.” Bartos also helped McCluskey form the girl band Atomic Kitten. “I was going to retire, but I think I can still write songs,” McCluskey recalls. “Karl said, ‘Don’t just give them to the publishing company because they’ll mess you up and you’ll be a lyric whore’. He said, ‘Why don’t you make vehicles for your songs?’ That’s why I’m always happy to say to people: ‘Yeah, Kraftwerk made Atomic Kitten.'” Bartos went on to release two solo albums in the 1990s as Electric Music, before releasing two solo albums in 2003 and 2013. also issued. Meanwhile, Kraftwerk had a stellar return to recording in 2003 with the Tour de France soundtrack, and – now only with original member Hutter – has long toured a 3D live show.
Reflecting on Kraftwerk today, he doesn’t come across as bitter, more disheartened than he could have been, lamenting wasted time, creative energy, and the decade-sized hole where he presented audiences but era- Could electrify with defined music. That said, he didn’t have much time to see how Craftworks continued to develop. “Society has turned into a conveyor belt,” he says. “You put in resources, you turn it into a consumer product, you make money and… crap. That’s what happened with Kraftwerk. They turned to the dehumanization of music.”
Although he still loves his time in the band’s classic analog era. “I loved being a man-machine,” he says. “But we lost that man.”