Kraftwerk’s founder member Ralf Hutter has broken his band’s legendary silence to talk about his music, his passion for cycling and how the two connect.
On the eve of a major concert at Manchester’s Velodrome, which is now sold out, Hutter has been speaking about the enigmatic German band. In their 35 years of existence, Kraftwerk have rarely given interviews and for many fans, this is the first time Hutter’s speaking voice has been heard.
The all-electronic band, responsible for albums including Autobahn, Trans Europe Express and Tour de France Soundtracks (all betraying a fascination for transport of one kind or another), have been described as the most important group since the Beatles, and the influence of their music can be seen in almost every aspect of dance and electronica.
Since 1978, much of Hutter’s inspiration for his compositions has come from a passion for cycling. With co-founder Florian Schneider (who recently left the group – reason unknown), he took up the sport with gusto, cycling up to 200km a day and asking to be put off the tour bus early so they could cycle the rest of the way to the next gig.
Cycling, he said, “is like music. It is always forward. It is free, it is outside, it is the weather, it is the planet, it is energy. Cycling has parallels with certain aspects of music.”
In an interview in The Guardian, Hutter said that he no longer pushed himself so rigorously before shows.
“We did that in the 80s,” he said. “The bus would drop us, and we'd finish the last couple of hours by bike. But now, the tour schedule is so tight that mostly we're using planes. And when you don't know the territory and the habits of the traffic, or like in England on the other side of the road ... well, we have to concentrate on the concert."
In the early 80s Hutter was injured in a cycling accident in his native Germany, fracturing his skull and putting him into a coma. It didn’t put him off.
"No, and it didn't affect me. I got a new head, and I'm fine. It was a few days in hospital, and that's it. A very normal accident. It's one of those things where somebody tells a story, and the next guy adds another story, and in the end ... like I say, I got a new operation, and I got a new head. I just forgot my helmet, and I was in hospital for three or four days."
Sadly for fellow cycling fanatics, Hutter denied that his first words on coming out of the coma were, “Where’s my bicycle?” “A lot of fantasy has been written,” he commented.