Florian Schneider — the founder of the pioneering German techno group Kraftwerk, who laid the foundation for electronic music — has died of cancer, according to multiple reports. A source confirmed to the Guardian that Schneider died a week ago and had a private burial. He was 73.
Schneider was born in Düsseldorf in 1947 and cut his teeth in Germany’s experimental “krautrock” scene, joining the group Organisation with Ralf Hutter, whom he met at the Robert Schumann Hochschule music school. In 1970, Schneider and Hutter broke off to form Kraftwerk, who went on to become one of the first successful acts to popularize the electronic genre due to their innovative use of synthesizers, drum machines, and vocoders. Their signature minimalist and disciplined “robot pop” sound solidified when they expanded from a duo to a quartet and achieved their commercial breakthrough with their fourth album, 1974’s Autobahn; the LP went to No. 5 on the Billboard album chart, while its title track hit No. 25 in the U.S. and No. 11 in the U.K.
Kraftwerk’s importance cannot be overstated. Music journalist Neil McCormick once called them “the most influential group in pop history,” and Britain’s NME wrote that the Beatles and Kraftwerk were “the two most important bands in music history.” AllMusic said Kraftwerk’s work “resonates in virtually every new development to impact the contemporary pop scene of the late 20th Century.”
Schneider and his bandmates were the obvious forerunners of synthpop, paving the way for ‘80s new wave acts like New Order (who sampled Kraftwerk’s “Uranium” on “Blue Monday”), Depeche Mode, Duran Duran, Thomas Dolby, Gary Numan, Spandau Ballet, Human League, OMD, Blondie, and Soft Cell. “For anyone of our generation involved in electronic music, Kraftwerk were the godfathers,” Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore once told the Telegraph. But they were also widely regarded as pioneers of the hip-hop, electro, and drum and bass genres. Their songs “Trans Europe Express” and “Numbers” were famously sampled in 1982 by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force for one of hip-hop earliest hit singles, “Planet Rock,” while their album Computer World has long been cited as a major influence on Chicago, Detroit, and New York’s house and techno scenes.
Additionally, Kraftwerk’s songs have been covered, sampled, or interpolated over the years by U2, Coldplay, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, Siouxsie and the Banshees, De La Soul, the Chemical Brothers, Franz Ferdinand, Timbaland, Ciara, LCD Soundsystem, Aphex Twin, Simple Minds, Rammstein, and countless others. Even David Bowie was inspired by Kraftwerk, paying tribute to Schneider on “V-2 Schneider” from his 1977 album Heroes.
Schneider departed the Kraftwerk lineup, which still tours, in 2008, but his groundbreaking work continued to be recognized. In 2014, Kraftwerk received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; a year later, Autobahn was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. The group’s live album 3-D The Catalogue, on which Schneider did not perform but featured all tracks co-written by him, won Best Dance/Electronic Album at the Grammys in 2018. Kraftwerk were nominated for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for the sixth time this year, but were ironically passed over again in favor of two inductees who owe them a debt, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails.
Famous fans of Schneider’s work took to social media Wednesday to pay tribute upon hearing the sad news of his passing.