Research Data Leeds Repository

Industrial Activity: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity as dystopian sonic template

Monroe, Alexei (2016) Industrial Activity: Kraftwerk's Radio-Activity as dystopian sonic template. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

Radio-Activity (1975) deals with the most dystopian themes the pioneering German electronic group ever addressed. It was released shortly before the emergence in Britain of what became known as industrial music. The paper will argue that the more sonically radical and conceptually dystopian elements of the album were a strong precedent for industrial music and the way in which it used electronically-generated sound and noise. The minimalistic electronic percussion, oscillator and voltage sounds, shortwave radio recordings and collages of sampled voices deployed by Kraftwerk here can be directly compared to industrial's use of noise as a texture, within and against a pop format. The use of these sonic elements to explore dystopian and ambivalent subject matter is also relevant here. Geiger Counter manipulates the fears surrounding radiation and The Voice of Energy features an alienated, electronically processed vocal that gives voice to fears of technological domination. The use of simulated and actual radio sounds and news reports on News has parallels with the near-contemporary work of the British group Cabaret Voltaire and their use of similar materials and themes, for instance on the early track Baader Meinhof. While Kraftwerk took this sample-based technique no further, it would become a key stylistic trope of industrial music. Uranium is a chilling soundscape that coldly dramatises the lethal potential of the element, and uses electronic sound to communicate a sense of ominousness. Another important parallel to be considered is the use of sonic and conceptual ambivalence. The album was the group's most controversial, with some seeing it as being uncritical of, or even consciously aestheticising nuclear power. This overlooked Kraftwerk's documentary ambition to present tone pictures of everyday technological life, as well as their sly irony. The presenation of extreme and disturbing subject matter in industrial has generated even more severe criticism, with many being disturbed by its sonic-conceptual ambivalence. With these questions in mind, Radio-Activity will be compared with examples from groups such as Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, Clock DVA and others, illustrating some of the related approaches that appeared in the wake of the album. Both Kraftwerk and these artist consciously used what were then the still-alienating potentials of electronic sound, manipulating and ambivalently exploring technophobia and the darker side of late 20th Century ideas of (post)-industrial progress. Due to the controversy generated by its apparent “over-identification” with nuclear power, it has been relatively overlooked and is seen as less influential than those before and after it, yet it did exert a hidden influence as what Slavoj Žižek terms as a “vanishing mediator” between the approaches informing the elektronische musik of the Cologne School (which Kraftwerk members were fully aware of) and industrial. From there the still under-narrated industrial's effect on subsequent forms including Electronic Body Music (EBM), New Beat, Techno and certain strains of electronica can be traced, expanding our understanding of Kraftwerk's stylistic and conceptual influence further than previously.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:09



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