December 4, 2023

The 70s 80s 90s Blog

Three Decades of History with TV historian Tony McMahon

Kraftwerk releases Computer World

2 min read
In 1981, Kraftwerk released the Computer World album at a time when synth pop was dominating the charts and Tony McMahon was there

In 1981, German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk launched their eighth album, Computer World, and then took to the road. The album title summed up what was becoming increasingly clear. Our world was going to be governed by computers. But most of us in 1981 couldn’t have foreseen the kind of all-encompassing digital future that was just round the corner.

On stage, Kraftwerk created a kind of laboratory or control room replicating their private Kling Klang studio. But also making the point that they saw themselves as Musik-Arbeiter (music workers) and not pop stars. They were simply a robotic extension of the machines they played. For a decade, the group had been viewed as avant-garde experimenters. But by 1981, with synth pop dominating the pop charts, Kraftwerk were seen as the godfathers of keyboard-based pop.

DISCOVER: New technology in 1983

Computer World was arguably their most accessible album to date. Predictably at that time, it performed badly in the US album charts while doing a lot better in the UK. As with all Kraftwerk’s output there was both a celebration of new technology but also dark warnings of the downsides. The song ‘Computer Love’, for example, paints a bleak picture of what we now call online dating. The track ‘Computer World’ references corporate and government use of digital with the lyrics: “Interpol and Deutsche Bank, FBI and Scotland Yard”.

Kraftwerk take Computer World on the road

I saw Kraftwerk in 1981 at the Lyceum in London and it was by far one of the best gigs I’ve ever attended. The most memorable moment was when the foursome came to the front of the stage with four mini versions of their electronic instruments. This was the song ‘Pocket Calculator’. Not that pocket calculators were particular new by 1981 but here was Kraftwerk predicting miniaturised tech, hold in your hand tech that didn’t exist in 1981. We were still years away from mobile phones!

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