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The Future Past

The Pascal Bussy interview - September 1995

Pascal Bussy imageFor several years from its 1993 publication, Pascal Bussy’s biography of Kraftwerk, 'Man, Machine and Music' remained the only book devoted solely to documenting the history of Kraftwerk. As well as the UK edition the book has also been published in German, Japanese and French editions. Until now there has been little information on Pascal Bussy, the man behind the biography and his reasons for writing the book in the first place. The questions for this interview were derived from suggestions from a number of the fanzines readers/regular contributors.
From Aktivität 8 - August 1996

What came first - the idea to write a book on Kraftwerk or was it suggested as a suitable project, after writing the book on Can, by the publishers, SAF?
"I’d had the idea for a long time, but we (SAF and myself) really decided to do it just after the Brixton Academy concert in London in July 1991. We had been so knocked out by the power of their music and of their show!"

Roughly speaking, how long did the book take to write?
"Two years."

Was it a project that you had at the back of your mind for some time or was it something started from scratch?
"I wanted to do it ever since I conducted my first interview with Ralf Hütter in 1983. He was so mysterious. I wanted to penetrate this mystery..."

What was Kraftwerk’s reaction to your initial suggestion of writing a book about them?
"(In Lyons, France, on 5th November 1991, it went basically like this...)
Florian Schneider; "Why do you want to make a book about us? The music is there. That’s enough."
Ralf Hütter; "A book? Yes... No..." ."

Did your book about Can for SAF have any bearing on the Kraftwerk tome? Similar points of reference, influences etc?
"Except for the fact that they both belonged to the same avant-garde scene and are both German, not really. And it was a completely different experience. The Can people were so cooperative. The ‘Kraftwerk twins’ were so non-cooperative."

Are there any other bands that you would perhaps like to write about in the future?
"Artists like Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, LaMonte Young. Bands like Soft Machine, Gong. And also a book about the importance of music in Wim Wender’s movies."

What was the principle reason for why you chose to write a book on Kraftwerk?
"Two Principle reasons;

  1. they were one of the very rare bands who didn’t have a book on them and really deserved to have one.
  2. it was a challenge."

Judging from the authors note at the start of the book, it appears that the book was more difficult to write than you originally anticipated. Just how did you go about interviewing people for the book? Did it all depend on the agreement of Kraftwerk themselves before associates, such as Maxime Schmitt, Rupert Perry and suchlike, would speak with you? Did you have to resort to any surreptitious methods?!
"It was difficult because I didn’t have any help from Ralf Huetter or Florian Schneider. But I was really lucky to be in Paris which is obviously a key city for them. It was easy to begin my investigations from there. I mean the people who were close to them in the 70s/80s. Secondly, having been in the music industry for almost twenty years. It’s really a small world and suddenly you realise that a friend of yours knows the Front 242 people, that another one can get you some funny story, that someone else that you are in touch with for some business things has a connection with William Orbit. You know, these kinds of things..."

The photographs used in the book were very good, far more interesting than the use of Kraftwerk’s familiar press-release photos. Was it difficult to obtain the used of these photos?
"That was part of the general investigation and some of them were really founded by pure chance - like the early concert one."

How easy or difficult was it for you to gain access to band members themselves for interviews? Were they supportive of the book or more cautious? Florian Schneider for instance has been very, very reluctant to do interviews since the 1970s and it is known that he has told some fans that he was not interviewed for your book, claiming instead it was all made up. Can you understand his attitude about this?
"It was easy to get the interview with Ralf Huetter in Lyons in ’91, but he was not supportive to the book project. The interview with Florian Schneider was really made by chance. It was after the gig. It was a good concert, Florian was happy. He had caught a bad cold and he came in the concert hall after the concert to ask/look for some Kleenex! A bunch of fans were there, he began to speak with them, he even signed some Kraftwerk album covers. He was in a very good mood. Then I went up to him, asked for an interview and we spoke for 30/45 minutes."

Has Kraftwerk’s views towards the book now changed, after publication?
"Basically, they don’t like the book at all. But I’ve got the feeling that they are not prepared to like any book made about them..."

There is little scope for the views of Wolfgang Fluer in your book. Do you feel that this was because he was not very keen to air his side of the Kraftwerk story or was it because he has plans to write his own book on this subject and was therefore unwilling to play his ace too early, so to speak?
"Wolfgang Fluer has definitely (or at least when I met him in Duesseldorf) a plan to write his own book. That’s why he was so reluctant to speak to me which I completely understand, even if I really don’t know when his book will be published - I don’t even know if it is actually finished..."

One area of the book that, judging by comments from readers of Aktivitaet, was a bit of a let down was the period around the unreleased ‘Technopop’ album. Before the books release, there was certainly anticipation that all would be revealed! In fan circles, this LP is very much the ‘holy grail’...
"I said everything in the book I was able to say about the subject. I really can’t say more..."

How willing were Kraftwerk to talk of this project? Do they seem uncomfortable with the emphasis that has been placed upon this period of their history and hence unwilling to go into any depth on the subject?
"They were more mysterious than ever. So mysterious that at one point I had the feeling that this album never really existed!"

Staying with ‘Technopop’, do you think that this LP has taken on a far greater significance than actually exists? Is it merely the tip of the iceberg, one project amongst many that have been shelved? There have certainly been rumours of material being destroyed (which Ralf Huetter has confirmed in at least one interview) and Karl Bartos has touched upon this subject too (he has been quoted as saying that there is ‘kilometres’ of unreleased tapes in Kling Klang).
"I think that the very sad thing about Kraftwerk is that they very often have not been capable of completing their work and/or to materialise their ideas. That goes from unreleased tapes to non-finished LPs and also includes some of their dreams (like the robot concerts through satellite) and even pure marketing nonsense (the unfinished ’91/’92 tour, the unreleased ‘Tour De France’ CD, the fact that they refused to put their first three albums on CD, so they open the road to bootleggers etc)."

"Since the beginning of the band, Kraftwerk have always been in the process of making a new album, recording it, mixing it etc. In a way we can consider that we are very lucky that they released so many albums!"

The work pattern in the 1970s for Kraftwerk was to release an LP quite regularly but since ‘The Man Machine’ in 1978, the LP releases have become increasingly spaced out. With ‘Computer World’, the reason for the delay was they were updating their studio equipment and this seems to have become a favourite excuse, also being mentioned in press interviews for ‘Electric Cafe’ and ‘The Mix’! From your own viewpoint, did you find this to be a significant reason for Kraftwerk’s rather slow work rate, or are there any other reasons that are not so well publicised?
"In my opinion the basic explanations for this slow work rate are very simple;

  1. they are far too perfectionist, they are never really completely happy with their work
  2. they are ... very lazy!
  3. they never had the financial pressure (unlike almost every active band in the world) to be obliged to release a new album every year."

One particular aspect that is almost unique to Kraftwerk is their willingness to translate songs into various different languages. How passionate about this subject are the members of the band? Bearing in mind the mixture of languages, sometimes a few even within one song (eg ‘Technopop’), do you envisage it being the case that future releases will see only one ‘universal’ language edition of an album, each song flitting back and forth between the languages available to them?
"I think that these languages are more some kind of funny things, like a sort of gadget, but it doesn’t really affect the music so much. The strength and even the power of Kraftwerk doesn’t come from that, even if the Japanese and French fans are certainly very happy that their native language is used by Ralf Huetter from time to time. And I also think that the universality of their work comes from the music, the different languages add a certain flavour, but the music is the basis of everything."

Do you have any theories why Kraftwerk continue to play live concerts? It seems perplexing; it is well documented in your book that the members dislike this aspect of their work ... yet still they continue. Is playing live still an important facet of being Kraftwerk?
"Florian Schneider obviously hates to tour. For Ralf Huetter I guess it’s a bit different, touring must be for him a kind of challenge and also maybe a way of proving that Kraftwerk is not dead... But on the other hand it might be a hard experience for him, taking care of the technical things (you will certainly have noticed that technical problems happen very often through their gigs), also being put in a position of meeting their record company, the journalists etc ... such a nightmare!"

How satisfied were you with the finished book, has it answered what you set out to do in the beginning?
"Yes, I was satisfied. At least I think that the book sums up all the historical facts and even goes a little further."

Were there portions that had to be left out, either through lack of detailed information or for other reasons?
"Yes, we (Mick Fish and I) left out certain things, just to be sure that the book wouldn’t create any personal problems to anyone - people who spoke to me, Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider themselves, previous members of the band."

Analysing Kraftwerk’s past music press interviews, it seems as if Ralf Huetter often sidesteps specific questions or give a rather glib and/or vague answer to the query. Did you find it difficult to obtain the answers you were hoping for when interviewing the band members, were there areas that remained impenetrable?
"With them, every question seems to be a problem ... and yes, sometimes it was very difficult."

In your opinion, is the enigma of Kraftwerk carefully cultivated or are they really such free spirits that they have little or no concern for the norms of the music industry? The concept of them being musical workers, turning up at Kling Klang day in, day out sounds all well and good, yet there is so little to show for it...
"I already more or less answered this question. But I can add something else - I feel that in a way Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider have become prisoners of the Kraftwerk image."

I believe that you now work for the WEA record label in Paris, handling the jazz releases in particular?
"Yes, I’m in charge of the Warner Jazz department at WEA in Paris. For me, music has always been something global. I’ve always been interested in rock, pop, contemporary, classical, jazz, ethnic music etc. At my time of life (I’m just about to enter my 40s), jazz is a more comfortable area to work in than the pop/rock area. The jazz world is much more ‘intelligent’ than the pop world, less hysterical and often more creative too."

Is the Kraftwerk book now a closed subject to you or are you still keeping up with their activities since publication, perhaps with the view of adding to the book at some future point?
"Yes, I’m still very interested in Kraftwerk and it might be possible that someday an augmented edition of the book sees the light of day."

Finally, are there any questions which you would like to answer that have not been covered?
"Just one point. I have heard it alleged through various sources that Ralf Huetter and Florian Schneider once said that they have never talked to me and that everything quoted from them in the book is untrue. In fact, they were appearing to say that they never met me.

This is of course completely wrong. That’s why all the sources of all the quotes (interviews) are carefully listed at the end of the book. And the cassettes of these interviews are kept somewhere (two different DAT sets in two different places) if anything regarding this had to be officially proved.

A last-minute point. I have always had a huge respect for Kraftwerk as musical innovators. I still have this respect, even if their non-cooperative way of acting has sometimes been not so easy to cope with. But I know that this attitude is a part of their image. I could even say that if they had been cooperative they wouldn’t have been Kraftwerk. So ... everything is OK."

On behalf of Aktivität, I’d like to thank Pascal for taking the time to answer these questions and Mick Fish at SAF for helping to make this happen. IC


  Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010