Remembering Florian Schneider: The "Sound Fetishist"

There's many weird things to have a fetish with, and as a generally family-friendly site, we're not going to list any of them here. However, though it may not be one of the more obvious ones, have a sound fetish is likely more common than you think; one only has to look at how ASMR exploded for proof.

The "sound fetishist" may not be an ideal title, but there's worse out there and in the case of Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider, it certainly wasn't meant in a sexual way. The nickname was bestowed upon him by the man he co-founded Kraftwerk with, Ralf Hütter, and it certainly fits the bill of someone who pioneered electronic music and experimented with effects long before they entered the mainstream.

Originally, Kraftwerk were not an electronic band, but rather were part of a movement known as Kraut-rock, a German form of experimental rock. In their early days, they used instruments rather than the synthesizers they later made their name with, but even then, Schneider wasn't using them like everyone else did. His primary instrument, surprisingly, was the flute, and he would use a multitude of effects on that flute to turn it into a bass. These effects included ring modulation, fuzz, tape echo and even, bizarrely, wah-wah. Who on Earth puts wah on the flute? Florian Schneider, the Tom Morello of the flute.

In addition to the flute, Schneider also played violin (which he would also treat with effects), electric guitar, and of course, the synthesizer. He was also a big fan of vocoders, and would later invent his own electronic flute. Naturally, as Kraftwerk's sound became more electronic, he used fewer instruments, and barely played any of them again after their groundbreaking 1974 release, Autobahn. "I had studied seriously up to a certain level, then I found it boring; I looked for other things, I found that the flute was too limiting", he said in 1991. "Soon I bought a microphone, then loudspeakers, then an echo, then a synthesizer. Much later I threw the flute away; it was a sort of process."

With Kraftwerk, Schneider changed music. It's as simple as that. Synthesizers were increasing in popularity anyway, but Kraftwerk were the first band to truly embrace the emerging technology and go full send with it. Instead of using synths to augment their sound, the synths became their sound, with the band themselves referring to their music as "robot pop" due to the technical precision involved. In many ways, it lost a human element, but technical perfection on this scale had never been heard before. It was truly groundbreaking.

Schneider (second left) co-founded Kraftwerk and went on to revolutionize music.

This is why they became the new Beatles, of sorts. Kraftwerk are to electronic-based music was the Liverpudlians are to rock and pop, and while they never reached the same lofty heights as their scouse counterparts in terms of pure fame, Kraftwerk's influence on music is undeniable and second only to them. Once again, the Germans led the way for technology, as they continue to do so today.

Schneider eventually left Kraftwerk in 2008, though he didn't stop making music and released a track simply titled 'Stop Plastic Pollution' in 2015 as part of the "Parley for the Oceans" campaign in support of ocean conservation. Along with the rest of the band, he rarely gave interviews, but here we gain a very slight insight into his personal life - he was, at least to some extent, an environmentalist.

Schneider was highly regarded by his peers, and by none more so than David Bowie, who released an experimental track of his own called 'V-2 Schneider'. The song's title was a meaningful nod to the Kraftwerk member who inspired Bowie during the recording of his own excellent record. You don't get a Bowie song named after you if you're not special in some way, and this puts the stamp on Schneider's legacy.

Throughout his time in Kraftwerk, Florian Schneider continued to experiment and pave the way for the electronic artists of his future. He was part of a group who let the world know that the synth was a viable instrument with which to make music, and in doing this he changed the course of the art form. Music today is primarily made up on machines and automation, and perhaps it wouldn't be without Schneider's influence.

Through his musical achievements, we can see that it was a life well led. We don't know about you, but we are going to be listening to Kraftwerk this weekend as we pay tribute to a man whose legacy will live on simply in the form of music. RIP Florian Schneider.

Up to Eleven would like to extend its condolences to his family and friends at this difficult time.