Released in 1977, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express saw the self-styled robots come of age – moving away from the Krautrock sensibilities of Autobahn and Radio-Activity towards a more minimalist electronic sound.
No more was this evident than on the album’s title track, which along with the Metal on Metal/Abzug suite that follows it, bridged the period between music’s orchestral past and a digital future.
As former Kraftwerk member Karl Bartos told The Quietus in 2009, the track embodied the group’s ambitious new direction, away from the sensibilities of their earlier work.
“At that time, with Autobahn and Radio-Activity we’d had enough of creating from our German heritage and rather we were considering ourselves as European musicians. […]
“Eventually, we went to train bridges and were listening to the sound the train would actually produce – and by using the final rhythm it was just a little faint, because a train doesn’t actually sound like this. On a train, you have two wheels and then the next wagon is starting with another two wheels and if you cross the gap on the rails it makes the sound ‘da-dum-da-dum Da-dum-da-dum’.
“But of course you wouldn’t be able to dance to that! So we changed it slightly.”
It would also set the tone for the electro-funk wave to follow, and the first – and most notable artist – to plunder Trans-Europe Express’ aural goldmine was Afrika Bambaataa, for 1982’s Planet Rock, which ushered in a “radical new musical movement”, as Greg Wilson told this site last year.
“The tracks started to come thick and fast at this stage, and half the crowd weren’t sure what was going on, while the young black kids were absolutely loving it,” Wilson said of playing Planet Rock and other early electro cuts at venues like Wigan Pier and Legends.
“It started off as a very gradual evolution, but then became more and more of a dam burst.”
As Sean Albiez and David Pattie put it in the book Kraftwerk: Music Non-Stop, Bambaataa’s use of Kraftwerk’s iconic sample helped add a touch of ‘intergalactic exoticism’ to Planet Rock.
‘The futurist electro-disco funk of Kraftwerk – funk formed without the traditional sexual connotations or emotional exuberance – made them sound weird in relation to black traditions,’ the authors put it.
‘But rather than Bambaataa trying to exoticize and alienate himself from black popular music […] it could instead be argued that he was bringing in a music that was both oriented to controlling the dancing body and exemplifying the weirdness of what some have called ‘cold emotion.’
And what Bambaataa started, countless others have since followed. According to WhoSampled.com, Trans Europe Express has been sampled in at least 76 tracks – and covered in a myriad more – making it possibly the most referenced blueprint in electronic music history.
Unsurprisingly, the minimal drum riff is the most borrowed element, with a horde of hip hop artists returning time and time again to Kraftwerk’s infectious rhythms.
With that in mind, 909originals has compiled a playlist of 25 tracks that sample Trans-Europe Express – more than an hour and a half of sick beats that pay tribute to the Düsseldorf quartet [ warning : contains explicit lyrics].
If you know of any other tracks, feel free to share them in the comments below. In the meantime, in the immortal words of Afrika Bambaataa, “Party people, party people…. Can y’all get funky?”