Video Savant: Kraftwerk's “Ruckzuck”

Before they became the Beatles of electronic music, before they hit upon the surefire gimmick of the man-machine, before they morphed into the funky robots who invented the techno and electro genres, before they became the default soundtrack composers for the Tour de France, Kraftwerk were progressive-rock experimentalists with inventive wild streaks totally in opposition to their mannered, control-freq personae that started with 1977's Trans-Europe Express LP.

Check out the pre-Autobahn albums Kraftwerk, Kraftwerk II, Ralf und Florian and Tone Float (recorded under the name Organisation) for ample proof of these German innovators' bizarre manifestations of experimental rock and avant-garde electronic exploration—and for the creation of the greatest flute sound ever.

One of my favorite Kraftwerk tracks from this period is “Ruckzuck,” off 1970's Kraftwerk. (Founding members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider disown their pre-Autobahn work for mysterious, maddening reasons, but enterprising bootleggers keep these classics in circulation. Let's hope R&F come to their senses and authorize legit reissues of them one of these years.)

“Ruckzuck” (“translates as 'Very quickly' with a slight connotation of 'Push-pull,'” says Wikipedia) is marked by an unforgettable staccato flute motif that sputters with speed and agility. Farfisa organ and electric violin add to the unusual tonal palette (at least on the album version). The tempo is fleet, but the dynamics are unpredictable. The group abruptly halts the pell-mell groove for some knotty dissonance just as you're getting your mellow hypnosis on. The TV audience in this clip—which is about two minutes shorter than and somewhat inferior to the recorded version—seem unsure of how to respond to this new kosmische musik. You can't really blame them; “Ruckzuck” still sounds ahead of its time—or completely outside of it.

Kraftwerk play Coachella April 26. The chances of them performing “Ruckzuck” there are slimmer than Dick Cheney winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

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