Finally inspired to record an album of all-new material for the first time in 17 years, Kraftwerk’s 11th studio outing, Tour De France Soundtracks, found the group in an entirely different musical landscape from when they released their previous album, 1986’s Electric Café. By this point, electronic dance music had swept the world to become a cultural phenomenon, largely thanks to the pioneering synthesiser work Kraftwerk had originally set in motion in the 70s.
Listen to ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’ here.
Keen to keep the wheels moving despite the departures of long-term members Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür, group founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider invited Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz into the fold and set to work on a new album that coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Tour De France. Spinning out ideas from his fondness for cycling, Hütter was keen to explore the feats of human endurance achieved by the likes of tournament winners Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet, and headed to Kraftwerk’s Kling Klang studio to engineer the group’s much-anticipated comeback.
“Forward – that’s what you do with your bicycle. You move forward”
Remarkably, the genesis of Tour De France Soundtracks stretched back 20 years earlier, when Kraftwerk released an EP celebrating Hütter’s love of cycling. “In 1983 we were working on a concept for a feature film on Tour De France,” Hütter said, “so I wrote some lyrics and conceptual ideas for our album Tour De France.” No strangers to exploring modes of transportation on records such as the motorway-centric Autobahn and the train-inspired Trans-Europe Express, the original 1983 Tour De France song hinted at a new Lycra-clad reinvention for the one-time robots, and reached No.22 in the UK in August that year. Following a bike accident which landed Hütter in hospital, however, the album idea was put on hold and Kraftwerk moved on to record Electric Café instead.
Then, in 2003, in a bid to mark the 100th anniversary of the Tour De France tournament, Kraftwerk decided to revisit the cycling concept. Updated for the 21st century, the group’s cycling song was just as innovative as anything they had done before, with Hütter’s breathless vocals being recorded after running up and down the stairs in Kling Klang. Propelled by a winding electro beat and the sound of spinning spokes, this new version of Tour De France peaked at No.20 in the UK in July 2003 and saw Hütter recite French lyrics evoking the arduous journey of cyclists traversing the Alps.