“Sometimes I’m really weird, I know,” concedes Wolfgang Flür towards the end of our interview.
Certainly, his eccentricities precede him: for starters, and to get the obvious out of the way, Flür was a member of Kraftwerk during their classic ’70s/’80s lineup, along with Karl Bartos and founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. With 1974’s Autobahn (the first to feature Flür as a full-time member), Kraftwerk infamously drew a line in the sand between their long-haired, jam-filled psychedelic past, and their precise electronic future.
But that’s the past. And since his departure from Kraftwerk, ending a great run with 1986’s underrated Electric Café (since reissued under the originally intended title Techno Pop), Flür has taken the seemingly paradoxical turns of repeatedly and public distancing himself from Kraftwerk, and penning a memoir, I Was a Robot (2000), which namechecks his artistic leviathan in its very title.
(It’s worth noting a few things here: for starters, I Was a Robot does spend roughly half its length on Kraftwerk, the other half being on the events and inspirations surrounding Yamo, an umbrella project of sorts for his activities at the time of publication. Additionally, Flür was subject to a lawsuit from a number of parties concerning I Was a Robot, including Hütter and Schneider. Lastly, I was informed in advance of this interview that Flür did not want to discuss Kraftwerk. Reasonable enough, having poured it all into a book 15 years ago.)
So, with the historical positioning out of the way, there remains the question: what is Wolfgang Flür doing in 2015? Releasing a new album (or rather, a compilation which exhibits his tireless, and sometimes baffling, ecclecticism) called Eloquence.
Listening to Eloquence, one would be excused in mistaking it for a compilation of music by a number of artists. This is due in part to a diverse roster of collaborators, which includes Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers, Nitzer Ebb’s Bon Harris, and Ramón Amezcua from Tijuana’s Nortec Collective. Flür’s own eclectic nature is the dominant force here, however: it’s hard to imagine him completing an LP with a uniform sound. Instead, Eloquence serves as a journey through many different and varied stations.
The one form of consistency on Eloquence is a good pop melody. “I’m pop music-addicted,” he offers, “and love different styles of music fitting to the themes I write and sing/speak [about] on a project.” Flür likens the eclecticism of Eloquence to a lifestyle magazine: “Each page another story, each page another style and report: romance, crime, fashion, social, politics, war, sex, art, daily comedy, life, style …”
In fact, “daily comedy” is how he describes the swinging “Best Friend’s Birthday”, and its spiritual predecessor, “Mosquito”, from Yamo’s Time Pie.
Turn the page and you’ve got the whispering “Silk Paper”. Drawing lyrics from his experience as a 10-year-old, Flür expounds: “I was sent to our Catholic church by my parents every Saturday to shrive my sins — I liked that (not to shrive, but the church atmosphere). The song describes my feelings when sitting next to the women’s side to read 10 prayers for absolution. Instead, I listened to the women’s whispering lips and to the tender sound of turning over the silk paper leaves from their prayer books with golden edges. Each time I got goosebumps from that.”
Flür has always had a way with romance and sexuality. In a particularly inspiring passage from I Was a Robot, Flür recalls himself as a frustrated 16-year-old, masturbating on his parents ornate couch, hearing The Who’s “My Generation” for the first time, climaxing in a mess that seemed in part to be a subconscious response to his parents’ stifling refusal to support his interest in music.
“My pride and rage against insensate prohibitions and usualness exists still today,” says Flür in looking back on the rebellious and romantic streak that started in childhood. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if I always did what people wanted me to do in their eyes and wishes.”
Flür’s radical embrace of pop and tender lyrics isn’t so out of place in 2015. In fact, it’s not so difficult to imagine producers proudly and unironically in the post-Jpop/Kpop set taking a shine to “On The Beam” or “Blue Spark”; personally, I’d love to hear some over the top remixes.
The lyrics may be too honest at points — though, isn’t that always a matter of opinion? — but there’s a charm in hearing someone move so aggressively away from a cold image to a sweet (if sometimes saccharine) set of songs. As a former robot, Flür is entitled to his human emotion: to be weird, to be emotional, to be sexual, to be contradictory. Really weird, indeed.