An electronic music band formed by Florian Schneider and Ralf Hutter, and fronted by that duo for most of its existence. Kraftwerk, whose name means "power station" in German, was a pioneer of the synth pop genre in the 1970s. Although the band hails from Germany, it formed in Dusseldorf and holds little allegiance to the Berlin School. For most of the band's existence, Schneider and Hutter have recruited various third and fourth members, playing a variety of instruments, to fill out the band.
Schneider and Hutter met while in a band called Organization, which recorded one album in 1970 before disbanding. They decided to form their own band, which went through several names before settling on Kraftwerk. Hutter departed for a time, during which Schneider recruited Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, who would leave to form a band called NEU!, after which Hutter returned. The band released its first two albums in 1971 and 1972, with the band members playing mostly conventional instruments such as guitar, flute and violin, and using tape studio techniques to create long experimental jams.
The band's fouth album, Autobahn, was released in 1974. This album was a milestone in several respects. First, it marked a transition from the tape studio techniques to a sound using mostly synths and electronics, with a few conventional instruments. Second, it established the band lineup which would be responsible for nearly all of the band's productive period, with Schneider, Hutter, percussionist Wolfgang Flur, and multi-instrumentalist Karl Bartos. Third, this was the album where the band ventured into its nascent synth-pop style, with heavy use of a vocoder for vocals. The title track "Autobahn", with versions having its droning lyrics recorded in both German and English, became a surprise underground hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and instantly established Kraftwerk's reputation as a trendsetting and technology-forward band.
Kraftwerk went on to issue several influential albums during the '70s and early '80s, with the most generally highly regarded being 1978's The Man-Machine and 1981's Computer World. As the album titles suggest, the band often portrayed its members as themselves being works of technology, sometimes using mannequins or robotic devices to represent itself on stage. Unlike some electronic bands of the period, Kraftwerk liked to maintain a relatively "clean" stage appearance with most of the musical gear being offstage and controlled remotely with master keyboards and similar. Despite this, a considerable amount of gear was used; the band had designed and arranged their private studio, Kling Klang Studios, so that most of the contents of the studio could be packed up and taken on tour with them.
Eventually, a heavy tour schedule tooks its toll and the band destabilized. Flur departed after 1986's Electric Cafe was released, and Bartos departed in 1990. A variety of other musicians have been used since then. Schneider left the band in 1986 (he occasionally returns for reunion shows), leaving Hutter to hold things together. Although the band still tours extensively, it has released only one album of new material since 1986.