Electronic: From Kraftwerk to Chemical Brothers

Electronic: From Kraftwerk to Chemical Brothers
31th July 2020 – 14th February 2021
Design Museum, Kensington

Great music is nearly always born of innovation, experimentation, hard work and happy accidents – the birth of electronic music is no exception: 

Brian Eno listening to the hum of a broken amplifier giving rise to Ambient; or Acid House invented through the misuse of the commercial flop Roland TB-303 bass unit. The 303’s failures exploited to produce the unique “squelching, resonant and liquid sound” on Phuture’s seminal “Acid Trax”. None of which could have existed without the experimental machine music that was created in 70s Düsseldorf by visionaries Kraftwerk. 

A new exhibition at the Design Museum celebrates this evolution of electronic music. 

Originally scheduled to open on April 1st 2020, the shutdown of the entire planet pushed the launch to Friday 31st July 2020. The show takes you on an interactive cultural journey through art, design & technology in the form of objects, installations & posters.


Photo: Union Rave 1995 by Andreas Gursky
Photo: Union Rave 1995 by Andreas Gursky

The attention to detail is evident throughout the show. For example, Kraftwerk chose a PMC 7.1 surround sound system (featuring six compact nearfield monitors) to ensure that exhibition visitors have an authentic experience by hearing their music on the speakers used to create it. The award-winning PMC loudspeakers form an integral part of the 30 minute, 3D show capturing Kraftwerk’s legendary stage performances. 

Peter Saville, whose graphic design work is synonymous with the music of Joy Division & Factory Records, also features in the show. He was speaking on BBC 6Music about why now is the perfect time to innovate.

“We can use this unique opportunity to make major leaps in innovation, and respond to the global crisis creatively.”

With authenticity & sincerity, we can really connect with people, enabling us to create art & music which is produced from deep feeling, full of value, and beyond merely making money. 

Photo: OTOTO musical invention kit by Yuri Suzuki
Photo: OTOTO musical invention kit by Yuri Suzuki

Saville’s work with New Order is heavily influenced by the Bauhaus movement, which was created from the ashes of the First World War, and you can see the Bauhaus influences behind The Chemical Brothers’ stage show – another highlight of the exhibit.

Smith and Lyall have interpreted the Chemical Brothers audio tracks for their live shows so that visuals and lights interact to create a new three-dimensional experience. It’s a beautiful marriage of dance, theatre, technology & absurdism. 

If anything, this exhibition reminds us why the next cultural change will also come about from breaking the rules. These electronic visionaries prove we can create our own reality, and with a bit of luck, and a lot of hard work, we can be optimistic about the future.


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