Electronic music is so ubiquitous today that EDM (electronic dance music) fans may not appreciate how revolutionary the music was in the early ’70s.
German group Kraftwerk pioneered the sound, releasing the mesmerizing album “Autobahn” and its title track in 1974.
The dreamy, trance-inducing song, which was more than 20 minutes long uncut, was like a soundtrack for an exhilarating drive on a German freeway. It became a radio hit at a time when electronic music was a novelty.
Founded as a multimedia project in 1970 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, Kraftwerk grew out of the avant-garde arts and experimental rock scenes in Düsseldorf, Germany, in the late ’60s.
Earlier this year, Hütter and co-founder Schneider (who left the band in 2008) received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award for their contributions to electronic music in all its forms.
“When we first got the invitation, we looked at the list of honorees from the past — Ray Charles, Little Richard, the Beatles — and were very honored to be part of this special club of composers and performers,” Hütter said in a phone interview from Düsseldorf.
Kraftwerk, led by Hütter and currently featuring Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen, perform Tuesday, July 1, at the Paramount Theatre.
The Kraftwerk shows follow this weekend’s Paradiso Festival, featuring such EDM acts as Bassnectar, Above & Beyond, Zedd and Krewella Friday, June 27, and Saturday, June 28, at The Gorge Amphitheatre. The two events connect the history of modern electronic music, from Kraftwerk to today’s top EDM performers.
Thanks to modern digital technology and lighter equipment, Kraftwerk is able to tour the world with a synchronized audiovisual spectacle featuring crystal-clear digital sound and eye-popping 3-D projections.
But decades ago, the production became too cumbersome for extensive overseas travel.
“We rarely performed outside of Europe,” Hütter said. “We couldn’t go to America or Japan on long flights because the equipment was so fragile and also very heavy.”
Kraftwerk’s unique sound was created in the cultural and musical vacuum of post-World War II Germany, a time when popular music flourished in many parts of the U.S.
“Imagine yourself in the future and you want to know what life was like in the ’60s in California,” Hütter said. “You could just listen to one composition by the Beach Boys and you would know.”
By contrast, Germans of the postwar era were listening to “the old music from the classical period of the 19th century,” Hütter said. “There was no living musical culture like you had in America. So we had to invent the sound of our day-to-day life. The idea was to create a technological music for our technological age. It took quite a few years to develop it because we really had no idea. It just happened.”
Today’s explosion of electronic-music artists inspired by Kraftwerk’s decades-old musical revolution is gratifying to Hütter.
“As you can imagine, in the late ’60s some people didn’t see us as a band, and there were some strong criticisms because they said we didn’t play real instruments,” Hütter said. “But today everybody is working in computers and creating sounds and tracks. And we are touring the world and meeting artists and getting so much positive feedback. It’s very encouraging.”
7:30 and 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 1, at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $35.75-$65.75 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
3 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 27-28, at the Gorge Amphitheatre, 754 Silica Road N.W., George, Grant County; general admission sold out; two-day VIP passes: $300-$500 (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com).