"Kraftwerk co-founder and electro pioneer Ralf Hütter has sent us the very sad news that his friend and companion over many decades, Florian Schneider has passed away from a short cancer disease just a few days after his 73rd birthday," the band said in a statement.
Born in 1947, Schneider was the son of Paul Schneider-Esbelen, an influential German architect who oversaw the redesign of the Cologne Bonn Airport. In the late '60s, Schneider would meet Ralf Hütter at the Robert Schumann Hochschule in Düsseldorf, joining krautrock outfit Organisation ahead of forming Kraftwerk together in 1970.
Schneider and Hütter remained the group's core members in Kraftwerk's early history, releasing a self-titled debut in 1970 — a record they followed with Kraftwerk 2 in 1972. The two instrumental, improv-heavy efforts saw Schneider play flutes, violin, guitar and xylophone, which he would then alter with signal processing effects.
His musical arsenal would expand on 1973's Ralf und Florian, an album that demonstrates a further reliance on synthesizers and drum machines, in addition to the band's first use of a machine voice. These sonics would soon come to define Kraftwerk's sound.
Kraftwerk would achieve commercial success with 1974's Autobahn and would tour the United States, Canada and the U.K. for the first time the following year. The tour would also see the group expand to a quartet, with Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos joining Schneider and Hütter to form what is now widely considered the be the group's "classic" lineup.
The band would release Radio-Activity in 1975, marking their first entirely electronic effort. Schneider and Hütter produced the entire effort in their Kling Klang studio, while also co-writing all of the album's music. As a fan of the album, David Bowie would invite Kraftwerk to support him on his Station to Station tour, though the group declined the offer. Bowie would later acknowledge Kraftwerk's influence on his "Berlin period," and named "Heroes" instrumental "V-2 Schneider" in Schneider's honour.
Kraftwerk albums that followed — 1977's Trans-Europe Express, 1978's The Man-Machine and 1981's Computer World — would go on to be incredibly influential in popular music. The title track of Trans-Europe Express would be famously be sampled by Afrika Bambaataa & the Soul Sonic Force for 1982 hit "Planet Rock," while Computer World's influence would reach as wide as Coldplay, with the English group interpolating the melody of that album's "Computer Love" for 2005 song "Talk."
Schneider would contribute to Kraftwerk's 1986 album Electric Café, 1991 remix effort The Mix and 2003's Tour de France Soundtracks before leaving the group in 2008. Prior to confirmation of his departure, Schneider did not perform with the group on a world tour that year. His final performance with Kraftwerk was a 2006 show in Spain.
In 2015, Schneider shared electronic composition "Stop Plastic Pollution," which was inspired by "taking a swim in the ocean at the coasts of Ghana, watching fishermen catch nothing but plastic garbage in their nets."
Earlier this year, Kraftwerk had mapped out plans for a 50th anniversary tour, which were soon derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Find tributes to Schneider below.
RIP to Florian Schneider, founding member of Kraftwerk. Thanks for a lifetime of music and visual inspiration.— Rob Sheridan, but from a safe distance (@rob_sheridan) May 6, 2020
Here's a photo I took of Florian hanging out with @nineinchnails after a show in Düsseldorf, 1999: pic.twitter.com/IRUhP60aGf
"We like to ignore the audience while we play, and take all our concentration into the music."— DETROIT STATE OF MIND (@carlcraignet) May 6, 2020
Florian Schneider, 1975
Damn. Without Kraftwerk there would be no Art Lord and the Self-Portraits, thus no Future Islands.— Future Islands (@futureislands) May 6, 2020
Kraftwerk was the crux of our musical friendship and beginnings. We wanted to be just like them. And so we were. RIP Florian, a true Lord of Art. https://t.co/zmPROZlIQJ
Florian Schneider will forever be an inspiration to the world of electronic music. His artistry has been influential to creatives for the last 50 years. Today, we thank and honor him for helping to guide and shape our community through sound, imagination, and innovation. pic.twitter.com/wrq4nB4icz— Moog Synthesizers (@moogmusicinc) May 6, 2020
Kraftwerk, a few months after Woodstock— Holly Herndon (@hollyherndon) May 6, 2020
Thank you 🤖 pic.twitter.com/2a3VRGubgC
What a week... now the great Florian Schneider... feeling an era passhttps://t.co/hsmc8elsuF— nigel godrich 🌈 (@nigelgod) May 6, 2020
Doesn't get more important or inspiring than Florian xxx— Daniel Avery (@danielmarkavery) May 6, 2020
R.I.P. Florian Schneider. Outside of the Beatles, Kraftwerk is the most influential band ever. There's no "Planet Rock" without them. They influenced Bowie's Berlin trilogy. "Blue Monday" by New Order samples them. They're the root of contemporary electronic music— Cadence Weapon (@cadenceweapon) May 6, 2020
To say he was massively influential and changed the very sound of music, is somehow still a understatement. RIP, Florian Schneider, founder member of Kraftwerk. https://t.co/YAeV9VMlER— edgarwright (@edgarwright) May 6, 2020
what would electronic music be without Kraftwerk? R.I.P Florian Schneider-Esleben— nina kraviz (@NinaKraviz) May 6, 2020