Kraftwerk formed in Germany in 1970. Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider were the group's founders and continued fronting the band until Schneider's departure in 2008. The band was a pioneer in the world of electronic music, producing their music with mostly electronic instrumentation including running vocals through a Vocorder synthesizer.
Kraftwerk was arguably a band devoid of influences. They were part of a burgeoning European art-rock scene in the late 60s and early 70s. German university trained musicians were leading this drive in a genre often referred to as Krautrock. To suggest that other artists directly influenced the genre is really difficult to support. As such, it is hard to point to any artist that had a direct influence on Kraftwerk.
Main Creative Force
Hutter and Schneider were the creative heart and soul of the band. Their performing lineup has varied from two to five persons, usually and has included a large number of keyboardists and multi-instrumentalists. Still, it is Hutter and Schneider who really guided the band. Their songs were largely experimental jams which tend to belie a major creative leadership
Most Likely To Be A Mainstream Rocker
Honestly, while numerous musicians were in and out of Kraftwerk and played with other bands, they were almost entirely electronica or nouveau jazz groups. There was really never anything mainstream about Kraftwerk.
First Hint of Prog Brilliance
They were clearly an experimental and progressive band from the outset. The 1970 debut 'Kraftwerk' left no doubt of that. It was followed by 'Kraftwerk 2' and the later 'Ralf und Florian'. The studio albums were very free-form and really just featured the duo of Hutter and Schneider with lots of overdubs and studio distortion to define the sound. Those three albums were modestly successful in Europe and by the third one, they had begun to actually define the heavy synthesizer emphasis and the use of vocorder vocals which would become their signature sound.
The 1974 release, 'Autobahn' was their breakthrough. The title track snuck into the top 25 in most countries and made the group a household name in countries like the US where they were previously unknown. The title track, interestingly, is the only one on the album with vocals including both untreated and vocoded singing as well as non-synthesizer instruments like flute and violin.
Influenced By Them
A great many artists have cited Kraftwerk as influential in the decades since their earliest rise to fame. In the era of synthesized dance tracks and digital sampling, a great many modern artists have studied the works of Kraftwerk for guidance. The list is impressive including David Bowie, Madonna, and Bjork among others. U2 has used sampling from Kraftwerk in live shows and Bono claims he is a huge fan of the band.
Kraftwerk continues to perform with Ralf Hutter being the virtual leader of the group. In 2012, they actually garnered a nomination for the RRHOF. Most critics who have studied trends in digital sampling over the past two decades inisist that Kraftwerk has contributed enormously to pop music over the years and has to be considered a major influence.
My Personal Take
I remember hearing Autobahn in my senior year of high school and wondering what was so exciting. The song seemed monotonous and repetitive and to be perfectly honest, most electronica still strikes me that way. I get that there is a lot of artistry in Kraftwerk's albums and I definitely see their influence in modern dance music as well as club music. But I have never been a big fan.