Image: Chris Cooper/ShotAway
WE ASKED ELECTRONIC SOUND READERS WHO ARE GOING TO SEE KRAFTWERK ON THEIR UK & IRELAND TOUR TO TELL US WHAT THEY THOUGHT. VEL ILIC WENT TO SEE THEM IN BRISTOL…
Finally, after decades of waiting, the day of reckoning. I’ve seen Jean-Michel Jarre, Gary Numan, The Human League and many other synth-toting pioneers play live, but as electronic heroes go, this is the bucket list moment. I remember, as a wide-eyed eight year-old, watching Kraftwerk perform ‘Autobahn’ on flagship science/technology programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ in 1975, utterly transfixed by the song’s strange, hypnotic thrum and synthetic percussion, bashed out on foil-covered drum pads with implements that looked like electronic knitting needles. Suddenly, here was the future, beamed right into my living room.
Tonight, 42 years later, waiting to see Kraftwerk at Bristol’s Colston Hall, my boyish excitement is no less palpable. There’s a real buzz, a heightened air of expectation – I have butterflies, just as I did at my inaugural gig back in 1982 (Simple Minds, on their ‘New Gold Dream’ tour, since you ask). We don 3D specs, and wait.
Then, the moment arrives – the curtains open, and Ralf Hütter and co take their places behind individual neon-lit consoles, looking a bit like paunchy MAMILs in their regulation LED bodysuits. And just like that brilliant, life-affirming 1982 night, when Jim Kerr and co lit up my world, Kraftwerk are everything I imagined they would be, and more.
Right from the off, the adrenaline hits. From opening tracks ‘Numbers’ and ‘Computer World’, through to ‘The Model’, ‘The Man Machine’ and beyond, it’s two hours of immersive electronic bliss. The sheer clarity and punch of sound – resonant bleeps, throbs and pulses, powerful sub-bass, driving rhythms – is immense, even better, fatter and more fully realised than I imagined.As an experience, it’s an unexpected opportunity to wallow in a unique kind of retrospective nostalgia, for a time when Kraftwerk helped us feel less apprehensive about the bright new future ahead. Computers, they reassured us, were the way forward. As a succession of big, bold 3D projections, graphics and visuals are beamed over us, it’s a future we can suddenly reach out and touch. Image: Chris Cooper/ShotAway
Live, Kraftwerk’s analogue music – embellished, updated and reworked over the years – has evolved into something truly sleek and beautiful, and there are goosebump moments aplenty here: the florid, arpeggiated synth rushes of ‘Tour De France’ – you can almost pinpoint the roots of Detroit techno; the enchanting, mechanised rhythms of ‘Trans-Europe Express’, made even more poignant, post-Brexit; and the magnificent encore rendition of ‘The Robots’, as the quartet are replaced by moving robot clones in standard issue red shirts and black ties, arguably more animated than their human counterparts. ‘Radioactivity’, too, feels more atmospheric and air-punchingly rousing than ever.
It’s been an emotional, special evening – men and machines in perfect, exquisite harmony. At the end, after his bandmates have left the stage to the strains of ‘Musique Non Stop’, just Hütter himself remains, as heartfelt whoops, cheers and deafening applause ring around the auditorium. Visibly moved, he puts his hand to his heart, then a brief “auf wiedersehen”, and he’s gone. I’m close to tears myself. What a spectacle. What a night.