WE ASKED ELECTRONIC SOUND READERS WHO ARE GOING TO SEE KRAFTWERK ON THEIR UK & IRELAND TOUR TO TELL US WHAT THEY THOUGHT. DAVID HUGHES (@SKINMECHANIX) WENT TO SEE THEM IN GATESHEAD…
I’ve been somewhat pre-occupied of late, adrift in an electronic world of burnished chrome and circuit boards, accompanied synthetic beats and vocoded vocals. Forty-two years have passed since I first saw Kraftwerk on the BBC’s late, lamented technology showcase, ‘Tomorrow’s World’. Today, I get to see them in the flesh for the first time.
This is our first visit to the Main Hall at The Sage. We’re off to one side, in a box with decent leg room although we’re also at a slight angle to the stage, which pretty much guarantees a stiff neck tomorrow. The main seating area looks hopelessly cramped.
There’s a low drone playing, accompanied by some flickering, pixelated graphics across the main curtain.
Eventually, the lights go down, the music starts and Kraftwerk take to the stage accompanied by a huge roar from the audience. The ever-impassive Mr. Hütter smiles, albeit briefly.
The opening piece is a version of ‘Numbers’ backed by some of the best 3D images I’ve ever seen. Shimmering green waves of rapidly shifting number sequences remind you of ‘The Matrix’, except that Kraftwerk did it first 35 years ago.
‘Numbers’ gives way to ‘Computer World’ and the melancholic ‘Computer Love’ – that beautifully sombre poem to love and isolation in a digital utopia. The audience erupts over the opening chords of ‘The Model’ with Hütter’s impassioned vocals still suggesting a level of infatuation on a par with your average Miley Cyrus fanboy.
Kraftwerk move in quick succession through their back catalogue. ‘Tour De France’ and the accompanying video projection are just mesmerising. It’s the same with ‘Autobahn’.
There’s a break. The band leave the stage but are quickly replaced by their synthetic avatars. “We are the Robots” blasts forth. ‘The Robots’ is definitely one of the highlights, another being ‘Spacelab’, which was similarly breathtaking.
Despite all of the technological trappings and the carefully disguised digital mysteries hidden behind the dull grey instrument risers, this music has soul. It has energy. It also possesses a gleeful, tongue-in-cheek humanity because Kraftwerk are clearly enjoying themselves. This isn’t four uber-serious computer geeks perched behind laptops earnestly miming to a backing tape. There are mistakes – fluffed notes, missed cues and timing glitches. I positively warm to this lack of precision in Kraftwerk’s machine-like subroutine. Is this a tiny chink in their shiny, metal exterior? Are Kraftwerk human after all?
Yes, they are, and all the better for it.
We leave the hall in a daze.
Outside in the car park I see flashguns popping. I grab the first paper thing that comes to hand – a copy of Electronic Sound magazine, the one with Kraftwerk on the front cover. I head over to the stage door and find myself face to face with Mr. Ralf Hutter. Like an eager-beaver teenage fan-boy, I stuff the magazine under his nose. “I haven’t seen this issue yet?” he says as he signs it.
This is one issue that is getting framed and hung on a wall.