WE ASKED ELECTRONIC SOUND READERS WHO ARE GOING TO SEE KRAFTWERK ON THEIR UK & IRELAND TOUR TO TELL US WHAT THEY THOUGHT. MICKO WESTMORELAND WENT TO SEE THEM IN LONDON…
Kraftwerk at the Royal Albert Hall is the kind of thing one dreams about. For me it’ll be my tenth time – several times alone I must admit – although tonight I’m accompanied by friends, one of whom saw them on the ‘Computer World’ tour in 1981. Wow!
I was lucky enough at one gig in Linz, Austria in the early 90s to play the pocket calculator with them, something which will stay with me until my dying day. Some may remember the band used to leave the Kling Klang hardware behind on stage for their encore and hand a controller out to Joe Public. I played the solo during ‘Pocket Calculator’ and played it well, so much so I got a nice nod from the entire band when I returned the unit to Florian Schneider’s grasp. Even more amazingly, I also managed to garner an interview with Schneider the next day, for my college dissertation which I was writing on electronic music. Florian wasn’t an easy man to get to know, I asked a question about Kraftwerk originating analogue sounds, to which he replied, “The sounds were there already” and then called the question “stupid”!
But after 60 minutes and several glasses of white wine he softened and the chat became friendly. We had a postmodern chat about the relative merits of Björn Again vs ABBA. He was clearly a man of great intelligence.
But after several sweltering days in the Big Smoke, anorak wearing is almost impossible tonight! So we enter arguably the best venue in the land to see arguably the best band in the world. When we see the Kraftwerk spectacle in all its magnitude there’s often a tendency to visit the new material question. Will they drop something unexpectedly into the set? There are always rumours of new Kraftwerk white labels – if not they are easy enough to start.
But the real question perhaps is to ask whether this story really needs adding to? Let’s pause for a moment, on reflection… probably not.
Ralf Hütter and co are in their stately late period, so to be working as hard as they do on this mesmerising performance is something to be deeply grateful for. What is presented is probably the nearest thing to perfection you can experience in a live arena and when it’s not perfect it becomes all the more interesting.
Tonight’s set is the same as the set I’d seen in Oxford earlier in the UK tour date, apart from the addition of ‘Vitamin’ which comes as an unexpected treat after ‘Tour De France Etape 2’. All the songs this evening are reworked, re-evaluated and depicted on an enormous cinema screen, writ large in electronic ink.
It’s easy to forget that the majority of the material on show was initially recorded without the aid of computers. So an awful lot of behind the scenes tinkering and editing has taken place over the years, in order to distill the essence and minimise the friction.
The mention of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in ‘Radioactivity’ is a great example of re-contextualising a song written in 1975. But all the material has slight adjustments, unnoticeable to the untrained eye, making them sound fresh and ahead of the game. A verse of the song is also sung in Japanese, and the line “Tune into the melody” has been removed from the lyrics over time.
The band’s astute yet discreet editing process is in operation like a re-worked special effect from a classic sci-fi movie, but done better than the first time. So small adjustments, enhancements and, when needed, the very occasional omission make all the difference.
The majesty grows layer by layer as the set progresses, as the band bed into the performance. The quality of the material is undeniably astounding, the melodies glow before your very eyes and that’s before the 3D is added on top. ‘Autobahn’ presents the first major opportunity for the band to jam, a situation they revel in.
‘Metal On Metal’ is meteoric, you can feel the bass on your forehead. As industrial soundscapes blast in panoramic stereo all around the hall. If you were blind god knows what you’d think was going on – you’d probably run! In ‘Trans-Europe Express’ the lyric “From station to station back to Düsseldorf city, meet Iggy Pop and David Bowie” is sung, which was a first for me and I loved it! Meanwhile, ‘Aerodynamik’ and ‘Planet Of Visions’ see the band in full mercurial flow and packing immense power.
On reflection Kraftwerk’s ahead-of-the-game savvy doesn’t just include an imagined sound palette they designed and brought into fruition, but also a healthy sense of nostalgia in relation to imagery that related to a possible future. Whether conscious or not this is Kraftwerk’s genius masterstroke. In a sense they predicted a context for the future to unfold into and a vast majority of that predictions were absolutely right.
As we stumble out, bedazzled by what we have just witnessed, we’re left thinking “will I get to see Kraftwerk another ten times?” If it’s at all possible, then definitely yes!
Kraftwerk’s electronic lap of honour should be greeted with the enthusiastic rapture it deserves. Their timeless melodies will out sit eternity, and there influence remain indomitable – absolutely indomitable.
As Kraftwerk’s transport rider, which was leaked online this week shows, we can see that from the ground up they expect things to be done very well. So to quote the classic line in it about “suave gear changing”, that’s precisely what the Düsseldorf quartet give us this evening. Exquisite, and executed, as always, with effortless charm and dry wit.