When Kraftwerk take to the stage, it’s hard to believe that this group of middle aged men are the godfathers of modern electronic and dance music. Take away their Tron outfits, and they’d easily pass for your average high school geography teacher. But as the show gets underway it becomes quickly apparent how influential their musical legacy still is, and just how shockingly futuristic their music must have sounded to those who first heard the ground breaking “Autobahn” way back in 1974.
This new show dusts down a formidable arsenal of ground breaking tracks, re-mixed with added clarity and resolution, enabling what originally sounded a little weedy on record, to be transformed into a much fatter, dynamic sound.
The music itself, Germanic, detached, and chronicling the groups obsession with technology and man. There ain’t a lot of humour on show here to be sure. But ‘Tour De France’ has never sounded better, it’s rhythmic pants and grunts sounding more like a robotic combustion engine than a cyclist. ‘Radio-activity’ features the names of the world’s most infamous nuclear reactors, ominously read over a pulsating electronic soundtrack, while ‘Computerworld’ is, well, mainly about computers. Only ‘The Model’, their best known track, hints at some human emotion beneath the technology and detachment.
Kraftwerk are a band whose concept extends well beyond just recording electronic music. All of their albums feature strong iconic, graphic art, with Teutonic imagery of the musicians, not as humans, but as robots. This has now been wonderfully re-imagined into 3D, with a stunning montage of graphics accompanying each track, and projected on a huge screen behind the largely inert group.
So with the opener “The Robots” we get the familiar red shirted, black tied Kraftwerk mannequins (inspired by the cover of the Man Machine album), whose outstretched arms reach over into the auditorium. The ‘Autbahn’ sequence has the rudimentary graphic feel of a 1980’s computer game, but with beautifully rendered 100 feet long Mercedes and Volkswagons.
‘Trans Europe Express’ features a speeding express train coming out of the night across the heads of the audience. The standout though was ‘Spacelab’, where satellites fly out towards the crowd, their antenna threatening to impale us. In fact it’s so good it get’s a round of applause.
One thing that the show does prove however, is that even with all their love of new technology, it’s not infallible, and the 3D system crashes about three songs in, and doesn’t reappear for another ten minutes.
Despite the glitch, this a was spectacular show, and the use of 3D graphics mixed into a live show, must be a concept we’re all going to see a lot more of over the next few years. Even almost 40 years after “Autobahn” Kraftwerk are still innovating .