Okay, maybe I’m straining my imagination. I’m standing in a large auditorium filled with inebriated / chemically affected ravers. Four German men, staring down their malfunctioning elder years with a vengeance, are on stage. For much of this scheduled performance these four entertainers stand stock-still. Only their hands move, freely but occasionally across their laptops, a token acknowledgement towards an audience’s need to visualise instrumentation.
It’s not enough to call the music Electronic. It’s not even enough to call it Dance Music, as we’ve come to recognise it since the days of Acid-House. And the reason I’m straining my imagination is that I’m attempting to place Kraftwerk out of context. I’m attempting to strip them of the omnipresence that stretches right across the contemporary musical spectrum. And of course, I’ve failed.
Unless you’ve been living in a denim bubble for the last thirty-odd years, fed only by a consistent repetition of Status Quo‘s 12 Gold Bars, it’s unlikely that your personal Pop life will have been unaffected by Kraftwerk’s re-organisation of composition, form, and meaning in Pop. It’s no over-statement that much of what went before the Techno arcadia of Autobahn can now be safely classified as B.K. (Before Kraftwerk). Since the defining statements of The Man Machine and Trans-Europe Express networked their way to the lucid dreamers of Techno and Hip-Hop, Pop demonstrates an exponential digital-fetishism year-by-year.
Even periodical genre-revivals such as the new Rock (the likes of Jet/Raveonettes/Vines – fill in your own) can be defined about as much of what they lack (the Kraftwerk essence) as about what they have. Such artists are explicitly B.K. (and I don’t mean Burger King) as much as A Guy Called Gerald, Underworld , and Four Tet are defiantly A.K. (Year of Kraftwerk).
But, hey, the future can’t last forever. The likes of the original Man-Machine record is as much a period piece as an original Texas pocket calculator or an Atari 2600 games console. 1986’s Electric Caf album, and the re-tracing steps of 1991’s Re-Mix drew lukewarm responses to a public accustomed to seeing revolution refracted through the cool, calm metallic transmissions of the band’s Kling Klang Studio. Live, however, the pioneering structures possess a persuasive immediacy.
If you wonder sometimes about sound and vision, Kraftwerk live has a holistic sensory impact that easily convinces that the twin concepts should never have been parted. Behind the four figures, the familiar stark reds and blacks are manipulated into an Expressionistic flood of lines and shapes in agreeable harmony with the pulse of the music. The unflinching and undemonstrative performance is at odds with its impact.
The electric demographic that has turned out to see the four desk-jockeys of the unplugged apocalypse are about as feral as you’re likely to see at any gig. It’s one of the ironies of the age that the detached philosophies of Kraftwerk have been the inspiration for the hedonistic impulses of Dance Music. The 24-hour party people have come to pay tribute.
From the opener Man-Machine on, Kraftwerk’s program acknowledges the electronic standards of yester-future. The likes of Neon Lights and The Robots are delivered in pristine condition. Amplified, all sound Housed-up, though with little refinement on the originals. Its just that this is/was House Music, but with all the printed circuits on display. Always aware of the sci-fi / comic book implications of their disconnection with the past, the band take that literally for Radioactivity, ultra-violet revealing each of the four as Tron-like automatons, keyed-in to their workbooks.
Going some half hour over the allotted time (there’s a second performance after this ) the band finally leaves the stage, powering down one-by-one. There may be a time in a far-flung future where the innovations of Kraftwerk no longer hold any relevance, but again, I’m straining my imagination. Musique Non-Stop indeed.