Boing, Boom, Tschak – the unmistakeable sound of German’s only real entry into international pop music is playing live in my hometown. The venue was originally built to hold „real“ concerts with big orchestras and big singers. So we are to remain seated. So far I’ve seen the Pet Shop Boys, Shirley Bassey and Amy Winehouse in the building, the latter though in a smaller hall on a lower level. No place to really go wild, even though some people tried in the end… but I digress….
One - Two - Three - Four
Almost like a real band, Kraftwerk give us a counting in. But while the Ramones needed two seconds for four digits, Ralf and the boys take a whole six minutes to give us eight – in German, English, Mandarin, Russian, Spanish…. And suddenly we see four people on stage dressed in functional onesies standing at four identical keyboards with a light in green. Just like the race in „Tron“ without the movement. The falling numbers - also in green - pay respect to the Matrix.
The sound is superb – and while I usually don’t care too much whether an artist can reproduce the polished sound on the record – this time it’s vital. But I am still wondering what those four men actually do on stage: The movement of their hands is not in-sync with melody, rhythm or the change of chords. But the mix coming out of the boxes features different versions to nearly all the classics – and there are many to be heard tonight. One of the early standouts is “Computerliebe”, basically sounding similar to the one on “The Mix”, but somehow a little softer on the edges. Imagine Hercules & The Love Affair covering that song (which they should) – apart from the vocals, of course.
Universal Sound and Language
The Visuals: Presented as a big 3D-show, we got paper made glasses upfront and I guess we looked like an audience in a 50s cinema, when future still had a future. Kraftwerk need just a few words that work (and sell) universal in different languages. Way before those castings for big movies like James Bond used known actors from each region to help sell the product. So when the album cover of “Autobahn” comes alive behind our lenses, Space Ships seem to fly by and land just in front of this very venue, Radioactivity seems to actually radiate and the tribute to Belgian Cyclist Eddy Merckx is rushing by in black & White for “Tour De France” we feel cosy in a modern world that is long gone. Like JB, Kraftwerk tries to stay on top of the game. But in reality new gadgets doesn’t always guarantee the big win in the end. And remember Acid House was already not their invention.
When the Future goes retro
That’s why Kraftwerk is a retro band now. They play in museums (as former founder Florian Schneider recently said himself) and are able to age more gracefully than the Rolling Stones or former Heroes at the Rebellion-Festival in Blackpool. Sometimes they look like standing at the crossroads not being able to decide how to go on. The four elements of Kraftwerk were programmed to move straight ahead. The ability to decide which of the several ways available is the right one wasn’t installed.
So we sit in our comfy chairs and enjoy those future sounds of days gone by and wonder: How tomorrow might have been if we had won the cultural wars in the 70s and early 80s? That a few in the audience actually tried to clap along to “Die Roboter” during the encore, was a small but clear reminder that we didn’t.