Kraftwerk, the group that made rock feel outdated in the late 1970s – took electronic music out of the ghettos of the conservatory studio labs, put Beach Boys-inspired vocal harmonies on top, added Bach-like melodic elegance and Stockhausen´s virtual sonic manipulations and set it to a funky James Brown-inspired but sweat-less syncopated robot-beat. This approach was a virtual revolution in post-rock, more like an animation, not a live recording of a band in a room, and during the 70´s they refined their unique avant-garde-pop formula, reaching the unlikely US marked with their very European ode to the Autobahn (1975) and the Trans Euro Express (1977), originally constructed by the Nazis, shaking off the whole German guild complex of the second world war in superb style and cover art, mixing Russian constructivism with camp deadpan humor on The Man Machine (1978).
Their absolute peak was their prophetic Computerworld album, where they invented electro, later sampled by Afrika Bambaataa and jazz genius, Herbie Hancock, giving birth to electro boogie, Miami bass, Ghettotech and Electronic Body music – inspiring a zillion mutations from Detroit Techno to The New Romantics – and designing a set of drum kits that are a standard preset in digital instruments even today. 1981´s crystal-ball-like Computerworld even addresses net-dating, the reduction of a globalized world to numbers and pre-echoes the home-computing cottage industry – as well as hand held music devices – 30 years before musical iphone apps – presented in one long mix forecasting the endless beat of dj culture.
Kraftwerk balances between hopes of a promising future and an Orwellian dystopia here – a digital world ruled by secret services and megabrands – Deutsche Bank und CIA. The following Albums, the minimalistic MTV-hit Electric Cafe (1986) and their latest, Tour de France (2003) – show that the pioneers are not ahead anymore – especially after the means of production, affordable samplers and computers, hit the marked in the late 80´s – but the sheer quality of the albums stand the test of time like an old Audi Quattro, a Hasselblad camera or a Luger gun. Bowie and Jackson begged for tracks for their own solo albums, but Kraftwerk politely declined. Today they are trapped in their own retro-futuristic vacuum-museum, playing concerts in 3D, arguably another dead medium, like Kraftwerk themselves?
Kraftwerk stand still, even on stage, as the man machine music motoric elements is removed from the bands performance, only appearing as body effects in the audience by the flick of a switch on customized sequence controllers running Cubase. But the audience, often dressed in red shirts and black LED ties, sing along and break-dance, like a weird old school sci-fi global folk ritual. Go investigate yourself.
Article by Morten Vammen.