Five Reasons To See… Kraftwerk

Hugh Leask

kraftwerk 300x225 Five Reasons To See... KraftwerkPioneering German electronic group Kraftwerk will perform eight albums from their back catalogue chronologically over successive nights at the Tate Modern in London in February, in a groundbreaking residency featuring audio and 3D visuals.

1. While the escapist 1970s saw U.K. musicians like David Bowie blasting off into outer space with ‘Ziggy Stardust’, and the prog-rock pack egesting endlessly-silly fantasy-inspired concept LPs, over in (West) Germany Düsseldorf quartet Kraftwerk took inspiration from the real world around them. Their forward-looking albums reflected on relationships between man and machine, and how human progress is shaped by technology, science, transport, computers and more.

2. New York deejay collective Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force’s 1982 single Planet Rock—considered ground zero for the early ‘80s hip-hop sub-genre electro—casually pilfered a chunk of Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express, and remains the most obvious indicator of the group’s wider influence on dance music. But Kraftwerk’s pulsating rhythms, robotic vocals and neon-lit synths would also continue to shape the evolution of electronic music over the next few decades, their fingerprints remaining all over the various strands of techno, house and electronica well into the new millennium.

3. And their output continues to provide producers and deejays with a rich, sprawling palette of samples and ideas. Take U.K. producer Richard X, who was behind Girls On Top’s I Wanna Dance With Numbers in 2002 – one of the earliest examples of the Noughties’ mash-up trend. The remix welded Kraftwerk’s Numbers and Computer World 2—from 1981’s Computer World album—to Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody, imbuing Houston’s fluorescent candy-coated, pop-radio-primed original with a beautiful, haunting minimalism.

4. Such is the anticipation surrounding the upcoming shows that the Tate Modern’s booking website crashed within hours of tickets going on sale in December. Of course, the irony of modern technology going into meltdown while selling tickets for a band whose work constantly ponders the limitless potential of, er, modern technology was lost on exactly no-one.

5. Kraftwerk already played the chronological retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art last year before pitching up at the Tate Modern this week, and music historians have frequently sought to join the art-and-technology dots when studying the group’s output.  Some have drawn the obvious comparisons between the group’s mechanical, metronomic beats and angular synths and the Bauhaus movement’s marriage of form and function in the 1920s. Others have seen the group’s modernist approach as a reflection of post-war Germany’s sweeping engineering dynamism. Whatever the case, just leave out any tiresome Lineker-esque gags about ‘typical German efficiency’, okay?

‘Kraftwerk – The Catalogue’ begins 6 February at the Tate Modern.

The programme runs as follows:

Wednesday 6 February – Autobahn (1974);

Thursday 7 February – Radio-Activity (1975);

Friday 8 February – Trans Europe Express (1977);

Saturday 9 February – The Man-Machine (1978);

Monday 11 February – Computer World (1981);

Tuesday 12 February – Techno Pop (1986);

Wednesday 13 February – The Mix (1991);

Thursday 14 February – Tour de France (2003)

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  • bananamana

    I’m a fan of Kraftwerk, whereas I never liked Whitney Houston’s stuff, in fact I found it somewhat irritating. I always quite liked the idea of “mashups”. But I’ve noticed that more often than not, they’re musically disappointing and fail to add up to more than the sum of their parts. Notable exception: 2 Many DJs (first CD in particular, as you’d imagine); notable confirmation: Rapture/Riders on the storm.
    I’m listening to the Whitney/Kraftwerk thing as I type this. It falls squarely into the disappointing category. It actually makes the Houston sound worse than her original, and it certainly does nothing for Kraftwerk. Oh, it’s finished, phew!
    Anyway, fwiw, I saw Kraftwerk in Dusseldorf a few weeks ago (the TEE show), having failed to get tickets for the Tate. It was a lot of fun (if you like that kind of thing, as I do). It was also in an art gallery btw; but not one with the potential of the Turbine Hall – I envy those who get to see that, assuming they make maximum use of the space for their projections. (And if they don’t … it doesn’t bear thinking about).
    It was fun, as I say, but at the same time, it was in all honesty essentially a nostalgia show, just as much as, say, the recent Stones gigs (though fortunately not quite so cripplingly expensive): not only have Kraftwerk not issued any new music for a decade (Tour de France Soundtracks), but even the most recent stuff ploughs pretty much the same narrow furrow they were working in the 70s.
    I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that – I love their music myself, and I also enjoy their presentation, which is at least thought out and distinctive – but I do think the whole aura of innovativeness about them is pretty specious, and largely based on image rather than sound. It is an interesting, entertaining and provocative image though. And some of the lyrics on the “Trans Europe Express” and “Man Machine” albums are trenchant and poetic.
    As they say in Dusseldorf: just my two cents. Cheers!

  • Andrew Lagowski

    I miss the original members of Kraftwerk – there’s only one left in the group now.

  • Stephen Phythian

    Nobody needs telling why we should see Kraftwerk. The fact is due to Tate Modern’s incompetence hardly anybody can!

  • Fakefakir

    ‘Escapist 1970s’ -

  • Fakefakir

    ‘Escapist 1970s’ – Another journalist who clearly wasn’t there at the time and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

  • nikaki

    true words about tate…at least Tate staff will see them

  • B BS

    I tried in vain for hours to get tickets (hundreds of calls and attempts on the web) and then discovered, after it was sold out, that the box office at the Tate Modern was selling them directly. It would have been quite easy to go there in person. What a mess, well done Tate Modern. Planet rock was also a ‘mash-up’ with the rhythm of ‘Numbers’ and the melody of ‘Trans-Europe Express’.

  • David Hampson

    “New York deejay collective” evidently Mr Leask wasn’t there in the 1980s too!

  • David Hampson

    Or more likely they will be seeing the four grand in their PayPal accounts!

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