Kraftwerk to headline Vivid LIVE: "We are still dreaming"By Nick Miller
We are still dreaming,'' says Ralf Hutter, lead singer and sole remaining original band member of German pop pioneers Kraftwerk.He is standing in the Turbine Hall inside London's Tate Modern gallery, where the group are nearing the end of a journey through eight of their most influential albums. The series of eight concerts known as The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, which they previously performed at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, will headline Vivid LIVE at Sydney Opera House in May.
Such was the level of interest in the British and US shows, tickets for the Sydney concerts will not be sold on a first come, first served basis, but purchased through an online application. First up in the Joan Sutherland Theatre will be Autobahn (1974), an album with a 22-minute title track which literally set the tone for the '80s and beyond. Over four nights, two different albums will be played in full, followed by the band's best-known songs.
Part German art collective, part audio engineering geniuses, part pop pioneers, Kraftwerk have returned to their roots with an immersive experience. At each concert, a 3D sound array swirls around audience members wearing 3D glasses who watch computer-generated visuals spilling from a screen behind the group (as ever, in a static line on stage behind four control desks).
"[We have come] full circle into the art world," says Hutter, whose English is sometimes metaphorical, sometimes cryptic, sometimes incomprehensible. "Where Kraftwerk has played an important part I think is bringing [electronic music] to the clubs. We came from the position of the art world, [then] we were touring the world in theatres and festivals or big music halls, and now we are coming back."
Hutter still recalls the hostile reception the music press gave electronic music in the 1970s, refusing to believe these deceptively sparse beeps and bloops were the future. British music magazine headlines were along the lines of this is "the kind of music your father fought to save you from".
"There were [a] lot of nasty attacks, we were blamed for being fascinated by technology," Hutter says. "Today it's in everyday life. We always considered it our duty to be the everyday life music - we are talking about things that happened to us."An ambivalent meshing of man and machine has characterised Kraftwerk from the start. Their technology is utopian yet lonely. ''Fun, fun, fun on the Autobahn'' was a Beach Boys-esque ode to a machine, but also the human experience in that machine.
They declared We Are the Robots, invented Techno Pop, glowed with Radioactivity and wrote a love ballad to neon lights, yet Hutter is also obsessed with the Tour de France: its heartbeats, metronomic breaths, the rushing wind.
"It's like a musical instrument," says Hutter of the race, after which the group's 2003 album is named. "A huge orchestra travelling through France every year." Is their music a Valentine to technology, or a warning? "As we predicted with The Man-Machine (1978) - it's a combination," Hutter says. "After all, without our music machines there would be no Kraftwerk." But he is too close to his creation to analyse it. "I am inside," he says. "It's light, it's organic, it's developing. It's like painting. We are inside the mix."
Kraftwerk have always built their own machines, designed album covers (with friend, painter and poet Emil Schult). For The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 they designed the 3D graphics based on images they have manipulated for decades. The addition of 3D sound "transports this idea up to your ears, so cars are rushing around, trains and noise, or melody floating through a room. We were so fascinated (by the technology) because this is exactly as we hear music. I can always see music - the music I make myself at Kraftwerk.
"The German word is Gesamtkunstwerk (also used by Wagner, meaning ''total work of art'' or ''synthesis of the arts'') which is a heady word - a whole combination. We are programming videos and programming the graphics, the lettering, all the lights, and we play the individual desks, the luminous desks where we play different instruments and computers. "It's basically a living sculpture."
This performance seems to stop the audience from dancing, Hutter says, "making the audience [concentrate] more than before when they were jumping and dancing and hopping around. It's more like an intimate dance and everybody is absorbing the images. I think it's very intense. I kind of like it, it's a little bit the same as we feel because we cannot jump around on stage".
Fergus Linehan, Festival Director of Vivid LIVE at Sydney Opera House, insists he didn't book Kraftwerk because he was "kind of obsessed" with the band a few years back. "There's this fetishism about the past," he says. "Some sort of romanticism. You need to be very careful." Kraftwerk stand up beyond sentimentality, he argues. Partly it's because their musical innovations can trace "a straight line" through to so many modern acts. And partly it's because they are a sonic echo of the moment when futurism was caught in the transition from utopian to apocalyptic.
"Kraftwerk have always been the innovators. And we're doing it over four days so it's going to be really intense," Linehan says.
Due to expected high demand, Sydney Opera House has put in place an online application process for Kraftwerk tickets. Applications will be open from Monday 25 February until Friday 1 March. To apply go to sydneyoperahouse.com/kraftwerk
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Friday 24 - Monday 27 May
Sydney Opera House - Joan Sutherland Theatre
Tickets: $69 - $85
24 May, 7pm - AUTOBAHN (1974)
The perfect soundtrack for the ultimate roadmovie and the beginning of electropop. This pioneering album is a picturesque journey through musical landscapes and sound paintings. The synthetik symphony features a mesmerising motorik rhythm around a collage of car horns, engine noise, radio static and floating melodies. Kraftwerk’s modern pop legacy starts here and Autobahn, in its edited form becomes a revolutionary hit single around the world. Kraftwerk compose cinema for the ears.
24 May, 9.30pm - RADIO-ACTIVITY (1975)
A highly innovative science fiction movie soundtrack about radio-activity and the activity of the radio. This all-electronic concept album explores the themes of broadcast communications and nuclear radiation. Surfing on sine waves and scanning the stratosphere for stray radio signals, Kraftwerk plug themselves into a buzzing grid of energy and radio signals. Radio-activity marks the move to more pop-structured songs.
25 May, 7pm - TRANS EUROPE EXPRESS (1977)
Kraftwerk celebrate Europe's romantic past and shimmering future with a glistening panorama of travel and technology, elegance and decadence. The streamlined locomotive sequencer rhythms of ‘Trans Europe Express’ with its pneumatic, piston-pumping beats of ' Metal On Metal ' are in contrast to the beautiful melody. New York DJ Afrika Bambaataa would re-construct this song five years later for his own seminal ‘Planet Rock’. This Kraftwerk album is a milestone in avant-pop modernism and later becomes a crucial influence on the early pioneers of hip-hop and sampling, electro and industrial music.
25 May, 9.30pm - THE MAN MACHINE (1978)
Over processed robotik rhythms which predate the rise of European techno and trance, Kraftwerk address automation and alienation, space travel and engineering, the seductive allure of urban landscapes and the vacant glamour of celebrity. ‘The Robots’ adds another dimension to Kraftwerk's ultra-dry sense of humour and behind its intoxicating melodic pulse, ‘The Model’ is a highly prophetic satire on the beauty industry. ‘Neon Lights’ is Kraftwerk's most achingly romantic song to date, a sci-fi lullaby for cities at twilight.
26 May, 7pm - COMPUTER WORLD (1981)
Kraftwerk beam themselves into the future by writing about home computers, online dating and globalised electronic surveillance years before these phenomena truly come into being. A vision of bright hopes and dark fears of the booming microchip revolution, ‘Computer World’ is a serenely beautiful and almost seamless collage of sensual melodies and liquid beatscapes. Tracks like ‘Numbers’ and ‘Pocket Calculator, with their weightless bleeps and elastic beats, and their cyberfunk, predict the silky rhythms of Chicago house and inspire a generation of Detroit techno artists.
26 May, 9.30pm - TECHNO POP (1986)
From the block-rocking beats and synthetik language of ‘Boing Boom Tschack’ to the processed vocal chants of MTV-age anthem ‘Musique Non Stop, Kraftwerk's first excursion into digital recording finds both beauty and unease in a world of permanent media overload. The ‘Techno Pop’ album, first released under the name ‘Electric Café’ but now restored to its originally intended title, provides a 360-degree overview of a multi-lingual, multi-channel, musically diverse global village.
27 May, 7pm - THE MIX (1991)
Kraftwerk confirm clubland credentials with their Kling Klang Studio live mixing techniques and a return to live concert activities. They rework 11 of their best-loved tunes for a new generation. Original sounds are reconstructed from their archives and sound library at Kling Klang and sequenced for these new versions that now feature more machine -like rhythms and cleaned-up, liquid-crystal sounds. ‘The Mix’ is a career-spanning collection of legendary electro anthems and a strong statement of the two-way traffic between Kraftwerk and electro club culture.
27 May, 9.30pm - TOUR DE FRANCE (2003)
The year 2003 marked the centenary of the Tour de France and the conceptual starting line for Kraftwerk's global touring activities....Minimum-Maximum. The album features an immaculate new version of their legendary 20-year-old former single, the exquisitely graceful ‘Tour de France’ and the album is a film script that takes the listener through the hills and valleys of the cycling circuit. From the chunky electro-funk of ‘Vitamin’ to the restless metallic shimmers of ‘Aero Dynamik’, this is emphatically the sound of 21st century techno visionaries.....Men and their Machines