40 years on, Kraftwerk prove they’re still ahead of the gestalt
London’s Tate Modern art gallery used to be a power station. The German for power station is kraftwerk. I’m not sure if that had that anything to do with the pioneering band’s decision to stage an eight-night stand at the Tate Modern, but little matter – what this run of shows has shown is that, more than 40 years into their career, Kraftwerk are still one of the most interesting, intriguing and inspirational bands around.
They’re doing a different album each night, along with some classics from their back catalogue. Such was the delirium that surrounded these shows (Kraftwerk don’t tour that much) that the Tate Modern’s computer system crashed time after time when tickets went on sale last year.
Ralf Hutter may be the only original left, but the three other members have been drawn from the band’s backroom staff (so to speak), so it’s a pretty seamless transition. Besides, Kraftwerk were never a bunch of individuals – it was always all about the gestalt of the music.
Rapturous is perhaps the wrong word to describe the reaction to the series of gigs (which ended last night), as the band are very much located at the cerebral conceptual art end of the musical spectrum, but the question is being asked: are Kraftwerk the most influential band of the popular music era? And the answer, indubitably, is: but of course.
Look at today’s music – Kraftwerk’s electro-synth DNA is all over it. Whereas in the past, when guitar bands were in the ascendant, The Beatles would have been the biggest influence, most everything now has a Kraftwerk thread somewhere deep within its musical fabric. From Coldplay (no, really) to Jay-Z to more of Techno than you could ever imagine. Bands such as Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode would be the Donovan to Kraftwerk’s Dylan.
And to seal the deal, it’s not just today’s electronic music they shaped; you could make the argument that the technological world they fetishized is the very world we live in today.
They remain an arresting sight: four middle-aged men in Lycratype gear, barely ever moving as they stand behind a bank of consoles. It’s a 3D show in full surround-sound, and while the band are frequently characterised as composing “cold” and “inhuman” music, what is most striking these days is how much of their musichas changed its hue. Neon Lights, in particular, sounds romantic and melancholic.
With a very refined – and deadpan – sense of humour, Kraftwerke manage to maintain, and at the same time undercut, their uber-Teutonic image.
They are curating their legacy these days, and while the enigma remains, the lesson tonight is that the best art is the always the simplest. Their past is our present. email@example.com
Simply the best: Kraftwerk on stage at London’s Tate Modern last week