40 years on, Kraftwerk prove they’re still ahead of the gestalt

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

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. bboyd@irish­times.com

Sim­ply the best: Kraftwerk on stage at Lon­don’s Tate Mod­ern last week

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