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Culture Reviews
Kraftwerk
Luzhniki Sports Palace 
By Dena May Fisher
In the world of electronic music, the legendary sound of Kraftwerk needs no introduction; From the early seventies, while most musicians were still focusing on the live, acoustic Woodstock experience, Kraftwerk’s pioneering use of robotic voices, computerized instruments and synthesized sounds was to pave the way for the future progression of electronic music. There are in fact, three decades-worth of artists, who claim to have been influenced by the German veterans: Greats such as Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Joy division, U2 and any of today’s DJs and electronic musicians, to name but a few. And their fan base is ever-increasing… Not bad for a band who has just released its first album of new songs in 17 years!

After such a long silence, the 2003 release of ‘Tour de France Soundtracks’ did not disappoint, and the tour of Europe, Japan, Canada and the USA which is currently underway, has often seen tickets selling out before they were even advertised! Moscow was one of two Russian dates on the tour. Excited and full of expectation, I headed down to Luzhniki to witness the show…

And what a show it was! Right from the start, the audience was treated to a technicolour, technological feast for both the ears and the eyes! To our delight, the band’s image and music style have changed little over the years. They have become more Hi-tech, for sure, but the basic set-up is the same: Four men stood practically motionless over their equipment (laptops, in this day and age!), with a backdrop of huge screens onto which are projected computer generated images or vintage black and white TV footage. The symmetrical positioning of the clone-like men and the constantly moving images behind them create a sort of hypnotic effect, in full accordance with the repetitive beats and lyrics of the music. It’s magic. And 30 years down the line, the spellbinding effect is just the same.

The crowd loved it! The show opened with Man-Machine and then aptly followed with the original 1983 version of Tour de France. As the night progressed, the band seemed to relax and enjoy themselves more (in a barely perceptible, minimalist sort of way!) and the audience became even more responsive to the music, cheering and whistling as they recognised classics such as Autobahn, Pocket Calculator and Trans Europe Express. The biggest cheer of all was, of course, for The model, during which the crowd sang along enthusiastically to the well-known lyrics ‘she’s a model and she’s looking good…’

As the music played, the sequences on the screen progressed seamlessly; Words appearing at the exact moment they were pronounced, sequences changing on cue with the rhythm - none of the technical problems that have been reported at other concerts were to be seen that night. We were mesmerised by the computer generated multi-coloured pills rolling down the screen, and the simultaneous fizzing of 3 tablets in the song Vitamins. We watched black and white images of train wheels on tracks as the screeching of metal on metal resonated through the music of Trans Europe Express. The visuals were always simple, pleasing to the eye and served, in effect, as a means of seeing the music in motion.

One of the highlights of the night in terms of both the music and the visual aides came roughly halfway into the show. The lights dimmed and the men disappeared, only to be replaced by their robot alter-egos, who danced and performed the song Robots to the constant cheering of the crowd. To add to the excitement, the Russian lyrics ‘Ya tvoi sluga, ya tvoi rabotnik’ were sung and appeared in Cyrillic on the screen, causing an immediate reaction by the crowd. This was more than just a quick attempt at a ‘spasiba’ by an artist at a concert. The fact that the words are permanently incorporated into the song meant that the Russian audience could consider it partly theirs. Ironically, this felt like one of the night’s strongest moments of band/audience interaction, yet the band members weren’t even on stage!!

Once again, the lights dimmed and the four men reappeared at their consoles, having swapped their black skin-tight costumes with red flashing ties for 3D body mapping suits. The effect was stunning: Their human shapes were visible only as a series of fluorescent green dots and lines which linked together to create a 3-dimensional shape. Brilliant! Thus they remained until the end of the show, one by one, each having a minute to highlight their particular sounds, before taking a bow and exiting the stage, to the continuing rythms of Music Non-Stop.

To show their appreciation, the crowd joined in the technological display by replacing the usual flickering of lighter flames with the modern day illuminations of mobile phone screens. As the last few songs faded, the audience seating areas were transformed into seas of twinkling telephones – a beautiful and fitting sign of complicity with the artists.

The music of Kraftwerk has often been criticised as having no soul. I would tend to disagree. Having grown up in the industrial city of D?sseldorf in the fifties, Ralf H?tter (one of the founders of the group, and one of the two remaining original band members) explains the local and radical origins of the music:
“…Because of the war we did not have any reference points anymore, so we had to start from scratch. Around us new factories were built, a new industry was arising. The sound we heard there inspired us to make this kind of music.”

Kraftwerk’s music is therefore a search for identity. The band seems to confirm, yet in fact parodies the stereotypical efficiency and rigidity of the German psyche, giving the music an element of (albeit deadpan) humour and an endearing quality which cannot be ignored. But it is also an analysis of the position of Man in this ever-increasingly automated world. As we work and live side by side with the robots and machines we have created, are we not constantly reminded that for all their capabilities, the machines will, indeed, never have a soul? We then reassure ourselves in the knowledge that, unlike them, we in fact do…

Ralf H?tter claims that cycling is the perfect balance between man and machine, and that cycling is closely linked to music: the rhythm, the balance, the forward momentum… Soul or no soul, take it or leave it – you don’t have to agree. But believe me, these guys are living legends. And it was one heck of a wait!! So when Kraftwerk’s Tour de France Tour finally rode into town, they left more than a few happy spectators by the roadside!! Music Non-Stop…

06.06.04
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