Kraftwerk are a contradiction. They use synthesisers and computers yet their music is full of expressiveness. They deal with complex themes of modernity and technology, yet their lyrics are often slogans or single words, often in multiple languages. On stage the four band members barely tap their feet to the music, and yet their electronic beat is so infectious, it has been the inspiration for dance genres including Hip-Hop, Techno and House.
I saw Kraftwerk at the Brighton Centre on 7 June, 2017. I travelled 260 miles from Manchester by Megabus and Southern Railway, and it was well worth the journey.
There were queues in front of the hall, which overlooks the sea, and after a long wait while the audience took their seats, the lights went down, the electronic beat started, four men walked onto the stage, each wearing a body suit stamped with a wireframe design. They stood behind four electronic musical instruments, futuristic lecterns, lit up from inside.
On a huge screen behind them, shapes, patterns and words danced in 3D. We viewed them through stereoscopic glasses provided on entry. Each band member operated his electronic control centre – or was it a keyboard – gently tapping a foot or pressing a hand on a button or key.
The show progressed with dazzling and pulsating beats, patterns and slogans: “Eins zwei drei vier fünf sechs sieben acht.” For people, like me, who understand German, it was great. Kraftwerk make German sound cool.
They performed many of their greatest hits, some instrumental, others with words, sung by co-founder Ralf Hütter, who stood on the left. It was clear that he was actually playing the keyboard and singing live. The versions were quite different from the records and had an improvised feel.
I loved their live version of Autobahn with its computer-generated images of a VW Beetle and classic Mercedes driving on an imagined motorway in Germany some time in the seventies.
Radioaktivität has gained new significance since the seventies. The place names flashed up on screen told their own story: “HIROSHIMA – HARRISBURG – TSCHERNOBYL – SELLAFIELD – FUKUSHIMA”.
Each song and its accompanying graphics was an exploration in sound and graphics. Tour de France, Trans Europe Express show Kraftwerk are not just a German but European phenomenon.
The time went quickly and sadly the curtains closed. But there was a surprise in store, I won’t say what it is because it would be a spoiler! Suffice to say it was intriguing, humorous and typically Kraftwerk!
They returned for an encore, and played long, mesmerising tracks with that infectious, groundbreaking electro beat. Abstract waveforms and patterns flashed hypnotically on the screen above. A few people got up and danced at the front enjoying a mini-rave.
Finally each member went off separately, taking the final bow. Ralf Hütter was the last to depart, and that was the end of the Kraftwerk concert, an experience I won’t forget for a long time.