A review of Kraftwerk's performance at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, AZ on September 15, 2016.
Kraftwerk is about time—transcending time, and decorating time with tones and atmospheres. Founded in 1969 by Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider under the name Organisation, Kraftwerk has spent the last 47 years as an innovative force of electronic music. Never content to waste time, Kraftwerk always stood at the cutting edge, and were known to not release material until it met a certain standard of high quality and originality. It always had to be new, fresh, memorable. If it weren’t timeless, it would be forgotten.
Kraftwerk is about music, of course, and their creations cross and intersect so many genres. They began as one of numerous German Progressive groups that proliferated at the time under the label “Krautrock”. This is not a term of insult, but of culture. With little more than the Beatles and Frank Zappa to inspire them, the many Krautrock bands took musical paths never before seen and used instrumentation in ways never before heard. Kraftwerk wasn’t the only group or artist to venture into Electronic Music—others like Cluster, Tangerine Dream, and Klaus Schultze were certainly explorers in this realm as well—but it was Kraftwerk that would take it to the music charts. It all started with Kraftwerk’s 1974 album Autobahn. The twenty-two-minute title track was edited down to a three and-a-half minute single that reached an incredible #5 on U.S. Billboard in May 1975. From there, Kraftwerk’s creativity took off. Their 1977 track "Trans-Europe Express" was one of the very early ancestors of the entire Techno and Synthpop movements. They helped to create the very movements themselves—every electronic dance rhythm that you’ve danced to in your life can trace its origins back to the Kraftwerk quartet. They still stand at the forefront, driving the beat.
Kraftwerk is also about technology—not only using it, but celebrating it. So many of the pieces heard at the Orpheum Theater on September 15th were inspired by technology. From the surging aerodynamics of a Tour de France bicycle, to the sedate beauty of neon lights, to the monotone speech of "Robots", the feeling of the music always conveyed the theme of the song. While you listened, the 3D glasses you wore made the computer graphics projected behind the artists burst forth. Just like the music, nothing was flat or plain—both the visual and audial experiences were full and alive. Musik—chromatik. During the song "Spacelab", you felt like you were traveling through space with the band as they approached Earth. The members of the band, standing at their four signature podiums in their fluorescing vector costumes, appeared to all present like they were piloting that ship right from the stage. We all cheered as their flying saucer flew right over the city of Phoenix to land at the Orpheum Theater. The band created custom graphics like this for every city that it played at on this tour. However, Kraftwerk made the effort to tell us that, for this one night, they were playing for us. Whether they wore the vector costumes, or donned the button down shirts and ties with the flashing LED lights, it was hard to tell at times where the Mensch ended and the Maschine began.
Kraftwerk too, is about helping people—not just through technology, but also through warning us about the dangers of technology. Their previous tour was dominated by their on-stage protests against the Sellafield Nuclear Plant in Britain. While their current tour did not place this activism front and center, the song "Radioactivity" was nonetheless showcased prominently. Quite conspicuous was the substitution of “Tchernobyl, Harrisburg, Sellafield, Fukushima” at the introduction of the song instead of Hiroshima. Kraftwerk seeks to make us aware of the issues and concerns that face us today. Radioactivity should NOT be in the air for you and me.
Kraftwerk is about energy and light. The group’s name in German means Power Plant—one that is beneficial to humankind—and with that energy Kraftwerk is always in movement and always luminous. So many of their songs are about movement, travel, transportation. There is movement by bicycle (at high velo-city), movement by car, by train, and by spacecraft. Even though we were all seated in that theatre, it was hard not to join them in movement, in travel. They made us want to dance and sway to the beats and sequences. Kraftwerk is about time—transcending time, and spending our time enjoying their tones and atmospheres. Whoever saw one of their shows on this tour experienced a very memorable performance. It was memorable, because it was timeless.
Visit Kraftwerk online.
Don't miss their interactive music / video flash player linked via their home page:
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