Why I Love Kraftwerk And You Should Too
German music pioneers Kraftwerk have announced they will bring their 3D concert to The Chelsea inside The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on June 28th, 2014. This is their first ever performance in Las Vegas, and is a "don't miss" experience.
Hailing from Dusseldorf, Germany.... flautist Florian Schneider and pianist Ralf Hutter formed as The Organization in 1970, releasing a six track LP "Tone Float" anchored by the 20 minute long psychedelic groove soundscape title track. A name change to Kraftwerk quickly followed, along with a rotating line up (see also Neu) and the release of their first three albums - Kraftwerk 1, Kraftwerk 2 and Ralf und Florian all of which have been disavowed by the band as "demos." But it is here where we see the genius of Kraftwerk in its embryonic state... creating purely electronic sounding music using flutes, xylophones, electric bass, drums, clavinets and organs... electronica at the pre-dawn of synthesis.
The musical language of Kraftwerk's next forty years is undeniable in Kraftwerk 1's lead off track Ruckzuck. The steady metric pulses, filter sweeps, faux doppler effects, improvisation packed with mechanical intensity, diatonic harmony and ego free expression.
Kraftwerk 2's lead off track Kling Klang is a structural and sonic study for what they consider to be their debut album, Autobahn, but missing the programmatic additions of automobile musique concrete and highway narratives. Ralf und Florian, their third LP built on their experiments, adding synthesis, melody and clearer song structures.
Autobahn is an entirely different beast. Whereas the previous Kraftwerk albums were made through the use of electronic manipulation of acoustic instruments,Autobahn is bathed in synthesis. Layer upon layer of ring modulated melodies, delicate sequencing, whooshing loops, throbbing bass blobs, synthetic drums and trademark vocoder melodies transport Kraftwerk from scruffy rock experimenters to mature conceptual futurists, but only to pull back the curtain of their acoustic past with the quasi-fugal all acoustic pastoral elegy "Morgenspaziergang." Strange and beautiful.
Radioactivity takes the beat of a geiger counter and finds the the tempo that drives the next hundred years of music. The first two minutes of the title track, ever so simply, use metric modulation - dividing a tempo to achieve a new tempo - that will become dub step, house music, blast beats, mosh metal and hip hop (16ths, 8ths, 2:3, 1/4ths etc.)
Trans Europa Express picks up where Autobahn's transportation tone poem left off but now on rails. The sparse, disco influenced sound of TEE is techno baroque at its finest, full of shimmering melodies, vocoder choruses, bass bleets, concrete-inspired train klangs and the delicious return of doppler effects that harken all the way back to Kraftwerk 1. Metal on metal.
1979 brought Die Mensch-Maschine (The Man Machine), which in turn brought the world 80's. Long criticized for being "mechanical", "impersonal" and "robotic" by critics Kraftwerk turned the tables on them with "The Man Machine", recreating their public image as robotic performers, who do as their programmer overlords tell them. To this day, Kraftwerk interviews and portions of their performances ("The Robots") are performed by actual human robots.
Three years before the launch of the Macintosh, Kraftwerk released Computerwelt (Computer World) an album of sheer pop techno perfection. "Computer World", "Pocket Calculator", "Home Computer", "It's More Fun To Compute" all predict the world in which our relationship with technology is the first step to having our relationship with ourselves.
1986's Electric Cafe (renamed "Techno Pop" in later years) is the first Kraftwerk album to be released after the New Wave inundated the world with a sea of imitators. The world had finally caught up with Kraftwerk, and the band retreated to their KlingKlang studio creating Musique Non-Stop.
1991 saw the release of The Mix - an in-house reimagining/remixing of their greatest hits. Here, Kraftwerk shakes out the cobwebs of the back catalog, redressing their greatest moments like master DJ destroying a night club, melding their English, German and Japanese lyric versions (see Japanese Dentaku version of "Pocket Calculator") of their songs into block thumping blowout. The oontz starts here and holy shit is it awesome.
Kraftwerk's continued evolution into dance music continued with the Expo 2000 single in 1999, their first new music release since 1986. Huge vocoders, atmospheric swirls, gorgeous melodies and funky ass beats. This is Kraftwerk distilled... man, nature, technology.
Four years later, Kraftwerk dropped their first full album since 1986, Tour de France Soundtracks the third in their odes to transportation, based on the 1983 one off "Tour De France" single. Known for their love of cycling, Tour de France Soundtracks is set to the ticking sounds of bicycle gears and writes a techno tone poem of France's most famous sporting event.
Honestly, I didn't intend to recap the entire Kraftwerk recorded output. But I truly love their music, their personality, their wit and their punctuality.
A month or so ago, I witnessed Kraftwerk's "Computer World" performance as part of their 3D Catalogue retrospective series at Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles. The minimal, yet evocative stage featured four desks containing instruments with a gigantic screen behind the performers upon which 3D films were projected, synchronized to the music by Falk Grieffenhagen (Desk 4). Fritz Hilpert (Desk 3) is responsible for live engineering, primarily of drums, percussion and filters. Henning Schmitz (Desk 2) is responsible for live engineering, primarily of bass lines and filters. Ralf Hutter (Desk 1) performs melodies, keyboards, filters, vocoder and singing. Ralf is the mastermind, and the last of the original Kraftwerk members left. Florian Schneider left the group in 2008.
Tickets go on sale Friday April 18th at 10am here. Also a note to those going, Kraftwerk performances begin precisely at the time listed on the ticket. Don't be late!
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