On this sad day of the great Florian Schneider’s passing, we thought it appropriate to repost our concert review from a few years back. No, Florian wasn’t there, but we think the sentiments expressed below all apply to him, maybe most of all.
It was a splendid evening of louder-than-fuck pumping beats, shiny electronic soundscapes, melodies cute and tinkly, and sweeping and grand. The Kraftwerk aesthetic is a one of kind thing, which they’ve pursued with a focused vengeance since the Radio-Activity album (1975). Man, did they ever stand out in the shaggy, hairy mid-1970s.
Well, we all know who won that particular Kulturkampf.
My artist friend Gareth Kaple calls them “the most important band since the Beatles”, which, big a fan as I am took me aback. But it’s hard to debunk. They have no where near the fame of course, but their influence is similarly vast, running from Bowie to Punk to Dance to Electronica to Techno Pop and more, lots more. Daft Punk to Depeche Mode, thousands of bands just wouldn’t have happened without them.
What’s the secret? They’ve made this modern life, dominated by electricity at a distance, the primary subject of their art. Now, that electric world is the basis for virtually all of our art and culture, most of which is distanced from the feel and tenor of atoms and electrons. Let’s look at our friends the Eagles again for a minute. Redolent of the past aren’t they (and weed and underarm sweat too, I bet)? They could be a bunch of 19th-century longshoreman, except they use hair conditioner and blow dryers. This is a band every last bit as dependent on modern electronics as Kraftwerk, but they use it to mostly hide that fact and present a down home and natural image that is anything but. Yeah, I kind of hate The Eagles.
But Kraftwerk embraced electricity with no apology, front and center. The discord and alienation is exposed, not at all hidden, but so is the wonder and glee. The surfaces are entirely modern, a glass and chrome world but with the darkness and danger intact (“radioactivity, it’s in the air, for you and me”). They aren’t trying to put a gloss on our life today, they simply build the world of their art from the true stuff of today. I think everybody feels like Kraftwerk these days, some of the time.
Frank Gehry’s playful and ugly Walt Disney Concert Hall might have been the perfect place to see them, because of a somewhat similar conceptual basis. Kraftwerk apparently agreed, since they integrated 3D models of the concert hall into the (also 3D) multimedia presentation. (I wrote a bit about my reactions to the hall earlier.) And the acoustics were stunning, you could feel the bass in your spine yet it was clear and pure. Simply the best sounding high volume concert I have ever attended.
A word about electronic performances. In this day and age of super powered laptops, it’s possible to automate an entire electronic music show, just hitting “play” and letting it run. The running joke has been that laptop performers are actually checking their email and surfing porn on stage. And some of them probably are. As you can see from the above image, we couldn’t really see what they were doing. But rather than trying to counter that impression, they used it. It was quite clear they were doing *something* up there, we could see their hands and feet moving around and clicking or tapping to the music, but what exactly were they doing? What kind of odd devices were under their hands? It left a real sense of mystery about just what these Machine Men were doing up there. In fact, improvisation is a significant part of their performance, which accounts for the sheer pumping drama and excitement of it all. I wasn’t sitting still for one moment.
A fine evening spent with good friends and consummate artists, what more could you ask for?
RIP Florian! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Florian_Schneider