Can the real Kraftwerk please stand up ?Posted on 13/04/12
(This is a guest post by Jean-Marc Lederman. Jean-Marc Lederman is a belgian music composer who used to play with Fad Gadget, The The, worked with Front 242, french star Alain Bashung, and has had many projects like The Weathermen (the iconic Poison song) or Ghost&Writer (with Frank Spinath). The original blogpost was published as "Kraftwerk at Moma: we are the mummies !")
I love Kraftwerk. They are one of the two bands I was looking up to and it made me start wanting to make music. That was a long time ago, but I still listen to them here and there and their music makes me feel the same way now as it did back then.
Today, Kraftwerk is big news as they have sold-out the prestigious MOMA museum in NY for 8 consecutive concerts in less than 60 minutes. We're talking Lady Gaga numbers here, even though it's only for 450 people at the time. The result ? Lots of frustration because many people obviously won't see Kraftwerk doing these retrospective concerts.
But what surprises me is that besides the obvious grand music and dazzling visuals by a band that was created 50 years ago and defined electronic music, all we really have now is 4 old men in fluo pajamas they stole from the Tron set, acting and playing songs that were created more than 30 years ago when Kraftwerk was at the height of its wonderful creative peak with Hutter/Schneider/Bartos/Flur happily cycling to the Kling-Klang studio where they would spend nights working on concept songs and albums, minimoog bass lines, electronically tainted vocals phonemes and hi-hats sounds.
Ralf and Florian were very rich kids, happily doing a sophisticated kind of krautrock when, after "Autobahn", they needed to enlarge the band to be able to play live. They called up Wolfgang Flur and classically trained Karl Bartos, two musicians from middle-class upbringing, to play electronic percussions on a US tour and somehow this created an amazing creative cluster that would generate incredible albums like "Radioactivity", "Trans Europe Express", "Man-Machine"...and sparkle other artists to create themselves amazing records like the Berlin trilogy by David Bowie, and serve as generators to the entire cold wave/electronic music scene in the uk... The domino effect has been particularly efficient here and one can trace quite a genealogy tree from 4 guys simply cycling down the Ruhr. I mean, none of us would be reading Side-Line if it wasn't for Ralf, Florian, Wolfgang and Karl.
Kraftwerk slowly disbanded from 1993 on with the departure of Flur and especially Karl Bartos who was the melodist behind most of the songs. Ralf and Florian were working slower than ever, and somehow the inspiration wasn't there anymore: in fact Kraftwerk hasn't released much new really since the mid-90's. Why ? Ralf and Florian never needed the money. Is it why they preferred cycling over recording ? Is it because, for any artist, the pressure of creating something new grows too big when success is there ? And in Kraftwerk's case, it's even worst as any album needed a total re-creation, a total new concept: we're not talking 3'30" pop songs, we're talking making 40 minutes of music that should be able to hold by itself, just with the concept.
Nowadays, Wolfgang Flur is being sued by Ralf Hutter because he has released a book with crispy details about the real life behind the robots and their sexual appetite, Florian has left the band two years ago and spends time in a very luxurious villa in Saint-Tropez, Karl Bartos is working on a new album and receives letters and bills from Ralf Hutter's lawyers every time a promoter writes "Kraftwerk" on a concert poster under the name Karl Bartos... And Ralf is the sole owner of the Kraftwerk name and does concerts in amazing spots, surrounded by three guys who look as much out of place as he does, all dressed up like they just cleaned their teeth and are ready to go to bed in their wonderful fluo pajamas.
Shouldn't Ralf call it a day before Kraftwerk becomes just like the band that inspired them to write "Autobahnn" (the Beach Boys): a sad caricature of themselves. Or is it already too late ?
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Posted by B. Van Isacker
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'Kraftwerk - Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8' at the MoMa in New York
'Kraftwerk: Publikation' , the ultimate Kraftwerk biography?
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