Kraftwerk is, without a doubt, one of the most influential bands of the 20th century. Artists from across the musical web, such as—but to name just a few—Depeche Mode, Joy Division, Prodigy, or even Bowie, indicated influence from the group. Their retro-avant-garde electronic sounds have pioneered an entire type of music. Transcending genres, Kraftwerk was especially influential in giving birth, almost by themselves, to an entire brand of music. Kraftwerk’s early 70s experimental use of synthesizers and customized technological devices, designed to match their vision of what they coined “robot pop”, directly inspired entire new genres. Minimalist techno, dance music, synthpop, house music, or industrial, can all, despite their far and wide differences, be traced back to Kraftwerk. The band, carried and led by Ralf Hütter for close to fifty years straight, is a living monument of modern music — whose influence on pop music was crowned by NME and the Observer as matched only by the Beatles.
So, when hearing that, on the 27th February, the electronic equivalent of the Beatles were visiting Skopje, at the Vip arena, for less than the price of a good pair of headphones, some of us were quick to take our tickets.
The act started off rather slowly. The band, typically, opened on their mythical Numbers. The song, although legendary and perfectly designed for its own codes, was performed rather matter-of-factedly, without any craft to adapt it to its audience. The first few songs were enacted statically, in a quite linear manner. Half-way through the show, however, the beat sped up for Computer World. The rhythm caught up to the honor of the genre. Kraftwerk had warmed up. By Tour de France, the group had fully embraced a Techno accent, prolonging and mixing every hit past their customary length, offering a journey across the surface of their, massive, electronic potential. A choice confirmed by their closing on Musique Non Stop, with its renowned “Boing, boom, tschak” sample. A burlesque sequence so characteristic, and influential, of techno tracks.
Kraftwerk is known for the stationary feel they bring to their live performance. The philosophy behind their five decades act, prophesizing the advent of the electronic age and the coming domination of technology in our everyday lives — proved right by the swarm of bright phone screen in front of them — calls for such a fixed display of music. More than a music band, Kraftwerk is a concept. It is a message of cautious celebration— or an exalted warning— of the ever-accelerating pace of the technological age. It is a musical self-fulfilling prophecy. Hence, the 3D tour of Kraftwerk offers more than a musical gig. It proposes a multi-sense experience, taking the audience’s ear through their legendary devices, catching their sight through three-dimensional visuals. Literally. Everyone were given 3D glasses. This melodic doctrine takes shape through a dichotomy between the four, led-full and identically geometrical, mixing desk, mounted by static masters of ceremony, and the trippy, sometimes warm, sometimes nocturnal, colors accompanying the electrifying music.
The visuals were loyal to the world of Kraftwerk: crude, yet efficient, retro CGI, so characteristic of the eighties. Some of them showed willingness to roam through the arena. Many payed tribute to their Macedonian host, with, for instance, a display of a Google Maps arrow pointed on Skopje during Computer World or a radioactive sign ,extending its arms across the screen, in the colors of the Macedonian flag for Radioactivity. Most, however, did not live up to the potential of the three-dimensional promise. One could have spent the entire show with their glasses on their forehead, only to notice with a slight headache by the end of the show: the eternal affliction of 3D displays.
Witnessing a live performance of Kraftwerk, 49 years after their formation, is like exploring a museum of electronic music. The, custom-designed, innovative and atypical robotic-sounding vocoders of The Robots and Man-Machine reminisces us to eminent tracks such as Daft Punk’s Robot Rock or Brodinski’s Dance Like Machine. The beats of Technopop brings us back to the big names of early techno, the ‘Belleville three’ of Detroit, Chicago’s Frankie Knuckles or Manchester’s Carl Cox. ElektroKardiogramm makes us fly inside East-Berlin’s warehouses and the big names of the French Touch’s golden generation: Arnaud Rebotini, Etienne de Crécy, Laurent Garnier or Pedro Winter. The nocturnal esthetics, accompanied by synthesizers, dives us into the world of the modern synthpop of Kavinsky and even into the ambient vibe of some Big Screen pieces, Drive by Nicolas Refn in center stage. The high rhythm and modular effects of Aero Dynamik pushes us towards the dance-inducing powers of Moby and Fatboy Slim. Maybe the crowd was not as ecstatic as the mere performance of such big entities of music could provoke. Perhaps, the 3D glasses felt more like a fancy gadget than an in-depth moving experience or the first half of the show didn’t produce as much energy as maybe expected. Yet, one cannot remain unmoved by their musical depth and the enormity of their artistic cunning and vision. Kraftwerk truly is a monument. One for which we should be grateful. Four giants of music, to whom we owe a massive spectrum of today’s music. Four colossus that really deserved three encores and individual rounds of applause.