Notes from an
So. It's now official. Kraftwerk have become fully-fledged members of the fine art elite. They exhibit in major commercial galleries, they perform at the Tate Modern. They have their own immediately recognisable aesthetic and they are inextricably linked to modern discourse regarding the anxious body and its android replacement. Their contemporary performances are sacraments to the faithful, full of digital visual 3D splendor that rivals any Catholic cathedral. Their photographic relics can be bought from Sprüth Magers in Berlin.
Don't get me wrong. I love Kraftwerk, have done since I first heard Autobahn at the time of its release; and our country-covers-band used to do a bluegrass, twin-fiddle version of The Model. Even so, I consider that there is definitely a ‘classic' (1972–82) and a ‘contemporary' version of the group and both, for me, are located firmly within the performative (music, theatre, dance) with a nod to performance art (the body as site or vehicle for visual/conceptual creativity), rather than the commercial art gallery world in which they are now posited as über by dint of reputation. I admit to not seeing the recent performance cycle in Sydney (or London or Düsseldorf or New York) but I did experience the less evolved version in Melbourne 10 years ago.
Much like Australia's own Severed Heads, Kraftwerk as a live event has the requirement to be more, much more, than the sight of middle-aged men tweaking laptops (are you listening, Aphex Twin, after one such indulgent gig at The Prince?). An extended, immersive visual splendour is one way to elevate the experience and the current version of Kraftwerk does this magnificently. The four members stand stock still at raised lecterns dressed in body hugging, gridded spandex. Behind is an enormous screen back-projecting video and digital imagery of which the four figures appear to be in symbiosis, emerging from, then re-immersing within the eye-popping display. Comically, the audience wear paper 3D glasses – the ones with one green cellophane lens and one red – which makes them appear identical to that classic photo of zombie movie-goers from the 1950s. Given current 3D technology, one wonders if this is an oversight or whether Kraftwerk are laughing at the joke as much as (one hopes) the punters are too.
Such notions as these – the dissonance implied by non-humans possessing true human emotions – have been explored countless times through the last decades across print media, films and TV series. Likewise, the science of robotics has also advanced exponentially with the development of microchip technology and robots are now engaged in every facet of human life, from waste disposal to domestic help and onto the most intimate realm of sex. Intimacy with a machine. Kraftwerk would simply sigh.
As the only original member in the current line up is Ralf, they should now probably be called Kraftwerk MkIII and considering their travels on that endless autobahn, it's apt that this name sounds like a high-end limousine. Original drummer, Wolfgang Flür, is notorious for his warts-and-all memoir, I was a Robot, Subscribe to read this article in full