I only own one Kraftwerk record. It’s the ‘Expo Remix’ double pack from 2000. Apart from that, I bought ‘Neon Lights’ in luminous vinyl when it came out, because I liked luminous vinyl. It’s strange that I don’t have every record by them, after all they are the foundation on what all electronic music has been built. However, their sound is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it’s not necessary. The simplicity of, not just the music, but the vocals, is what is so alluring and powerful. This is deceptive though, as I found out one night a long, long time ago when myself and Mr. Peter Pulford did a lot of acid and listened to ‘Autobahn’ more than once.
The depth of sound, with its hidden layers incorporating primitive, dawn-of-time aboriginal soundscapes, spanned eons, not just the last half century. Accompanying it on the TV was an episode of ‘TheLegend of William Tell’, which enhanced the aural experience.
Also, a lot more people than you might imagine have seen Kraftwerk. The spectacle is now given more than equal emphasis than the music. They get on stage and do their thing, with a 3d show to accompany them; but the most influential group of musicians in the world still playing have arguably lost their edge. It’s the complete synthetic karaoke experience. Tracks played the same way, night after night, tour after tour, in the same order. They must be fed up with it, but are just thinking of the money.
Whether they are or not is irrelevant, and I’d been looking forward to the gig since my birthday last October, just before which tickets went on sale, and ended up becoming my birthday present; by far the best one I’d received in a long time. The 23/6 date was an extra one tacked onto the two preceding days, and when I found out that it was on I told the Mrs. to try and remember to sort it out the day they went on sale. I’d do my bit by remaining vigilant as well. In the event I completely forgot about it until mid morning but, not the type of person to work with a computer, found it difficult to get in front of one when necessary. Fortunately things got sorted and, much to my amazement, tickets appeared on my birthday. I’d forgotten about the whole event by that time, so was doubly surprised.
Four tickets were bought, one for each member of the family except Marcel, who, even though he has a natural sense of rhythm and throws shapes at the dining table throughout most meals, when there’s music on in the background, was deemed not to have the staying power for a two hour show. This was almost certainly the right decision, as I saw a few kids in the audience who’d been dragged there by their parents either crashed out, or looking fed up at the end of the show. Unfortunately, Antonin, my eldest, then came up with the news that he had a day’s filming, for a reasonable amount of money, at a Kent location, as an extra in a gay orgy scene; something that he couldn’t afford to turn down, both for financial and career reasons. We wrestled with the possibility of him turning up late, but for security reasons, this would have meant the ticket holder, (his mother), having to stay outside to wait for him until he showed up. Consequently, so would we. After accepting that it wouldn’t happen, I called up emergency reinforcements in the shape of Mr. John Hassay who, upon being offered a free night out in great company, agreed to jump on board.
So, the concert. The 3d glasses were given to us when we entered the circle. We were seated in the back row, up in the Gods. We scanned the scene in front of us. Amazingly, I’d never been to The Albert Hall for a show before. Practically everywhere else, mind. It’s impressive, but even though I thought that a combo of Kraftwerk’s type and magnitude could do it justice, I had nagging doubts. This was nothing to do with the band themselves, more about whether the venue would be right acoustically. I’d seen enough of them on Youtube to know that they would open with ‘Numbers’ and seque seemlessly into ‘Computer Love’ and had always been unfairly asking them to measure up to the drama of their Tate Modern Turbine Hall show of 2013. However, I wasn’t there and I’ve only got video to go on, so what do I know? What I couldn’t stop doing to most tracks was visualizing breakdancing videos in my head. None of that glossy shit, but grainy, technicolour stuff, with a backdrop of cable-strewn, graffiti-covered New York streets and subway trains. And it was me doing the breakdancing most of the time, in a place I’ve only ever been able to do it. Apart from that, the melodies and motifs are incredible; the whole show being a template of electronic music, particularly electro, foundations. Not a surprise I’m sure, but when presented in such a way, in such a setting, it’s stunning to think that they are responsible for the sound of our times. One of the comments to a live Youtube video of ‘The Robots’ sounds like a criticism and a compliment at the same time: “The only band that can go on stage (even) in (a) 100 or 200 years with the same stage show.”
You know what though? The sound could have been better. This WAS A VOLUME THING, mainly. The bass could have been punchier, the kicks sharper, etc. This was remedied to a large extent during the encores when things seemed to go up a notch. For that reason, my favourite bit of the night was the last tune ‘Music Non-Stop’, were sonic coalescence peaked. I did film some stuff, but only a little, mainly due to being in the circle at an inconvenient angle for such activities. And also because I didn’t want to look like a twat filming more than watching, of which there were quite a few, in spite of the notice not to. I think I took about a minute of film, and one or two bad photos. A chap in front of me appeared to be filming the whole gig. I was far too mesmerized to give that a second thought. Back to the volume though. The fact that you could still hear each other speak throughout was mildly gratifying; however, I forgot how many times I had to mention that we were witnessing “the foundation of all electronic dance music.” So it didn’t stop me from being a pain in the arse.
It was an unforgettable night. My son’s first gig (mine was nowhere near as good), and its predictability, down to the hordes of middle-aged blokes in various tour t-shirts spanning the ages, made it just as pleasurable. They fittingly play in Dusseldorf this Saturday for the Grand Depart of The Tour de France. Something which I’m sure they’ve been looking forward to for ages.