Alexis Taylor on Kraftwerk

I think there are a few pop records that will always be important to me—and, in certain instances, an artist’s or band’s whole oeuvre: Prince, up until about 1993, The Beach Boys, and pretty much everything Kraftwerk have done. I’ve seen Kraftwerk three times—quite late in their career but certainly some of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. The first was at Brixton Academy around 2003, with tracks from Tour de France Soundtracks making up the bulk of the show, and then the rest being “greatest hits”. This was also really the beginning of the amazing visuals, and the whole synchronization of the videos with the music. It was a simple, colorful experience, and it was really powerful.

 

I think Kraftwerk’s combination of lyrics and music is endlessly brilliant. There are so few words and so many repeating phrases, that anybody can connect to it. They treat their videos like a part of the entire presentation, while I would say Hot Chip is first and foremost about music with video being kind of an afterthought. Visual ideas get attached to what we do after the music, which I think sometimes produces a kind of awkwardness to what we do onstage. There are times that I wish we would always work with a single visual artist or video director, in order to have, like, a fancier stage show. But then I think that it’s better the way we have it now because most of the music I really like has nothing to do with any stage show. Actually, it can be really frustrating if the visuals get in the way of the music. Kraftwerk excluded.

 

Of course there’s also a connection because we’ve recently worked with Conny Plank’s equipment. [laughing] I would like to add, however, that we chose to work with the engineer who owns Plank’s mixing board more because of his skills than equipment. But I can’t deny that it was a selling point. I like a lot of the records that Conny Plank worked on, and I like the fact that he hand made this desk and there are only two of them in existence. But nobody will listen to our album and go, “Ah, that’s Conny Plank’s desk!” Honestly, I think Kraftwerk and Hot Chip are pretty far away from each other in many key respects. Most of the stuff we do involves some sort of hand played ethnic percussion, combined with programmed drum parts. There’s an anti-quantization and raggedness in Hot Chip that exists less in Kraftwerk . . . at least to my ear.~ Photo: Max Dax

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

 

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Monika Sprüth on Kraftwerk

There’s really one central question at our galleristic point of departure: Which aspects of art could be of cultural importance for society? I’m a trained architect and urban planner, so the constant analysis of cultural, social and economical phenomena has always played a role in what I do. When Philomene Magers and I began thinking about Kraftwerk, we very quickly realized that “exhibiting” the band was far too large a project for a gallery space. I’ve known Ralf Hütter since 1968—he actually lived in the apartment under me in Aachen where we both studied architecture.

 

Of course today, representing them has to do with their colossal cultural relevance and unsurpassed ability to reduce sonic and visual elements to the essentials. Like Alighiero Boetti, Kraftwerk are able to differentiate between important and unimportant in a way that few artists can—which is an important part why their work has become so iconic. It became clear to us that a museum is really the only adequate place to present their Gesamtkunstwerk. And where better than the MoMA?

Kraftwerk not only invented electronic pop music, they also managed to give it its visual precision and beautiful form. Theirs is an all-encompassing cultural statement that can compete or even surpass many of the known video works that we see in the museums. It’s both timelessly modern and an embodiment of our era.~ Photo: Dagmar Schwelle

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

 

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Emil Schult on Kraftwerk

I began my studies at the art academy in the late sixties under Diter Rot, Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter, who had all been extremely influential in terms of my artistic development. That’s also when I first met Ralf and Florian and became involved with Kraftwerk. In general, the art world in Düsseldorf was a pretty competitive atmosphere and it wasn’t always so easy to find people you could work and get along with, especially in terms of feeling comfortable enough to show your art.

At the time, both Ralf and Florian were already innovative and advanced, musically speaking, and I had long been fascinated by electronic music. They were gracious enough to allow me to come by and, well, take part. My input with the band was always part of a larger artistic dialogue, which included visual ideas that were developed together. It wasn’t just give and take; it was also about developing things conceptually in parallel processes. A good example of that is the “music comics” developed for the album Ralf and Florian, where, if you know the group, you can really see what a mix of ideas and input it is, visually speaking. Interestingly, the same was also true for developing some of the musical instruments and electronic sounds. Whenever Kraftwerk wanted to redesign an acoustic instrument to make it electronic or somehow create an electronic simulation, then a visualization, a sketch or a notation was part of the process.

Electronic music makes use of a sound spectrum that’s larger than acoustic music. It’s enabled humanity to expand mental processes and to imagine the future, which is why I think there’s always been such a strong connection between electronic music and science fiction. For example, at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964, I saw a pavilion called Futurama that featured visions of the future—cities in the ocean or in the sky, advanced forms of transportation—and these were accompanied by electronic sounds from some of the earlier synthesizers and electronic instruments put together by Raymond Scott. This is the tradition in which my contribution to Kraftwerk can be seen. I think there are two main metalanguages in this universe: music and image.

When I create an image and put it into the world, then people understand it non-discursively. You know, people tend to say an image is worth a thousand words, but music is even further along in that sense: when I play a series of notes in a certain order, then people immediately relate to it in some way—they have immediate associations. That’s why progression in music and art is strongly connected to human progress.

You can make destructive music, but you can also make music that pushes things forward. Electronic music is the music for modern times, the music that allows us to meet the standards of today’s technology. The Internet and other forms of digital communication demand a metalanguage sophisticated enough to process and interpret it. Progress in art, music and society are also necessary to balance the madness of excess and greed, which leads to landmines, radioactivity and destruction of living cosmic tissue. You can see the balance and progress in children—especially in their acceptance of electronic beats. They are far less biased than older people, far better able to perceive things intuitively and far more likely to see art and music as a reminder of paradise.

For the shows at the MoMA, and specifically the 3-D visuals, I participated by figuring out ways to provide the images with a new dimensionality—especially those for “Autobahn”, “Kometenmelodie”, “Airwaves”, and “Trans-Europe Express”. These we discussed quite a bit and, with the programming skills of Falk Grieffenhagen, turned into material for film projections. I’ve been taking part in Kraftwerk concerts for over forty years, and what was presented at the MoMA was the absolute pinnacle of what I’ve had seen and heard. The sound, the visuals, the amount of people at the shows . . . it wasn’t a normal “concert” experience. In that sense, it wasn’t really a “concert” experience at all.~ Photo: Luci Lux

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here.

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

 

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Matthias Mühling on Kraftwerk

When I was studying, the term “curator” didn’t exist in German. It’s only over the past twenty years that it’s started making its appearance from Anglo-Saxon art circles, and it’s definitely had an affect on the way German curators have begun to grasp their own identities and functions. I would say at the Lenbachhaus, we’re much more interested in serving the artist than curators who ascribe themselves a form of authorship of what they present. To that extent, there was lots of trust in Kraftwerk putting together large parts of the exhibit on their own. They knew exactly what they were doing, and I wouldn’t have thought to interfere with such a huge, technical multimedia installation based on my competency in hanging pictures. In that sense, the exhibit wasn’t a lot of work for me. Of course, convincing people that a Kraftwerk exhibition should take place—that I had to do. At the Lenbachhaus, we’re particularly fascinated by the idea that there is no difference between so-called “high” art and art as entertainment.

 

That’s probably one of the most discussed issues within art history in the twentieth century and certainly part of the great utopian vision of the avant- garde. However many people want to claim that there is less and less of a distinction to be drawn, it’s not something that you see reflected in reality. In museums, you still only find “high” art. Over and over again, contemporary fine art has found itself in crises and hoped to find its way out through some other discipline: fine art and film, fine art and fashion, fine art and pop music, fine art and pop culture . . . But usually it ends up with classically trained artists who only kind of have one foot in some other discipline.

 

We as a museum are forced to ask ourselves how we can best reflect contemporary, twenty-first century culture. And when we really take that question seriously, we realize we can’t be comfortable with doing, say, an exhibition on pop music exclusively with works by Martin Kippenberger. That’s also a very interesting project, and I guess somehow a connection between the two can be drawn, but Kippenberger isn’t an example of something in popular culture that’s had the kind of massive, significant stylistic influence that I’m referring to—like it changed people’s conception of pop music or had a lasting aesthetic effect outside the art world. In my opinion, the only real example of something so far reaching would be Kraftwerk. They’ve always been devoted to offering a complete artistic package in terms of performance and visual accompaniment—it’s practically synaesthetic in a good Wagnerian sense. But beyond that is the band’s self-reflective nature that we know so well from fine art, one that’s so unambiguously connected to the cultural history of the Rhineland.

 

Kraftwerk makes pop music about pop music. They incorporate “everyday” sounds—trains, bicycles, cars—as a form of self-reflectiveness, like how Gerhard Richter “exhibited” the brushstroke. But Kraftwerk’s art is also intimately connected to a certain “generosity”, if you can call it that. What they do is entertaining, humorous, danceable and thought provoking. That’s an incredibly rare combination. Kraftwerk refuse to accept the notion that doing something serious or profound has to be obscure or difficult to consume. That combination of entertainment and artistic clarity is nothing short of remarkable. At the MoMA performances, the visuals for “Morning Walk” were an excellent example of that. On the one hand it evoked classic German romanticism—small moonlit hamlets—but on the other the very specific historical provincial, bourgeois narrow-mindedness of the Federal Republic of Germany, which I personally can’t get enough of. Maybe it’s because it’s such a strong reflection of something I grew up with.

 

Kraftwerk’s performance at the Lenbachhaus in 2011 was the first time the band played an entire concert in 3-D, but I should men- tion that we were also very, very proud to have had the 3-D video and sound installation without the band as well. For us, that aspect of the exhibition was a logical consequence of the disappearance of the performers, with music existing and being played on its own by machines. When we were thinking about how to exhibit Kraftwerk, it was obvious that we did not have to have something “behind glass”, so to speak. We didn’t want to be a local museum that covered the local and generic history and devel- opment of the band. We wanted a contemporary exhibition that had little or nothing to do with relics of Kraftwerk’s past—their old synths or vocoders or whatever. That would have really been the wrong approach to something so timeless.~

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

 

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Glenn O’Brien on Kraftwerk

When I started out writing about music in the seventies, I used to get all the new releases from the major record companies. If it looked interesting, I played it and needless to say, Kraftwerk albums always looked interesting—just ask Afrika Bambaataa why he first picked up Trans-Europe Express. The first album I heard was Autobahn, and after that I was completely aware of them.

 

The first time I actually saw them live was in New York in the mid-seventies when Trans-Europe Express came out, and I had hung out a bit with Ralf and Florian, going to clubs or what- ever, which they really liked to do. I remember I introduced them to Dianne Brill, who back then was going out with the guy who owned Danceteria. She’s in Downtown 81 introducing Kid Creole and the Coconuts. At a time when girls were all really skinny, Diane was incredibly voluptuous. And for some reason, it seemed to me that German guys always liked volup- tuous women. Ralf and Florian were really taken by her. Not long after that, I happened to be in Cleveland visiting my parents and I saw in the newspaper that they were playing, so I went by to check out the show. At the time, I looked quite a lot like they did, with a slim fitting suit and really short hair, so I ended up getting mobbed at the show because the crowd thought I was in the band. I wrote about Kraftwerk several times and then did a really great interview with them around ’77. We talked a lot about electricity.

Kraftwerk were really international, and that moment in music and cultural history was also really international. The stuff that was going on in New York was really connected to things in London and, to a certain extent, in Paris. I didn’t know that many Germans at the time, but I was friends with Dieter Meier—although I guess he’s Swiss. For a conceptual artist, he’s pretty damn entertaining. I have to say, I don’t like it when people start saying an architect is an artist, and a fashion designer isn’t. Being an “artist” doesn’t make people any better. If Kraftwerk said they were artists, then, OK, fine—but I’m not going to impose that label on any- one. That being said, from the very beginning I considered them highly ironic, because their pose was happy, but in a totally dark way. “Radioactivity, it’s in the air for you and me,”—it’s like when I was growing up they would tell us that in the future our homes will be lit by U-235 and our cars would run on uranium; a kind of visionary futurism that was of course totally false and kind of scary. Kraftwerk always liked to play with that. I remember I asked Ralf and Florian what happens when they leave the German electrical grid—away from 50 hertz, 220 volts of alternating electrical current per second. And they were like “Oh, we don’t feel good.” I wanted to know how they felt about being in different kinds of electronic environments, because the US is 110 volts.They thought that was hilarious.

I was totally into it when they had robotic models of themselves “peforming” onstage. Everybody would get excited going to the Kraftwerk show, and then the curtain opens and it’s a bunch of mechanical simulations. At the time, it showed that the music could be played without them there, although I appreciate the controlled improvisation that they’ve done more recently. Ralf Hütter is just really smart and funny and had a really ironic sense of humor. Kraftwerk 2012 is a lot like Kraftwerk 1977, except more perfect. It’s like the difference between a 1977 Mercedes and a 2012 Mercedes. They have never stopped perfecting the old music–almost the way William Butler Yeats continued to revise his poems throughout his career. I remember when I interviewed them years ago, a really interesting exchange got edited out. I asked if their music was experimental, and I got this answer: “All music is experimental.” Think about it.~

 

Earlier this year we where reporting from the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 at New York’s MoMa, where we collected a lot of interesting takes on the legendary techno innovators from the likes of Juan Atkins, Afrika Bambaataa, Klaus Biesenbach and more — read them here. ~ Photo: Luci Lux

This text appeared first in Electronic Beats Magazine N° 30 (2012). Read the full issue on issuu.com:

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