Kraftwerk: Düsseldorf's answer to the Rolling Stones set to cause chaos at Tate

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Demand for Kraftwerk's series of shows at Tate Modern crashed the gallery's website. Nick Hasted celebrates their astounding, pioneering past, and laments their empty present

The Tate Modern's 21st century technology couldn't cope. Demand for eight February shows by Kraftwerk at the gallery was so intense, the site crashed.

It could have been tickets for the Rolling Stones on sale, and the Düsseldorf band are electronic music's equivalent: so incalculably influential, it's impossible to perform in their field without falling under their work's long shadow. Kraftwerk are also like the Stones in a less fortunate way. They have recorded nothing of consequence in 30 years, existing on rare, ravenously consumed, barnstorming live resumes of a glorious past.

Kraftwerk's members grew up in a landscape laid waste by Allied bombs and the scarring schisms between East and West Germany, and between their parents' Holocaust-guilty generation and their own. Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider were at the band's creative heart, mostly alongside percussionists Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos, through the classic sequence of albums that will dominate the Tate shows. The pair met at Düsseldorf Conservatory in 1968, influenced by Schoenberg, but drawn more to the Detroit car-factory-inspired punk clatter of the Stooges, the repetitive drones John Cale brought to the Velvet Underground, and the perfect pop and pulsing surf mantras of Brian Wilson. This was all subsumed into their utopian vision of Germany, and Europe. Their 1977 song “Europe Endless” invoked a future of perfected sound, unrolling as infinitely as the autobahn that gave their fourth album its title.

A guitarist, Klaus Roeder, was jettisoned after Autobahn (1974), surged into the transatlantic Top Five. Synthesisers and streamlined rhythms were Kraftwerk's tools. Most determinedly, they embraced the present. As the NME noted in 1976: “They are actually very old-fashioned realists… they use music to imitate their surroundings.” Motorways, trains, pocket calculators and computers populated the lyrics of the great run of records which also included Radio-Activity (1975) and Trans-Europe Express (1977), and ended with Computer World (1981). Their image, composed in consultation with their visual collaborator Emil Schult, veered between the fusty formality of suited businessmen, and the showroom dummies with car-assembly-tool hands who replaced them on stage during “The Robots”. Hütter often refers longingly to “The Man-Machine” as Kraftwerk's ideal state.

David Bowie so adored the band, he moved to their country in 1977 to make his celebrated “Berlin” trilogy of albums. The British synth-pop wave of the early 1980s, The Human League, Depeche Mode and the rest, followed his lead. Kraftwerk's 1981 No 1 UK hit “The Model” was a tribute to their ubiquity. The most unlikely and lasting chain-reaction was sparked in black America, where their coldly glistening, narcotically calming mechanical funk was heard with shocked understanding, and revolutionary impact.

“I don't think they even knew how big they were among the black masses back in '77, when they came out with Trans-Europe Express,” hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa has said. “I thought that was one of the best and weirdest records I ever heard in my life. It was funky.” Bambaataa's 1982 “Planet Rock” single sampled them to create one of hip-hop's foundation stones. When Derrick May and Carl Craig heard Kraftwerk on Detroit's outskirts later in the 1980s, they created techno.

That's the story of the classic electronic-rock act whose name still means enough to crash the systems of a major British institution. But there will be nothing new to hear from them in February. After Computer World came the disappointing, largely ignored Electric Café; a 1991 return to live work after a decade's absence, greeted with similar clamour to now (a trick the Stones also pulled at about the same time; both have done so ever since); a double-album of remixes, The Mix (1991); and a cycling concept album based on their 1983 single “Tour de France”, Tour de France Soundtracks (2003). And more remixes of old work, reworked yet again in further, increasingly exclusive shows. Where has Kraftwerk's future gone?

It is locked, so Ralf Hütter says, in Kling Klang, the Düsseldorf studio where Kraftwerk have created all their music since the 1970s. They clock in daily at 5pm then clock off at 1am, the bunker's air-conditioning and electric light creating a claustrophobically artificial environment, where Hütter claims work rarely stops. The lack of end-results led to Bartos, Flur and in 2008 even Schroeder abandoning this sonic laboratory, where no stranger has entered. Hütter insists everything is fine. But there has been no evidence of new ideas or sounds.

“You have to reach a point where you can continue,” Schult said to journalist Simon Witter of the weight of achievement which may be incapacitating his old friend, “and that gets more difficult.” Kling Klang in 2012 resembles electronica's equivalent of Citizen Kane's Xanadu. All Kraftwerk's equipment is reputedly kept in working order, awaiting a call to reactivate which will never come. The prodigious work Hütter says is being constantly done recalls Answered Prayers, the novel Truman Capote supposedly worked on from 1966 until his death in 1984. His publisher searched in vain for the masterpiece he'd been repeatedly promised.

Perhaps that's all Kraftwerk's future amounts. Our present is so indebted to their past that we shouldn't complain.

Kraftwerk play Tate Modern, London SE1, from 6 to 14 February

This article appears in tomorrow's print edition of The Independent's Radar magazine

 

Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl

First look at Oscar winner as transgender artistfilm
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower