Few artists, if any, have moulded dance music quite as comprehensively as Kraftwerk. From ‘Autobahn’ in 1974 through to 1981’s ‘Computer World’, the German quartet genuinely broke boundaries by experimenting wildly with music and technology and created numerous templates that are still followed by many of today’s producers.
The classic line-up of Ralf Hütter, Florian Schneider, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür created music that has reverberated not just throughout dance music history but also played a significant hand in the formative years of hip-hop and electro (via Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Planet Rock’). In short, Kraftwerk’s legacy should be respected and they richly deserve their place in electronic music history as hallowed, God-like figures.
But let’s cut to the very marrow of the matter with this. How the fuck can Kraftwerk still get away with playing the exact same music they did 30 years ago despite the fact there's only one original band member left? Their musical legacy is worthy of love and respect but why don't they, or rather Ralf Hütter, get the same slagging as any other artist cashing in with greatest hits tours?
The explicit, cynical money-making of The Sex Pistols’ Filthy Lucre tour was rightly slated for being explicit, cynical money-making in the mid-'90s, but at least Johnny and co were honest about it. Bananarama and Kim Wilde take to the Scunthorpe Animal Memorial Park stage every summer to blast through their old hits to a bunch of screeching, Red Bull-fuelled, middle aged fans and get labelled washed-up has-beens. Kraftwerk meanwhile have the honour of taking over the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern for eight days, charging a knock-down £60 for the privilege.
Manufactured '80s Pete Waterman pop puppet Rick Astley may not have any more right to milk the nostalgia cash cow than Kraftwerk do, but at least Rick does it under the guise of ‘Hit Factory Live’ or ‘Rewind’ (which this year also features Nik Kershaw, Jason Donovan and Spandau Ballet's Tony Hasbeen, sorry, Hadley) as opposed to some contrived ‘artistically worthy’ event. As a punter, you’re indulging and investing in a hollow nostalgia trip either way.
Kraftwerk’s only proper release of new material since 1986 has been ‘Tour de France Soundtracks’. This was a brand-new concept featuring the freshest new ideas from the minds of Hütter and Schneider that were inspired by erm, a track that was originally released in 1983. If that’s not a creative block, I don’t know what is. Kraftwerk make Boards of Canada look prolific.
But Hütter continues to creak onto stages worldwide, proposing a daring future via tracks that were created in the same year that Charlie Chaplin received his knighthood and Queen's 'Bohemian Rhapsody' was first released. Surely it’s time to hang up the drum-pads?
Rabid fans crashed the website of the Tate Modern (the irony of the venue’s name isn’t lost) in their clamour to catch sight of a one-man tribute act to a band that produced their best music 30 years ago. There was “a minimum of 900 tickets on sale for each night”, according to a Tate spokesperson.
Even with my feeble grasp of GCSE level maths, I make that at least £54,000 per gig or £432,000 made from that one set of gigs. Then you can take into account that the same set of gigs has also been performed this year in Germany, Tokyo and Sydney and add to that a glut of one-off performances in Barcelona, Malta, the UK’s T in the Park and Latitude festivals, Roskilde, Dublin, Oslo and Helsinki. And that’s just this summer. Hütter is probably rubbing his hands together all the way to the bank.
But hey, they’re still breaking boundaries! Their new show is in 3D! And so is every single low-grossing skidmark of a film that’s currently out at the cinema. They’re not breaking new ground; they’re simply bowing to a fad. Not something you’d expect from one of the “pioneers of the hypnotic groove”, as LFO once put it.
Bear this in mind: since Schneider quit in 2008, there have been more members of Kraftwerk that actually produced music for the band outside of Kraftwerk than in it. Here comes the GCSE maths again but that sounds like a majority to me. So is it time for the other three to set up on their own to make some new music? Or perhaps they can just vote to shut down Ralf Hütter’s travelling nostalgia-fuelled musical menagerie?
It saddens me to say this about a band that broke boundaries and laid the foundations of much of today’s dance music, but with their distinct lack of new material and lack of original line-up, Kraftwerk are no more than dance music’s Bucks Fizz. So come on Ralf, you deserve your dues as a musical visionary but now you’re being sampled by (and moreover giving permission to be sampled by) castrated faux angst peddlers Coldplay. Your time is up.