From the Guardian
Kraftwerk reinvented pop in the 1970s, but never dreamed they could stage a multimedia spectacular. Their founding member grants a rare interview to talk about Europe, Detroit clubs and why Twitter is ‘nonsense’
For someone with a reputation for – how can we put this politely – taking their time over things, Ralf Hütter isn’t one for hanging around tonight. Kraftwerk have just completed a mesmerising set at the Brighton Centre – all laser-precise beats and visuals brought to life through Kraftwerk-branded 3D glasses – and Hütter has agreed to sit down for a rare face-to-face interview afterwards. Given that the show involves Hütter spending more than two hours on his feet, studiously twiddling knobs and buttons to ensure that no synth line or motorik beat arrives anything less than crystal clear, you might expect him to take a while to decompress once he has left the stage. Yet the crowd have barely shuffled out of the building when he appears in our backstage interview room, a black polo shirt and puffer jacket replacing his grid-patterned Spandex bodysuit. The speed of the transformation is disorientating, as if the mind-melting, multimedia spectacular he has just put on never happened.
“Hello, nice to meet you,” he says, shaking hands, before glancing towards a picture on the wall of Rod Stewart, resplendent in his peacock pomp. “It’s you, on the left?” he asks his press officer, pointing towards one of the musician’s pink-clad backsides.
Hütter has a reputation for being taciturn or evasive in interviews – and yes, he can be those things: the stock answer for when Kraftwerk might release their first studio album since 2003’s Tour De France Soundtracks remains “when it’s finished”. But Hütter is also charming, a little shy – he finishes answers suddenly, with an endearingly nervous smile appearing at the side of his mouth – and funny in an exquisitely German way. We meet on the eve of the general election, and so, to break the ice, I tell him how, ever since the leaders debates in 2010, pictures of UK politicians stood sombrely at lecterns have come to be labelled by online wits as the “worst Kraftwerk gig ever”. Curious, Hütter looks at a picture on my phone of a besuited Gordon Brown, Nick Clegg and David Cameron, and nods in agreement: “Because there’s only three of them,” he says. “One missing.”
Thankfully, shows on this current tour have considerably more substance to them than Cleggmania. In many ways, they are as close to perfect as live music can get, in part because to hear Kraftwerk’s seemingly limitless supply of songs played so precisely is to hear the roots of almost every subsequent major development in western pop music: from Detroit techno to hip-hop to electro … even to stadium indie (Coldplay’s Talk famously nabbed the opening line from Computer Love). But also because these shows seem to realise one of Kraftwerk’s long-term dreams: to create a Gesamtkunstwerk – or complete work of art – that has long fascinated German artists from Wagner to the Bauhaus movement. Put on your 3D glasses and you will experience radio waves beaming towards you, or autobahn traffic passing by your side. At one point during Spacelab, the titular UFO lands right in front of the Brighton Pavilion – a neat local touch they update for each venue.
Back when Hütter was milling around the Düsseldorf art scene of the late 60s with founding member Florian Schneider (Schneider quit the band in 2008 and the pair have “not really” spoken since), such a show was the stuff of fantasy. In fact, the idea of an influential German pop band seemed far fetched in itself: the second world war had left Germany disconnected from its musical past while Britain and the US were busy redrawing the map.
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