Kraftwerk 3D Live


Soon after their very early Can-like Krautrock years, Kraftwerk began to develop and refine a hardcore man-machine aesthetic, imagining themselves as cyborg musicians, as much enslaved by technology as liberated by it. The amazing thing is that the band-machine has been able to sustain itself on that track. Almost any other group would have gone on to other things after the vein ran cold, but Kraftwerk continue to tap the mineshaft of digitalized culture as deep as it wants to go.

As a boy in the late 70s, I used to sit on the shag-carpet floor of my basement bedroom and gaze into the cover of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, a pair of giant Koss headphones connected to a glowing analog amp by a long green spiral cord, mesmerized by the pulsing, organic, yet also completely artificial sound of this strange German synth group. I imagined myself driving the beige VW bug, watching the black Mercedes zoom past in the opposite direction, as oscillators, generators and patch bays synthesized the sights and sounds of life in a place  called “Germany,” where everyone could drive as fast as they damn well pleased and the album covers went on forever.


40 years later, Kraftwerk are still doing their cold-hard-artificial-but-still-somehow-warm-sounding thing, but now you can dive into their album covers in a totally immersive 3D experience. You’re issued a pair of 3D glasses as you enter a show on the “3D” live tour (ironically for us, on the same night Facebook announced their purchase of Oculus VR, we were having a somewhat more old-school 3D experience). The truth is, there isn’t much to see when four guys are doing their whole thing on anonymized, Tron-style keyboards (no cheesy keyboard brand logos, no visible cables), so a visual show of some kind is practically required.

(Images here are fuzzy b/c of your current lack of 3D glasses)


But this was no simple light show, and the visuals aren’t some kind of elementary add-on – they’re half of the experience. Just as Kraftwerk’s songs are uncomplicated (but intense) explorations of singular concepts (driving, biking, fashion, robots, the descent of SkyLab, being baked alive by a nuclear meltdown, mathematics), the band have created state-of-the-art 3D film-ettes to accompany each track, which spanned 40 years of exploratory synthpop history. The films are as  pure as the music itself. Many of them are celebrations of digital purity, while others (Tour de France, Model) create contrast by diving into black-and-white, or by mixing b/w with vivid, energetic color – some of it filmed, some of it computer-generated. Meanwhile, the sound is both  hauntingly artificial and spleen-vibratingly huge. The effect is as bodily as it is cerebral.


Confession: I much prefer their exploratory, off-the-reservation stuff much more than the synth-pop dance tracks (I’ll take “Airwaves” over “Musique Non-Stop”, thanks), but it’s all part of a continuum for Kraftwerk. As culture becomes ever more digital, they don’t recoil – they just hug it harder.

1970s tribute to FM radio:

Wenn Wellen schwingen / Ferne Stimmen singen
(When air waves swing / distant voice sing).

Once I’d exhausted the riches of Autobahn as a teen, I moved on to 1975’s Radio-Activity.  The timing was perfect – I was  protesting the nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, while my favorite German anti-hillbillies were warning of the real-world dangers of radioactivity (while remembering to give credit to discoverer Madame Curie). One of the most impactful experiences of the live show was  their updated cover of Radio-Activity, which listed in giant letters the sites of the world’s most tragic nuclear disasters (including Fukushima) over the top of bone-rattling bass and thumping trances. It hit me like a ton of bricks: All of the nuclear disasters splayed across the screen had occurred since that song was written.

The 3D visuals sucked us down an infinitely pulsing tunnel toward the international radioactivity warning symbol, reminding us that, despite the brand’s unapologetic embrace of technology, they’re painfully aware of its anti-human downsides. Kraftwerk are bridging the gap between human and cyborg, between digital perfection and its ever-present potential  for anti-human consequences.

ralf_florian All of this had me scrambling back in time to complete my personal  Kraftwerk catalog, including the difficult-to-find Kraftwerk 1 and Kraftwerk 2 albums, which can only be had on LP or CD (i.e. not from any of the usual digital music outlets), plus the outstanding Ralf und Florian, which serves as a sort of catwalk between the early, more experimental work and the more accessible Kraftwerk most of us know. Though I won’t pretend to have tracked it down in 8-track form.

For the truly hardcore, Dangerous Minds just tracked down a must-watch  rarity:

Newly Unearthed Footage Of Kraftwerk—with Long Hair And Leather Jackets! Live 1970

44 minutes of Can-style core krautrock, from back when the band played actual drums, actual flutes, and actual guitars. Dig:

About Scot Hacker

Scot Hacker is a web developer, teacher, and blogger living in Northern California. He is the author of Can You Get to That? The Cosmology of P-Funk and Understanding Liberace: Grooving With The Fey Heckler. He works by day as webmaster at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and Knight Digital Media Center, and runs Birdhouse Web and Mail Hosting on the side. Hacker is the author of The BeOS Bible and MP3: The Definitive Guide, and posts near-daily on random stuff at Scot Hacker's foobar blog. He's ecstatic that we're sitting on 100 years of recorded music history. How I Got Stuck When was the last time you bought a record because of the cover? 25 years before MP3s, I used to make a weekly pilgrimage to Cheap Thrills in San Luis Obispo with friends, where we'd surf through dusty wooden bins, de-flowering ourselves in a mist of vinyl, grabbing piles of cut-outs about which we knew virtually nothing. Junior Samples, Temple City Kazoo Orchestra, The Buggles, Paul Desmond, Instant Chic, Smithsonian collections, Robert Moog, Dream Syndicate... didn't matter. If the cover was cool, we assumed there was a good chance the music would turn us on. And we were often right. In that humongous wooden warehouse, between around 1977 and 1984, my musical universe bloomed. There were also duds - dumptruck loads of duds. The lesson that a great cover doesn't tell you jack about the music inside was a long time coming (the inverse correlation - that great music was often hidden behind terrible artwork - came much later). But it didn't matter, because cut-outs never cost more than a couple-three bucks, and all the good shit we uncovered made it worthwhile. In high school, I (for the most part) ignored the music going on around me. The jocks and aggies could keep their Rick Springfield and their Jefferson Starship - we were folding papers after school to The Roches and Zappa and Talking Heads and PiL. But inevitably, some of the spirit of that time stuck with me. ELO and McCartney wormed their way (perhaps undeservedly) into my heart. No one escapes high school without an indelible tattoo on their soul describing the music of that time. When I went away to college, the alt/grunge scene was being born, and getting chicks required familiarity with The Pixies and Porno for Pyros. I couldn't quite figure how these bands were supposed to be as interesting as Meat Puppets or Cecil Taylor or Syd Barrett, but I went along for the ride for a while, best I could. But I never quite "got" alt-rock. Never understood why The Pixies were elevated in the public imagination over a thousand bands I thought were so much more inventive / rocking / interesting. What exactly was Frank Black offering the world that Lou Reed had not? In general, I like music carved in bold strokes - extremely rockin', or extremely beautiful, or extremely weird... I like artists that have a unique sound, something I can hang my hat on. I love Mission of Burma and The Slits and The American Anthology of Folk Music and Devendra Banhart and Bowie and Nick Drake and Eric Dolphy and Ali Farka Toure and Marvin Pontiac. If you were to ask me who was the last great rock and roll band, I'd be likely to answer "The Minutemen." I know it's not true, but I'd say it anyway. And yet, in a weird way, I totally believe it. Today while jogging, I listened to a long interpretation by the Unknown Instructors: "Punk Is Whatever We Made It To Be" - half-spoken / half-sung sonic collage of some of D. Boon's best stanzas. Boon's powerful words rained like hammers and I felt like I was back in 1980, careening down the highway in a green VW bug with The Stooges blasting. It was that spirit of amazement that I used to live for - the one I never got from the 90s indie scene. And then, just as quickly, I thought "God, I'm living in the past. I suck." I'm stuck. I have vast collections of LPs, CDs, and MP3s. I listen to music for hours each day, and yet I'm completely out of it, musically speaking. I confess -- I've never listened to Guns-n-Roses or Pearl Jam or Prince, and I've only recently heard "Nevermind" in its entirety. If it weren't for Twitter, I wouldn't even know Lady Gaga existed. I'm oblivious to the stuff that supposedly matters to "music people." It's not like I'm totally unaware of pop music. I just have a finely tuned ability to tune out whatever doesn't interest me. I don't quite know how to explain it. I can only say that my friends register shock when they learn that I've never heard of Elliot Smith. And yet I do not feel thirsty. I'm always open to being turned on. But I learned long ago that, unfortunately, you can't trust beautiful cover art to promise great music, and you can't always trust your friends to push your music buttons. I'm happy to listen to damn near anything. And every now and then, that "anything" will turn into something that will become important to me over time. Something that will last. I like music with staying power. Belle and Sebastien have a certain appeal, but I don't think they're going to occupy even the tiniest slot in my consciousness in 20 years. But the power and inventiveness of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, John Fahey, Robert Wyatt, Can, The Carter Family, The Clash, will never dissipate. I have little interest in the "new" factor. I could not care less whether this year's model is the baddest thing going on in Atlanta or a rare gem rescued from 78 rpm oblivion by Robert Crumb. It's all the same to me. Just squeeze my lemon / 'till the juice runs down my leg. Please. A friend once said that he felt lucky to have been born so late in history, because the later you're born, the more history you have to work with. I don't think I really understood what he was saying until I was about 40. It's not about being born late, it's about this massive archive we're sitting on - the entire history of recorded music under our butts, which we can either choose to ignore or to mine for all it's worth. Every hour I spend checking out the flavor of the month is an hour I haven't spent with David Thomas or Richard Hell or Shuggie Otis. Life's too short. I'm going to use this site to drift back and forth through musical history, modernity be damned. You turn me on, I'm a radio. Let me know what I'm missing. shacker's station at