“Eins, zwei, drei, vier, fünf, sechs, sieben,…” On this very day 50 years ago, the American astronaut Neil Armstrong made history by becoming the first person to walk on the Moon. Here this evening in the lee of the huge Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory Kraftwerk take to Bluedot Festival’s main stage and with this reverse countdown blast us off into our very own mesmerising orbit.
In a strange parallel with the crowds who had gathered along the Florida State Road more than half a century ago and who had donned their sunglasses to watch the launch of Apollo 11, we view tonight’s performance through our standard issue Kraftwerk 3D glasses. And as the German pioneers open their set with ‘Numbers’, we soon have to start dodging the flying digits as they hurtle through the night air from the gigantic screen in front of which the four men-machines impassively stand behind their laptops.
The band’s only surviving original member Ralf Hütter positions himself stage right with to his left Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert, and Falk Grieffenhagen. They present in a uniform straight line, equidistant from each other and wearing matching grid-patterned Spandex suits. Everything you see and hear is clear, flawless, and immaculate. Kraftwerk produce music that is as precise and pure as it is perfect.
More than 40 years after its inception and now set free from the then limitations of compromise, the title track from their seventh studio album The Man-Machine finally merges the boundaries between humanity and technology. ‘Spacelab’ from the same record is, if anything, an even more complete work of art as the pressurised module of the song’s title careers virtually from the screen and appears to land amongst us.
‘Autobahn’ bears spectacular witness to the realisation of Ralf Hütter’s dream. The man who in the early 70s in his homeland was driving between gigs in an old VW Beetle had aspired towards one day owning a Mercedes. The graphics feature these vintage vehicles speeding along Deutschland’s federal controlled-access highway systems, the sounds of their journeys reflected in their graceful movement in much the same way that the epic sequence of ‘Tour de France / Prologue / Étape 1 / Chrono / Étape 2’ does a little later in the set, albeit with the bicycle having then become the chosen mode of transport. Here, sensitivity is added to the synthetic sound and finally refutes any suggestion that emotion cannot lie at the heart of Kraftwerk’s electronic music.
It really makes no difference whatsoever that Tour de France Soundtracks from 2003 aside, Kraftwerk have not released any new material since 1986’s Electric Café such is the depth, quality and intensity of their music it remains entirely timeless. It continues to embrace the past, present and the future.
With the passage of time, Ralf Hütter has slowly effected discernible tweaks to many of these songs. ‘Radio-Activity’ from 1975 has evolved into something that is altogether more sinister, featuring chilling and more contemporary references to the Harrisburg, Chernobyl, and Fukushima nuclear disasters. But by the time that Kraftwerk leave us with the positivity and genuinely remarkable run of ‘Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Musique Non Stop’ Hütter, who as a younger man occasionally frequented the discothèques of mainland Europe, whilst not exactly dancing can be seen to be gently swaying to the music. It is virtually impossible not to be moved by such a magnificent audiovisual experience.
Photos: Simon Godley
More photos from Saturday the 20th of July at Bluedot Festival can be found HERE