Vivid and Kraftwerk deserve each other.

I saw Kraftwerk play live in 1981. It was wonderful. They brought their whole opera stage with them; all those green/yellow Wagnerian boxes and knobs and neon tubes. They seemed to enjoy their show as much as their personas allowed (even daring to tap their toes) and were just then at the peak of their musical importance. It was so vital in the early 80’s Australia to have this approval from on high for music that was from a different planet to AC/DC. We were empowered by it.

We played live, knowing that we were a small part of a global musical change. At one of these gigs the sound guy told me he’d done the stage sound for the Kraftwerk show. It was all on an open reel tape he said. But what about the screw up about 3/4 of the way through the set? Same screw up every show. On tape.

That didn’t matter too much to me. When later on the boxes and knobs were revealed to be flat packed sets it seemed clever not have to carry your real studio around the world with you. Besides – it’s Kraftwerk. They get a pass.

The 90’s were not kind to them. At one stage they were releasing through Cleopatra Records in LA, a boutique label for Hawkwind fans. At least they had a label, we didn’t. And they could pull bigger festivals than we could dream of. Good luck to them, earned it.

In 2003 I was asked if we would like to play a support spot for Kraftwerk’s return to Australia. That was great! I’d been working on some new videos and a set and it would be a perfect match, little and big. I said yes. Word came back from Germany – Nein – no videos allowed. That was a bit rough for a video band. The promoter tried a compromise. What if we used our own projector? Nein – no light touching the screens. And no instruments allowed. You will only play a tape. And you must be a specified number of metres away from the main stage.

By this point the promoter said he hoped I was understanding. I was understanding. We had played under bands that only allowed us a single blue light. We had played under bands that restricted our volume level to 75%, 8 faders, no fold back … every Australian band was used to this kind of musical colonial pith helmet bullshit and knew what it meant. They were pack of gutless cowards who could get fucked. Which is what I said.

We were offered free entry to the show. Sure, OK. In the line up outside the venue John Jacobs had installed a PA in a wheelie bin. He was playing Kraftwerk mashups through this diabolical noise unit on wheels, rolling up and down the line and it was wonderful. Particularly compared to Kraftwerk themselves.

I had seen a video of their return to service in the 90’s – the videos made from Atari graphics and their funny new suits. This was 2003 and I was sure that having been so picky about this show that they had made some new and wonderful set with old and new stuff and some cool video to fill those three giant screens. As the set rolled along it was horrible to realise that they hadn’t advanced in over a decade. The symbol of musical progress, of futurism, were lazily stuck in the past. They were boring. They were pretentious. And I knew that for my faults and weaknesses this bunch had nothing better to offer. And I laughed and started to heckle. Bradbury was delighted to join in. People around us were HORRIFIED that we were HECKLING KRAFTWERK. We left before a brawl started – my fight wasn’t with the audience.

Down the road there was a surprisingly large number of other escapees drinking beer at the pub and having a great night out sans the Teutonic Nits. Apparently the promoter was running around trying to find me, I’m not sure whether he wanted to kill me or take me backstage for a meeting. Best to hide anyway.

The next show at the Boiler Room their backing tape got stuck on the intro to Autobahn. And the raver kids, who cared nothing for ‘legendary’, apparently pelted them with plastic beer glasses. A bit cruel. Just a bit. I was outside in the cool night thinking about how the Boiler Room once meant our own bands.

Vivid has announced Kraftwerk for 2013, using up half a page of newsprint in colour. As if the gods have descended. Vivid itself being less about a festival of ideas and more about a source of tourist income every year. This is the same show as they have just done at the Tate which I must note has been reviewed very favourably without ever seeming to mention the actual performance or anything they have done since 1981. One look at the pictures and it seems that they might have got a few new Tron suits to wear. Whoever ‘they’ might be these days.

Everyone is open to laughter, to being critiqued and goaded into putting some effort into their work. When somebody says that Kraftwerk are not to be mocked, that makes it twice as important that puffed up frogs are deflated. And given that they were once the champions of the future of music, that laughter may be a little bitter.

12 thoughts on “Vivid and Kraftwerk deserve each other.

  1. Well you have the right to type this and boo them, but I have the right to say otherwise. At least you got a sideshow in Sydney (and Melbourne) in 2003. What I saw at the Big Day Out on the Gold Coast was brilliant. One bottle was thrown and the crowd starting going away after The Robots, but it did not stop people after the set saying how good they were. As for their Brisbane 2008 performance, a magnificent event with Ralf even speaking to the crowd. I’m sorry all that happened ten years ago and I don’t see why you or anyone else cannot criticise or make fun of Kraftwerk. But, I intend to go into the ballot to see them. I understand the cynicism towards retro and older bands, new artists in a ‘fair’ world should be given a go. But Ringo Starr the other week was great. I just can’t see why we cannot have the old and the new together, make a choice and leave musicians and fans to their paths. We cannot stop the past from being sort after. No I agree with you on many things, but this blog entry is slightly bitter. I love Kraftwerk, many do, but I see little wrong with going to their show or shows by One Direction, John Foxx, Cannibal Corpse, The Offspring, whoever – don’t like it don’t go because it cannot be stopped. I agree with many things you say about music and culture, but one does have the right to put Kraftwerk on a pedestal or knock them off, but this post just has a tinge of bitterness about it for the so called past which you always want to ‘get rid of’ and ‘move on’ from. Artists risk one of their songs being known forever over their work, Cars Numan, Depeche Just Can’t Get Enough, even Dead Eyes Open; do not make a record if that’s all people want to hear. The way to get rid of the past is, as you do, just don’t listen to records, but you cannot stop others from wallowing in it.

    • My only regret is that it’s seen as a ‘tinge of bitterness’. Whereas it’s a great big ball of fucking anger and hilarity. Bitterness sounds like defeat, this is a demand for continuing revolution. Where you mock yourself and try new things that might fail.

      We didn’t take part in a movement to kill off the old regime just to install a new regime.

      “one does have the right to put Kraftwerk on a pedestal or knock them off” – a right that is meaningless unless it’s exercised. I think I’m in the minority so they’re pretty safe.

      I do want to clarify that Florian is excused from any of this. Florian was already laughing at it in 1981. Read about the Melbourne show and ‘going out for a curry’.

  2. Tom, you nailed it on the head. I watched them from backstage at the BDO in 2003, it was abysmal .. it reeked of cashing in and basically seeing how far they could ride the dead horse ..

    It was sad.

    • But did you get to be backstage for Aphex Twin? Now THAT was funny. All his super duper fans had managed to bargain their way backstage to see the great man from behind, laying on his side playing a game on his desktop while two mates dressed as teddy bears fell over each other.

      Truly the greatest of all I-don’t-give-a-fuck performances. I was impressed.

      • I’ve heard of Masama Akita checking his email during Merzbow performances, but that is hilarious.

        I did attend a Man or Astroman? show in ’97 or ’98 that was pretty bizarre. Instead of the actual band members the people on stage were “clones” of the band (local musicians hired for the gig) being controlled by MoAM via satellite. Apparently they had a couple of different clone batches touring simultaneously, including an all female batch, for maximum exposure. In hindsight it was a fun gimmick, but at the time I felt a bit cheated.

    • Hmmm. Left field question!
      When you are on stage you need speakers pointed at you to hear what you are doing. It’s not just that the sound from the PA is directed away from you, it’s that the sound bounces off the back of the hall and comes back to you WITH A DELAY so you play along with the music out of time. The delay is multiple and sometime you see the singer block one ear trying to avoid some of the reflections and increase their own ‘bone’ audio.

      You get two main kinds of fold back speakers. Wedges are the triangular ones at front of stage which are pointed at individual singers and keyboard players. Fills are at the sides like big hi fi speakers and can be for the rhythm section at the back. A guitarist most likely has an amp but they have to stick their ear to a wedge to hear what everyone is doing.

      Pretty much every time a young band plays with a main act the latter will set up their fold back and not allow it to be moved. So the younger band either tries to set up near the existing fold back or if the other gear is not allowed to be moved, they suffer.

      We always try to talk to other acts and come up with a way to get everyone set up, particularly drum kits. Why not?

      • I’ve observed amplifier set-up’s like you’ve described at many shows before, but never gave much thought to “why’s” of it all. This makes sense to me. Thank you for the detailed answer.

  3. First time I saw Kraftwerk (and you) was BDO 2002. It was a lot of fun and I danced my then fresh out of highschool legs off. It was also a good lesson because I knew I loved music but I couldn’t conceivably grow my hair long and take up guitar but all these people seemed to be using computers to make interesting stuff.

    Fast forward eleven years and people ask me if I’m in the ballot for a ticket. I’ve seen every comeback thing that came out between then and now, having been too young to catch “synthesiser music” (as distinct from say, techno) the first time around. It’s a law of diminishing returns. It feels better to put on the cd I like and try and catch a band (or DJ or WHATEVER) at local, pub level where the crowd is thinner (in both senses), the expectations fairer and the chance to do something funny or cool or unique doesn’t have some monolithic legacy hanging over it. I am starting to find these comeback festivals genuinely STRESSFUL, from an attendance/enjoyment/cultural standpoint. Everybody secretly wants something they haven’t heard before.

    And as for the tape machine approach, well, it must be pretty boring playing live if you’re just tweaking a single knob or playing everything back. I think one of the next challenges for electronic music might be finding a “non dicky” way to play it live. Capes, maybe.

    Also, you should have drank their rider. Next time!

  4. Just about every ‘superstar DJ’ is pre-recorded because like a Wall Street bank they are just too big to fail. There’s big money at stake. Big acts have to be reliable – when we played with New Order they had tele-prompters and a Pro Tools HD rig to the side of the stage. The audience seems to want it – is it because they are used to it? Used to nightclubs with recorded music? If somebody came along and failed excellently would it change?

    There’s obviously a trade off between canned and manned as well – no way can we two play all the parts of a SH track. We’ve been trying to think of ways to be versatile and still fit on a domestic flight. I was encouraging Stewart to play his bassoon on one track because it would be good bang for buck & because I am a knob I didn’t realise how big a bassoon is. When it came down to it the sound we’ve managed to get from it so far isn’t working, so it’s staying at home. We have some good things happening with pads and samples that I hope will come together. I think that’s the key – it probably will work but WE JUST DON’T KNOW FOR SURE.

    Kraftwerk’s rider would be bicycles?

  5. Of course not, but even as an easily distracted Gen Y – LOOK, PANDAS – I can appreciate that you’re making an effort and not just playing “Gashing the Old Mae West.” Rumours of Stewart’s bassoon is either an entendre or a song title for Cape Town’s debut work….

    I think maybe that’s one reason why people are all CASSETTE and ANALOGUE now, because even if it’s a bit primitive, something is technically happening. Or happening technically.

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