EDM owes a great debt to Kraftwerk. In fact, few other groups have a back-catalogue so widely influential. Having directly influenced an infinitely broad range of artists, from David Bowie to Daft Punk, Kanye West to R.E.M., LCD Soundsystem to Joy Division, Kraftwerk were the original techies who made synthesisers and vocoders cool.
When electronic trailblazers Kraftwerk took over the Sydney Opera House last week for not one, not two, not three, but eight incredible shows over four very special days, it was easy to see how they’ve earned the music world’s utmost respect. Exclusive to Vivid LIVE, the music-appreciating third of Sydney’s Vivid Festival, the German group performed a concept eight years in the making, in which audiences were guided on a spectacular 3D journey through eight iconic albums in a definitive Kraftwerk retrospective.
Dubbed ‘The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’, each night showcased two core segments of the group’s prolific career to a diverse and eager audience. Whether you’re a long-time Kraftwerk devotee or just discovering this robotic wonderland, these shows are an entirely new experience. Booked in to review the Techno Pop show, I was initially a little worried. Originally named Electric Café before being retitled and reissued in 2009, Techno Pop was the slightly disappointing follow-up album to Computer World. Admittedly, I actually like this album, but with only 10,000 tickets available across the whole series of shows (compared to the 25,000 people who applied to receive them) I wondered whether the crowd at the Techno Pop gig would be a little sulky, upset about missing out on Autobahn or Trans Europe Express.
White cardboard 3D glasses in tow, the audience quickly became a sea of look-alikes, with thousands of eager eyes focused on the stage. In typical Kraftwerk fashion, the house lights went down at precisely 9.30pm and they appeared on stage in futuristic, Tron-like bodysuits. As the rhythmic beats started to flow, any worries I might have had were washed away by wave after wave of excited applause. Testament to the group’s timelessness, front man Ralf Hütter’s unembellished lyrics came through as pertinent and penetrating as ever. Immersed in an onslaught of light and sound, the audience was drawn away from reality and gently coaxed into Kraftwerk’s ahead-of-its-time world.
Although their stony demeanours make it essentially impossible to tell if any of the four group members are actually playing anything at all, it’s the combination of sound, word, and light, all synchronised to inventive 3D projections, that really brings the show to life. People gasp and duck as space debris and German phrases are hurled at them from the screen, with visuals depicting musical notation, scientific formulae, mathematical equations, architectural drawing, computer modelling, typography, and Bauhaus colour theory, all working to create the illusion that the performers are floating calmly amidst the action.
In addition to Techno Pop classics like Boing Boom Tschak, Sex Object, and Musique Non-Stop, the set consisted of a multitude of highlights from other albums with hits such as Autobahn, Metal On Metal, and Numbers illustrating just what it is that makes Kraftwerk so captivating. Entirely hypnotised for an hour and a half, the vibe amongst the attendees (middle-aged groupies, teenage techno punks, kids who’d been dragged along with mum and dad) was overwhelmingly positive. It’s difficult to envision anything embodying Vivid Festival’s three tenets of “light, music, and ideas” more aptly than these pioneers. By far one of the best live shows I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, I can only apologise if you weren’t able to make it to one of the nights. However, if you’d like to live vicariously through my experience, just give me a call, because I really can’t stop talking about it.