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It's No More Fun To Compute! Kraftwerk Live Review By Wolfgang Flür
The Quietus , February 7th, 2013 07:39

In January the former robot went to the band's home town show in a power station in Dusseldorf and sent us this report, a longer version of a piece originally published in Germany earlier this year. Translation assistance by Melody Kometen

It was early morning when I got into bed on Sunday 20 January. It had been many years after my last appearance with Kraftwerk in the summer of 1981 at Düsseldorf’s Philips Hall. But on this night, thirty-two years later, I had met up with some friends, one from the Netherlands, two from England, one from Cologne and Rudiger Esch, the bassist from the German industrial band Die Krupps. And we had gone to see Kraftwerk mark III. In a museum!

Rudiger had contact with the main sponsor of this concert, the Düsseldorf Stadtwerke power plant which produces our city's electricity. (Since when did Kraftwerk need sponsors, I thought? As far as I remember they function economically. Automatically!) Rudiger brought us into the gallery via a side door for VIPs – tres chic – so we didn’t need to queue in the long row of fans in that minus-degree-night. We got a desirable white all-access pass which allowed us to go anywhere in the hall – apart from the garage where the robots were. And inside the foyer, I immediately saw Emil Schult, my former friend and room mate at Berger Alley 9 [where Karl Bartos and Flür lived in the 1970s], crossing my path, looking very stressed and austere. He saw me – and looked away.

So, he was still in cahoots with Ralf. I understood why he didn’t want to be recognised by me after all the testimonies he had made against me, and all that had happened at the Hamburg land court [Ralf and Florian tried to stop Flür publishing his memoirs in 2000].

Inside the huge hall it was stinky and muggy – there had been a show that night already, and we were to see the second one. The midnight special. We Germans call it the ghost hour.

And then came Kraftwerk Mark III. The music they made was very loud – so much so that I got fears for my ears and a brand-new level of tinnitus. But the sound was brilliant, crispy and digitally clear.

To the left side of me and my friends were a group of English and Dutch fans, rampaging, drunk and bawling. The guys stunk like Schnapps and bawled Kraftwerk lyrics along with Ralf and his vocoder-device. While she was dancing, a female member of their party kicked me hard on my left foot, so I shouted at her to be calm and mannered. After all, we were in a museum, not in a rock-concert. She apologised, but soon went on with bawling. The smell in that area was such a ghastly mixture - disgusting! I know why I normally avoid such events.

But the graphic projections in 3D were a hit. Sensationally clear and near. During 'Kometenmelodie' if felt like you could grab the space capsules coming out of the screen. During 'Musique Non Stop' the music notes I knew from so long ago came flying towards us, beautiful and smooth. I was able to grab one and put it into my jacket as a souvenir.

But I certainly must report that there was nothing else for me to admire that night.

Remembering our appearances during the 70s and the 80s, so much had moved on. But I understand that today's Kraftwerk fans won't be able to sense this. We used to move; these robots don't. The non-performance of Kraftwerk Mark III made me yawn; the concert went on too long. Thirty minutes less might haved worked, perhaps. But performing as Kraftwerk seemed to offer no joy to the four people who had to be Kraftwerk.

They even didn’t look at each other. There was not one spark between the figures. No magnetism left. Coldness came over me. What had happened? Was it the effect of the two concert, one after the other? Were they possibly overworked, or overwrought? Can robots generally be overwrought? Ralf seemed to me like completely absent. His voice was thin, short of breath, and he looked broken. I have other images of Ralf in memory though - fortunately.

The lust seemed gone, the air was out. I can imagine why Florian took his farewell from the bondage and dictatorship of his original partner. He didn’t want this any more, that’s my view. One of my friends lent over during the show and said, “Listen Wolfgang, actually YOU should go and stand on the stage as the second figure from the right.“ Ralph from Cologne replied to him, in protest: “Are you crazy? Our Wolfi between those ghosts onstage? No question! He feels much better today than ever before – after all, he is free, right?“

I had to smile because he was right. Then another of my companions – one a little younger than me – whispered this: “Those neoprene suits on those tummies... they look awkward, right? On top of that, they sweat inside. And then they are standing for a long time. Two shows, one after the other... they could get varicose veins at their age.“

Now I had to laugh loud, and add: “Those plastic trousers already have the affect of surgical stockings. Maybe that’s why they wear them.“

Now we both had to laugh. Nevertheless, I find it pretty courageous that Ralf, one year older than me, goes on stages worldwide in a Spiderman costume. I can only hope that he has some [spare] for changing into during tours.

The whole spectacle appeared to me like a farewell-tour for ever. The guy [Stefan Pfaffe] who replaced Florian three years ago has latterly been replaced with a figure whose name is hard to keep in mind [Falk Grieffenhagen], and the turnover of music-workers is becoming quicker and quicker. At Ralf’s age, if he has become Grot – the alerter of the machines in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis – he may find it hard to get new cogs who agree to examination. In some ways, Kraftwerk's story has become a bit like Goethe’s Zauberlehring, The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The sorcerer had activated something all those years ago, and maybe now he can't stop it. The musique is non-Stop. The Volkswagen runs and runs and runs and runs...

Last night, Kraftwerk Mark III certainly did something with effective technique. But does that always make things better?

After the concert, when the lights came on, things got crazy in the foyer. Quite a few people recognised and assembled around me, and wanted to have all possible sorts of things signed. Girls were there too – and these girls were young. Did we formerly have female fans ? I cannot remember this...

To conclude, I can genuinely see how this was a superb night in many ways, and I loved the 3D-video projections. But however brilliant and perfect yesterday's spectacle was, all in all, I still must say:

It’s no more fun to compute!

And it used to be fun. Onstage in the 70s and 80s, in that pioneering era, it felt good in our hearts as well as our heads. No visitor and fan could imagine it being that way yesterday. If the show was a film I'd think of it this way – as Jaws part III in 3D (without Florian Spielberg).

The remaining commander should at least replace himself with a new construction (“everyone is replaceable“, Ralf once said) and send these four new figures around the world (White Shark part IV). Then he would not need to suffer. In fact, he looked stressed on stage, sad, endlessly lonely. So hard without his Flori...

I met this Flori recently on a cross-road at Berlin Alley, when waiting to cross on the pedestrian green light. Florian was passing by in a tiny British car. Noticing me, he threw a smile through his side window. I waved to him. His face looked peaceful and relaxed. He had escaped from the Kraftwerk stigma. Just like me.