Way back in 1977, Kraftwerk gave us something of their philosophy on Europe Endless, when group co-founder Ralf Hutter sang how “life is timeless”. As usual, they were onto something.
As the latest iteration of the Dusseldorf legends took to the stage at Cork’s Live at the Marquee last night, it certainly felt like time had stopped, or had maybe just ceased to matter.
This was Kraftwerk’s only Irish date, the group’s first-ever show in Cork, and effectively a greatest hits set from an entity that effectively invented the genre of electronic music, then honed it to pop perfection — and all in 3D.
For musicians that so often wrote of the future, of how ‘We Are The Robots’ and the ‘Man Machine’, they also sang of the joys of the Trans Europe Express, the Autobahn, and the pleasures of cycling around France.
The technological future they outlined over a virtually unbeatable run of albums from the mid-seventies into the eighties often seemed harmonious, if not downright utopian.
It was progressive, smooth, serene, even if they occasionally conveyed latent fears and anxieties (‘Radioactivity’, the title track still a showstopper, and the melancholy last-man-on Earth paean ‘Radioland’).
If anything, the technology we’ve actually arrived at seems inferior by comparison.
Ralf said he doesn’t bother with Twitter; Kraftwerk’s website is delightfully basic; the idea of a show in 3D is itself a brilliant, vaguely kitsch piece of retro-futurism.
They count us in with ‘Numbers’, then segue masterfully into ‘Computer World’. Then ‘It’s More Fun to Compute’, later ‘The Man Machine’, ‘Space Lab’ complete with 3D depictions of a satellite pinpoint and a flying saucer hovering over Shandon, ‘The Model’... All rapturously received.
Here are the classical melodies, accompanied by spare but propulsive rhythms, undeniable, lyrics that underscore the group’s always forward-looking momentum.
Ralf — at 71, Kraftwerk’s last remaining founder member since the departure of foil Florian Schneider a decade ago — has mostly stopped singing out the side of a cupped hand like a German Con Houlihan, and he’s still the master of delivery, the songs organic and warm behind him.
Between-song banter is nil, the music all-enveloping. Even the slightest move on stage prompts a reaction, Ralf and co’s micro-movements weirdly as thrilling in its own way as Elvis popping his hips and curling his top lip.
Will we see them again? If the Rolling Stones have become their own tribute act, then Kraftwerk could take the idea further, pushing the notion of a ‘Man Machine’ into infinity — Ralf next to retire, with actual AI robots to take over, or a move from electro rhythm to algorithm.
They’d exist forever, like an earthbound golden record, music non-stop, Kraftwerk Endless.
But then we’d miss out on the deeply human qualities at the core of the music, those flickers of emotion, the heart at the centre of the machine.
But they’re questions for another day. We reeled out into the amber heat of a summer’s night and into the neon of the city — a little giddy over what had just passed, wrapped in the present, still dreaming of the future.
You have 3D glasses on, but sometimes all you can do is close your eyes.
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