KRAFTWERK Live in 3D at Die Alte Kongresshalle, Munich

Europa Endlos – The Electricity Club Go To Bavaria

For their international assignment, The Electricity Club’s Nix Lowrey and Mike Cooper got together with Parralox’s John von Ahlen and headed to Germany, the spiritual home of modern electronic music, for the premiere of the Klingklang quartet’s new 3D extravaganza. Although three dimensional elements were present at their Manchester Velodrome gig in 2009, this was the first time that a full show of 3D visuals could be experienced to supreme synthesizer classics such as ‘Neon Lights’, ‘Showroom Dummies’ and ‘Tour De France’. With their glasses at the ready, this was what the Anglo-Oz threesome witnessed…

It seems fitting, given that we are reviewing Kraftwerk’s 3D performance, to first consider some numbers: total distance travelled to see Kraftwerk = 11427 miles approximately (10,000 miles of which can be attributed solely to John von Ahlen). Total number of prior Kraftwerk shows seen: 2 (both of which were myself and both of which were post-millennium). Percentage of reviewers who were already ardent Kraftwerk fans: 100%. Percentage of reviewers dissatisfied and requesting a refund: definitely 0.0. Sincerity of review – a vehement 120%.

Neither John nor Mike have ever seen Kraftwerk before, and my experience is limited to one tour, so this review will not comprehensively detail the differences between this and their show at the Velodrome, the Olympia Stadium or any other legendary show of the past. What it will do is confirm for you beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if Kraftwerk bring this show to the UK, you should sell your car, your synth… or even your gran to get a ticket.

We enter the hall at the very last minute, having spent far too long finding the venue, as strangers who have just stepped off a plane into a new city are wont to do. Aghast, as we are caught unawares by the strains of ‘The Robots’ (and then remember that, being Kraftwerk, being German, we should have expected punctuality), we run into the hall to find it completely full… sold out full. We slink into the back row, which mercifully is on a raised step, and are able to see perfectly – which is criminally lucky compared to those who no doubt camped on the doorstep for the perfect viewing point. This is in part due to the curious realisation that Die Alte Kongresshalle is not entirely capacious: in fact, as you will discover, it feels quite intimate. We can’t quite reach out and touch Kraftwerk, but due to their 3D show, they can seemingly reach out and touch us, the robots extending their mechanical arms toward the audience in a surprisingly effective 3D visual show.

3D as a cinematic tool is certainly still in its infancy, in terms of its effectiveness it can be quite hit and miss. Due to a canny decision to use simple graphics, mimicking their visual iconography in covers and clips for each song, the 3D for this show is very well executed.

Mike Cooper’s thoughts: “The visuals are simple, not ridiculously complex, but the quality of images they are projecting is excellent: no pixilation, no judder. They have obviously spent huge money on the sound and picture quality, they’ve thought deeply about the whole experience.”

John von Ahlen: “It’s not just seeing a band perform, but the 3D visuals elevate it far above that. When you go to a gig, you normally look at the band but the majority of a live experience is about the audio. But for this gig, the audio is only part of the experience: not only are there visuals but they are 3D visuals! And the simplicity of the graphics makes it starker and more effective.”

The sound is also impressive – no more impressive than you’d expect from Kraftwerk – but reaching their standard is pushing far above average gig sound quality:

JvA: “Musicians struggle for purity of sound, Kraftwerk nail it in delivering quality music and strong powerful, audio quality.”

Mike Cooper: “This is absolutely one of the best sounding gigs I’ve ever experienced: particularly the clarity. Deep bass with no distortion, loud but at same time perfectly listenable. I know being Kraftwerk you’d maybe expect it to be indistinguishable from the record but you can tell it’s live, just with top quality sound.”

Having said that, the quips about the four almost inert man machines being busy updating their Facebook statuses on their impressively framed laptops flow thick and fast all evening, and much speculation about what in fact is being played live and what is Fletch-style mime takes place. Some of the video of the night floating around YouTube supports our perception that Ralf is singing and playing at least some of the melodies live… this is particularly evident when he forgets one of the lines in ‘The Model’, which is not only a little surprising (they’re more man than machine), but in a way refreshing in that it gives our concert something unique, even if it’s what Ralf doesn’t do, rather than what he does.

A spot poll amongst our team gives the following highlights:

Mike Cooper: “’Numbers’ – particularly because of the way it has been remixed and the 3D on this is one of the best videos all night. ‘Spacelab’ – again, a great remix, true to the spirit of the original but reworked in a techno style. ‘Autobahn’ – the ‘megamix’, particularly the album cover art used as 3D imagery, the VW and BMW driving us down the autobahn in almost a 2D 3D – phenomenal. ‘Aero Dynamik’ – a track I haven’t listened to often… you listen to it and can hear clearly how Kraftwerk were writing the sounds that influenced electro and techno long before anyone else did it.”

JvA: “’Trans Europe Express’ – It was the first Kraftwerk song I ever heard and has a special place in my heart. ‘Radioactivity’ – it might just be my favourite Kraftwerk song, and it’s certainly my favourite song on Minimum Maximum. So to see them live with 3D graphics, it’s just a chilling experience.”

For myself, it was ‘Home Computer’ – being a lover of electro and techno, this song really pre-empts the groove and funk of electro which was again revived in the early 2000s by people like The Hacker and Anthony Rother. Live it is completely evergreen – time stops, it really is Musique Non Stop. ‘Aero Dynamik’ – Kraftwerk’s 21st century response to the sounds of their legacy, this track always kicks Teutonic rear, but live, with the powerful sound, it is magnificent. ‘The Man Machine’ – icily contemplative, with a massive sound stage. So robotically otherworldly, I could swear I’m growing a cyborg arm in response.

So some final words from the boys…

Mike Cooper: “Being in Germany, and hearing them sing in German – knowing they don’t do that outside their home country, and being a non-German hearing it in their original language – we feel special and more privileged. Especially in a relatively small and intimate venue – there were no more than 1000 people there per show.”

JvA: “It’s certainly one of the most memorable live shows I’ve ever been to, and I’ve seen everyone from Michael Jackson to Yazoo. I missed their performance in Melbourne and regretted it ever since, until now. You don’t get to see Kraftwerk every day and it has met all of my expectations both visually and sonically. I would highly encourage anybody who has the opportunity to see Kraftwerk to do so – especially with the 3D show, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. The first Kraftwerk song I ever heard was ‘Trans Europe Express’ in 1977 when it was released, and at the time I’d never heard anything like it. My feelings from hearing Kraftwerk were the same as I got from listening to The Human League’s Love and Dancing; literally unlike anything I had heard before and after that, I knew that my future would be in making music. Kraftwerk are the epitome of electronic music: they are the ultimate in minimal electronics: the combination of composition and performance that all artists should aspire to.”

Special thanks to Mike Cooper and John von Ahlen.

Kraftwerk’s Minimum Maximum live album is released by EMI Records and available as a double CD and DVD in both English and German language versions.