April 29, 2004

A Werking Title

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DAZE is rarely a part of something genuinely revolutionary in the Arts world, but last week, a frantic call to the daze offices alerted our impoverished section of a major new event: robots were going to be in Toronto, and we were invited. So four select daze writers and their good friend, “crystal meth,” piled into Alex Linhardt’s ’68 Shelby Cobra. Upon entering the venue, we could hardly believe our eyes. Scores upon scores of robots pacing the streets, getting into cars, going into restaurants. We later learned these were not robots at all, but Canadians! Disappointed, we made our way to the Toronto Ricoh Coliseum on Friday, April 23. Inside, we found the legendary group Kraftwerk, perhaps the most influential, and least appreciated, group of the 1970s. As one of the first bands to apply synthesizers to pop music, Kraftwerk was essentially responsible for the formation of all hip-hop and electronic music, from David Bowie and The Orb to Britney Spears and Missy Elliott. Rarely touring during their heyday in the mid-1970s, this Toronto date constituted just one stop in Kraftwerk’s Europe and North America tour to promote the recent release of Tour de France, their first album in 17 years. And they have not aged a day. Their prowess as self-described “sound technicians” made itself evident as Kraftwerk tactically melded their old and new songs, producing a marvelous score for a laser-lit evening at the robot-opera.

Having no idea what sort of people constituted a Kraftwerk crowd, we all stood still to blend in with the walls and people-watch before the show. As Kraftwerk can perhaps be described to the layman as “noisy beeps and skronks,” it was unclear who this music appealed to beyond musicians and historians, and, furthermore, what anyone’s reaction to this music might be. It’s not propulsive enough to dance to, but it would be awkward to just sit there and stare at them work on their laptops and keyboards. Apparently, a Kraftwerk crowd resembles a bunch of gaudy sophisticates adorned with monocles and chandelier-size earrings. Either that or they are sort of like Mike Myers’s character on Saturday Night Live’s “Sprockets” (whose theme was, in fact, a sped-up Kraftwerk song). We immediately felt out of place in our Judas Priest shirts and suspenders. Finding our seats on the fourth balcony, we prepared for the Man-Machine onslaught. The concert began abruptly with the tumultuous darkening of the entire coliseum and a brief introduction in German and English by a synthesized voice backstage. Then the curtained stage was backlit in a crimson hue that silhouetted the four members who stood in a row, each behind his own computer console, as the intro to their legendary song “The Man-Machine” began to pulse through the ever-thickening atmosphere of the coliseum. With the drawing of the curtain, history was made: Kraftwerk was back in North America with the greatest opening act ever since the Big Bang! As the words, “MACHINE MAN HALF-BEING HALF-SUPERTHING” burst onto a giant screen behind them, it felt like nothing so much as a combination of Nazi propaganda and a Microsoft convention. Some audience members were frightened, others jumped up and down. daze tried to start a riot, but our weapons of choice, beer and warm jackets, just resulted in us falling asleep for a few moments.

Unabated for over an hour, the first set displayed much of their new material, including “Vitamin” off Tour de France and old favorites like “Autobahn” from their masterpiece album of the same name from the mid-1970s (see below). Meanwhile, Kraftwerk stood steadfast on stage, those mighty sentinels of an entire genre of modern music, unfazed by the hypnotic melodies they were unleashing upon the crowd. Confused as how to receive this aural splendor, many concert-goers stood or sat about, anxiously watching the giant screens as bicyclists whizzed through the French countryside or a deluge of pills fell over the audience. The members were then replaced by robotic automatons who executed synchronized arm movements. In fact, the animatronic Kraftwerk was superior to the real life one. Afterwards, Kraftwerk returned triumphantly donning neon jumpsuits to wrap up the show. Looking like glowing volleyball nets, they played their last number for the night, during which the words “Music Non Stop” appeared on stage, and one by one the members filed out, taking the time to show their gratitude by bowing before a roaring crowd prior to exiting. Although it seemed like a contradiction — clearly the non-stop music had just stopped — Kraftwerk was right. Their point is that everything is music: men-machines, explosions, radioactivity sirens, all manner of clangs, and pings. And, indeed, on the way out of Canada, we were treated to the music of two border patrol agents searching our vehicle for drugs.

Archived article by Chris Kakovitch and Alex Linhardt