Kraftwerk have often, and lazily, been called “the Beatles of electronic music”for their influence on modern sound. These days, as they trundle around the globe recreating their most famous songs on stage, they’re more like the Rolling Stones of electronic music, with the difference that the Stones release the occasional album of new material, as well as still having three original members. Kraftwerk now consist of sole founder member Ralf Hutter and three anonymous replacements, who as far as is known have never played or sung on any Kraftwerk recordings (in this they most resemble, say, the current touring line-up of Gerry And Th e Pacemakers).
Seeing Kraftwerk now is entirely a heritage experience, and has been since the release of their last new album, Tour De France Soundtracks, 14 years ago (and that was the very belated follow-up to 1986’ s Electric Café). There are, of course, differences – several of the new ‘members’ are bald, and the odd track from Tour De France is played – but essentially any Kraftwerk show between 1997 and 2017 is the same as the rest.
The main differences now are in presentation. Kraftwerk, Ralf Hutter told me in the early 1990s, were always about the whole experience, visual as well as audio, and that attitude, combined with their philosophy of the Man Machine, humans and technology meshing, meant that a Kraftwerk show would always feature some innovation – dancing robots, computerised videos, even musical calculators. Never mind that the Man Machine concept was broad enough to include both nuclear power and bicycles, it was a strong idea which, like a rocket on autopilot, has kept Kraftwerk going long after they ceased to be a functioning creative unit.
And so we come to the latest retuning of the Man Machine. This time, as ever, there is no new material and nothing to add to the canon except an upgrade in sound quality and, as the title of this collection tells us, 3D. Now those familiar videos – the Beetle of Autobahn, the slogans of Radioactivity – are enhanced by not very impressive special effects such as you might find in, say, Toy Story 3.(If you don’t have Blu-ray, you don’t even get that, just a DVD or CD which sounds exactly like 2006’ s Minimum Maximum.)
Once upon a time, Hutter talked about replacing the band’ s human members with robots. As the only remaining, and now pensionable, human in the band, maybe it’s time he did just that. Who knows, the robots might even make a new album.