One day in the future, Kraftwerk will tour the world in a single night. Ralf Hütter will be gone, having passed on to the great motherboard in the sky, but it won’t matter. Fans will gather in venues across the globe, strap on their virtual reality headsets, and the Kraftwerk experience will be beamed – live and direct from Düsseldorf – into their field of vision. Ralf will be standing stage right, like he always does. And no one will mind, because it’s exactly the kind of thing you’d expect them to do. Because the live Kraftwerk experience has very little to do with the personalities involved and everything to do with the ways in which their music is presented.
The band stand behind small podiums, like smartly attired car hire reps at a regional airport. They’re faced by an audience wearing 3D glasses. And on a vast screen behind them, familiar songs are joined by their original, one-dimensional artwork, which is spun into three-dimensional animations that whizz and throb and float gently towards the crowd. This isn’t Avatar or Toy Story 3, where everything is designed to have the audience ducking into their seats to avoid incoming shrapnel, but a warmer, more playful tweaking of the experience.
Numbers is backed by a screen full of slowly rippling numerals, and Autobahn finds us swishing along brightly coloured, sharply rendered highways. Radioactivity is updated to include onscreen references to Sellafield, Chernobyl and Fukushima, while during Spacelab, a clipart UFO zooms in to land right outside the venue. And on first encore The Robots, the band are replaced by – yep, you guessed it – actual robots. For a visual experience it’s gleefully literal, and sometimes it feels like watching an old episode of Tomorrow’s World, where the future of the live concert experience is represented by graphics plucked from the early days of computer gaming.
It’s the sonics that invoke the most delight, from the VW engine noise that bounces around the hall at the beginning of Autobahn to a lovely, brief moment during Tour de France where the only sound is that of a bicycle hub freewheeling. It’s More Fun To Compute is given a techno makeover, while you can still draw a direct line from the percussive barks of Trans Europe Express to Afrika Bambaataa and early hip-hop.
It finishes as the various members of Kraftwerk stop whatever it is they do and, one-by-one, take bows and depart. Ralf puts his hand over his heart and waves, to a standing ovation. Dazzling.