2017 – The Year In Review

2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…


2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.

January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.

TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.

TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”

Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”.

In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.

Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.

With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.

One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”

Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””

Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.

Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.

April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).”

Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.

The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.

Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.

AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.

Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.

Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.

Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.

German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.

Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.

Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.

While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.

Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.

Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.

Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.

The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.

Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.

2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.

Culled from their 2016 album Ath.Lon, in June Greek duo Marsheaux unveiled a new video for ‘Now You Are Mine’.

Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.

August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.

The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.

Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.

The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.

The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!

PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.

Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.

As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.

Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.

Curxes brought us the hypnotic delights of ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, which paved the way for new album Gilded Cage.

As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.

Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.

This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Gary Numan – My Name Is Ruin
Sparks – What The Hell Is It This Time?
Alphaville – Heartbreak City
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Never Alone

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms
Superdivorce – Action Figures
Brian Eno – Reflection

Favourite Event of 2017

OMD at Liverpool Empire in October.

Most Promising New Act

Superdivorce


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Among the Echoes – Breathe
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Control Me
John Foxx and the Maths – Orphan Waltz
Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
Gary Numan – Bed of Thorns

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Jori Hulkkonen – Don’t Believe in Happiness
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona

Most Promising New Act

Spaceprodigi


BARRY PAGE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – Ghost Star
Waaktaar and Zoe – Mammoth
Depeche Mode – Cover Me
Simen Lyngroth – The Waves
Alexis Georgopoulos and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – The Marble Sky

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble
Simen Lyngroth – Take All The Land
a-ha – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice
Empathy Test – Losing Touch
Sparks – Hippopotamus

Favourite Event of 2017

Depeche Mode at London Stadium, June 2017

Most Promising New Act

Simen Lyngroth

Best reissue

China Crisis – Working With Fire and Steel


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Semaphore
2raumwohnung – Lucky Lobster (Night Version)
Sylvan Esso – Die Young
Pixx – I Bow Down
Vitalic (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

2raumwohnung – Nacht und Tag
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
AIVIS – Constellate
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Vitalic – Voyager

Favourite Event of 2017

Kraftwerk in 3D at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Most Promising New Act

AIVIS


PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Mountaineers
Empathy Test – Bare My Soul
Austra – Utopia
TR/ST – Bicep
Curxes – In Your Neighbourhood

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Empathy Test – Safe From Harm/Losing Touch
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Austra – Future Politics
Susanne Sundfør – Music For People In Trouble
Sailor & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Favourite Event of 2017

Synthetic City 2017

Most Promising New Act

Empathy Test


KRAFTWERK – Nottingham

The German electronic pioneers bring their visually impressive performance to Nottingham…

“For beauty we will pay”

Never a truer word as (like the rest of the tour), these tickets immediately sold out when they went on sale last September, such is the demand to see this multi-media extravaganza. Some people/forums/blogs may think that Kraftwerk have become a pastiche of their former self, a cash cow homage to their past. I am not one of those people.

Nottingham Royal Concert Hall, easily one of my favourite concert venues for atmosphere and sound quality, didn’t disappoint tonight. Luckily I was able to get front row tickets in the stalls and it took this incredible experience to the next level.

The current line up consists of Ralf Hütter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen (as the live video technician). While Ralf may be the only original member left, the music was always so far ahead of its time that it is still futuristic and resonates in so many modern music genres. Arguably the most influential band of a lifetime?


The last time I saw the Kraftwerk 3D experience I was awaiting an eye operation so the 3D never worked for me. No problems this time around. Entering stage-right to take their places on their control podiums in their Tron-style cycling skin tight suits, the wow factor of the opening track ‘Numbers’ brought gasps from the audience as huge neon numbers zoomed in and out of the screen, followed by an undulating blanket of ‘Matrix’ style numbers which then flew back and forth to the pulsating beats.

‘Computer World’ followed, this time giving a great depth of 3D with binary code as a backdrop and a floating computer in the foreground.

Then into ‘It’s More Fun To Compute’ / ‘Home Computer’. Unfortunately, during this number, the 3D video changed to ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ / ‘Techno Pop’ leading to a few frantic moments by Falk while it was corrected. This proved that the video mixing was live and not just synched by machine, although to the casual observer it probably didn’t seem out of place. Once corrected, the colours and depth of the 3D were just astonishing – this was the sensory overload part of the evening which left you awe-inspired and breathless.

‘The Man-Machine’, those opening crystal clear notes that send a shiver down your spine, will surely go down in history, it sounded immense. “Super Human Being” never more apt.

‘Spacelab’ took us into orbit. The 3D imagery again played with our senses, as a satellite threatened to impale our eyes. It culminated in huge cheers as a 3D Google Earth image of the UK was shown with Nottingham highlighted, ultimately ending with a UFO landing outside of the concert hall. Kraftwerk had indeed landed, and the audience were eating out of the palm of their hands.

No sooner had ‘Spacelab’ finished than ‘The Model’ started to huge cheers. The UK’s best-known Kraftwerk track was performed perfectly, Ralf’s vocals monotone but wistful. Then straight into the much-covered ‘Neon Lights’ – a sweeter neon love song you will never hear. ‘Autobahn’ followed, taken for a ride on the forenamed, full of retro graphics and again performed meticulously.

Biggest surprise of the evening was ‘Airwaves’, beefed up to such an extent that initially it was only the visuals which gave it away. This version is a potentially pounding club classic and, at any other gig, the audience would have been on their feet dancing. We remained passively sat, but were dancing inside.


I waited patiently for ‘Radioactivity’, my personal favourite track, updated now to include Fukushima and a verse in Japanese. I was left with goosebumps – it was one of ‘those’ concert moments.

The cycling-obsessed ‘Tour De France’ 15-minute part of the set included ‘Tour De France’ / ‘Prologue’ / ‘Etape 1’ / ‘Chrono’ / ‘Etape 2’. While this couldn’t compete with the Manchester Velodrome performance in 2009 (when Team GB cycled around the Velodrome while the soundtrack was being played), it did bring one of the biggest cheers of the night.

‘Trans Europe Express’ / ‘Metal On Metal’ / ‘Abzug’ followed, the rhythmic pulses resonating through the brilliant acoustics at this venue. This brought the concert to a close and the Kling Klang Musikfilm logo appeared on the screen before the curtains closed.

First encore, the tongue-in-cheek ‘The Robots’, where Kraftwerk are not on stage and are replaced with actual Robots – always a highlight as they echo ‘The Man-Machine’ and move in ‘Semi Human Being’ perfect synchronicity. The curtain closes and then opens again for the second encore…


A return to Tour De France with ‘AéroDynamik’, possibly the best lighting of the neon lines of their suits – my chest vibrated with the bass from this. I felt the music. This was followed by ‘Planet Of Visions’ and then the finale of ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ / ‘Techno Pop’ / ‘Music Non-Stop’ (which we had been treated to the visuals to albeit by mistake earlier), with each member showboating in turn and then taking a spotlight bow and exit stage right until just Ralf was left.

Being this close to Ralf showed a different aspect to his reclusive nature. Lots of smiles and subtle movement to the energy of the music, which I had totally missed before, made him (just a little bit) more human. Ralf departed with an “Auf Wiedersehen” and the 2-hour experience was over.

In 1975 BBC Tomorrows World did a feature on the original line-up. That feature ended with Raymond Baxter stating “Next year, Kraftwerk hope to eliminate the keyboards altogether and create jackets with electronic lapels that can be played by touch”.

I wonder, back then, if Ralf could ever have envisioned the way they currently perform? I think he probably did, for I have listened to, and seen the future, and it is the past.


Setlist:
Numbers / Computer World, It’s More Fun to Compute / Home Computer / Computer Love / The Man-Machine / Spacelab / The Model / Neon Lights / Autobahn / Airwaves / Intermission / News / Geiger Counter / Radioactivity / Electric Café / Tour De France / Prologue / Etape 1 / Chrono / Etape 2 / Trans Europe Express / Metal on Metal / Abzug / The Robots / AéroDynamik / Planet Of Visions / Boing Boom Tschak / Techno Pop / Music Non-Stop

Kraftwerk are performing at the Royal Albert Hall, London on 21st, 22nd and 23rd June. Tickets via: http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/Kraftwerk-tickets/artist/880898

All photos by Robert Rumbell.

http://kraftwerk.com


Lost Albums : U96 Replugged

Despite having sold over 15 million records worldwide, U96 are virtually unheard of in the UK.

The Hamburg-based electronic act are best remembered for their huge international hit, ‘Das Boot’, a techno treatment of Klaus Doldinger’s 1981 film theme, which crept into the UK Top 20 in the summer of 1992.

Originally released in 1991, ‘Das Boot’ was number one in Germany (and other European countries) for several weeks. Their follow-up single, ‘I Wanna Be A Kennedy’, which borrowed heavily from Visage’s ‘Fade To Grey’, was another huge European hit.

Named after the U-96 submarine that features prominently in the Das Boot film, the original band featured an ensemble of prolific producers and musicians; namely Alex Christensen (aka AC16), Hayo Lewerentz (aka Harry Castioni) and Ingo Hauss.

U96’s debut album was largely built around the success of ‘Das Boot’, bookended with two versions of the hit track, as well as an attendant third single, ‘Der Kommandant’. The follow-up album, released in 1993, was a far more diverse collection, featuring a wider range of electronic and ambient sounds. Albums by mainstream electronic acts were certainly becoming more commonplace in the early 1990s, with the likes of 808 State, Orbital, The Prodigy and The Orb all utilising the long player as a creative platform to considerable acclaim and success.

Opening the new album was ‘War Of The Worlds’, a version of Jeff Wayne’s ‘Eve Of The War’ which had been successfully released as a single (in remixed form by Ben Liebrand), in 1989. With its striking opening German narrative and familiar symphonic melody, it seemed an obvious choice for a single, but was overlooked in favour of ‘Love Sees No Colour’.

Featuring the band’s trademark submarine sonar effects, ‘Love Sees No Colour’ incorporated a synth motif that recalled Anne Clark’s memorable 1984 single, ‘Sleeper In Metropolis’. The first of several hits for U96 to utilise a Eurodance template, it was another huge Top Ten hit in Germany. However, it flopped in the UK, and the act swiftly faded from British attentions. In Europe, however, the next single, ‘Night In Motion’, sustained the momentum and followed its predecessor into the upper reaches of the singles chart.

Other standout tracks included the beautiful ambient title track, electro glam rock stomper ‘You Make Me Wonder’ and ‘Brainkiller’, a frenetic composite of house music styles that included everything but the kitchen synth. While the opus marked the act’s commercial and artistic peak, follow-up albums Club Bizarre and Heaven would house further hits (notably ‘Love Religion’ and ‘Heaven’) and even a sequel to ‘Das Boot’ (‘Boot II’).

Alex Christensen fronted a new line-up of U96, releasing the Out Of Wilhelmsberg album in 2007, before leaving to concentrate on writing and production work under a number of pseudonyms.

It’s now a case of “systems reactivated” as original members Hayo Lewerentz and Ingo Hauss have recently reunited to release brand new U96 material. As well as releasing The Dark Matter EP in 2015, they have also been performing live for the first time. They are currently preparing to release Reboot, a brand new album which is due for release this year – new label Triggertrax have already released a sneak preview of the album via YouTube called ‘Monkeys’. Hayo Lewerentz took some time out from his busy schedule to tell us about U96’s future plans, and to reflect on their Replugged album.

‘Das Boot’, both the single and the album, were massive hits in the early 1990s. How much pressure were you under to follow up this remarkable success?

“It was quite a pressure that we had, because the record company at the time expected even bigger hits, which is hardly possible! Today, though, we don’t feel that pressure anymore.”

Whose idea was it to record a version of Jeff Wayne’s ‘Eve of the War’?

“The record company suggested to record another film score after ‘Das Boot’ and we couldn’t find any suitable score apart from this which we really liked.”

Were there any discussions about releasing this as a single?

“Yes there were, but in the end Polydor wanted to release ‘Love Sees No Colour’ as the first single from that album and it went really, really well too. It sold about 500,000 copies and went into the Top Ten in many countries.”

‘Love Sees No Colour’ takes its lead from Anne Clark’s brilliant mid-80s single ‘Sleeper in Metropolis’. Presumably you were big fans of this song?

“Well it is not the same but it sounds it bit similar. We are all influenced by 80s electronic music and I played that track very often in the club where I was a DJ back then. I love all her work, but our influences came from many other artists too. I think pop music only survives when artists let their influences take a part in their present work.”

What were your key musical influences during this period?

“Well, we listened to a lot of other techno artists but we also loved a lot of 80s and electronic artists such as Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode. The scene in Germany in the beginning of the 90s was not that big but we met other artists at Pokomm in Cologne or in the clubs too. Everyone kept talking about the newest techno tracks and Euro disco was quite a big thing. We worked with other artists too, such as the producers from Snap and Culture Beat, and we did remixes for many other artists like Sting with Eberhard Schoener, Diana Ross, Oliver Cheatham and Herbert Grönemeyer. If you listen to so much music from different genres it doesn’t leave you ‘uninfluenced’.”

What current electronic music artists do you like?

“I love Underworld, The Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Röyksopp, Nitzer Ebb, Ladytron and IAMX, but also new artists such as Chvrches and even Knife Party when it comes to EDM. The musical universe is endless and I am always looking for exiting new music. In my DJ sets I try to mix new and older music because I think that some of it mixes very well.”

Replugged is bristling with ideas and showcases an impressive palette of electronic sounds and styles. ‘Theme from Replugged’ and ‘The One Russian’, in particular, display a different, more ambient side that people wouldn’t normally associate with U96. How much creative freedom did you have?

“We had quite a lot of artistic freedom on that album because we had quite a lot of hit singles. That made the record label trust us in that time. It went a bit worse at a later stage when they put us under pressure to go more the pop way. But Ingo and myself always preferred the more leftfield side of U96 and we will do that again in the future. We also still like the artwork of Replugged very much as it is simple, strong and easy to remember.”

What was the thinking behind the title Replugged? Was this a reaction to MTV’s Unplugged series in the 1990s?

“Yes! We saw it as a joke as it was not possible for electronic bands to play this show, and it was promoted so heavily.”

There’s a Prodigy-like playfulness on tracks such as ‘Feel Like A Dum Dum’. Presumably you had a lot of fun experimenting on this album?!

“Yes, indeed, we had lots of fun! That album was like a musical playground for us – breakbeats on ‘Feel Like A Dum Dum’, house beats on ‘Je Suis Selected” and even a ballad. It also contained hit singles like ‘Love Sees No Colour’ and ‘Night In Motion’. You will definitely hear some of the Replugged tracks in our new live set.”

I view Replugged as U96’s best album – what do you think of the album when you listen to it now?

“We agree that Replugged is the strongest and most interesting album that we made. We still like it very much and still play some tracks of that album live today.”

What memories do you have of that initial period of success in the early 1990s?

“The success we had was totally unexpected and I remember that many people around us tried to talk us into more commercial stuff and strange TV show appearances. In the end we left of a lot of these to Alex as he was more interested in taking U96 further down the hit street. Today I think it was a big mistake not to make it more a live act and go touring at the time, which we are doing now after all these years but without Alex.”

What can you tell us about Reboot, the forthcoming U96 album?

Reboot is a brand new U96 album with all new songs that we wrote in the past two years. It will be more along the lines of Replugged and we will also take this album on tour for the first time. We did some very interesting collaborations with other artists and we are very excited about it after all these years. One of the collaborators on Reboot is British techno artist Adamski.”

I understand you’ve also collaborated with Wolfgang Flür. How did this collaboration occur, and how much of a thrill was it to work with the Kraftwerk legend?

“Yes, we have recorded a track with him in medieval German language which sounds very strange. I’ve known Wolfgang for quite some time as he was working with a British band, Nitzer Ebb, that I released on my label, Major Records, which I had from 2004 to 2014. It is an honour to work with such a legendary person and apart from that he is a very nice guy.”

Do you have a release date yet?

“There is no definite release date yet as we will sign it with a brand new label that just starts into business this year, but it will definitely be released later this year along with a tour that will hopefully also take us to the UK again.”

Many people will of course associate U96 with Alex Christensen, who was the focal point of the band for many years. Was he invited to join this latest U96 project, or was he simply too busy to participate?

“Yes, that`s true. Alex was the focal point in this project for many years as we left him doing DJ sets under the name of U96 for quite some time. In the studio though it was mainly Ingo and myself that produced and wrote the songs from the very beginning of U96 until now. As a band (Ingo, Alex and me) we only did one public appearance and that was on Top Of The Pops, the biggest UK TV show at the time. Of course, we asked Alex to join the new U96 live set, but he wasn’t interested as he is not a musician and he wants to concentrate on his work as a producer.”

How are you enjoying the live shows?

“We love to do live shows and at the moment we are working on the visual concepts for the next U96 shows which will take place later this year.”

Finally, with a new Das Boot TV series arriving in 2018, are there any plans for you to re-release (or re-record) your most revered single?

“We are actually working on that one right now! Especially because we don’t want to just play a retro show when we go on tour. We’d rather do a show with brand new songs and some of the old classics of course, but in a way that is more ‘now’.”


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Hayo Lewerentz.

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OMD English Electric

The future that you anticipated has been cancelled

The release of History Of Modern in 2010, which effectively marked OMD’s revival with the classic line-up, could have been viewed as setting up the template for OMD’s sound in the 21st Century. But if OMD can be said to have one particular trait, it’s the ability to continually surprise. English Electric does exactly this with the presentation of an album that is both consistently good and surprisingly contemporary.

One of English Electric’s obvious strengths is Paul Humphreys’ role in mixing the whole album. As a result, it benefits from a much cleaner and consistent sound when compared to History Of Modern’s often muddy and uneven mixing. The second shrewd choice is selecting songs that have only been penned in the past 2 years (‘Kissing The Machine’ being the notable exception).

There’s also two very distinct influences on English Electric as an album that, alongside the production and song choices, have given this latest OMD work a solid foundation to build on.

The most obvious template for the album is OMD’s 1983 release Dazzle Ships which although infamous for damaging OMD’s upward trajectory at the time has since been regarded as one of their most classic albums as well as a classic electronic music album all round. But to describe English Electric as purely being some pastiche of Dazzle Ships would be incorrect. Instead, they’ve paid attention to the ideas that Dazzle Ships demonstrated well, such as the idea that it’s OK to experiment and also that such experiments can help to give an album a sense of pace.

As with Dazzle Ships, English Electric opens with a brief overture and then peppers the album with experimental electronic collages that intersperse the traditional songs that make up English Electric as a whole. The band could be criticised for this approach (as they were in 1983) as a sign of being creatively short of ideas, except the collages featured, such as ‘Atomic Ranch’ and ‘Decimal’, present themselves as much more accessible musical works than 1983’s ‘Time Zones’ or ‘ABC Auto-Industry’. As a result, it allows the album room to breathe without resorting to the need to pad the album out with filler (It’s worth noting that English Electric’s original selection of songs was actually culled back during the final mixing phase as it was felt that the current selection of songs was just the right balance).

The second obvious template is Kraftwerk, notably on tracks such as ‘Metroland’ – which some people have suggested is purely ‘Europe Endless’ tarted up for a 21st Century audience. But OMD were originally influenced by Kraftwerk so it seems churlish to be criticising the band for the German electronic outfit’s influence at this late stage.

The opening track ‘Please Remain Seated’ (essentially a musical sketch centred around a PA announcement) promotes the album’s theme of failed utopias by suggesting that the future you had expected has been effectively ‘cancelled’ and that from this point onwards you shouldn’t know what to expect.

This leads into ‘Metroland’ which has a brooding, stately drive to it augmented by a bright melodic tune and a subtle blend of choral effects. It’s also one of OMD’s lengthier songs clocking in at over 7 minutes, yet never appears to overstay its welcome. The radio edit, by contrast, is a fairly brutal butchering of a fine OMD moment, but then even Kraftwerk had the beauty of ‘Autobahn’ mercilessly edited down for a single release in 1975.

‘Night Café’ is all soaring melodies and warm rhythms topped with slice of life musings. In fact the lyrics were inspired by the art of painter Edward Hopper (which of course isn’t the first time that OMD have looked to the American artist for inspiration – see the cover artwork for the 1985 album Crush). There’s also an element of classic OMD here, which manages to work without being an obvious retread of OMD songs past.

For ‘The Future Will Be Silent’, OMD dip a toe into dubstep while weaving in a collage of electronica and a slice of Gothic electropop. The inspiration for the song was from an observation that OMD had previously used samples on songs and that the samples were often culled from the ‘audio waste’ of machinery and devices (think shunting trains as used on ‘The Avenue’ or the pumps used on ‘Stanlow’) but that as modern devices became more efficient, these noises were no longer being heard, hence the song title. But placed against the OMD catalogue as a whole, it’s a startling composition that gives no indication or obvious landmarks that it’s an OMD song and emerges as a surprisingly contemporary track.

OMD’s collaboration with Greek synth wonders Fotonovela comes to life on ‘Helen Of Troy’. Built up on a bed of warm, bassy electronics and strict rhythms, it’s a steady and robust number that’s countered by Andy McCluskey’s vocal gymnastics.

‘Our System’ pulls in actual recordings from the Voyager space mission (in this case the sounds from the craft passing through the magnetosphere of Jupiter) with a startling blend of electronic effects and traditional choral elements. It builds to a crescendo of choirs and percussive drumming before ending as it started with the eerie Voyager recordings.

‘Kissing The Machine<' is one of the more unusual choices for the album as it was originally recorded for the 1993 album Esperanto by Elektric Music (otherwise known as the post-Kraftwerk project conjured up by Karl Bartos). It manages to fit in quite neatly as part of English Electric’s overall pure electronic template (and also manages to recruit the dulcet tones of Claudia Brücken for the spoken segments) although whether or not this partial reworking (the vocal melody is pulled from the original recording, while the arrangement are new) can be declared a success is open to debate.

‘Decimal’ appears to owe its influence to the 1983 OMD track ‘Time Zones’ with its layering of vocal recordings, although Andy McCluskey claims the influence dates much further back to Einstein On The Beach by Philip Glass. For ‘Decimal’, the samples appear to have been built from voicemail messages against a minimalist electronic rhythm. It’s an effective slice of experimental and sets the scene nicely for the next song.

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‘Stay With Me’ began life with the working title of Idea 3 (following on from the tracks Idea 1 and Idea 2 which emerged during the History Of Modern era) and is clearly one of the strongest songs on the album. Paul Humphreys makes his long-overdue return to vocal duties on an OMD song with this slice of wistful electropop. Comparisons to earlier classics such as ‘Souvenir’ are inevitable and the lush melodic fabric of the song certainly call to mind the 1981 release, but ‘Stay With Me’ still manages to stand on its own as a beautiful and uplifting song. This is classic OMD, but on a much broader canvas. It’s also got potential single written all over it.

If there’s one track on English Electric prepared to give ‘Stay With Me’ a run for its money, then it’s ‘Dresden’. A driving bass rhythm bolsters an epic melody with a wonderful vocal delivery from Mr McCluskey. This track has been selected as the second single and it’s not that difficult to see why. There’s something about this track that just ticks all the right boxes and the mixing puts every element at their individual strengths. ‘Dresden’ is also clearly destined to be a popular live song.

‘Atomic Ranch’ is one of the tracks that emerged very early in the writing process for English Electric and was originally to have featured the vocal element delivered by Andy. Choosing to have the vocals recorded in an emotionless robotic sound synthesizer however, gives the track much more impact. Here we see the themes of failed utopias played out and removing the human aspect lends the idea a much stronger and bleaker outcome.

‘Atomic Ranch’ would have probably been the definitive statement to end the album on. As it is, ‘Final Song’ rounds out the album as a serviceable smooth electro-lounge number.

It’s wonderful to discover that when you least expect it, OMD can deliver good solid tunes alongside more than a few surprises. English Electric is an album that can easily go up against the best of the contemporary Electropop artists (indeed, the latest Karl Bartos album Off The Record provides a good companion piece) and continues to assert OMD’s legacy as a pioneering electronic band.


A more in-depth analysis of English Electric is available here on our sister site Messages: English Electric In Profile.

http://www.omd.uk.com/
http://www.omd-messages.co.uk/

This review originally appeared on the Messages website.


Alles Klar – On Tour With ULTRAVOX

Now in the fourth year of their widely documented reunion, Ultravox know no boundaries. When it came to the next jigsaw sequence in Ultravox history, the unveiling of their 2012 studio album Brilliant, with a European tour to follow, was an impressive gesture of intent. With input from both Billy Currie and Warren Cann, The Electricity Club discusses the European electronic tradition, the heart of which was beating in Cologne at the beginning of the 1960s. We look at the German pioneers, and how they would potentially impact on the creative nucleus of classic-era Ultravox


Electrification


Ultravox were amongst the innovators of British electropop that started to edge their way into the mainstream just over three decades ago. However, some aspects of their unique brand of British New Wave would sit more comfortably alongside the dark shadows of an imposing location, somewhere in Germany. And, considering the new electro Europeans had already been unleashing offerings that were born out of that very hotbed for heavy industry (take the likes of Neu! and Kraftwerk as fine examples), it would appear that Ultravox would follow them nicely, complete with abstract lyrics and a graphic stance.

Germany is, of course, where the first seeds were planted with regard to experimental electronic music. For the German main-players, styled expression was the soundtrack – one that would elicit freedom and present music in different forms. A hit back at the social problems and a diverse contrast to what was considered the norm. It started as early as 1968 with a band known as Organisation, who would later change their name to Kraftwerk in 1970. Subsequently, towards the back end of the 1970s, many artists in the UK were taking their cue and experimenting with the synthewsizer and thus, citing bands such as Kraftwerk as their primary influence when it came to manipulating their new found signatures. The German pioneers could almost be a Power Station full of raw materials that would get broken down and used later – and in many varied forms.

Shortly over thirty years later, the rise of the album Brilliant – and subsequent tour – proved that Ultravox never lost their way musically. They would eventually shift direction, but the impact of those early German influences (particularly throughout their former years) was more than just a mere paperweight.

Uncovering Brilliance – Europe 2012


Ultravox never did things by halves. Although their initial UK show consisted of two sets, the band announced that they would be foregoing a support act in favour of playing for longer. They did just that, their full show consisting of a twenty seven song set divided by a twenty-minute interval. Playing live is what they do best – “Ultravox never came across on record,” states Warren Cann.

The set would go through its natural evolution process that encompassed a couple of minor tweaks, including some re-ordering of encores. “It was actually the merchandising guy that pointed it out,” Warren Cann tells The Electricity Club, referring to when original encore ‘Contact’ swapped places with ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’. “He said people were less likely to buy a tee-shirt on the way out if they were leaving on a low.” It was later omitted from the set completely by the time the show got to Europe. And there lies the challenge in putting together a set: “Imagine four guys with a paint brush”.

Warren explained that they would list all their songs and then each member would go through them to determine those out of the question and those that they’d like to do. He expounded additional factors, such as the need to consider the key of the song or whether Midge played too much keyboards or guitar in particular sections of the set . Therefore there was a need to judge the whole look and feel, in addition to enabling it to work musically.

Forging a set list from Brilliant was obviously new territory for the band this time around: “I think there are songs that we are not playing that we should be playing,” stated Warren when speaking of the tracks from Brilliant. But his preferences regarding the set didn’t stop there: “I’d like to play ‘Passionate Reply’, as well as a couple of Foxx-era tracks including ‘Slow Motion’,” he reveals, following the Leipzig gig (which saw the band return to a traditional one set show). “Playing two sets was weird,” adds Billy Currie. “I was glad to get back to the one set again in Germany”.


Dropping ‘Visions In Blue’, ‘Change’, and ‘White China’, they would apply a serious re-think about the running order; which saw new encores ‘The Thin Wall’ and ‘The Voice’ installed within a single set. It worked to the best of advantages, providing a refreshing experience, given the changes were somewhat unexpected. It stripped out formality and exposed a reinvigorated band that would mirror the majority of German audiences in their more intimate venues (in terms of energy that is). Warren also commented on how much they enjoyed the vibrancy of the European shows in comparison to the rather sedate British audiences. Billy added: “I have great memories of the UK concerts. The audiences tend to soak up the whole production scene when seated, and so can be quieter.”

Arguably, they were a different band on the continent and the cogs were well and truly oiled. “The Berlin, Cologne, Munich and Hamburg gigs were all great memories for me,” says Billy. “I think the band played well. In Germany we played large clubs where the audience stand for over two hours. I think they felt more full-on involved! The sound is much more basic in these clubs. More like a straightforward rock gig really… sorry, electronic rock gig. I enjoy both kinds. Unfortunately I am obscured by my own piano to the lower down standing club audience. That gets a bit tedious! I must take up the violin!”

Upon reaching Cologne, they were placed in what could almost feature as their spiritual home given the prominence of their iconic, early releases that were written and recorded there. Opening with the title track from their new album Brilliant, before stepping into their distinct blend of rock band persona for ‘New Europeans’, it was no surprise that they would continue to generate lashings of raw atmosphere that stemmed from those important changes made to the show configuration in Leipzig. This time it was non-stop power, which saw them step out from the industrial shadows and deliver all the raw materials they’d always been noted for, not least, the drama of their most famous ballad ‘Vienna’ – which incidentally had a certain magical appeal when witnessed at the Gasometer venue in Vienna.

There were rocked up versions of the hits ‘Hymn’ and ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’, these two tracks in particular exhibiting some subtle differences. For one, they had become more guitar orientated and the keyboard part on the verses of ‘DWTIME’ was difficult to extract at all the shows (although it’s as clear as a bell on the Hammersmith live recordings). Explosive breaks of synths and violin were still high on the agenda though. Take ‘Astradyne’ for example, and not least, the undercurrent of its uplifting piano melodies. Every show on the tour earned its own special place – Midge and Billy’s handshake onstage in Munich following ‘We Stand Alone’, and one dangerously intense synth solo, was another notable moment that induced masses of audience cheers.

There was no shortfall when it came to showcasing their new catalogue from Brilliant either. And, true to form, on each night they would deliver the grandest of finales: ‘The Voice’, which now has a more powerful piano sound behind it, saw all four members taking part in their legendary percussive workout before taking their bows and tossing their drumsticks into the audience. “I’ve really enjoyed playing these European shows,” remarked Warren after the Cologne gig.

In returning to Germany for their recent dates, it’s logical to ponder whether there is still an affinity to the country, with the band having worked on Systems Of Romance, Vienna and Rage in Eden there. Were there any surges of nostalgia for the band? “Yes! In Berlin,” says Billy. “I had a great view from my hotel window looking west towards Tiergarten. I knew I was looking towards Kufurstendamm, so in the early evening (we’d just flown in from Gothenburg), I walked the eight kilometers there through Tiergarten. I just wanted to be on the street of Kurfurstendamm again after so many years. In the 1970s we stayed there a few times while performing at the Kant Kino. This was when we drove through East Germany”. The ambience of the location must obviously have changed somewhat over the decades. “Berlin had a real pressure cooker vibe to it then. After the gig, we used to fall across the road into the many clubs. Most of them playing Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. Great memories.”

Berlin was an original centre of experimentation at the start of what would become Germany’s experimental period in terms of new music. Bowie had also acknowledged this, taking the decision to record Low and ‘Heroes’ at the city’s Hansa Studio by the Wall, back in ‘76/’77 respectively. Since the 1970s and the days of Kant Kino, Ultravox would return to Germany for subsequent tours. “As a nod to the 1980s, “I walked back past the Hotel Inter-Continental near the zoo,” says Billy. “We stayed there in 1982 when then-Vice President George Bush was in town. We flew into Berlin then. There were so many riot police and demonstrators that we found it very hard to even get to the gig! The hotel looked different. It looked free. Lots of space around it rather than walls and gun towers! It was dark when I walked back by the river.”

The Finer Threads

With abstract sounds – sometimes so shockingly stark, that they would blend into sonic soundscapes – the threads that form the basis of classic-era Ultravox’s landmarks are easy to identify. Ultravox! (with the “!”) were named so after Neu! and when it came to Ultravox continuing their significant journey, their albums Vienna and Rage in Eden (as well as the earlier Foxx-era Systems Of Romance) would flash the genius of legendary Cologne based producer, Conny Plank – providing a common pathway that was shared by both Neu! and La Düsseldorf .

With many of Ultravox’s early, non-commercial and more obscure album tracks would come misunderstanding; being deemed cold, grim and mechanical, by the many who would often misjudge their artistry. Yet something seems incredibly appropriate when considering such a description – take the influences of the time, and not least, the visual aspects of the work. With the darker qualities of their writing, they remained uncompromising – just as those who had gone before them had. They nurtured the creative nucleus that allowed the more daring elements to flow and they made no apologies for it.

Ultravox would ultimately embrace the synthesizer, yet they set themselves even further apart by mixing that distinct blend of rock band instrumentation with various electronic personas. The earlier German bands of the genre had strived to edge beyond the basic rock ‘n’ roll simplicities, but for Ultravox guitar instrumentation would creep back in with tracks such as ‘All Stood Still’ and ‘New Europeans’. The Vienna album as a whole appeared to be built upon those very foundations and would expand upon what had already drifted into our consciousness from Germany – for those who cared enough to listen. But not only that, they took things a step further with notable classical blends also, morphing it all with softer tinges of accessible pop, or theatrical ballad. What their clever integration of styles also did, was enable them to step ahead of their more progressive German cousins, forming a brand new musical identity. It was perhaps less freeform – in the progressive sense – but it still had an expressive edge, depending on which side of their personality you would choose to appraise.

Slightly later, the concept styling of Rage in Eden was a throb of darkening desire that would touch the air with its cold voice. ‘Stranger Within’ would give way to a thrilling ride that bore similar temperate tones to Neu! guitarist Michael Rother’s ‘Feuerland’. ‘Feuerland’ with its sinister contours, maintains a pace that strives towards anxiety-driven movements sharing that familiar pulse evident in ‘Stranger Within’. The Neu! track ‘E-Musik’ is a thought-provoking one. It would be the inspiration for live B-side ‘Face To Face’, with similarities that certainly exhibit that same sense of place. Consider its texture template – from building trippy guitar to distinctive rhythmic foundations. Tones from ‘Hallogallo’ could also be traced into ‘Face To Face’, but ‘E-Musik’ is particularly significant. Drummer Klaus Dinger exhibited a motorik style much like Apache Indian tribal motifs, which Warren Cann would essentially borrow, despite him having very much being exposed to traditional blues-rock platitude. “The first gig I ever saw was Jimmy Hendrix in Vancouver,” recalls Warren.

With regards to themes around tribal drum work, cosmic rockers Faust also did lots of experimentation in this area. Looking back to ‘E-Musik’, its rhythmic chant drives forth another interesting commentary when considering how these particular drum patterns also align, not only with the outro to ‘The Voice’ (and that famed live drum solo), but also ‘The Song (We Go)’ off 1982’s Quartet album. The infusion of howling wind mid-track is a distinct haunting touch that shifts towards the intro of ‘Reap The Wild Wind’, as heard on Monument The Soundtrack. When Neu! split, thankfully that didn’t mark the end of a great period of German music. Michael Rother would go solo while Klaus Dinger went on to form La Düsseldorf. Harking back to the days of The Blitz Club, DJ Rusty Egan would play ‘Viva’ by La Düsseldorf; it also featured in the soundtrack for the Boy George dramatisation Worried About the Boy.

Conny Plank would produce the first La Düsseldorf album as well as the first three Rother albums. Billy Currie mentioned in an interview with TEC back in May that ‘Astradyne’ was heavily influenced by La Düsseldorf, most probably by the twenty minute epic ‘Cha Cha 2000′ with its middle piano breakdown and epic synthphonics. The Rother track ‘Zyklodrom’ also appears to have a marked presence. There are synth washes that melt into an empty background and those that appear towards the latter part of ‘Astradyne’ are perhaps a miniscule nod to ‘Zyklodrom’. Sonically, it’s a fiery micro-symphony with gallant tones, as is ‘Astradyne’. The mid synth sections of ‘Passing Strangers’ are also closely aligned to ‘Cha Cha 2000’. They’re also witnessed more recently, creeping into play on ‘Live’ from Brilliant. Speaking of Rother, the track ‘Sonnenrad’ was the inspiration for ‘Dancing With Tears In My Eyes’ – Billy was given the Sterntaler album, from which it came, by Conny Plank. It’s certainly possible to feel how ‘DWTIME’ could emerge from the dampened down guitar progression that underpins ‘Sonnenrad’, while noting also the rhythmic dimensions. The intros could almost be one of the same, in terms of feel, tempo, pitch and structure.

Weaving it all together, the pre-show music at the 2012 Ultravox gigs featured Rother’s ‘Flammende Herzen’ and ‘Karussell’, plus La Düsseldorf’s ‘Time’ and ‘Silver Cloud’. ‘Silver Cloud’ has a sharp synth overlay that brushes against those of ‘One Small Day’ and even drives a slight Celtic atmosphere. ‘Karussell’ however is probably the most Ultravox sounding adventure, purely due to its star bright synth motifs. But Ultravox sounding or not, such a playlist of music would give their recent shows a more potent European scent – a fitting touch.

Reflecting on what was special to him as a musician regarding this post-Neu! axis and how it influenced the direction of Ultravox, Billy Currie tells The Electricity Club: “I wasn’t influenced by them that much, but I heard the string atmosphere of Kraftwerk’s Radio-Activity and never looked back. Certainly, the strings do bear distinct alignment with the live version of ‘Mr X’, especially when the synths layer up for the outro; hugely atmospheric reveries that swell into that plethora of electric blue mist. “I heard Neu!’s ‘Hallogallo’,“ he adds. “It has ethereal synth playing ninths over a bass end that oscillates your lower stomach. That was in Conny’s studio. What a moment!”

With reference to influence revealing itself in Brilliant, Billy explains: “On ‘Rise’, there is a ninth interval in the verse (Neu!), plus simple left hand pad triads (La Düsseldorf). The subtle difference is that the triads are not that simple because the pads I do have an octave on the top so they sound a bit fuller. Possibly more classical than La Düsseldorf.” It is a thought that influences may be exchanged both ways. Ultravox may have either knowingly or unknowingly assimilated elements on to their albums and visa versa. “I think La Düsseldorf were equally influenced by us.” says Billy. “We wrote ‘I Can’t Stay Long’ and ‘Hiroshima Mon Amour’ in 1975 and 1977 respectively… I say!”

Billy once quoted in an interview with Beatmag circa 2006 that the solo at the end of ‘The Voice’ was very German and that also, ‘Williams Mix’ on his solo album Accidental Poetry Of The Structure is “quite German, with a definite nod to Conny Plank.” But then that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neu!’s ‘Leb Wohl’, with its soft piano timbres could make its acquaintance with much of Billy’s solo work. ‘The Voice’ of course displays one of those renowned fiery solos, and it’s quite possible that various trademarks were exchanged between Ultravox and Neu! when it came to such a free-form improvisation formula.

Futuristic Presence

Working with producer Stephen Lipson, the band would deliver an album that looked forward rather than back, and much of that can be put down to technological advances. In a recent interview with GForce Software, Billy spoke of his decision to avoid the use of the VSM on the Brilliant album (the VSM having the ability to replicate the Elka Rhapsody 610), in an effort to avoid over blowing certain vintage elements. There’s no harm in some of the key fundamentals that do remain – Billy’s ARP Odyssey soloing for one. An absolute favourite, and still very much possible on stage, thanks to the Oddity software instrument. The onslaught of the laptop-based studio also makes the logistics of writing and recording easier, so who knows with regards to possible future material?

When asked about the talk that’s been circulating recently regarding a possible US tour, Warren wasn’t overly optimistic about the reality of this actually happening. With regard to his views on their impact as a band in the States, he said: “It was down to the record company.”

The release of Brilliant did indeed put the band’s signature back on the parchment, certainly within Europe, but whether that scroll reaches further afield remains to be seen. Ultravox would remain a cult band in the States, but the fact that 2013 will see Midge Ure take his solo show across the waters, extending to both the States and Australia, is certainly a mark of optimism.

To conclude, the impact of the Ultravox sound can always be found and/or referenced – not a bad thing. Author Simon Reynolds, in his book Energy Flash quotes Adam Lee Miller of Adult: “I always get a kick when people say the first techno record was Cybotron’s ‘Alleys of Your Mind’. To me, it was just a New Wave record. It sounds particularly close to ‘Mr X’ by Ultravox.”


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The Electricity Club gives its warmest and grateful thanks to Warren Cann and Billy Currie.

Special thanks also to friends of The Electricity Club throughout Europe for their hospitality and kindness.

Brilliant is released on CD and double clear vinyl by Eden Recordings/EMI Music.

Ultravox 2012 Tour – Live at Hammersmith Apollo is released as a 2CD set by Live Here Now.

http://www.Ultravoxbrilliant.com/

http://www.billycurrie.com/

http://www.facebook.com/warren.cann.10

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KRAFTWERK: Publikation

With its suitably restrained jacket design and a foreword from Karl Bartos, Kraftwerk: Publikation looks like it might just be a Kling Klang product. It isn’t, of course. The shutters remain firmly down at that particular location. And Florian Schneider’s staying schtum too. So Munich-based author David Buckley has teased out some more information from Kraftwerk’s garrulous Lothario, Wolfgang Flür, and has romanced the sober and sensible Karl Bartos (who has a solo album on the way) into talking about his experiences. He’s talked at length with several of the other musicians who passed through the ranks before Ralf and Florian finally settled on the version of Kraftwerk that started to come together with 1974’s breakthrough album Autobahn.

Flür is in mildly disapproving mode about Ralf’s continuing the Kraftwerk project long after what he considers to be its sell-by date and reveals that he was asked to rejoin the band by Hütter in 1997: “He tried to buy me back with a big pile of money”, he says. The meeting, typically Kraftwerkian in that it took place at a Düsseldorf café under a chestnut tree, the protagonists elegantly consuming coffee and plum tart, ended with Wolfgang unburdening himself of years of resentment: “You broke everything with your bicycle”, he recalls telling Ralf, “you couldn’t care less what happens to Karl and me”. This exchange is possibly the equivalent of David Bowie and Lou Reed’s famous fist-fight in 1979, physical blows sublimated into an emotionally suppressed chat over kaffeeundkuchen. There are plenty of other snippets to widen the eyes; Ralf offered Kraftwerk as support act to Depeche Mode, but Gahan et al refused, saying, “It’s not the real Kraftwerk”; the unedifying story of how Ralf and Florian excised Conny Plank from the Kraftwerk project after his considerable contribution to Autobahn; details about Florian Schneider’s wealthy upbringing and his unpleasant, famous architect father; Florian’s phone call to Pascal Bussy after his Kraftwerk biography Man, Machine and Music was published during which Florian said, in French (naturellement): “Your book is shit”, and the interviews with Michael Rother and other early collaborators are fascinating.

Like all books about Kraftwerk, this one circles around the band’s core, allowing tantalising glimpses of its inner workings, but fails to penetrate the inner sanctum. Ralf Hütter comes out of it as a man atrophying in the centre of a complex and mysterious machine he has built to ensure his immortality, whose vision of The Man Machine was less a cute and smart glimpse at the way technologically advanced societies were heading, but rather a more frightening and personal expression of his own human destiny.

It is almost certainly too late for any book to fully tell the Kraftwerk story, Ralf and Florian surely aren’t going to talk to anyone now, and even a Ralf Hütter or Florian Schneider autobiography (and it would be a foolish person indeed to bet the farm on either ever happening) would probably be an oblique exercise in revisionism. Having said that, Buckley’s Kraftwerk book is the best one yet, is clearly a labour of love, and has uncovered plenty for the Kraftwerk obsessive to get their teeth into.


Kraftwerk: Publikation by David Buckley is published by Omnibus Press and available from Amazon plus a variety of other retail outlets

Mark Roland is Deputy Editor of Electronic Magazine which is available at WH Smith and online at http://www.myfavouritemagazines.co.uk/music-bookazines/electronic-special/

This review was originally published at Electronic Magazine’s Facebook page and reproduced with the kind permission of the writer. The pilot issue of Electronic features an archive interview with Kraftwerk from 1977. A preview can be viewed at http://issuu.com/futurepublishing/docs/electronicmag

http://www.Kraftwerk.com

http://www.david-buckley.com

http://www.facebook.com/electronicmagazine


KRAFTWERK Live in New York

There’s no doubt about the influence KRAFTWERK has had on OMD. Both founding members have come out dozens of times citing the German experimental electronic band as a main influence.

Lead singer Andy McCluskey jokes of how their song ‘Electricity’ is like a sped up version of Kraftwerk’s ‘Radioactivity’, there was a wonderful cover version of ‘Neon Lights’ on the Sugar Tax album along with a 2009 duo performance with Simple Minds on the Grafitti Soul tour, and on OMD’s last album History of Modern, there’s a sweetly moving dedication to the band in ‘RFWK’, the letters representing each of the Kraftwerk members names.

Yet, I have to admit that I’d never seen the band live before. Last time they came to Chicago in 2006, the price was pretty steep and I was thinking it’d be four guys just standing in front of their computers so decided not to pay the price. Unfortunately, I was totally unaware until later that they had an elaborate graphics display accompanying them. So I missed the opportunity and thought I wouldn’t get another…until the amazing news of an 8 night residency in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art came out. What a great idea! The band was to celebrate their massively influential years of music by performing each of their 8 albums (now nicely housed in a CD Box Set called Retrospective 12345678) on a specific night, all showcased inside a museum atrium/exhibit area. But the cost? If the last visit to the states was expensive, surely this event would be the same right? Nope, a very modest $25.00 a ticket but also with a VERY strict regulation of not only 2 tickets per person per SERIES, but also a paperless system that required IDs and confirmation numbers/emails to be presented by the ticket purchaser before admittance. It was a way to outsmart scalpers though I saw an outrageous Ebay listing of $1400/ticket and heard someone else paid $1,000 for theirs, crazy! But what an amazing opportunity, I couldn’t pass it up!

Though the ticket buying process went wrong for some (many couldn’t get through due to the computer system getting overwhelmed and crashing, leaving a lot of fans and even museum employees without a ticket) I had suggested to my friend that we both try on our computers but also on the phone, the later being what allowed us both to get through and snag tickets, two for Radio-Activity and a solo ticket for myself to see The Mix.

Back in October of 2011, Kraftwerk got together to celebrate an exhibit opening at The Lenbach House in Munich that had 3-D pieces being displayed. That celebration found the band performing for 3 nights and they followed that up by coming over to America in March to play at the Ultra Music Festival in Miami but for April, NYC was the place to be. There had been a lot of talk of celebrities…. who had come the night before (for Autobahn… Fran Dreschler, They Might Be Giants and Com Ma to name just a few) and who may be coming/were seen (I heard Dave Gahan’s name get dropped but no real confirmation and I never saw him…darn) and would we see anyone. There was definitely a buzz and I was thrilled to be one of the lucky ones getting to experience it all first hand!

The Museum of Modern Art is located in the heart of Manhattan so very easy to get to. As usual, I arrived a couple hours before doors opened as I had been told earlier that it was a small room with no seats, just general standing area and I wanted to make sure I was close. Unfortunately, the museum staff seemed a bit surprised that some of us arrived so early and told us we couldn’t queue even though there were already barriers and a red rope set up….hmmm, OK. So we left…. and went about 100 feet away, just gathering inside an indent of the building until they came out again later to check us off the guest list and allow us to properly queue. Sadly, my friend had to pull out and two weeks of pure nightmares with the ticket situation (this gig was in her name) ensued but I finally got a piece of paper with my name on it though I still got bopped around to a few different museum employees while outside before things were finally sorted and I was able to get back in line and wait like everyone else. When finally allowed in, we were yet again checked of ID and confirmation before being given a wrist band, a little 8 page booklet, and a small, skinny little envelope looking item and being ushered towards some stairs (that had another guard who meticulously checked my wristband… even turning it around. Like I said, VERY strict set up!)

I immediately noticed the darkness. It was like we had broken into the museum after hours, there were no lights on. The small glow we were getting was coming from the entry way, the coat room off to the left, and the small bar just at the top of the first set of stairs but the halls and staircase up to the exhibit/atrium, along with the hall leading to the bathroom had nothing. Very strange and it made it hard to see details of things or make out faces. I joked to my friend that if Dave Gahan WAS there, he’d literally have to walk up/right past me for me to notice!

When I got to the top of the stairs and went past more guards to get to the actual atrium area, I found a small square room with some people kind of milling around and a number of camera men/woman huddled by a little raiser at the back. I should mention that when I say “the back” it wasn’t very far. I’m not the best in guessing but I’d say 50, maybe 60 feet TOPS from the stage… it was a small room! The stage was about 4 feet high with a thin sheet like barrier in front that allowed the Kraftwerk men’s boxes (because we never saw exactly what they were playing) and stands/podiums to be slightly visible. It was also obvious they were going to have graphics displayed behind them so the thought was not to go right up to the stage like you would a normal “concert” because it’d limit the visual pleasure. Due to having to hit the ladies room and coat check, by the time I got back up, a front “row” had formed and rather than be way to the side, I got behind a short girl just off the center and ended up with a pretty darn good view. OMD friend Damiano and his brother Gandolfo were there too and just before start, they found me up front. The fun was about to begin….

At 8:30pm prompt, we heard computerized voices and shadowed images appeared to take their stance behind the podiums. Sadly, Ralf Hütteris the only remaining original member. He was stage right (my left). Next to him was Henning Schmitz, who joined the band in 1991 after being their sound engineer, though I believe he still does some of that now. After him was Fritz Hilpert who joined in 1987 to replace original line up member Wolfgang Flür. And finally, taking up the other end of the stage and looking at least a decade younger than any of the other members was Stefan Pfaffe… the newbie as he joined in 2008. All of them were wearing black body suits that had white stripes on them that seemed to glow depending on what lights and displays were going on. So did their boxes and podiums and very quickly, as they launched into ‘The Robots’, it was apparent we needed to open those little envelope like packets we were given and take out the contents…. 3-D glasses. How cool!!!! I’d heard of the old days when the band would take a small intermission, only to have the lights come back on to show life sized dummies in their replica who would perform this song. Sadly the dummies were in display boxes this time (though I got to see them and grab a picture on my way out tee hee ;o) but they DID appear on the screen behind the guys, met by a large cheer.

Being the night of Radio-Activity, this meant that we’d hear that particular LP in it’s entirety so after the bonus of ‘The Robots’ (not on the Radio-Activity album), they launched into the title track. I had not only been pleasantly surprised we were allowed to take pictures but stunned that a guy in the front row had been recording ‘The Robots’ and wasn’t stopped! I decided I’d try for the next one so was thrilled when the familiar sounds of Radio-Activity began, whoo hoo! Track by track the band went through the album, each song being accompanied by various graphics, most of them in 3-D format. And these were the REAL 3-D images. I have been to movies and/or park/museum shows that boast 3-D but when you see it, many of the effects fall short or are blurry but not Kraftwerk’s! There was an old fashioned transistor radio that had a hand that came out to turn the dial while a red elongated bar moved back and forth (during ‘Airwaves’ I believe), ‘Antenna’ had soundwave looking beams that radiated out and were cut in two by vibrating blazing bars that wiggled across the screen and the added bonus of stereo sound found me looking from one side of the upper corner of the room to the other, at times expecting to see something coming down on us. Looking around, it was great fun to see the heads with glasses on all around me staring up at the stage, too funny but absolutely awesome!

Vocally, some of the words were pre-recorded but the rest came solely from Ralf. Use of a vocoder was their thing back in the day but it was hard to see if Ralf had one this time but the familiar computerization met our ears and it was all I could do to not stare…. I couldn’t believe I was getting to see this finally!

Well, ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ is my absolute favorite Kraftwerk song so ever since getting the ticket for this gig, I’d been anxiously and excitedly waiting for its performance. Sadly, and for no known reason but that they just decided to do it this way, it got cut in half! It’s the final song on the Radio-Activity LP and marked the shift between assigned album and additional performances (because the band did more than just the actual evenings album) but where ‘OSO’ has a wonderfully beautiful melody with a built up tempo change until it climaxes, the band decided to just stop at the end of the slow part. I was heartbroken… ah well… half of ‘OSO’ is better than NO ‘OSO’ I guess ;o)

And so the album part of the night ended… but that was just part 1 of the evening because after that, it was a free for all. The guys launched into ‘Autobahn’ and the graphics for that were stellar! We were all transported into the drivers seat of a car whizzing along with others on the German expressway, curves and all. It was definitely a highlight! ‘Trans-Europe Express’ was next, and as would be expected, trains behind the guys.

I should mention that the whole time I watched, all four guys stayed pretty stone faced and composed. I knew that was their “thing” but I saw Fritz let out a small smile once or twice as did Ralf, but both were very subtle about it. Henning on the other hand, well I’m not afraid to admit he scared me a bit. He made me a bit nervous, more menacing than the others and I was glad I was in the second row (though my goal for The Mix is to be front… but I think I’ll stay more towards Fritz and Stefan again).

There were many a time we had things coming right at us. During ‘Numbers’, the letters and numbers kept, er, smacking me in the face and forehead. There were a multitude of cry-outs coming from the crowd, a few even ducking and/or trying to catch the flying objects. ‘Home Computer’ was the most colorful. There was a rainbow of bars all rotating around and even the boxes and podiums changed colors. This second half of the gig also brought about more movement. A girl in the front row continued to sway back and forth in a large octagon motion, the guy in front of me and Damiano were both moving around, and it was easy for me to bop around too though I refrained from a true bounce, it didn’t really feel quite appropriate but their music is too fun to not at least dance.

About three quarters of the way through, I saw some fans had taken their glasses off so I tried that too. It was ‘Tour De France’ and it was OK for awhile, actually kind of nice to free the face and see the guys without a slight film in front of my eyes but shortly after, I could see that the bicyclists that were trekking along behind on the screen were a bit blurry so back on went the glasses and I didn’t take them off until after the show was over.

Probably their, er, funniest (if I can use that term in describing Kraftwerk… it’s meant in a good way) song ‘Boing Boom Tschak’ was met with the words “boing” and “boom” cased in yellow quotation bubbles like you’d see in the olden days of say Batman and Robin or Spiderman TV series… I couldn’t help but giggle (which was easy to do since I had a huge smile on my face the whole night. I was just mesmerized by the whole experience).

They did their final two songs of Techno Pop and the appropriate ‘Musique Non Stop’ and this was when we saw each of the members take their exit. But not before they each did their own little part to the song on their own boxed equipment. Henning’s was probably the closest to a jam, Ralf’s was more, well, old Kraftwerk sounding for a lack of a better term but when he was the last on the stage, the crowd cheered its loudest of the night. Eventually he too left but not before saying “Thank you, see you tomorrow night”. The crowd continued to cheer a bit but the lights came on shortly after and we could see it was over. 1 hour and 45 minutes of pure 3-D fun and something I hadn’t ever experienced before at a “concert”. All I could think of (well besides OMG) was that I was going to get to do it again in 6 days, yippee!!!

Well I had to ask Damiano to take my picture with the 3-D glasses on, then we went to the gift shop. As he said, and it was true, the nicest arranged and organized display he’d seen. None of us bought anything but set our sights on some things for another night (he’s seeing a few more throughout the week/weekend) and then left. But not before I snuck a picture of the aforementioned cased Robots. I say “snuck” because they were right out in the open, others had taken pics earlier on when the museum was open but for some reason a guard tried to rush us out the door. I took a few steps, then he got sidetracked so thought “eh” and ran back to grab it while Damaino and his brother laughed. Like they said, more people were still in the place and hadn’t left so what’s the rush?

Once outside and heading down the street still chatting about the gig, we saw a black town car pull up. Damiano thought for sure it was for the band but as we stopped (not to look so much but because others were coming towards us in our way) two more pulled up. His brother wondered and I thought maybe each member was going to get their own so we did stop for second as his brother said “are they coming out now?” but nope, some other guy came up to one of the cars. Maybe a crew or something but we didn’t care to wait and continued on. Goodbyes soon ensued and that was that for the night but what a night it was! SO glad they decided to come to America and do this residency and also to make it affordable for so many to come and see them… bless their hearts!

Now I wait for Monday, though I’m a bit curious of the set list. The second half of this gig was almost like seeing The Mix already so something is going to have to fill the Radio-Activity part of the show… hmmm…. maybe another ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’… or ‘Neon Lights’ perhaps? THAT would be awesome but no matter, I loved every song performed tonight so whatever they throw at us (literally at times!) will be great!


Text and pics by Lori Tarchala
14th April 2012

This article originally appeared on the Wavegirl site.



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.

www.Kraftwerk.com