Kraftwerk in Dublin: Occasionally over repetitive but with moments of genius
Kraftwerk at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin. Stars: 3
It is no exaggeration to say that, along with The Beatles, Kraftwerk is the most influential group in contemporary popular music. Photograph: AP/dpa/Jens Kalaene
We should never forget how much of a pioneering group Kraftwerk once was. Beginning in Düsseldorf in the early 1970s, while virtually everyone else was dallying with prog rock and prancing to pop, they fully embraced electronic instrumentation, invented their so-called “robot pop”, and in doing so influenced future genres of music to include electro-pop, hip-hop, techno and club music. It is no exaggeration to say that, along with The Beatles, Kraftwerk is the most influential group in contemporary popular music.
Unusually for such a vastly influential unit, however, there isn’t the usual engagement with cult of personality. Indeed, as the four tight-costumed men of a certain age position themselves stoically behind their keyboard stands, only the devoted Kraftwerk fan will be able to identify the group’s sole remaining original member, Ralf Hütter. In the space of two hours, it is he who will utter just four words to the fanbase (“good evening, auf wiedersehen”), and who will leave the stage last, appreciative of the room’s standing ovation.
Here’s another curio, though: what made them so amazing in the 1980s - the futurist aesthetics of man/machine parallels, viewing art as indivisible from everyday mechanical functions, isolation resting beside the ease and comforts of technology - makes them now virtually ordinary commentators on the nature of social media. Thirty-five years ago, Kraftwerk dealt in what to many was science fiction; now, advances in technology has overtaken them.
This doesn’t make the 3-D presentation of their latest stage production any the less enjoyable. Blending supremely melodic electronic tracks (Trans Europe Express, Neon Lights, Autobahn, Radioactivity, The Robots, The Model) with the proto-glitchy techno they brought into being (Computer Love, Tour de France, Boing Boom Tschak), the show glides over an audience wearing 3-D glasses. Visual backdrops include vintage film footage and 3-D trickery, some of which seems almost quaint.
That’s not to say the music is in any way similarly bound to the past. The brilliant thing about Kraftwerk is that from the very start they were way ahead of the curve. What this show proves is that while the music can occasionally be overly repetitive, there are always moments when the music glistens with genius.