It would be understandable if, at nearly 50 years old, Kraftwerk decided to hang up the keyboards and let their achievements speak for themselves. Electronic music as we know it would probably not exist without the band; certainly many electro subgenres such as house, trance and dubstep would have no inspiration to draw on had the German techno pioneers not built these genres foundations back in the 70s. Yet, even today, Kraftwerk still bring innovation to the table with their live 3D experience. With such a wide ranging influence, it was not a surprise to see people as young as 17 and as old as 70 queueing up with eager anticipation in the lobby of the Waterfront Hall on Sunday night (June 4th 2017).
As we entered the hall, we received a pair of neat 3D glasses enclosed in a red case with a pixelated graphic of the 4 band members on the front. It was a nice touch and an instant souvenir which meant I could avoid queueing in front of the merch stand for 20 minutes. The 3D itself, while at times unsettlingly effective as computer monitors and satellites flew over the audience, was not integral to the performance. This is personal preference; I enjoy listening to Kraftwerk in near total darkness, letting the electronic waves wash over me and carry me off into the stratosphere. It was a pleasant and perhaps necessary gimmick to bring the crowds but at times the graphics seemed to lose any sense of aesthetic; slick neon transitioned into CGI animation that would have seemed outdated in 1997, let alone 2017. The ultimate gimmick of a spaceship descending in front of a stock image of Waterfront Hall predictably made the crowd cheer but distracted me entirely from the majesty of ‘Spacelab’. Yet this was a one off, and the expertly edited stock footage of ‘Tour de France’ and the eerie and nostalgic recreation of the dummies during ‘Robots’ were particularly exhilarating visual standouts.
Yet the real star of the show was, as always, the music. From the first low tones of ‘Numbers’, the music was captivating and I was amazed at how fresh it still sounds today. Some of the reworking slightly updated the style of the tracks to make it seem this way, occasionally improving on the originals, yet even the familiar synth tones sound as revolutionary now as they ever did. The Waterfront’s sound system was exquisite and truly made the synths sing. Their message has also been updated. While always a very private and detached band, their socio-political views have been fleetingly revealed in the past and it is very pertinent that this time round, ‘Radioactivity’ now has the lyric “stop” added before the title. As the names of nuclear disasters are recited in a sombre robotic tone, the song had a new poignancy and increased feeling of doom I had not noticed before; though clearly the woman in front of me furiously headbanging as Chernobyl and Fukushima echoed around the room did not share my sentiment. Most significant, however, was the enthusiasm with which the band continues to play; anyone could get sick of touring and performing the same old familiar tracks for months let alone years, and while Kraftwerk certainly take breaks between their tour cycles, it is still wonderful to see them tapping their feel along to the beat the same as the crowd.
At the end, each band member left in stages from right to left. Newest member Falk Grieffenhagen left to loud applause; next came second longest serving member Fritz Hilpert to even more raucous cheers; then came Henning Schmitz to thunderous claps and whoops; and finally the man himself, Ralf Hütter, stepped away from his keyboard and the entire room jumped to their feet making a din ten times as enthusiastic as before. In truth, I felt there were few concerts and few musicians so deserving of such a response as him. As he bowed shyly on the end of the stage, he raised his hand over his heart with a smile– proving once and for all robots feel love after all.
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- QR Music Reviews: Kraftwerk at the Waterfront Hall, Belfast - June 6, 2017