With a new series of concerts underway, electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk continue to fascinate - even 40 years after the band's founding.
The robots were alive. You could look into their eyes and, thanks to the phenomenal 3D animation, you can almost touch them. And yet, the robot-like musicians remained at bay. At Kraftwerk's recent 3D concerts in Düsseldorf, the city of their founding, Ralf Hütter - the only original member now in the band - was the last to leave the stage.
During concerts over the course of eight nights at the Kunstsammlung NRW (the North Rhine-Westfalia Art Collection) in Düsseldorf, Hütter basked in the limelight in front of an international audience. And viewers could witness how much Hütter enjoyed it. During the impressive, two-hour music and 3D show, concert goers heard him voice the lyrics of songs sung mostly through a vocoder - a style that has long been a Kraftwerk trademark. For one brief moment, Hütter addressed the audience, saying: "See you tomorrow." Then the 66-year-old politely bowed and left the stage, entering a world again where he could be a human being.
Since the 1970s, one is familiar with Ralf Hütter mainly as a robotic-like musician. As one of the two founding members of Kraftwerk, he and Florian Schneider were the ones to bring Germany back onto the international music map after World War II. Nowadays, almost everyone has heard of Kraftwerk, and their visionary work is appreciated the world over.
Hütter and Schneider began making music together in 1968, first calling themselves "Organisation" and releasing an album entitled "Tone Float."
Two years later, the two musicians would take it a step further, founding "Kraftwerk." Experimenting with electronic music was their chief aim - employing instruments which hadn't existed up until then or were hardly used in pop music.
Their debut album was "Kraftwerk," with "Kraftwerk 2" coming out a year later, in 1971. The next album's title, "Ralf und Florian," shows just what a two-man band Kraftwerk has always been. All the other musicians, today like back then, have been mere helping hands. Kraftwerk's international breakthrough came in 1974 with "Autobahn." People around the world have listened to the album, produced by Conny Plank, ever since.
Forging new musical territory
Following their celebrated album "Radioaktivität" ("Radioactivity"), the band released "Trans Europa Express" in 1977. The beat of the title song altered music history, with Afrika Bambaataa - a DJ from the New York Bronx - taking the rhythm, adding in some sprechgesang and creating a whole new genre that would also give birth to HipHop, House and Techno. Afrika Bambaataa and Soul Sonic Force's "Planet Rock" would also go on to become a classic.
Kraftwerk as robots signaling technological progress
Even today, musical stars around the world mention Kraftwerk when it comes to their influences, confirming that the synthesizer sounds from the city on the Rhine River have markedly shaped modern music. Contemporary hit songs frequently quote from Kraftswerk's own - such as "Computerliebe" in Coldplay's "Talk."
The NRW-Forum Düsseldorf is showing works by Peter Boettcher, who has photographed Kraftwerk for decades
Kraftwerk have always been ahead of the times and have never stood still. In their "Kling Klang Studio" in Düsseldorf, they work on new tracks or reprocess old ones. In 2009, using the name "Der Katalog," they released all eight albums since "Autobahn" in new, digitally remixed versions. They performed all eight of them in 2012 in a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Following the shows in Düsselfdorf in January, they will be moving on to the Tate Modern in London in February. Kraftwerk are now where they always wanted to be: in museums. They are art. They are pop. They are a legend.
Other performances in the summer will follow, including at the "Sonar Festival" on June 14 in Barcelona and at the "Malta Festival"in Poznan, Poland on June 28.