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Kraftwerk's live werk of Autumn 1997

'Kraftwerk's live werk of Autumn 1997' discusses the main points of interest from the Linz and Karlsruhe live concerts, by IC
From Aktivitšt 10 - April 1998. NB: This article was originally titled 'Kraftwerk's latest live werk - Autumn 1997'

1997 will be recalled as the year that Kraftwerk's chips were re-activated - not only did the band return to live performance for the first time in four years, but they saw fit to air new material in concert too. The bands appearance on May 24 at 1997's large-scale 'Tribal Gathering' event in Luton Hoo, England, was anticipated by many to be the only activity of the year by the band and certainly there were noises to such effect in media reports to coincide with the summer event. However, there had been one or two rumours to the effect that Kraftwerk were to perform at the opening of a new Multi-media centre in Karlsruhe, Germany in October and this, unlike most Kraftwerk rumours, did indeed come to pass. Saturday October 18 saw the opening of the ZKM ('Zentrum für Kunst ünd Multimedia') in Karlsruhe. The band's participation at the ZKM was part of the three-week 'Multimediale 5' event. Anticipation for the event was such that tickets were sold out by the beginning of September. As a warm-up, no doubt, Kraftwerk also announced a date for two days prior to this event, in Linz, Austria.

As well as Kraftwerk's performance at the ZKM there were sets from DJs before (DJ Xenia, from Moscow) and after (Laurent Garnier) the band's live set. Security at the ZKM show was very strict and the audience had to endure quite some time queuing outside the concert hall while the arduous task of searching entrants to the hall took place. Consequently, Kraftwerk did not take to the stage until much later than the originally scheduled start time.

Both shows saw Kraftwerk perform the same set-list. Effectively, one can see the Linz show as being a practice run for the arguably more high-profile ZKM opening. As it turns out, the practice was perhaps much-needed since there were a number of 'technical hitches' that befell both performances! With the 'Tribal Gathering' show we were all somewhat stunned by the fact that Kraftwerk chose to perform a brand new song as part of their set. Well, even more surprises were in store for the audiences of these two performances, lucky blighters! To begin with, Kraftwerk have added an updated rendition of 'Airwaves' ('Ätherwellen') to their set - on these occasions however the song is bereft of its motorik rhythm and takes on an air of undoubted ambience, akin perhaps to the elongated intro to the live version of 'Tour de France'. The trademark Kraftwerk vocoder voices are present and correct and it is these electronic tongues that mouth the songs familiar lyric, rather than Ralf's human tones.

Following on from this surprise was the first of the new songs - an eight minute plus slice of sequenced Kraftwerk. The nearest I can think of describe it to is perhaps like 'The Mix' version of 'Home Computer' with perhaps a dash of 'TEE' and 'Metropolis' in the melody department. In all, it has a rather dark, uneasy vibe to its patterns and melodies. Certainly in the same eerily unsettling frame as 'Home Computer' and 'It's More Fun to Compute', if you see what I mean...

Following on a couple of tracks later came the second of the brand new songs. This one has a much funkier feel to it, very dance-music influenced without doubt - Kraftwerk in 'house' mode. Set against a tricky sequenced refrain, a heavy four-from-the-floor backbeat pins down the proceedings for a typically Kraftwerkian melody to sit atop. Later on some vintage Kraftwerk vocoder touches are introduced, which have such echoes of the 'Radio-Aktivität' LP stamped all over them. In terms of the sounds, this like the previous track (and 'Airwaves' come to that) seems to utilise a bank of sounds that are no stranger to other Kraftwerk live performances. In all, I'd describe the new tracks as almost as if they were some kind of continuation of 'The Mix'.

The third new track is of course the same one as first premiered at the 'Tribal Gathering' event, though sounding different, further revisions having been completed. Like the first of the new tracks, it has an uneasy tone to much of it, again a darker sounding piece. For this track (and the following 'Music Non Stop') Kraftwerk once again donned the UV-lit 'wire-frame' effect costumes and dark glasses.

Essentially, the set-list was the same as that from 'Tribal Gathering' but with the addition of 'Airwaves' and the two other brand new songs. The complete set-list for both the ZKM and Linz gigs is reproduced here;

'Nummern', 'Computerwelt', 'Heimcomputer', 'The Man Machine', 'Tour de France', 'Autobahn', 'Ätherwellen', 'Unreleased Song 1', 'Sellafield 2' - 'Radioaktivität', 'Unreleased Song 2', 'Trans Europa Express- Abzug - Metall auf Metall', 'Taschenrechner', 'Die Roboter/Robotronik', 'Unreleased Song 3' (first performed at 'Tribal Gathering), 'Music Non Stop'

Its also noted that Kraftwerk used a quadrophonic speaker system in Karlsruhe for '3D' sound effects during some of the songs. (This was only in Karlsruhe, not in Linz.) They also used two additional large video screens on each side of the stage (as was also seen at 'Tribal Gathering') in Karlsruhe. Whether this speaker system was part of the problem is not certain but many members of the audience have noted that the sound quality for the show was poor, the acoustics of the concert hall being far from ideal. Coupled with mechanical failure also causing problems (with the bands robots and video screens at the two shows, vocals at Karlsruhe were also affected with feeback from the equipment), all in all, it seems unlikely that Kraftwerk could be particularly happy with these live performances, bearing in mind their normally perfectionist nature...

Even more... Kraftwerk performed a further two previously unreleased songs at the soundcheck for the Karlsruhe concert, bringing the total number of new tracks performed this year to five. The tracklisting for the Karlsruhe soundcheck is reported as:

'Nummern', 'Computerwelt', 'Heimcomputer', 'Die Mensch Maschine', Completely New Song 1, 'Autobahn', Completely New Song 2, 'Radioactivity', Second new song from the concert.

NB; at the soundcheck only portions of the songs were performed, not the complete numbers.

With the recent confirmation that Kraftwerk will be performing live again this year with several dates in America, Japan and Denmark at very least, anticipation of what new material may await these performances will doubtless grow.

  Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010