Aktivitaet Online

Main Menu | Archive | Links | About Aktivität 

The Return of Die Mensch Maschine

Live at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, 17.6.92

Text and photgraphs by IC
From Aktivität issue 2 (August 1992)

Kraftwerk's entourage had made it to Norwich, as the numerous large vehicles in the car park and the faint sounds of 'The Robots', 'Numbers' and 'Computer World' which were being soundchecked, audible to the queue now gathering outside, testified to.

Was it really to happen, I wondered? Less than two and a half weeks previously was when I had learned of the possibility of these warm-up gigs that were to take place and it seemed incredible that having waited ten years before seeing them live for the first time last year I would now be seeing them again, less than a year after their last UK shows.

Yes, it was to happen! As the doors were eventually opened, the crowd made their way inside. The space at the very front of the stage was swiftly annexed by the keenest fans and as ever, the black drapes masked the stage. At the back, a small merchandise stall was set up, selling three different designs of T-shirt, altered from last years designs.

After some time, the familiar electronic bleeps that Kraftwerk have employed since the 1981 tours as some kind of subtle hint that the show's on its way were becoming audible; all part of the ritual...

Then, the electronic voice announces the return of 'Die Mensch Maschine... Kraftwerk' and following that the first note of 'The Robots' is heard as the drapes are removed and it becomes obvious that 'Kling Klang' has made it from Düsseldorf once more, though in a different configuration to previous; all four members will be standing face-on to the crowd and will be very near, judging by how close 'Kling Klang' is.

But first, 'The Robots'. Like last year, the four, large size video screens lower to reveal the bands robotic doppelgangers, waiting to engage in their electronic ballet dance, though there were changes this year, most notably the word ROBOTNIK projected throughout their 'dance'. Unlike some of the dates on last year's European tour, the necessary change has been made so that the newest member of Kraftwerk, Henning Schmitz (having replaced Fernando Abrantes) is represented in this robotic 'swan lake'! The Robots performed faultlessly tonight.

As 'The Robots' fades out and the video screens return, the familiar, hypnotic 'eins, zwei, drei, vier' count of 'Numbers' commences and the insistent beat of the song comes to life, followed by the band entering the stage one by one to take up their places at their stations.

Once again, it's spectacular stuff, the familiar rhythm blending with the number count, synchronising with the video backdrops perfectly, then merging into the melody of 'Computer World' to a large cheer as ever. These two songs really show Kraftwerk at their finest, the melodies, sounds and voices of 'Computer World' delivered faultlessly. The more I hear them, the more I wish that they had been included on 'The Mix'. In particular, 'Computer World' benefited from some very nice little rhythmical pauses now present. As the cheers subside, Ralf counts in 'The Model', still very similar to its recorded form, other than for the heavy rhythmical backing now employed. Ralf is in good form tonight, the vocals are excellent. In the background, the four video screens parade the black and white archive films of catwalkers from a glamorous, bygone age, vamping it up. The lighting is different this year though, with clear, crisp white light illuminating the stage, showing the group off to full potential and harmonising with the screens perfectly. This effect was first seen on last years European tour.

From the left of the stage we have Ralf Hütter, Henning Schmitz, Fritz Hilpert and, of course, Florian Schneider. As ever, the lighting on stage is subdued, much of it coming from the video screens. It's all impressive stuff. Between songs the stage is in near darkness, save for the occasional camera flash.

Next up, the red white and blue sleeve design for 'Tour De France' flickers onto the screens as a new, slow intro to the song unfurls, to the delight of the crowd. It's a nice start to the song, first heard on the European tour late last year. As the song progresses the ever present black and white archives are plundered once more, on a cycling theme this time contrasted with the bright colours that now illuminate the stage. It's an excellent version of one Kraftwerk's finest songs.

The same comment can hardly be reserved for what follows. 'Autobahn' begins well enough, as the blue fluorescent tubes activate and merge with the blue and white road signs, silhouetting each Kraftwerk member against their video screen. As the rhythm kicks into life things begin to go awry; the synths are way out of tune with each other and the wrong sounds seem to be triggered at the wrong time. Whether they are experimenting or not is unclear but the look on Ralf's face as he stares at Florian suggests that he's not very amused either way! Things come together but go amiss later on in the song once more. There are some differences with the video backdrops for this song, in comparison to last year; at one point video's 1 and 3 show one sequence of film while video's 2 and 4 show something different; it's an interesting effect which could be tried out more often perhaps?

There's a good atmosphere tonight between band and crowd. Often you won't get any between song comments from Ralf all night. Various comments from members of the audience provoke laughter from the rest. In particular, before the band launch into 'Radioactivity' there are numerous shouts offering to buy any spare tickets that the band may have for the 'Stop Sellafield' gig. As someone shouts "I'll meet you outside" it's met with Ralf's reply of "I'll walk in through the back entrance"!

With that, 'Radioactivity' commences, with a different start from last year, just the electronic voice chewing the syllables of each word; 'TSCHERN-O-BEEL' - 'HARR-EES-BURG' - 'SELL-A-FE-ILD' - 'HEE-RO-SHEE-MA', devoid of the music until the 'morse code' signals start. Good stuff! The stage lights now emit a purple glow as the videos display the various graphics chosen to illustrate the song, with some new additions to re-inforce the lyrics; 'CHAIN REACTION' and 'CONTAMINATED POPULATION'. But that's not all! As Florian and Fritz turn round to face the audience they're alight! Small LEDs fitted onto their ties pulse on and off in a faint red glow. Nice touch!

As the song ends, more shouts in hope of free tickets are to be heard, as well as "Like the tie Florian"! And with that 'Trans-Europe Express' commences and the railway tracks spin round dizzily in the background. They like their archive films, don't they. The start is different tonight though, with the electronic TRANS-EUROPE-EXPRESS words only, before Fritz presses the magic button and the rest of the music commences. I remember that during last years tour, Fritz would keep an eye on the video screens during 'Metal On Metal' to synchronise the images on screen to his electronic percussion; not tonight though. Again it's another fine rendition of one of Kraftwerk's finest songs, though I'm puzzled at the absence of David Bowie and Iggy Pop from the TEE nowadays.

Again, darkness between songs and now the shouts are for various Kraftwerk oldies; 'Neon Lights'! 'Hall of Mirrors'! 'Vom Himmel Hoch' !!!

"You know all the songs", deadpans Ralf.

Instead of these we get 'Music Non Stop'. This song is without a doubt one of the nightly improvisation sessions for the band (along with 'Pocket Calculator') as it never seems to be the same two nights running! Sadly, they seem to have dropped the spooky keyboard piece that creeps in towards the end, that was present from last years tours, but otherwise it's a good version, though much shorter than usual. In the background, excerpts from the promo video are displayed and I'm glad to see the little bit where the three dimensional musical notes appear to spill over from video screen to video screen is still present; a personal favourite. Like last year, the band exit the stage one by one, each receiving a cheer as they depart; Florian first followed by Fritz, then Henning. As Ralf removes his headset/mic. the music continues as the cheers multiply and once more the black drapes return to swathe the stage; darkness once more.

The house lights don't come on, so it's pretty certain that they'll be back on for more and indeed they are, launching into 'Home Computer' as the curtains part to reveal the dimly lit stage. I have to say that this song has benefited from the more forceful backbeat (a la 'Numbers') now employed. Also, this is one of my favourites for the video backdrops; all those coloured computer components zooming around. Things aren't quite right though; some kind of high pitched electronic whine can be heard, which sends Florian into a spell of swapping leads and wires about. As the song continues, Ralf lapses into a verse of 'Heimcomputer'.

Staying in place, the band next perform 'Computer Love'; another colourful display courtesy of the video screens; spectrum analyser's agogo in full colour. It's one of the few songs where Fritz is equipped with drum sticks to add little flourishes of electronic percussion. The song remains pretty well faithful to the version presented on 'The Mix' and as the song comes to a halt the curtains close once more...

After what seems like ages, the opening melody of 'Pocket Calculator' can be heard from behind the drapes along with some impatient bleeps... and then the four Kraftwerker's are there, only feet away, equipped with their mini-keyboards/sequencers, with Ralf treating us to some updated hybrid of the hand jive when not singing the words! Always a highlight of a Kraftwerk concert is this song and tonight is no exception. Alas, for those at the very front, the band don't pass round the keyboards to the audience tonight, though Ralf does enquire to the audience, "Do they have music courses at the university?" And as the music continues, the curtains slowly close, for the last time tonight ... and with some final keyboard 'splurges' the music is over. Despite the roar of the crowd, the house lights come on, the show is over.

The reviews;

Ralf Huetter pictured during Autobahn

'Autobahn' again, this time Fritz Hilpert in silhouette

Henning Scmitz pictured duting 'Tour De France'

'Autobahn': Henning Scmitz in silhouette

'Radioactivity': Florian Schneider

'Autobahn': Ralf Huetter once again


  Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010