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Review: Kraftwerk tributes/cover versions

The Hall of Mirrors - Kraftwerk tributes/cover versions ever multiplying...
Originally featured in the article 'Activity - In Depth' from Aktivität 8, August 1996

Is it something they're putting in the water?! Seems like everyone wants to be Kraftwerk. Starting with the 'All In A Day's Werk' 12" in 1991, we then heard from the Balanescu Quartet with their string interpretations of Kraftwerk classics in 1992 before the various artists collection of 1994's 'Trans-Slovenia Express'. Following on from volume 1's release last year, the US Hypnotic/Cleopatra label also have plans for a second volume of their 'Trance-Werk Express' cover versions album sometime this year. Also, in June of this year a CD single called 'Sonic Audio Engineers' and album, 'Deranged', by an act called Kraftwelt was due to be issued by the same label. Kraftwelt are actually one and the same as Audio Science, who contributed a couple of tracks to the 'Trance-Werk Express' Volume 1. Described as 'in the spirit of Kraftwerk', details are yet to emerge.

Last autumn also saw a less obvious ‘tribute’ release, by the mysterious American band The Elecktroids, with their ‘homage’ to Kraftwerk, ‘Elecktroworld’, Warp Records WARPCD35. Coverage from the UK music press, suggested that the work was actually by underground electro outfit Drexciya, though this was refuted. All of the tracks on the album are original, there are no direct Kraftwerk cover versions as such. To my ears at least, the album is more of a tribute to early 80’s synth pop in general rather than Kraftwerk. If you are a fan of, say John Foxx, Cabaret Voltaire, YMO even, dare I say it, New Musik, I’m sure that sounds and melodies and rhythms will have a certain touch of deja vu to them. Certainly there are Kraftwerk influences all over the place, some of the sounds are very reminiscent of the ‘Man Machine’ era and the Kraftwerkian rhythms are notable. Authentic vocodered vocals are also much in abundance and certainly shame some of the dreadful examples of such that pop up on the ‘Trancewerk Express Vol. 1’ CD.

All in all, I found it a mixed-bag; much of it I enjoyed, but then I’m someone who grew up to the music of Gary Numan, John Foxx et al and pottering about with early Casio keyboards, so the sounds and such had a certain nostalgic appeal; I could easily see many younger Kraftwerk fans merely writing off this CD as sounding very dated indeed. It may be argued that this is the whole point, even down to using very ‘Computer World’ lo-tech inspired artwork too, but maybe more could be expected; the CD falls into aimless and highly annoying mode in a couple of tracks (‘Midnight Drive’, ‘Thermo Science’). Where its good (‘Perpetual Motion’, Japanese Elecktronics’, ‘Mystery World’, ‘Silicon Valley’) it’s highly recommended, the old analogue gear working well. All in all, I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to buy it; definitely a case of an EP or the like would have been more satisfying than a whole albums worth. But I would definitely recommend it over the ‘Trancewerk Express Vol. 1’ CD.

Now a UK act Komputer follow on in a more singleminded manner. The 'Komputer' EP was released on July 8th on CD and picture-disc 12" formats, although promo copies of the CD had been in circulation for some months beforehand on Mute Records in the UK (CDMute 175), on this occasion the tracks are in a very similar style to Kraftwerk, especially the last track which is an out and out ‘Neon Lights’ pastiche; tracks are ‘Valentina Tereshkova’, ‘We Are Komputer’, ‘Komputer Krash’ and ‘Oh Synthesizer’. A short interview with the band appeared in Melody Maker on June 29th. There is also a short biography on Mute records WWW site, the biography reads thus;

Komputer are dedicated to the sound potential of electronics. They are committed to continuing the work of the pioneers of technological music, thus adding their name to a list which includes such luminaries as Conlon Nancarrow, Yellow Magic Orchestra, Can, Stockhausen, Yello and Telex.

What, no Kraftwerk?! Perhaps later releases will reveal more of the above cited influences, but make no mistake, it is the Kraftwerk signature writ large upon the ‘Komputer’ EP. The band appear to consist of three members and as well as the musical influence, a similar interest in the 40s/50s, dated, ‘images of the future’ idea is in evidence, a la Kraftwerk. The band have played at least one club date in London, amongst the current Romo scene.

Author: IC

  Updated: 16 : 5 : 2010