REVIEW: Kraftwerk 3D at the Royal Albert Hall

Kraftwerk at the Royal Albert Hall
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Kraftwerk 3D
(Royal Albert Hall, 23 June 2017. Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

It’s easy to forget that Kraftwerk have been doing their thing since 1970, when Ralf Hutter, the group’s only remaining original member, and Florian Schneider founded their Kling Klang studio in the industrial heartland of Düsseldorf. They’d met a couple of years earlier while studying classical music and taking improvisation courses at the Düsseldorf Conservatory, and playing in a precursor of Kraftwerk with drummer Paul Lovens, who was to become one of the most respected drummers in jazz improvisation. Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz have been with Kraftwerk for over 25 years and in 2012 Falk Grieffenhagen became their fourth on-stage performer with responsibility for their live video side.

From very early on Hutter and colleagues pioneered the use of both off-the-shelf electronics with customisations, drafting in mathematicians/programmers and engineers to help achieve their vision, and over the years this has increased in technical complexity, as they steered themselves away from outwardly conventional instrumentation.

Since 2009 Kraftwerk have employed 3D projection technology for the films which have become an integral element of their live performances, including this, the final night of their 2017 UK tour at the Royal Albert Hall. All audience members were given a package containing special 3D glasses, designed to synch the left and right eye with the the two images projected on to the screen behind the performers to create the 3D illusion.

Whether this actually counts as a totally ‘immersive experience’, as described in the build up, is a moot point, given that we were listening while watching a film on a 2D screen; nonetheless, in conjunction with the music, the film added an extra dimension to an absorbing two-hour journey through many of their best-known compositions. Even from where I was situated, in the upper gallery of the Albert Hall, the performance came across with a high degree of immediacy.

The mainstays of their repertoire were taken from their eight key albums, all released between 1970 and 1981, with additional tracks from material released at later dates.

Onstage the four performers, kitted out in signature grid-patterned black body suits, were lined up in in a row behind their legendary workstations, on which are situated a plethora of controls and small screens which link to the visual display behind them, and to each other. What can be difficult to grasp is that the pioneering ‘automated’ sound that Kraftwerk have perfected is very much a hands-on, live performance – in some ways as complex and demanding as that of a string quartet in terms of co-ordination, rapport and virtuosity, including spells of subtle micro-improvisation.

Kraftwerk at the Royal Albert Hall
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved

Whilst it was the strength of the melodies and their on-stage interpretation that carried the day, the quirkily ambitious visuals, in a range of computer styles added distinctly to the experience.

Computer World, with variant tracks from The Mix and The Catalogue, and Man Machine were the most visited sources with dynamic graphics for each selected number. Visual clues abounded and elicited instant audience recognition. Computer-style graphics, often with a knowingly retro and humorous feel, played a dominant visual role, from the dazzling, fluid wall of numerals opening the show to the cheesy, cut-out spaceship landing at the Albert Hall to close Spacelab! A full, retro-style animation of Autobahn, relating to the original album cover had an engaging, tongue-in-cheek quality to it, while Tour de France combined fascinating vintage cycling film with elegantly grafted blocks of colour that flowed with its visual twists and turns.

And looking ahead – maybe when they hit their 50th anniversary in 2020 it will be a 360 degree surround sound and visual experience! There’s a challenge!

Categories: miscellaneous

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