Mojo AUGUST 2017 - by David Buckley



Their studio albums, 1974 to 2003, in live sound and vision in a four-disc Blu-ray box set.

Kraftwerk have released no new music since Tour De France Soundtracks fourteen years ago. The good news, though, is that unlike so many of their culture-changing musical contemporaries, a version of Die Mensch Machine lives on. Ralf Hütter, for almost a decade now their sole original member, has turned Kraftwerk into an act of self-curation. Playing residencies in such venues as the Tate Modern Turbine Hall (London), Sydney Opera House (Australia) and MoMA (New York), while also giving the media minimal public comment, Kraftwerk are now a touring museum piece. There will be no need for the V&A to do a retrospective; they've done it themselves.

Their live 3-D shows are thrilling; dispelling the still sometimes muttered criticism that electronic music lacks soul or worse, is a pale, manufactured mutant of the original rock statement. Captured here on the 'sound' section, is Kraftwerk in concert, pristine, diaphragm-compressing, the beats of Radio-Activity and The Man Machine enveloping the body, while the sheer pop brilliance of Computer Love or Neon Lights reveal some of the finest melodies ever written. Of the latter, John Foxx once said, "Sinatra should have covered it."

The live section is a carefully chosen selection of several performances and sound, to all intents and purposes more like studio performances. All eight albums, even the maligned Techno Pop (AKA Electric Cafe), are never less than very good, and aficionados will enjoy how the originals have been tweaked and reset to make them fresh. However, it's the return to Autobahn and Radio-Activity that delight most, particularly the latter: pioneering, sinister, all weird sonic chatter and lonely melodies.

Yet, for Hütter, the music alone was never the full statement. In the same way that the interface of man and machine became the message, the medium was a trans-media fusion of music, theory and visuals. No one who has attended a recent concert could even begin to feign indifference. During The Robots, with the aid of the flimsy 3-D glasses, it seemed that a cyborg arm swept right past one's face, while with Numbers the concert hall was turned into a jaw-popping quick-fire of 1-8's, seemingly springing into life. However, the visual elements contained on two Blu-ray discs that give the most pleasure are the simplest. Take the visuals for Autobahn: playful, charming, we are journeying in Ralf and Florian Schneider's car, listening to Long Wave, gazing towards the rising sun, at the beginning of a journey. There is a sense, however, that with the completion of this 3-D box set, coming as it does eight years after the release of The Catalogue - essentially the same project only minus the visuals - that Kraftwerk are now trapped in a sort of Warholian self-referencing spiral, programmed to repeat.

At seventy, Hütter is hardly likely to release much, if any, new music under the Kraftwerk moniker, and with Florian, Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür distant memories, the box set ultimately presents itself as a full stop, a self-tribute, in the likeness of just one member of the iconic line-up, preserved in audio-visual amber; endless.