by Mark Anthony Brennan

Photo by Sean Brennan

Photo by Sean Brennan

I guess I can cross another item off my bucket list. I hesitate to call bands ‘legendary’, but in the case of Kraftwerk the shoe fits. Aside from producing some of the best electronic music in history themselves, their influence has been far-reaching and continues to be felt to this day (some EDM, anyone?). And I saw them last night. It was awesome. Colour me happy.

As you may expect from a band that is noted for its machine-like precision, their execution was flawless (they may have flubbed the beginning of one vocal passage but, to be honest, I’m not sure). In the opening song they proclaimed, “We are the robots”, and they were indeed. Dressed in matching jumpsuits (which looked like those outfits that actors wear in the studio when they are standing in for a CGI characters) they stood in a perfect line at their raised keyboards while a 3D show was projected from the screen behind them. Their delivery was fittingly sterile – in fact, they showed no sign of being human at all, until the very end when they bowed appreciatively to thunderous applause.

Fans of Kraftwerk would have found the set-list very familiar. The crowd was treated to “Autobahn”, “Trans Europe Express”, “The Model”, “Computer World” — the list just goes on. It was two solid hours of “Music/Non-stop”. The songs may be well-worn but the band spruced them up with some new arrangements. “Autobahn”, in particular, was reinvigorated with a snappy new up-tempo outro.

Then there were the visuals. Eye-popping at first, to be sure, but if truth be told the 3D effects became tedious after a while. It was a relief, in fact, when they got to “The Model”, which was accompanied by sepia-toned movie footage in good old 2D. Furthermore, the effects were surprisingly cheesy. Granted, at times this was deliberate (for example, the 80’s-style CGI of “Autobahn”) but not always (at least, I don’t think so). When a flying saucer descended into the waters of English Bay during “Spacelab” I actually groaned out loud at the hokeyness, but was drowned out by the crowd cheering at the sight of their city on screen.

Overall, this was an exercise in retro future gazing, i.e. a nostalgic look at how we imagined 2014 back in the 70’s. Fortunately, the bleak geometric landscapes of “Trans Europe Express” and “Metropolis” have not come to pass (at least, not yet). However, it is chilling how accurately they did predict the present age of information technology way back on “Computer World” (1981) and the dangers of nuclear power on “Radio-Activity” (1975).

Then again, Kraftwerk don’t exactly eschew modern technology, in fact they embrace it. They have had a lifelong obsession with machines, to the point of excluding any “natural” instruments from their music. In founding member Ralf Hutter’s own words, “machines are funky.” So, as I sit there grooving to the throbbing beat of “Planet of Visions” I have to ask myself the question: are Kraftwerk here to warn us, to help fend off the grimness of a de-humanized future? Or are they themselves the very purveyors of that same techno future?