Kraftwerk Day Two: Band Plays 1975 Concept Album 'Radio-Activity'

Rolling Stone chronicles the German band's eight-night stand at the Museum of Modern Art

Kraftwerk performs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
April 12, 2012 3:25 PM ET

The second night of "Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8" included a particular challenge of presentation. The band’s fifth record, 1975’s Radio-Activity, is a relatively quiet affair, long on sound-effects sketches ("Geiger Counter," "Intermission," "News") and German being spoken ominously through a vocoder ("The Voice of Energy," "Uranium," "Radio Stars") but short on actual pop songs ("Antenna"). The first record recorded by the so-called "classic" Kraftwerk lineup – founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider, plus Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos (of whom only Hütter remains in the MoMA iteration) – is a concept album, the subject of which, as hinted by that cleverly placed hyphen in the title, is equal parts spirit of the radio and Madame Curie’s discovery.

Live at MoMA, however, there was no such nuance. Instead of the plaintive original version of "Radioactivity," which would have been faithful to Kraftweek’s retrospective theme, the band delivered the bombastic no-nukes version of the song from their overly souped-up Nineties reboot The Mix. The band’s only overt piece of activism, this "Radioactivity" is an all-out DEFCON 3 protest against nuclear power (and more specifically about Sellafield, the British nuclear reprocessing facility an Observer headline once called "the most hazardous place in Europe"). On the screen behind the band, 3-D atoms danced a fission ballet, while blaring graphics reminded today’s crowd of the now-distant disasters of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. Rather than updating the song for the present day, however, these tactics actually felt more dated.

In a 2009 interview, producer and DJ Francois Kevorkian likened the sophisticated melodies on Radio-Activity to classical music. "It almost gives me a sense of Mozart or something," he told me. "Maybe not in the sense of a string quartet, but the sensibility of it, the way the melodies come, the elegance of it." Indeed, the punnily titled album-closing instrumental "Ohm Sweet Ohm" (What’s German for "ba dump bump"? Boing boom tschak?) is as delicate as a lullaby, one of Kraftwerk’s sweetest compositions. At MoMA, alas, they delivered a far-too-brief rendition, pulling the plug just as the song was about to break out of minuet into full gallop. Then it was on to an hour’s worth of back catalogue hits, virtually identical to the night before, as the Kraftweek party train chugged onward. Next station stop: Trans-Europe Express. . . .

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

Music Main Next

blog comments powered by Disqus
Around the Web
Powered By ZergNet
Daily Newsletter

Get the latest RS news in your inbox.

Sign up to receive the Rolling Stone newsletter and special offers from RS and its
marketing partners.


We may use your e-mail address to send you the newsletter and offers that may interest you, on behalf of Rolling Stone and its partners. For more information please read our Privacy Policy.

Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

More Song Stories entries »