.

Kraftwerk Day Four: 1978's 'The Man-Machine'

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

April 14, 2012 4:20 PM ET
kraftwerk
Kraftwerk performs at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

In a 2009 interview, Kraftwerk leader Ralf Hutter revealed the source of his careerlong obsession with the fusion of man and technology. "This rhythm, industrial rhythm, that’s what inspires me," he told me. "It’s in the nature of the machines. Machines are funky." Night four of "Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8" proved a spirited defense of Hütter’s proto-disco dissertation, as the band launched immediately into the title track of 1978’s The Man-Machine. On a screen behind the group, the 3D animation of the album cover’s El Lissitzky-inspired Modernist graphics was the most site-specific of Kraftweek thus far, given the MoMA setting. In the crowd, for the first time all week, there was plenty of dancing mekanik.

Along with Giorgio Moroder’s "Chase," also from 1978, the shimmering arpeggiated synths of Kraftwerk’s "Spacelab" and "Metropolis" basically set the template for Italo-disco, and both songs sounded splendid in the MoMA’s intimate atrium. In addition, the animation accompanying "Spacelab" a view from Earth orbit, unfolding like NASA Imax Shuttle porn – was the most successful realization of the possibilities of Kraftweek’s 3D format, and the audience, more raucous than the previous three evenings, cheered wildly as the animated space station seemed to buzz like a Stuka right over their heads.

Where Ralf and Florian had begun as conservatory longhairs, experimenting in electro-acoustic improvisation, by The Man-Machine they had perfected their formula of pure pop for Neu! people. Songs like "The Robots" (their trademark), "The Model" (their biggest-ever hit, reaching Number One in the UK in 1982), and "Neon Lights" paved the way for the early Eighties synth-pop explosion of groups like OMD, Depeche Mode, and Human League. It’s no surprise that the influence of this album remains enduring, as there’s something timeless and universal about their songwriting of this period. In a 2009 interview, producer and DJ Francois Kevorkian described Kraftwerk’s melodies as having "this sort of greatness to them, because they’re so simple but they’re so catchy and so beautiful...their music is real simple, only the essential things are there." I’ve personally witnessed "The Robots" totally rescue a five-year-old’s birthday party from the brink of chaos, instantly transforming a room full of pint-sized hellions smashing against each other like hadrons in a supercollider into a spontaneous robot conga line. Go ahead and just try to keep from whistling along to any of the songs on The Man-Machine; it’s practically an autonomic reaction. I know at least I couldn’t stop on Friday night.

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

prev
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.

X

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 »
 
www.expandtheroom.com