.

Kraftwerk Diary Day One: Electronic Pioneers Play 1974's 'Autobahn'

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

April 11, 2012 12:15 PM ET
Kraftwerk Retrospective
Kraftwerk perform during the Kraftwerk Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, Autobahn (1974) at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Though it was opening night, the first evening of the Museum of Modern Art’s much anticipated "Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8" (henceforth to be referred to as "Kraftweek") actually honored the electronic pioneers’ fourth album, 1974’s Autobahn, the record that really made the German group’s international reputation. Thanks to an online snafu back in February (it’s more fun to compute? – yeah, right), tickets for the performances were difficult to snag. Those 450 volks, er, folks lucky enough to make it through the MoMA doors were greeted by a set of lifesize Kraftwerk robots twirling inside display cases in the lobby, where each patron was given their own pair of cardboard 3D-glasses in an Autobahn sleeve.

Up in the second floor’s atrium, a scrim was raised at the appointed hour to reveal the quartet – led by 65-year-old co-founder Ralf Hütter, providing all the vocoderfied vocals – squeezed like bratwurst into matching Tron-style spandex body-suits. They launched the night with their de facto theme song, "The Robots" (basically a cybernetic version of "hey, hey we’re the Monkees"), before playing Autobahn in sequence. The heart of the record is the titular opening track, a 22-minute-long synthesizer symphony that evokes the sensations of a pleasant highway drive through the Ruhr countryside, welding a bouncy Beach Boys harmony to the hypnotic 4/4  "motorik" beat pioneered by their fellow countrymen Neu! (whose Klaus Dinger and Michael Rother were part of an early Kraftwerk lineup). Despite its length, the song surprisingly achieved American radio airplay, and a three-minute edit reached Number 25 on Billboard’s singles chart in 1975, the group’s only U.S. hit.

The Kraftweek performances were sponsored by Volkswagen, no small feat of corporate synergy, since "Autobahn"’s lyrics – "Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der Autobahn" (English: "We drive drive drive on the Autobahn") – are basically an advertising jingle, while behind the band on a giant screen, the 3D-enhanced animation of a VW Bug negotiated the winding curves of the album’s cover art with considerable fahrvergnügen. After the joyride came the calliope-like "Kometenmelodie" ["Comet Melody"], Kraftwerk’s contribution to Kohoutek-mania (which was the Lana Del Rey of late 1973/early ’74); the discordant "Mitternacht" ["Midnight"]; and "Morgenspaziergang" ["Morning Stroll"], complete with electronic bird calls but noticeably missing the lilting flute of co-founder Florian Schneider, who left the band in 2008. Since the album took only a brief 35 minutes to play, the group performed an additional hour of songs from their catalogue – including "Numbers" – as delectable teasers for the week to come. Exiting the stage with a wave, Hütter promised the crowd "See you tomorrow," though considering the thorny ticket situation, you could probably count the holdovers in the crowd on two hands: Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf, sechs, sieben, acht. . . .

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

“You Oughta Know”

Alanis Morissette | 1995

This blunt, bitter breakup song -- famous for its line "Would she go down on you in a theater?" -- was long rumored to be about Alanis Morissette getting dumped by Full House actor Dave Coulier. But while she never confirmed it was about him (Coulier himself says it is, however), she insisted the song wasn't all about scorn. "By no means is this record just a sexual, angry record," she told Rolling Stone. "The song wasn't written for the sake of revenge. It was written for the sake of release. I'm actually a pretty rational, calm person."

More Song Stories entries »
 
www.expandtheroom.com