Kraftwerk Diary Day Six: Group Wades Into 1986's 'Techno Pop'

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 16, 2012 7:40 PM ET

Kraftwerk’s 1986 album Techno Pop – originally released under the title Electric Café – is mostly remembered as the record that proved the German ubermenschen were actually mere mortals after all. After almost five years futzing around with the recordings, reportedly getting increasingly neurotic about whether the production measured up to the high bar they had previously set, the record was finally released to an almost universal "meh" (the German word for which is 34 characters long); the world had finally caught up to the band, in terms of technology and innovation, and in many cases, passed them by. You know you’re no longer on the cutting edge when the only person to praise your album is Hitler: "It’s not as completely awful as most people say it is." (Okay, that’s actually from the hilarious YouTube Downfall parody about Kraftweek’s MoMA ticket crunch.)

Interestingly, the Techno Pop material has always sounded chunkier and somewhat less dated in live performance. Throughout "Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8" the band has closed each evening’s greatest-hits set with a medley of Techno Pop’s "Boing Boom Tschak," "Techno Pop," and  "Musique Non Stop"; tonight they led off the evening with those songs instead (which had the effect of allowing the hits package to flow with a more climactic pacing). The beats on "The Telephone Call" are unmistakably Kraftwerkian, just a gear shift away from the same pattern as "Tour De France," but the vocals on the record by Karl Bartos, his only singing contribution during his years as a robot, always sounded like they belonged to some other band. Live, the group dispensed with vocals altogether, which actually improved the song. Alas, there wasn’t much that anyone, man or machine, could do to help "Sex Object"; forced to sing it on stage, 65-year-old Ralf Hütter looked somewhat embarrassed (which is a remarkable feat, considering that he wears a spandex jump-suit to work). The album closer, "Electric Café," is remembered chiefly as the theme from Mike Myers-era Saturday Night Live’s "Sprockets" segments; Kraftweek, your story has become tiresome.

Given Kraftweek’s 3D-graphics razzamatazz, the decision to include fuzzy clips every night from the 1986 "Musique Non Stop" video – the computer facial animation was state of the art at the time, but that time was a quarter-century ago – is a curious one. The irresolute images of the disembodied heads look like they were dubbed off someone’s old VHS tape of USA Network’s Night Flight posted to YouTube. Allow me to wade irresponsibly into complete conjecture for a moment (since we’re probably never going to get an actual answer from the notoriously cagey Hütter). Given their four-decade partnership, it’s conspicuous how thoroughly Kraftwerk co-founder Florian Schneider seems to have been airbrushed from the week’s presentation. There are no video clips or photos; I believe there’s a brief silhoutte of him at the beginning of "The Robots," but once the video starts to play even his automaton has been replaced. Well, I’m convinced that it’s Florian’s avatar that appears in the ancient-looking snippet from "Musique Non Stop" that stops in freezeframe to close each night’s show. If so, that’s a bittersweet tribute to the missing half of one of rock’s great songwriting collaborations – Lennon and McCartney, Mick and Keith, Ralf and Florian.

Nah, I’m probably totally full of scheisse. Okay, on to tonight’s performance of the remixed greatest hits collection The Mix. Now is the time when we dance?

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