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Kraftwerk - Kraftwerk and the Electronic Revolution

Kraftwerk and the
Electronic Revolution



Available from

A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

If this is the future of progrock journalism, then there's hope after all. Given the dismal American record of fanzines (Progression, Expose) and fansites (Gnosis, Gibralter, and a frighteningly expanding universe of e-drivel), one would rightly despair; with productions like this, however, a very interesting alternative suggests that the present lamentable superfluousness of critics, at least on this continent, will not, after all, drive a stake through the genre's heart.

Even on a tenuous level of respect, where the British Wire and American Signal to Noise might vie for eyes and ears, we have to satisfy ourselves with getting trashed, settling for a lukewarm obscurantia forum run by a ninnyhammer captaining a crew largely of pedants and babble-meisters. That's why no such mag on these shores can surmount the 5,000 - 10,000 print-run level, which the lying bastards call "circulation", with about only half those actually *sold* (true average: 50-100 readers per state…pathetic!). Sigh! This is not, ladies and gentlemen, a good time to possess intelligence and to favor the trait in one's aesthetic diet.

On the other hand, the very title of the company producing this marvelous documentary, Sexy Intellectual, casts an ironic eye on the situation by ignoring U.S. wankery completely and going straight for a Euro no-nonsense journalistic approach supported by sterling production values. In fact, like Edward Macan's recent ELP volume, Endless Enigma, the subject here, Kraftwerk, is placed in historical context for an entire introductory hour, so that the viewer can fully understand what yielded such a musical phenomenon. Next come two more hours spent exploring the ensemble's evolution and high points in helping spawn the electronica / techno milieu still so prevalently influencing the entire rock spectrum. Then, beyond all that, there are bonus features!

We hear from members of the group and other musical heavyweights like Klaus Schulze, Roedelius, and Moebius as well as German critics and techs amid a painstakingly researched background paying far more attention to the true antecedents of krautrock, a term in which German analysts thankfully seem not to share the PC mindset of Americrits, than is exposed elsewise. With that, the viewer begins to more fully appreciate Kraftwerk's place in the way of things.

Member (1975 - 1991) Karl Bartos makes the most telling remark: "We were pretty much aware that we weren't raised in the Mississippi delta, that we weren't raised in Liverpool. It was certainly not our identity…Our generation had to come up with a counterpoint to that," and the krautrock movement was commenced, yielding a wealth of radical departures from the chromatic blues dominating the Euro-American markets. Jazz, neoclassicalism, and the electronic classicalists (Stockhausen, Schaeffer, Subotnick, etc.) formed Germany's avant-garde touchstone, sending the scene in an entirely different direction from England, though Pink Floyd and a few other groups exhibited inclinations similar to the Deutsche-Wave.

This is not a concert DVD, not even close to it, though there's a wealth of rare live outtakes and photos, but rather a true documentary finally chronicling a progrock band in a way that establishes historied legitimacy rather than bubblegummy fan idolatry or market product push. Critic opinions are given from the sources themselves, who have devoted time and thought, not reactionary gushing, to the matters at hand. The producers weave it all together seamlessly in a narrative flow running like…well, like Macan's book, scholarly while highly entertaining.

Kraftwerk didn't exist in a vacuum, Electronic Revolution leaves no doubt about that, but they achieved primacy along with Schulze, Tangerine Dream, Popul Vuh, and fellow groundbreakers, the difference being that the Kraftwerkers eventually went through a complete transmogrification, ending up huge in dance-music circles. The DVD slowly and methodically shows why, giving the viewer a prescience of the coming 80s & 90s flood and cultural shift, along the way totally reifying the era and its now neglected importance. What's so fascinating, then, is not the central meat of the DVD—the longish period of Man-Machine, Computer World, and others—but the story behind all of it.

Arriving at that era, the aficionado finds himself with new interest and enthusiasm for a familiar oeuvre now made much more vital while the newcomer reaches for what's rapidly compelling. Thankfully, the later, strange, seemingly neo-fascist Kraftwerk imagery starts to be rightly viewed here, Wolfgang Siedel opening the insight, as the much misunderstood cultural jape it was, not just on history but art as well, gaining depth and luster in past irony and present metaphor. As well, the musicians' dedication to art and ideology is well exposed, forcing viewers to reconsider the contrast between modes of thinking then and now. Electronic Revolution also contributes significantly to solidifying the 70s as the renaissance it was, a recognition that must be set in stone in order that art be seen as just that: art, not product…even when it may appear otherwise.

I caught the Computer World Kraftwerk tour here in California many years ago and was floored by what I saw and heard. It wasn't just a concert, incorporating cabaret, theater, technology, surrealism, DaDa, and ironic connoted pseudo-propaganda amid a riveting musical presentation. I've seen many great concerts, that was one of them. The DVD works up to that period, which was the group's zenith, after which they quickly collapsed in a couple more releases, then moved on to a cavalcade of anthologies, remixes, and the usual.

This is the most engrossing and satisfying such documentary I've yet seen on progressive music—movie house quality, though you'll never see it there. As said, it and Macan's Endless Enigma, both of which I call benchmarks, are forming what it is to be hoped will be the future of the realm's journalism. If the video dimension ends up sidelining cats like me, then so be it. It's the music that counts, its survivability, and not the collateral damage sustained by individuals floating in a sea of sheeple brickheads. Ya hafta kinda expect it, y'know? Thus, bring on the revolution and devil take the hindmost. In the end, it'll all work out…especially in such happy circumstances as this.

…oh, and someone needs to inform Rusty Egan that the guy playing "that guitar" on Bowie's Heroes is Robert Fripp, not Carlos Alomar—unless, of course, he's referring to Alomar's very faceless rhythm guitar underneath Fripp, which, uh, wouldn't surprise me one little bit.

Edited by: David N. Pyles

Copyright 2008, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
This review may be reprinted with prior permission and attribution.

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