While the guitar-centric
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has yet to recognize their contributions, though
they've been eligible for several years now, many fans hold Kraftwerk in as
high regard as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or any of rock's icons.
Founding members Ralf
Hutter and Florian Schneider, the so-called "Beach Boys of Dusseldorf," were
to the development of synthesizers and electronic music what Chuck Berry was
to the guitar and rock 'n' roll -- the pioneering force in the sound's
development, as well as the creators of a hugely influential canon of work,
with classic albums such as "Autobahn" (1974), "Trans-Europe Express" (1977)
and "The Man-Machine" (1978).
Kraftwerk hasn't played
in Chicago since 1998, when the group packed up its famous Kling Klang
Studio and reconstructed it onstage at the Riviera Theatre for one of the
most incredible concerts I've ever witnessed. Now, the band is returning to
the same venue to celebrate the release of a new two-CD live album,
I spoke with Hutter by
phone from London prior to the start of the tour.
9 p.m. Saturday
Theatre, 4746 N. Racine
understand that the band is now playing everything with four laptop
computers. That must be quite a bit different from your last show here.
A. It's much
faster and more mobile. It functions very well, and we can do more updates
during soundcheck. So really, the Kling Klang Studio is still there, there
is just not so much work to be done in the afternoon. The technology has
developed in our direction.
Q. Is it as
much fun? Playing a laptop isn't as physical as playing a synthesizer.
A. It is more
fun, because all these ideas that come to mind in the afternoon can be
turned into reality. And for the physical, we do the cycling. It's outside
under different temperatures and climates. The studio is always
air-conditioned and with artificial lights, but we are used to this because
we're used to doing electronic music with little movement. It's more like
watchmaking or micro-precision.
We kept all our [old
synthesizers] in the Kraftwerk museum in our studio, and they are all still
functioning and connected to our digital equipment, so we incorporate them
sometimes into our compositions. In Paris, in the Musee de la Musique, they
wanted a setup from us of analog synthesizers and little electro-drums, but
we couldn't give it away because we are still using it!
Florian still have his fascination with homemade electronic instruments?
A. Yes. I think
his latest invention is a speech program that's also digitalized. But I am
still singing, as well; in German, it's called "sprechsingen" --
speech-singing, not actually singing. And we can do it in different
languages: We just finished a CD [in Spanish] before we went into the South
American tour, and now we finished a DVD.
understand the DVD, but why has Kraftwerk released a live album? It seems
ironic, given the mechanical nature of the band.
A. No, it's a
real live album -- an electronic live album! Our music changes all the time
-- gradual changes. We have it digitally recorded, and together with
ambiance from the hall.
Q. So the
spirit of, say, Moscow, even affects the robots?
A. Yes. And we
tried to mix it a little bit -- some cities obviously we don't have so many
compositions or the recordings failed, so we couldn't use those. But the
Man-Machine sounds different in different cities. We come from the late '60s
club and art scene culture and university circuits; we played long parties
at first. We still have that.
Q. Were you
pleased with reception of your last studio album, 2003's "Tour de France
A. Yes. Being No.
1 in Germany was such a surprise. People were like, "Now you have the yellow
jersey [from the Tour de France]!" Yes, but now we have to defend it and
ride faster! So we go on. The aim is to create interesting music and art
form, so what can I say?
Q. Are you
working on new material now?
A. Yes. Now we
have other ideas and concepts. Now that we have done the tour and live album
and live DVD and the catalog is finished and re-mastered with the original
covers for the first time, we can move on after this tour is over. We don't
have a work formula; sometimes it comes from cycling, sometimes it comes
from touring -- like on the Autobahn at night -- sometimes it comes from
thoughts, sometimes it comes out of pure accident. There are so many ways of
Q. Fans tend
to think of the "classic" Kraftwerk lineup as you, Florian and
percussionists Wolfgang Flur and Karl Bartos. But the current group has
actually been together much longer.
A. The difference
is just in photos. We've been working with Henning Schmitz and Fritz Hilpert
now for nearly 20 years. Everyone has their special division or sound
favorites: Like I said, Florian is more into speech and voices, I do a
little more writing and words, but everyone makes their contribution. And we
are like test pilots for new technology; they are always giving us programs
to test. There is always so much to do, so we continue to have all these
interactions with each other and with the machines.
REASONS FOR LIVING
Speaking of pioneering
forces on the synthesizer and in electronic/art-rock, despite a number of
photo-heavy fans' books, England's Roxy Music has never been the subject of
the biography it has long deserved. Now, David Buckley, the author of
earlier enlightening tomes on David Bowie and R.E.M., finally has delivered
that book, The Thrill of It All: The Story of Bryan Ferry & Roxy Music
(Chicago Review Press, $17.95).
In addition to offering
deft analysis of classic Roxy Music albums, Buckley charts the history of
the group from its early glam-rock days, through its progressive-rock
period, into its disco and easy-listening dotage. Along the way, he draws on
his own interviews and an impressive amount of research to paint vivid
portraits of the key players, including guitarist Phil Manzanera,
saxophonist Ian Mackay and synthesizer guru Brian Eno -- fascinating
eccentrics one and all -- as well as vocalist Ferry (below), the man who, in
the words of Q magazine's Paul Du Noyer, "rescued an entire nation from the
necessity of dressing like Joe Cocker."
The Thrill of It All
doesn't suffer from the fact that most of the Ferry quotes come from other
published interviews. In fact, it benefits from maintaining a slight
distance from the man at the heart of the story, since Ferry was, and
remains, one of rock's biggest enigmas.