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Kraftwerk in 3D: A medley of sound, light and color

The electronic music pioneers have been tour since May, but they have only now played their sole concert in Germany

Deutsche Welle Published 30.08.22, 04:23 PM
Kraftwerk live in Bonn

Kraftwerk live in Bonn Deutsche Welle

The sun has long since set, and around 25,000 people are waiting in Bonn's Hofgarten for the legendary electronic band's show.

Just before 9 p.m., a sound wafts over the grounds. A stylized image of the Kraftwerk members appears on a large video wall. Only after 10 minutes do the four men mount the stage in the flesh.


An electronic voice greets the audience — and then the music starts. A collage of "Numbers" and "Computer World" gets the audience in the mood for two hours of Kraftwerk: a bombastic sound and visual spectacle as the images are projected in 3D onto the video wall behind the musicians — accordingly, the audience wears 3D glasses.

A bit like 'Back to the Future'

And so the sounds race through the speaker towers, three-dimensional not only in image but also in sound. Pulsating beats, crystal-clear synthesizers, basses that make the body vibrate.

'Human machines' live on stage, 'computer world' written behind them

'Human machines' live on stage, 'computer world' written behind them Deutsche Welle

The sounds: comfortingly familiar and yet modern. Listening to them you realize again how much Kraftwerk influenced electronic bands like Depeche Mode or Ultravox, and that techno as we know it since the 1990s would probably never have existed without them.

With this finely balanced and detailed stage sound, the music doesn't sound like it's 30, 40 or even 50 years old at all.

The set list is packed with Kraftwerk hits, from "Autobahn" to "Das Model" — the band's most successful single in the German charts, thrilling the audience — "Trans-Europa-Express," "Radioaktivität," "Tour de France" and of course, "Wir sind die Roboter."

The video sequences are dominated by numbers, symbols, lines, shapes and colors.

In "Autobahn," there are wonderfully old-fashioned-looking animations of cars from the 1970s chugging along the road under a blue sky.

In "Tour de France," older black-and-white footage of the famous bicycle race is shown.

The 3D effects are rather restrained, with only occasionally notes flying towards the viewers or a robot hand grabbing at them.

Further back in the concert grounds, hardly anything can be seen of the effects, prompting many people to take off their glasses. 3D or not — that is not the focus after all. The live experience of the music that has played a role in the lives of many here for decades is the most important thing about this evening.

Computers and music from the 1970s

Computers and music from the 1970s Deutsche Welle

Unintentional humor at the concert in Poland

Kraftwerk have been on tour since the end of May.

After the long break during the COVID pandemic, bands often expressed their joy of returning to the stage. With Kraftwerk, however, emotions are not usually out in the open; that was never part of the electronic musicians' repertoire. Early on, the term "Menschmachine" (human machine) was coined to describe them, and as such the four men place themselves behind their synthesizers side-by-side on stage, very small in front of the huge LED wall.

On August 6, 2022, however, the four music robots finally showed human emotions on stage at a concert in Poland. The song "Wir sind die Roboter" (We are the robots) broke off after 44 seconds. Perplexed, the musicians shrugged their shoulders, abandoned their positions, conferred with each other. Finally, they left the stage and nothing happened for minutes.

The Polish audience was in a good mood and even started to sing. Then the four came back on stage and restarted "Wir sind die Roboter." After 44 seconds it broke off again, and big hooting from the audience ensued.

After the technical issue was resolved, the song restarted exactly with the text passage that says: "We charge our battery, now we are full of energy" — unintentional comedy.

'We are the robots' was also part of previous stage programs

'We are the robots' was also part of previous stage programs Deutsche Welle

Kraftwerk as a Gesamtkunstwerk

The only remaining original member of Kraftwerk is Ralf Hütter, who celebrated his 75th birthday in 2021. From the very beginning (Kraftwerk was formed in 1970), he has been the head of this music project, envisioned as a Gesamtkunstwerk, a complete work of art.

After the other founding members left long ago and his co-mastermind Florian Schneider died in 2020, Hütter always brings together three other, interchangeable musicians around him to preserve the image of Kraftwerk on stage.

He himself does not give interviews. For Hütter, the music, the complete work, should be in the foreground; the people behind it are only the executing robots. It is for that reason that no one expected a spectacular stage show from Kraftwerk, but instead a revisiting of the songs that have accompanied them through the decades.

Generation TikTok discovers their parents' music

Yet, the audience was totally enthusiastic after the concert in Bonn. All the hits had been played and, when DW talked with concert-goers, they reiterated how important the band was and is for the development of electronic music, and how much they enjoyed the journey over time.

Kraftwerk doesn't need a huge stage show

Kraftwerk doesn't need a huge stage show Deutsche Welle

Most of the concert-goers were older, but among them were also Alina and Jan, both 20, and 21-year-old Alexander. They became familiar with Kraftwerk through their parents. After the concert, they seemed truly inspired, with the sound and beat having swept away the young techno fans. "Everything you know from techno today was already around in the 70s, which is fascinating," said Alexander.

"Kraftwerk was ahead of its time," said Jan, adding that it was a pity that so few people their age were in the audience. Perhaps it's because young people don't want to hear the old music of their parents or even grandparents, he said. But, "I think a lot of people our age would like it, too."

Alexander said he thought that the music does feel a bit strange at first and that many people may not want to spend time trying to deal with that. Alina agreed: "There are also very long songs. Our generation is so accustomed to TikTok that their attention spans are very short, about a minute and a half, and if you listen to the 14-minute version of 'Autobahn,' on the other hand, it's really difficult for many our age."

The concert in Bonn on August 28, 2022 was the only one in Germany. The '3D Tour' continues in Lisbon, Malaga, Florence and Genoa.

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