Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Kraftwerk: Classic Albums – The Man Machine & Computer World, Vivid 2013, and Free Mixtapes

The annual Vivid Festival in Sydney has just come to the end of its spectacular near three-week-long run. Described as an extravaganza of “light, music, and ideas”, it really does look like a must see event.

This year’s Vivid Festival was made all the more exciting by the fact that legendary German technocrats Kraftwerk performed EIGHT times in just four days at the Sydney Opera House, rolling out what is otherwise known as The Catalogue – eight exceptional albums (one per gig, two gigs per day/night) from Autobahn (1974) through to Tour de France (2003). I’d be a liar if I said I wasn’t totally jealous when I learned that local ‘Stuff’ music blogger Simon Sweetman had attended. Simon’s experience is well documented here …

Anyway, it got me thinking more and more about Kraftwerk. The organisers of Vivid must have been pinching themselves when they secured Kraftwerk’s participation in the event because no other musical outfit across the globe (individual, band, DJ, or “operator”) could possibly provide a better fit for the “lights, music, and ideas” ethos than Kraftwerk. Across the past four decades this German phenomenon has been at the forefront of the electronic music evolution, proving instrumental in the development of many sub-genres, not the least of which have been Hip hop and techno.

Beyond the obvious untouchable pop culture markers such as Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and the Velvet Underground, it is doubtful there has ever been a more influential act than Kraftwerk. The group’s longevity and ability to set new trends knows no bounds. As a unit, they continue to astound.

With that in mind, I revisited a couple of key Kraftwerk albums in my collection and wrote a brief review for each (below). I also stumbled across a collection of fairly cool freely downloadable Kraftwerk related mixtapes featuring the group and a whole range of different artists as compiled by DJ Food here ...

Kraftwerk – The Man Machine (1978)

The Man Machine (or Die Mensch Maschine) is one of several truly great Kraftwerk albums released during the group’s heyday of the late Seventies/early Eighties.
With just six tracks clocking in at around 36 minutes, The Man Machine is also one of Kraftwerk’s shortest albums, but with typical German efficiency (generalisation alert!) there is no shortage of quality with the “band” (are Kraftwerk really a band, or a group of IT geeks?) somehow managing to squeeze as much into those 36 minutes as possible.

There’s no real need for me to wax on about what this sounds like – Kraftwerk being the synth Gods they are – but this is the album that gave us ‘The Robots’, ‘Neon Lights’, and the very belated hit single ‘The Model’. It also gave us perhaps the most iconic album cover of Kraftwerk’s entire career.

Kraftwerk – Computer World (1981)

Like so much of Kraftwerk’s storied output, Computer World (aka Computer Welt) was light years ahead of its time.

The album – following on from the success of 1978’s The Man Machine – was several years in the making, yet it could have been made any time between its 1981 release date and say, the turn of the new Millennium some 20 years later, and still sound relatively fresh.

It’s worth remembering that back in 1981 computers weren’t quite the everyday item they are today, and back then they were very much a big deal. Indeed, I recall my own sense of excitement when buying something as basic as a “space invaders” pocket calculator around that time!

For a bunch of German cycling obsessives to dedicate an entire album to this new electronic phenomenon seemed rather indulgent in the extreme.

But of course, we now know different. If they (computers) haven’t exactly taken over the world, then they most certainly have taken over the lives of a large portion of its inhabitants - which is exactly what Kraftwerk were banging on about all those years ago.

Highlights: ‘Computer World’ (both parts 1 & 2), ‘Pocket Calculator’, and ‘Computer Love’.


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