Above: Folk musicians touring the European countryside by bicycle. Photograph Roger-Viollet /Rex Features
The following was originally published in the LAWeekly on June 2, 2005…
Man-Machines of Loving Grace
by Jay Babcock
I like to think (and
the sooner the better!)
of a cybernetic meadow
where mammals and computers
live together in mutually
like pure water
touching clear sky.
—from “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” by Richard Brautigan
Next Tuesday, German electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk will perform in Los Angeles for the first time since their now-legendary show at the Hollywood Palladium in 1996. That concert drew an appreciative, astoundingly diverse cross-genre audience: indie-rock nerds and art-school casualties, computer-programming geeks and hip-hop heads, synth freaks and industrial goths, every laptop musician west of the Colorado and — oh yes! — breakdancers. Machines, it seems, had succeeded in uniting humans.
It’s impossible to overstate Kraftwerk’s influence on pop music and culture over the last 30 years, from new wave to hip-hop, electronica to (yawn) Coldplay (who use the riff from “Computer Love” on their new song, “Talk”). We all know Kraftwerk songs — odes to transportation like “Autobahn” and “Trans-Europe Express,” future/now manifestoes like “Man/Machine” and “The Robots” — but it’s in the live context, where the songs are joined to specially designed graphics, that Kraftwerk achieves a purity of all-encompassing vision that secular music rarely touches. It’s all about rapture, and an interaction with — or longing for — a relationship with something other than human.
On the telephone, Ralf Hutter — co-founder of Kraftwerk with Florian Schneider, and now approaching 60 years of age — is helpful and deliberate, like a professor pleased to have a visitor who’s interested in his research on an obscure subject.
Q: There’s a bumper sticker that says “Drum machines have no soul.” Do you think that is true?