Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider were part of the early 1970s experimental music and art scenes in Düsseldorf, Germany, when they started Kraftwerk.
The music was part of the krautrock movement, defined at the website Progarchives.com as “a German avant-garde/experimental rock movement … (that gave) a special emphasis to electronic treatments, sound manipulation and minimal hypnotic motifs.”
Kraftwerk’s music sounded futuristic, robotic and estranged from the sounds prevailing in 1970s rock. A review in Melody Maker magazine of a Kraftwerk show in Britain in 1975 called it “spineless, emotionless sound with no variety, less taste … (and) damn little attempt to pull off anything experimental, artistically satisfying or new. For God’s sake, keep the robots out of music.”
Forty years later, perspectives have changed profoundly. In an essay at Guardian.com declaring Kraftwerk “the world’s most influential band,” Jude Rogers wrote: “No other band since the Beatles has given so much to pop culture. Kraftwerk’s beats laid the foundations for club music: for hip-hop, synth-pop, techno and house.”
Schneider left Kraftwerk in 2008, but Hütter has kept its flame lit. In 2012, he launched a lavish 3-D tour that celebrates the band’s best-known albums, including “Autobahn,” the title track of which became the band’s only Top 40 hit in the United States.
Friday the 3-D Kraftwerk tour stops at the Midland, the band’s first Kansas City show since April 1975, the year “Autobahn” hit the charts. Hütter spoke with The Star recently about the 3-D tour, his band’s legacy and technology in the 21st century.
Q: How did the idea of a 3-D presentation arise?
A: Kraftwerk has always been very audio-visual. When we started as students in the late ’60s and set up in our Kling Klang studios in Düsseldorf, we had a strong contact with the art scene and art galleries. We now have kind of returned full-circle to the art world. We reworked the whole repertoire from all eight major Kraftwerk albums, the videos and paintings and drawings and slide photos, and transformed them to digital format, thinking we could possibly program them into 3-D. It was a very long process, but everything was reworked for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (in April 2012).
Q: What do you remember about creating the sound of Kraftwerk?
A: When we started, we were the first post-war generation in Germany. We were educated on classical music or music on the radio from around the world. When we started our own thing with my former partner, Florian Schneider, we had no voice, no music of our own. That was a culture shock. We discovered there was an enormous possibility to make something new. There was so much silence and space and a cultural vacuum, we could create a contemporary sound of our own.
Q: When did you become aware of how deeply your music was affecting other bands and musicians?
A: You can imagine when we started there was a lot of criticism and negative energy toward us. This changed in the late ’80s and ’90s with dance and electronic music. Now we get positive feedback from everywhere, from America and Japan and South America, Iceland and Germany. We get so much feedback and encouragement from all different music styles and cultures and artists. It’s fantastic to have such great energy and positive response come to us. That makes us want to go ahead.
Q: There was a time when Kraftwerk didn’t tour for almost 10 years. How does it feel to be back on the road so regularly?
A: For many years, it wasn’t really possible to play live. The analog equipment was heavy and fragile, and we couldn’t transport it easily. In the 21st century, we have tools to make the music much more mobile. Now we can do everything. We can travel to performances all over the world. It’s a fantastic situation for a composer of music to work these days. You can imagine Beethoven had to find someone to finance an orchestra, a noble or king to give him money. Now, all the tools are here to make your own music.
Q: What will your audience experience at the Midland show?
A: Everybody will go through their own experience. With this music you can dance, listen with your eyes closed, like you’re dreaming. There are no rules or just one way to experience the show or perceive the music. The experience can change. When you’re young and hear it, you experience one thing. Then 30 years later it’s a different reaction to the same music. Music is a very fluid art form. We want to transmit to the audience the energy we get from performing and working with today’s technology. We will bring robots this time to America. They’ll be in Kansas City and will take over one part of the performance. We have gotten so much feedback and encouragement. (The show) is food for the brain and heart.
Q: Is there too much technology or is it changing too fast?
A: Certainly there’s an overflow going on. That’s why I also like silence. People should take the time for solitude and sleep and recharge.
Kraftwerk performs at 8 p.m. Friday at the Midland theater. Tickets are $59.50 to $79.50 and are available at the Midland box office and at MidlandKC.com.