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Kraftwerk – the Festival officially begins

Jonathan Schofield enjoys a spin at the Velodrome with the German masters of the machine

Written by . Published on July 3rd 2009.

Kraftwerk – the Festival officially begins

So was this the conversation that Manchester International Festival Director Alex Poots had with Ralf Hütter of Kraftwerk?

“Herr Hütter, we’d like a really sexy start to the Festival, maybe hot, well-toned bodies in lycra, something to make your eyes pop.”

“Ah yes, I know vat you vant,” said Ralf. “You need the Englander men’s cycling team from zer Velodrome. Zer team zat von zer Olympic Gold Medal.”

“Right,” said a crestfallen Poots, “I was thinking more along the lines of dancing girls.”

Well maybe.

There’s a fascination with the relationship between Man and machine. This isn’t a negative representation but it can be (in the song Radio-Activity for instance), it’s simply their idea of what the relevant themes for art in our time should be.

We got the cyclists at the Velodrome last night, and 3-D specs and a real Festival moment. This was during Kraftwerk’s 1983 Tour de France tune. The UK cycling team came swooshing onto the track and powered round to the undulating rhythm of the music, at one point mimicking the graphic equaliser pattern being played out on the screen.

The crowd lapped it up as Jamie Staff and the lads did the laps. We all joined in clapping to the song as well, led by the cyclists as they took their hands off the handle-bars. It was a proper moment.

There were other high points too such as a 3-D section when Team Kraftwerk came on stage in illuminous green suits and dazzled us all with a mind-twisting light show.

The audience had a strange composition. There were Kraftwerk fanatics, those who merely wanted to be in at the start of the Festival and assorted hacks. The fans, by far the majority, were in heaven at the end of the gig, thinking it had been a life changing and life-affirming concert. The rest were by turn entertained, intrigued or, sadly, given the £35 ticket prices, bored. Kraftwerk, despite the visual splendour of the back screens and Team GB, don’t have the sort of tunes that you can casually adore. You love them or not.

Everybody shared one thing. We all ended up sweatier than the cyclists in an un-airconditioned building that would have made the Amazon in summer seem cool.

For the true fans, though, this was a treat, the stuff of legend.

Kraftwerk and what they represent is summed up by the titles of some of the songs they played last night, Computerlove, The Man Machine, Radio-Activity, Robot, Trans-Europe Express and their sole UK number one, The Model.

The band are the original electronic pioneers, their music is full of pulsing beats, hard mechanical rhythms and occasional light flecks of melody.

They are a band who probably began with a manifesto: a plan of what they intended to achieve. Very Continental that. Kraftwerk’s must have been to represent the consumer driven, science led, technology obsessed late 20th, early 21st century. They had, and still have, a fascination with the relationship between Man and machine. This isn’t a negative representation but it can be (in the song Radio-Activity for instance), it’s simply their idea of what the relevant themes for art in our times should be.

Some songs are pure celebrations of the machine and technological age such as Trans-Europe Express. Tour de France brings together the idea of man melded with machine in the relationship of the cyclist to the bike. It also reflects the only remaining original member of Kraftwerk, Ralf Hütter’s, obsession with cycling and explains why this one off opener was held in the Velodrome.

At the VIP party in the Pavilion in Albert Square the city’s Creative Director, Peter Saville said, “I cried when the British Olympic team came onto the track during Tour de France. Kraftwerk changed so many things in music and design. We wouldn’t have had the New Order we got if there had been no Kraftwerk. As a graphic designer the simplicity of the Autobahn cover, where you focused on commodities or products, gave us the vocabulary which inspired Factory.”

All in all then a memorable evening, not least for seeing the middling classes lying out on the grass below the Velodrome in the sun before the gig - in Beswick. Who’d have thought it?

The best moment: the GB cycling team flying round the track to Tour de France of course. That will occupy the memory for a good while.

As an intro to Kraftwerk, pioneering classical composer, Steve Reich, had his Festival commissioned piece 2x5 performed by New York's Bang On A Can All-Stars. It was a haunting layered work but it disappeared in the vast space of the Velodrome. It would have been perfect for the Bridgewater Hall but here provided little more than a charming entrée for the German main event.

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28 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

EditorialJuly 3rd 2009.

Rob, re-post if you will. We were sorting out the clip above and you were deleted in the process.

Rob ArcangeliJuly 3rd 2009.

This is why journalists shouldn't be allowed to clog up concerts.It was magic. Peter Saville has it spot on. No Kraftwerk. No Factory.

Clive CraigJuly 3rd 2009.

Rob, I was there. One quesion how would we get the write-up to then have a row with which sparks opinion without the journalist. What a strange thing to say. And some people did seem bored, the fans didn't. For some people it seemed to go on too long as well. I loved it especially Radio-Activity which for various reasons means a lot to me.

Rob ArcangeliJuly 3rd 2009.

I was being cheeky more than anything. I just don't like it when events that are so limited in capacity are filled up by people who either don't want to be there or just because they "have" to.As long as I get to see what I want : )And yes, the 3D really added to Radio-Activity. I absolutely loved it.

Robin SkylarkJuly 3rd 2009.

Totally agree with Steve Reich comment, the venue was far too big for that piece - it required the audience to give in to its hypnotic rhthyms, instead they just chatted through it. Kraftwerk were absolutely amazing though - my favourite moment was the pummelling percussion during Trans-Europe express, with the black and white visuals of crashing trains playing out in the background.

JubaJuly 3rd 2009.

Sounds interesting. But for 'pumelling percussion' and no electronica see Not Part Of's Juba gig, Great Northern Square on Saturday 11th @ lunchtime. A lot less than £38; in fact £38 less.

JinkiesJuly 3rd 2009.

Rob, I agree completely. A load of tickets were given to scensters and journo's that only went because they wanted to see Kraftwerk for the sake of seeing Kraftwerk. I know a whole bunch of people that really wanted to go but couldn't, I also know a whole bunch that went and thought it was a bit **** because "it's not my kind of music anyway". They all did enjoy the party afterwards mind, apparently that was great.

EdGlinertJuly 3rd 2009.

Let's not forget the politics behind the inclusion of "Radioactivity" at the gig. When Kraftwerk appeared in Manchester in the 1980s they were still presenting the song without commenting on the subject..."Radioactivity, it's in the air for you and me. Radioactivity, discovered by Madame Curie" [neat and obvious rhyme, by the way, which works in most European languages]. The song is very apt for Manchester, as this is the city where atomic theory was devised and the atom first split. When Kraftwerk played the Greenpeace Festival at G-Mex in 1991 they made a fundamental alteration to the lyric, acknowledging Manchester's latest role as the city leading the campaign against nuclear energy and weapons, by changing the chorus to "Stop radioactivity." That version remained for last night.All we need now is their hi-tech, computer-age electro-dance solution to the anachronism that is Metrolink.

handy72July 3rd 2009.

I was there with my brother who travelled from Bristol. It was a good show, but the organisation let it down.Firstly, we entered through the wrong doors and couldn't get to the standing area. Then, we were moved down but never received any 3D glasses, so couldn't see the effects.Also, had to queue for about 20 minutes for the loo, and missed Robots :-(Having said that, the venue was good (a little warm!), sound good and drink prices fair.

ancoats girlJuly 3rd 2009.

Fantastic gig, but definitely pricey at £35. Handy - the toilets for those in the seated area were virtually empty, so what a shame for the standing area folk. Venue was roasting hot, I felt pretty wobbly towards the end - was there no ventilation in such a state of the art sports complex? Steve Reich opener was incredibly boring (to me - I hate experimental noodle) but perhaps it was also because they sounded a bit lost in the size of the venue. And how did one get tickets for the after party? A shame it wasn't publicised more - or was it for media/journo types in the know only....?

MarkJuly 3rd 2009.

The beauty of Kraftwerk is how they've influenced popular culture with such a minimal sound. They intrigue and excite and due to their experiemental nature thay also sometimes bore people. That doesn't have to be a bad thing. If it could be proved that clubbers who enjoy raving at sankeys and other places every weekend, or gig-goers at Night and day etc. don't lose interest from time to time, I'd be very intrigued!

slimJuly 3rd 2009.

3D images , quadrophonic sound ,fantastic tunes what more do you want ? great gig !!!!!

DrawohJuly 3rd 2009.

Agree completely with the rave review. A truly memorable evening. I'd like to join the criticism of many members of the audience though. The "high IQ morons" as Martin Amis dubbed them. I was surrounded by these besuited idiots and ended up leaving my seat to get away from them. I wanted to scream at them "Why are you here?". Please stay away and leave space for people that enjoy the gigs. It's not big, not clever and def moronic.

WorkcraftJuly 3rd 2009.

4 very talented people, mesmorising visuals, 3D glasses and Terry Christian by the cornish pastie stand. That's what makes Manchester a great place to enjoy a live experience.

shiveringgoatJuly 3rd 2009.

The sound was amazing - they did wonders to create such a terrific sound in a space not designed for that kind of gig. I tried getting tickets in 1981 when they toured with 'Computer World' but couldn't get them so the wait of 28 years was worth it - especially when they played 'Computer Love' which I never expected them to play live (the track Coldplay sampled). A great night all in all - my only gripe was that I didn't get Gordo's autograph and that it was far too hot - reminded me of how it must have felt in Louisana Superbowl during hurricane Katrina.

AnonymousJuly 3rd 2009.

Seems Drawoh is proposing a dress code (what?) and an examination before you can go to a gig. Will that be necessary at the Art Gallery (which is £8 cheaper) for Bach? Or is his music still universal rather than exclusive to a fan 'gang'

Cllr Mike AmesburyJuly 3rd 2009.

A great evening opening for what will be a superb Manchester International Festival 09. Kraftwork in the original city of the industrial age, the city that gave the world the first computer, split the atom and created the gold medal making machine - the velodrome. A unique Mancunian first.

slackJuly 3rd 2009.

Never mind that the place was overrun with journo types, leaving less capacity for the atmosphere-inducing real fans, but then one such journo comes out with the shocking article above. Slack and sloppy, unintelligent, wooden, text-book referenced and lets not even go there with the sentence structure, or lack of it (Schofield should learn the correct use of commas-v-full stops). Sorry but its just annoying to read and erodes all credibility. Maybe Mancon should get one of those real fans to write up reviews of such seminal and special gigs. We might then get some sense. Get back to being seen at your plastic "VIP" parties and let the real people get the column inches.

Anthony BrennanJuly 3rd 2009.

The fans are losing it here. The point of journos is criticism or description not wild emotional love-ins. I was at the concert and I'm not a journalist nor a massive fan. I was one of the curious. I enjoyed the experience and glad I went, it was worth the money. But thank god I didn't have to read anything by a real Kraftwerk nut, with me trying to work out all the tangled references they'd no doubt make. Fanatics should read and comment on websites aimed soley at fans not on reviews for the general reader.

slackJuly 3rd 2009.

Take your point Anthony, but there's no excuse for sloppy writing (particularly grammar), especially when you are a journalist! Aside from that, what we got here was neither bona fide criticism nor description - just someone who clearly didn't really get it trying to make sense of it. Like your dad might had he been there! (Except it might have been written correctly then).

AnonymousJuly 3rd 2009.

As usual, couldn't get ticket for this one but they magivcally apeared on ebay for over £100 so the REAL fans missed out. Looked like there was no atmosphere to me anyway.

Plain EnglishJuly 3rd 2009.

Not sure which grammatical errors Slack is talking about. There could have been a more judicious use of commas perhaps, but there's nothing substantively wrong about the article. As a report of what happened for the general reader I find it fine. No doubt there was a time consideration in getting the story up too. This often affects the quality of prose.

Wendy BJuly 3rd 2009.

I actually thought it was a poor show apart from the cycling moment. Every concert has people who want to try something new, see if they can get into it. It failed for me, I can see the idea Kraftwerk had, but it is so blatant and unsubtle, that it bores me. Four men sending electronic robotic emails to each other, how clever - given we're now several decades into the computer age, it was as dated as Logan's Run.

Simon TJuly 3rd 2009.

Jonathan does sound a bit out of his depth reviewing this, and those few paragraphs are just at all relevant/funny or whatever they're supposed to be but aside from that, I've seen Kraftwerk 4 times and this was almost the dullest and most unrewarding. As Wendy B say, the cyclists redeemed the event. The venue was soul-less, in a smaller, more intimare arena the music can really pound through you so it becomes a visceral rather than just cerebral pleasure. They played virtually the same set as the last 3 times I saw them, no edge, no surprises, no challenging themselves or the audience. When you think of the great rock & roll acts of the past - Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Bowie - they always looked evolve, and built unpredictablity and chaos into their work. Kraftwerk's austere predictability felt completely dead to me. Saved by team GB which was the only unpredictable thing about the show. Peter Saville weepeing??? Are we sure that wasn't because he'd just found out out that only 35% of ManCon readers thought he was a more appropriate Creative Director than Jimmy Saville, who polled a very convincing 65% I believe.

AnonymousJuly 3rd 2009.

to ancoats girl - steve reich is the opposite of "experimental noodle" - The musicians were playing (very demanding) scored music. I went to see this rather than Kraftwerk and i agree it was lost a bit in the veledrome. Kraftwerk were great though - more than made up for it.

shinealightJuly 3rd 2009.

I was there and really enjoyed it (phew, glad I got that off my chest!) There do seem to be an awful lot of liggers at MIF events (Gordo - I hope you managed to get your free tickets to 'It Felt Like a Kiss'). I was in the third row at Antony and the Johnsons on Friday and was surrounded by empty seats - my guess is that these seats were those allocated to sponsors etc. and not used.

GordoJuly 3rd 2009.

No I didn't Shinealight, we only get one press ticket. Mind you, having just had a full description of it from Schofield, I think I may well come away with a heart attack if I did get to go... It's sold out as well, just tried to buy a couple. My tip is Durutti Column, a man in the know has just spoken to me having heard Vinnie's piece, says it's awesome, I have bought a couple of those.

AnonymousJuly 3rd 2009.

Yep the die hard fans loved it (of course they did, they are die hard fans) but personally (and I would class myself as a fan, maybe not die hard, but a fan none the less) I felt that it was a bit of a waste of what would potentially was an amazing venue for a gig. Yeah it was great to see the cycling team but I was rather expecting something a little more from the use of the velodrome - just think of the possibilities! Wish I'd put my £35 towards an Elbow v The Halle ticket and watched Kraftwerk at Bestival instead minus the cyclists but outdoors, cooler and probably more portaloos to go round...

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