Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 17 September 2014

Kraftwerk still have me hooked after all these years

In demand: Kraftwerk

I've given myself plenty of time to achieve the task, even taken a day's holiday. I've set my alarm early so that I can prepare.

I have my phone at my left hand and the laptop on the right. We're looking good, Mission Control.

It was never going to be easy to get tickets for Kraftwerk's series of shows at the Tate Modern in London next month, but who would have predicted it would be like travelling through Dante's nine circles of hell?

Kraftwerk are legends. I've never forgotten first hearing Autobahn back in the 70s. No guitars, just hypnotic analogue synthesisers on repeat as a heavily accented German deadpanned he was having fun, fun, fun on the motorway. Our parents, Second World War babies, were perhaps understandably none too keen to encourage a love of all things Teutonic. If we thought of Germans at all, it was as cold, ruthless lovers of mechanical exactitude.

Kraftwerk seemed to confirm that impression. Except for those of us who listened more deeply. For the four men played music of stunning originality, full of love and melody.

They were the Man Machine all right, but there was as much man as machine. Their refusal to compromise on repetitive, hypnotic rhythm paved the way for black American hip-hop.

It was the four themselves (Ralf, Florian, Wolfgang and Karl) standing expressionless behind synthesisers who fired the imagination. They sang of pan-European wonders (unfashionable then and now in Britain), falling in love with computers and the intricacies of the pocket calculator.

There was no sex, drugs and rock and roll here. Cycling was their fix, founder members Ralf and Florian regularly getting dropped off 100 miles ahead of a gig to pedal the rest of the way there. Indeed, it was obsession with cycling that ended the famous four line-up.

Now only Ralf remains of the originals, Florian having left two years ago (rumours of a bust-up over ownership of a tyre pump cannot be discounted), yet when they announced a residency in New York last spring, 60,000 people tried to get their hands on just 2,000 tickets.

So here we are, then. I'm ready. The Tate Modern website and phone line opens at 7.30am. At 7.29.52, I log on. But wait. Something's wrong. I can't get the website up.

Two minutes later, it announces there are technical difficulties. I hit the phone, but the engaged tone rings out. The website then informs me that due to "unprecedented demand" the website has crashed.

The phone is engaged. The first bead of sweat forms on my forehead. I log on to Twitter and Facebook and find I am not alone. Others are beginning to howl at the incompetence of the Tate Modern. I'm not going to go into the full disaster that was the gallery's lamentable efforts to sell tickets for one of the greatest bands of all time, as tens of thousands of people tried to get through. Just type Tate, Kraftwerk, Tickets and Shambles into your search engine.

It's now an hour since "opening" and the website is still down, the phone line unobtainable. My Blackberry goes Redial. Busy. Redial. Busy. Redial. Busy, while my laptop is Refresh. Sorry. Refresh. Sorry. Refresh. Sorry.

Twitter is filling up with indignation. A Facebook site called Hate Tate is set up. But I'm not giving in. These new Kraftwerk shows have 3D visuals. They're the events of a lifetime. I'm obsessed. Four hours of Redial. Busy and Refresh. Sorry later and something so stunning happens I almost faint.

You are through to the Kraftwerk ticket hotline, a mechanical voice says. Half-an-hour later I am speaking to a real person who admits the Tate only has a dozen people manning the switchboard, but I'm so frightened he'll hang up on me I go disproportionately obsequious.

My favourite show has sold out, but I still get three tickets at £60 each (they are now trending on viagogo for £800!) and am almost deliriously happy, laughing like a skittish girl until he tells me he can't seem to work his keyboard and might have to reboot.

I'm hysterical, now on a dangerous tightrope between too friendly and demented. He has a breakthrough and I have my tickets. I tell him I love him. The whole event has taken the best part of six hours. As I cartwheel around the room, a thought occurs. Was what had happened all that it had seemed? There was I, a middle-aged man, spending four hours pushing buttons and keyboards in a bid to watch four middle-aged men spend four hours pushing buttons and keyboards.

This was actually another example of Kraftwerkian genius, was it not? It was conceptual art at its finest. Those crafty Germans had done it again.

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