Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Why I'll never say Auf Wiedersehen to true Kraftsmen

Ralf Hutter
Ralf Hutter

Ever seen a grown man cry live in 3D? If you had been at the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall in London last Wednesday night you would have done.

You would have seen me. Well, not exactly sobbing, but certainly dewy-eyed with joy perhaps. So simple notes played on a keyboard can now do this. E, B, G, D, E, A.

That's all you now need to stir my emotion. But they revoke past times and present ecstasy in the way only music of genius can.

The power of those sounds gets disproportionately stronger as the years go by. There is lamentation at the passing of time, but thrill at the here and now in those gorgeous, clear sounds.

The first note brings instant recognition and recall. They're played by a 67-year-old German called Ralf Hutter and he is the surviving founder member of the seminal synthesiser band Kraftwerk.

Around 60,000 people tried to buy tickets for the band's eight-night residency at the Tate last week. Just about 7,000 of us were successful.

Regular readers, if there are any, might remember that I spent more than four frantic, deranged hours on redial before getting through. Websites crashed, ticket phone lines melted down, people surrounded the venue in protest at the shambles.

What was it all for? Why did we want to see four oldish men in neon-striped onesies standing stationary in front of keyboards playing repetitive sounds from the 70s and 80s?

The answer came on that first note. Computer Love, beautiful, naive, perfect. "Another lonely night, another lonely night/stare at the TV screen, stare at the TV screen."

Ralf sings and we mouth along. There's about 900 of us there. We're wearing 3D glasses as images fly towards us from a screen behind the band. Spacelabs, VW Beetles, random numbers, nuclear warning signs float all around.

The sound is terrifically, crystal-clear, throbbing up from the Tate's concrete floor. "I call this number, call this number/For a data date, for a data date," Hutter continues, as if it was 1981 all over again. Alongside me, my sons – grungy guitar fans and musicians – stand watching. I desperately want them to love this music like I did when I was their age and do till this day. It's difficult to tell behind 3D glasses.

Somewhere at the back, where the liggers and freeloaders have been allowed in, you can occasionally hear banal banter about work. There's even the odd ironist filming the whole thing on his smartphone so he can watch it later.

But we followers will not be put off by such sacrileges. Their empty-headed cynicism, a disease spreading throughout the overindulged world, can't infect us.

We are off on the Trans Europe Express as retro trains speed over our heads. "Rendezvous on Champs-Elysees/Leave Paris in the morning on TEE," sings Ralf of the wonders of a bygone age in borderless travel across the continent.

Even though they predicted the rise of computer power and sung of the future, Kraftwerk were always looking fondly over their shoulder at the past as they hurtled into the unknown.

Music Non Stop ends the too-short two-hour set with a defiant reminder that German pensioners play the world's best techno dance music and that the Hip Hop of black America will forever be in their debt.

Could Boing, Boom, Tschak be some of the most profound lyrics of all time? Probably not, but after they've been drilled into your head for 10 minutes you want to believe so.

Ralf, who has wonderfully said nothing all night, moves to the side of the stage, whispers Auf Wiedersehen and disappears.

We disperse in silent awe. No one wants to say it's the best gig they've ever seen, that's too uncool. But plenty are thinking it.

We retire to a bar. Shorn of their glasses, my sons' verdicts can now be given. We talk for an hour about the wonders we have just seen and heard. The past has become memorable present.

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