We were pretty sure that we weren’t raised in Liverpool. Our generation had to come up with a counterpoint to that…
Kraftwerk was willing to relate to the past of German identity.
Karl Bartos (Kraftwerk, 1975-91)
If you ever plan to fly to Cologne and its neighbor-city Düsseldorf for its electronic music & 'Krautrock' heritage and legacy, you have to start paying attention right when you land at the airport. The Flughafen Köln/Bonn (CGN) combines an appealing clean brutalist architecture with corporate acoustics – an omnipresent, warm electronic jingle of 5 seconds and announcements with the German dubbing voice of James Bond- which make the airport highly distinguishable once you have heard it.
With its main terminal being finished in 1968 (the same year Kraftwerk formed under the name 'Organisation'), Köln/Bonn is also the first drive-through airport in the world, connecting the Autobahns directly with the airport building, a promise of endless mobility and the fusion of man and machine. And when you take a helicopter flight, you will see patterns that are only visible from high above: The airport serving the former German capital has two piers shaped like the Star of David, in fierce opposition to the politics of the Third Reich that reigned Germany until just 23 years ago. At such closer examination, the Cologne/Bonn Airport reveals itself as outstanding symbol of elements that are also attached to German Electronic Music of the 70s like Kraftwerk's: welcome to the electronic world, welcome to change, welcome to the future and progress. The architect of the building: Paul Schneider-Esleben, former pilot of the German Luftwaffe who served for the entire duration of WW2, and father of Florian Esleben from Kraftwerk.
Post-war Germany in the face of absolute defeat and the defeaning silence of the Germans, is often referred to as 'Year Zero' or 'Zero Hour'. The highly innovative, different styles of 'Krautrock' are assumed to have emerged from a cultural vacuum of that 'Year Zero'. But does the collective consciousness and time continuum really allow a vacuum?
Speaking of a cultural vacuum is dangerous- hence it denies the obvious and is an attempt, or excuse, for the human mind's reset and cultural cleansing. It gives way to an ideologic cultural marxism, accepting only chosen art as being accurate to be 'culture'. In the Third Reich lots of modern art and music has been declared 'degenerate' and been banned- but has there been no culture without it? I fiercly disagree, the Germans had a very strong and rich culture, ideologocial and non-ideological, it is just one that for obvious reasons we do not like, even when we refer to rather universal styles of that era like neo-classicism. Just like the supposedly degenerate art that the Nazis banned, their own and preserved German culture reverberated long after the downfall of the Third Reich, hence it was not conncected to killing jews, but to a superordinate cultural and historical continuum. There is never a cultural vacuum.
A most appealing and often overlooked aspect about Kraftwerk is their timeless melancholy and sepia melodies. The greatest Sinatra song is still one that he never sang: 'Neon Lights' by Kraftwerk. Imagine those two together, old romanticism and the German melancholy that always seems to be accompanied by staccato slow-motion imagery – wonderful.
It is easy to miss the old vibe in Kraftwerk's music because of all the innovation and new, and because it took the music world a decade to catch up with the pioneers from Düsseldorf, Germany. But underneath the electronic disguise, the old European and German grandeur is still audible, especially in 'Europa Endlos'. The vibe of their music locates in a time ranging from 20s Jazz-Berlin / German expressionism until the end of Nazi Germany and its reverberation in the 50s – 70s. Those lovely, naive, and yearning songs could have been sung by Marlene Dietrich and her likes in a Berlin Jazz basement, I can hear it every time.
Then there is the echo of something that by now we attribute to Nazi Germany- Kraftwerk at times have a Wagnerian kitsch and pathos in their music, a pompous romanticism that one can imagine being played in Riefenstahl films such as 'Triumph of The Will'. Take Metropolis, Fritz Lang's cinematographic masterpiece of German Expressionism, to which Kraftwerk referred to in their best-selling record Die Mensch Maschine. Like his other critically praised works M and Dr. Mabuse, it was written by Lang's not so much remembered wife Thea von Harbou, next to Leni Riefenstahl the most important woman in German cinema. Metropolis is a demanding read and watch: pompous and at times trivial, pedantic, and absolute kitsch, in the end all these things come together as something powerful and very appealing. Von Harbou by the way became an NSDAP member and collaborated with the Nazi regime, while her husband Lang went to exile in the USA.
Just like the architect Schneider-Esleben, Kraftwerk took from the pre-Nazi utopianism and modernism of the accepted 'Bauhaus Germany', and combined it with the posthumously disdained, yet to this day victorious physical and technological obsessions of Nazi Germany. Its machines, its cars, its motorways, its ideal of the optimized vegetarian body- Kraftwerk presented all of this in an utopian glow, not due to worship but as deconstructive snapshot of their present, while connecting the dots to the past and future. And in this sense, Kraftwerk's music is also the unsung legend of Germany rising from the ashes of their worst crimes and atrocities after the end of WW2. A country which was politically defined, funded and half-occupied by Americans and that breathtakingly quickly recovered and transformed into capitalism’s favorite child.
„I think there are two bands who now come close to a neo-Nazi kind of thing: Roxy Music and Kraftwerk,” Bowie told Ben Edmonds in 1976, and I know what he means, especially in the case of Kraftwerk. Ben Edmonds wrote of Kraftwerk’s ‘fascist drone’ in the same year. This definition should necessarily include that Kraftwerk pointed at Nazism as something that was not overcome yet by the German society, just like their artistic peers and inspirations Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, and Anselm Kiefer from the Düsseldorf Art Academy did.
We love to talk about the past and be stuck in it, it feels like a beautiful, warm place simply because we have lived there when we were younger and less complicated. And we love the future, hence it represents an ever utopic place of hope, change, fulfillment and justice- through good or bad. Nostalgic remembering and dreaming, both equally strong forms of escapism, are the paths of least resistance. Only the present really hurts. It gets more and more evident to me that the term 'future' is being used because of an inability and unwilligness to process and understand the present, treating it as the most neglected child. To say it with Houllebecq: „When we think about the present, we veer wildly between the belief in chance and the evidence in favour of determinism. When we think about the past, however, it seems obvious that everything happened in the way that it was intended.“
Intellectually, it is absurd to talk about Kraftwerk and other artists as visionaries of an ever abstract future, instead of acknowledging them as the chroniclers of their present, with a sharp and hollistic reception of present reality, and to where this reality might lead. Although technology has evolved breathtakingly fast since Kraftwerk's 70s, and the 'Man-Machine' being discussed and openly in terms of 'transhumanism' by science and leading technical universities like the MIT- when one claims today that a new technological race is in sight, it will still be declared as dystopian fantasy. We tend to negate the horrors of reality by shifting them to the future.
But Kraftwerk's aheadness besides sound should not be overestimated anyway. Here is a band that was singing about pocket-calculators- hardly a futuristic topic. There is one aspect we electronic music fans should face: this is music that doesn't aim or accomplish to change anything, it has no revolutionary power. It is solely the soundtrack of technical evolution, of a man-made evolutionary continuum.
READ THE ORIGINAL: https://vinylwriters.com/kraftwerk-future-man-machine-trans-europa-express/