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 Post subject: Kraftwerk in HK
PostPosted: Fri Dec 12, 2008 1:35 pm 
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Latest concert review from the Official Court Music Reviewer, Nick the Bookman, in his very own, inimitable style, raw & edited just for typos, with a stage appearance by Lamma's Lucinda:

Kraftwerk in Hong Kong

It's the summer of 1976 and The Tuesday Night Music Club is in session at my tiny bungalow behind the Stanley Temple, now obliterated by a mega Park N' Shop. My bungalow I mean, not the Temple which has a rather threadbare, but authentic tiger skin, hanging on a wall behind a thick perspex screen. Anyway, there's post-school mates, Gary, Rich and Ollie. There's Jane, my then girlfriend. And me. We've had a regular dai pai dong outdoor sitdown dinner. About $50 a head including beers. Back to mine for dessert: vanilla ice cream with a (generous) dribble of Southern Comfort. Coffee. A little weed, ("Thai, like tied to the stick" - Cheech and Chong). Some incense, dim the lights and the music starts...

First choice is always "Autobahn" by Kraftwerk, a mind-bending slice of melodic electronica and the signpost to the multidelic digital sorcery that encircles the globe today. Faster than a speeding bullet, no less. Or a speeding Mercedes/Daimler on the German superhighways. "Autobahn" puts you in the driver's seat and the electronic traffic zooms past in a barrage of Doppler effects. Then, there's some cool electronic drums... The evening's would mutate after that. Everyone got to choose something. Weird mixes of "Phaedra" by Tangerine Dream. "Tubular Bells" by Mike Oldfield. "Zero Time" by Tonto's Expanding Headband. Up against "Space Ritual" and early Gong. Blue Oyster Cult, live, with a side order of Mona" live by Quicksilver Messenger Service. There'd be tangents into Fairport Convention/Steeleye Span/Horslips. Lots of proggy Genesis/Yes/Tull/BJH etc. Jane would usually play the soppy stuff. Like Rice-Webber musicals and female pianists. Rick rocked out, Gary was quirky and Ollie was drums and horns. Lots of variety, except for the constant opener "Autobahn"... I wonder if I'll ever see them live (sigh).

Kraftwerk are mysterious and almost unattainable, but that's the way they work. Adam Wright wrote in the SCMP that the "...Kling Klang Studio is notoriously airtight with fan mail sent back unopened. The studio phone is famous for never ringing and interview requests (are) usually rejected". Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider met in 1968, forming a band that would evolve into Kraftwerk. By 1974, they had invented the technology to make their fifth LP, "Autobahn", and entered their most productive phase. Later albums include "Trans Europe Express", "Computer Age", "Man-Machine" and "Electric Cafe" in 1986. There were limited dance releases of "Tour de France", a tune they have revisited on several occasions. Their last release was probably the 1991 Remix Album, a fine all-in-one experience with a few more lysergic twists. Nothing new since then.

There are rumours of a pending release of the re-mixed back catalogue. Meanwhile, band members have come and gone in a welter of lawsuits over copyright and privacy. Ralf is possibly more obsessive about cycling than making music. Florian may or may not have quit. Apparently he wants to try other things and not tour anymore, but possible collaborations in and around Berlin may take place. Back again in the late 70's: I did see a long video for "Autobahn" in an experimental music file show at City Hall. Kraftwerk played the long version and I think there were wireframe computer models of cars flashing over the band. Or something. The hexagonal drumpads were totally future in a "Metropolis" sort of way. Anyway, I've seen them play live now - on film.

It's 32 and-a-half years later. To be precise, it's 5-12-2008 and Kraftwerk are making their HK debut. From what I've heard, the buzz was disbelief and delirium. They are The Masters. It's the electronic equivalent of seeing The Beatles live. Probably be the best show since Roger Waters performed "Dark Side Of The Moon". I'll acknowledge that Kylie's recent "X" concert was professional and well-choreographed between sound and vision. Honed all the skills on the lengthy tour. There may even have been a hint of Kraftwerk in some of the backing melodies. (that "Blue Monday" remix in some ways?). But different styles of entertainment.Kylie: Big-Top meets Broadway. Busby Berkeley. Tight band. Great 3-D swirls and eddies of motion and music and movies. Family fun. Kraftwerk: Big Brother meets "Brazil" and The BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The Boogie-bots. Television blipverts. Futurists and Free-Thinkers. The joy of achievement and the striving for perfection...

Sorry, there's a blip on the radar. Fritz Hilpert, one of the current Kraftwerk quartet, has suffered a mild heart attack in Melbourne. He was released after a night of hospital care and the Kraftwerk tour continues. Took a bit of time to find out that the HK show is on, though. A brief squib in the SCMP, smaller than a legal apology, but I found it! Big thanks to Nipper for ticket assistance. (Actually, that "to be precise..." bit isn't. At time of writing it's 10-12-2008. The heart attack occurred in late November and HK is the last leg of the tour, ending on 5-12-2008).

It's the Big Day and I'm well up for this gig. Try and write the best fucking story I can. Get it up there with my Roger review, Or Hooky. And I've got a little gift from old mucker Gus Stanley (pseudonym to remind me of those good old daze) to help me really, really concentrate. It's a couple of months old and I should enjoy a pleasant visual cosmic surf. The show should start at 2000 hours. Very few do start on time. Worth a wager on Teutonic efficiency? Get a ferry about 1800 hours, hit the Airport Express and chill out while waiting to enter the bleak, black hall 11. It's an all-standing gig. Tickets are $680. I prefer one-price tickets. Like NIN. People can get hurt against the crowd control barriers if there's a sudden shove or surge of crowd surfing or something. The barriers aren't even padded to minimise any injury. The uniform security people are pleasant enough to the punters. The private guys can be a little bit cranky sometimes...Sorry, I'm high-jumping ahead.

I'm inside the IFC, heading for the Tooneyville Trolley. Meet Nipper, heading home. Big thumbs up, grin, thanks and "Psst, here's what's gonna happen." He laughs. Bon Voyage. I've got a seat on the train. Just in time as things are starting to happen. Euphoric shivers. The walls are pulsing, the veiny marble walls are writhing. Melting skulls everywhere. Electro-radio-telepathic bursts of chatter, engines, phones, footsteps, the whoosh of the doors closing and silence of a sorts. Whee, this the most fun I've had in about 20 years. It wasn't meant to be this good this soon though. Hunter, be my guide: "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro!" Will that do? Travelling past Tsing Yi Island is brain-melting. I'm watching a silent version of "Autobahn" outside the window. Roads roll and rock. Up and down. The train is almost in the clouds. "Autobahn" and "Trans Europe Express" are playing out in a unique Nixmix in my head. The industrial complex of Tsing Yi and environs is glowing Halloween-pumpkin orange. Scary Halogen lamps glinting through the grime and industrial decay. It looks like an unholy cross of "Blade Runner" and the prison planet in "Alien 3". Or is it Mordor?

Things are toning down as I get off the train. My shoes look like panto-clown's footwear, unfurling in the distance before me. It's about half a mile round most of the Airport Arena to find Hall 11. Waiting area is big and empty. Like 10 minutes before opening time for Oktoberfest. People are already in a snaky queue at 1940 hours. Probably the front row groupies. Interesting mix of society. Original fans who probably see Kraftwerk as the first great Electronic Classical Band, adhering to the rules of classical playing. Follow the score. Know your place. No room for dub workouts or bebop horns in the middle of Beethoven's Fifth. No drum and bass bpm from the tympanists. There's also the logic and maths in the relentless non-deviant computer beats. The rigid, yet out there, percussion stabs. The melodies can be as achingly beautiful or twee as Debussy or Tchaikovsky. But they're glacial as well. The remoteness and distance from a perfect machine can't add the "soul' to the music. Still, this apparent limitation is their greatest strength. Each performance strives to attain the elegant construction of the previous show. The symbiosis of man and machine is re-created. Practice makes perfect.

There's a lot of locals tonight. A few friends from Lamma. Hi, Lucinda and Ollie. There's Mark in a sartorial tribute to the Man Machine Cover. Edo with some German friends. Fellow ravers, Karina and Derek, Tim, PK. A lot of warmly dressed, elegant young fans with overstated goth makeup. They probably weren't even gleams in their daddies' eye when "Autobahn" was first released. The beats don't get lost, the rhythms come around, the wheel keeps on turning and the gears mesh away. They're here because they're hip to the sounds that are going to come down. Now, I'm off to flush my head.

A huge crowd has gathered the length of the stage. About 15-deep and about 100 feet long, Too crowded. Fall back on my alternative first choice and stand by the mixing desk. If it sounds bad there...but it won't. I've tried (ha!) to write some notes. Incomprehensible Runic scrawls might just cover it. Security asks me several times if I'm OK and I say "yabbimefrarters shincow." They understand instantly and leave. At 2025, low bursts of sTaTiC erupt from two small speakers behind my head. Wow! I'm thinking the show into musical existence. Oh, wait, that's the mixing desk. There's faint snaps and crackles, electronic conversation between sapient machines. Some cyber twangs. Splash patterns of percussion. Melodies swim upwards and increase in volume and complexity for about five minutes. People are aware the show has started or something is happening.

The curtains draw wide and four shadowshapes with laptops appear within globular red lights. A second gauzy layer is stripped away and the quartet have mutated into "Man Machine". Clunky rhythms. Written cards displaying the messages and "Man", "Machine". All in stark black and red. Mark, you're colour coordinated to perfection.. Vocoder vocals add electro-menace. The segue from the opening ambient electronica has been deftly handled. Awesome applause at the end of the song as it groans and clanks into submission and silence. Two lengthy versions of "Tour de France" follow.

Wonderful decades old footage (or treated modern action) on a screen whose only colours are blue, red and white. Darting red arrows highlight the action. The visuals are blurry smooth. Close ups of pumping legs on pedals. Centipedes of cyclists twisting and turning round tight mountain roads. It's reminiscent of some of Leni Riefenstahl's 1936 Olympics film. The edits, the shots and angles, the hint of longing for those sinewy legs. Beautiful melodies, that hint of glacial twee I mentioned earlier. The band are all dressed in black pvc body suits and wireless mouth/ear headmikes. Ralf is on the left and closest to the audience, The other three, who include Fritz I presume, are short and bald, slightly taller with close grey hair and taller bloke on the right. It seems rude not to know their names, but in the scheme of the Man-Machine interface, it probably doesn't matter. I mean, you don't go and name your laptop Lawrence. Or Gerry the gearshaft. Piston Pete. Wally the wireplug. Orville the oscillator. Stewart the six-pack syndrum. Korg the keyboard. Where does the anthropomorphy end?

Although Ralf has said the robots (who will go on to make a stunning debut on "We Are The Robots" at about 2210) have their own personalities. Do they bitch about their per diems or complain that someone's drunk all the WD-40 off the rider? The one-track performance is like watching seaweed drift lazily within little swirls and eddies of sea currents, going to and fro in briny abandon. All done with computers you say? Quite hypnotic really. It gives Kraftwerk time to change into their other costume. Same black pvc body suit, cunningly painted in glowy yellow lines. The final tunes include ElektroKardioGramm in heavy German. Medical pulses beep and stutter, lines flatline and waver on the screen. It fades into "Music Non-stop" with a frenzy of bleeps, beats and whiter noise with cutup vocals samples of "Music non-stop" being phased and pitch-shifted. Now human, now HAL in terminal decline.

And it ends, with just a hint of the opening fanfare. It would have been nice to complete the Moebius Strip with the overture. Some music to aid the security after the lights went on. To accompany their linked-arms, soft shoe shuffle like a motile, mortal bulldozer shovelling recalcitrant members of the audience out of the Hall and towards the waiting trains back to civilization. Man. That Was A Show. Praise and awe ripple through the departing throng like a pandemic. No one seems disappointed. Bet there isn't a review in tomorrow's paper though. Had a nice babble with Karina who gets me a Kraftwerk original limited issue t-shirt, size XL. Tell everyone I see to got the Fringe coz that's where the afterparty is. DP, gonzo thrashytronic drum and bass duo, have released their debut EP and it's a showcase for them tonight. I'll make it if I can just find my feet. Kling Klang, let's lurch.

Hey, Nick. Just one problem. Where's the rest of the review. Don't lose the plot now. OK, that was a rush... Right. After "Tour de France" came "Vitamins" with matching warnings and symbols, plus countless tumbling pills. Going end over end in a perpetual slo-mo loop. Can't remember much of the song though. A touching "Computer World" with wire frame 3-D models of computer construction. Haunting fembot (to me) vocoder-vox. Reminds me of Bender's lost love in the Starship Titanic episode of "Futurama." A little bit of a foretaste of John Foxx-era Ultravox when they played "I Want To Be A Machine", before sidling through "Vienna". Then there's "Antennae". Again old style logos of pylons spitting and crackling with electricity. The 2-D symbol of what the old RKO film intro looked like with the pylon on top oft the Arctic Circle. Gloriously sent up in the end of "Rocky Horror Picture Show" which also devianted into red and black lingerie and set dressing, Not to mention the late "Eddie" under the table top. "Pocket Calculator" is a whimsical nursery rhyme. A jaunty ditty with a "Toys R Us" level of musical complexity. The closest they get to humour tonight. I remember reading that once Ralf played his pocket calculator behind his head. Riffing off Jimi. He shook his head, laughed, said "Nah" and resumed the song with stern efficiency.

The opening bars of "Autobahn" emerge. At last, foreplay is over and it's time to enter what the Grateful Dead referred to as the "Drums/Space" section of their show when they can kick out the jams and boogie down electric avenue all night long (without Lionel Richie, though). Of course that won't happen because the Sound/Light Show is also honed to perfection and you can't miss your cues. The film is cut to the music. I'm hopeful, but not optimistic that I'll hear the whole 22'38" version of "Autobahn". I do hope for the 9'+ remix, but the tune runs about 5' or so. Stops just before the car trip and only a couple of choruses of "Fahrn, Fahrn, Fahrn auf der Autobahn". Well, they've got to finish about 2230, so that means a 2-hour show.

The next number ratches up the paranoia quotient. "Radioactivity" is heavy vocodervox. The slogans and words are chilling. "Sellafield 2","Chernobyl", "Harrisburg", "Hiroshima". Apparently, Sellafield 2 releases a Chernobyl into the environment every 4 years. There are dismal shots of smoke-belching reactors. Nuclear wastelands in the making. One of the highlights of the set. Brilliant emotional shades and the paradox of everyone cheering certain death. The message gets lost in the music. The roller-coaster swoops and drops a level to reveal "The Model" One of their biggest hits."She's a model, and she's looking good" etc. There's a slight pain-filled weary humour to Ralf's singing, bringing out the slight humanity in the jaded existence of the uber-models and their arrogant tantrums (hi, Naomi!). Of course, the films are melting the screen in sensuality. Vintage clips of models who could be Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly. Rita Hayworth as Gilda. Or Grace Kelly as Jimmy Stewart's paramour. Elegant satin evening gowns, formal hairdos, and wide Mediterranean estates in which to caper, frolic and pose behind mossy statues. And there seems to be a little extra happening on stage. Someone is up on stage to Ralf's left, bringing 3-D form to the 2-D fashionistas on the big screen. How many? Oh, just one and she's being escorted gently off stage. Ralf doesn't turn a hair. Who was she? I'll keep you in no further suspenders.

It was (taa-dah, fanfare) Lamma's very own Lucinda. Her moment of magic. She's a model mama and she's looking good. Of course, this is subjective, because everything around me is starting to burst into flames, so I might be not quite impartial. Ollie does the good hubby thing and grins and grips her as the guards lift her back down. No more fuss. No petty hassle. No one hurt and Lucinda's had her immortal moment. Nice knickers too!

There's a wonderful version of "Trans Europe Express" with the big beats re-conceptualisation of the soundscape of a train journey. Reminds me of the loony music when Billy Hayes is in the asylum with the other lost, lonely losers in "Midnight Express" Walking in a retro way round the column. Trying to nuzzle his girlfriend's breasts through a plate glass wrapper. Forlornly wanking. She gives him the photo album, setting up the chain of events that lead to Billy's hopping on the "Midnight Express" from Istanbul. Kraftwerk versus Giorgio Moroder. Way cool. Lastly, something off "Electric Cafe" which is another "Vienna" type moment of thwarted and lost love. "Another lonely night..." and the band wind up with a sing-a-long "Showroom Dummies" that paves the way for the Robots cameo show...

There's a lot of contradictions in this show. The band are still far-reaching in their scope. Perfectionists about their performance. Some of the noises are indeed Way Out There. The rhythms and pacing are impeccable. Yet, they're restricted by their self-imposed restraints, Meticulous order in the arranging and conception. The films, slides and words on screen are just so. No room for ex-temporation. The new crop of the tech-aware DJ's, producers and mixers use the technology Kraftwerk has pioneered in some cases to make bold new strides into the digital domain. They can splice, cut up, sample tracks live and feed them back into the mix. Playing over a live version of yourself with multi-tracked overlays. Routine stuff to bands like Radiohead or DJ's like Sasha, James Zabiela and even Nipper who's overlaid bits and pieces into some of my mixes. The horizon is expanding. The information autobahn is wide open for experiment and freaky side trips to wherever your head leads you. Just remember, Kraftwerk did it first. 21st Century music owes them a massive debt. The Man'Machine is ever relevant, even if it's idling on the layby watching the traffic flow. Respect to The Masters! Here come The Robots...

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