Word on the virtual street is that Kraftwerk might have been more influential than the Beatles. That’s definitely quite a strong statement to make, but it is backed up by music journalist Paul Morley in the recently released in English BBC documentary Kraftwerk: Pop Art. I personally don’t agree with this somehow controversial reference. I do however see a point in this Beatles vs Kraftwerk debate, which is one of the many reasons why you need to watch it.
Obviously Kraftwerk doesn’t need any introduction. And this documentary is far from just presenting a historical overview of their music, with key moments, album names or labels.
The music history is like the embodiment of the metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, and Kraftwerk are one of those giants, while the dwarfs are the representation of the current state of music, and I am by no means minimizing the value of any of the contemporary music artists, but rather presenting them as the expression of layers and layers of influences, mixing and remixing, discovering new sounds, but always going back to the giants and paying tribute to their work.
It’s almost like music has become a hyper-language, going beyond the traditional dimensions of time and space, where samples, techniques and aesthetics become audio hyperlinks, allowing us to discover new music. And in a way, this is what’s enriching about this documentary, it is like a web of influences from and back to Kraftwerk. Fragments of the eight day residency at London’s Tate Modern in 2013, are intertwined with flashbacks from their early days. We are shown rare footage of what is to be known as Ralf Hütter’s last filmed interview and other snippets of their visually provocative and experimental performances, along with commentaries by techno legend Derrick May, music journalist Paul Morley, or graphic design legend Neville Brody. The documentary goes as far as to emphasize the social aspect of Kraftwerk‘s performances and art installations, pointing out to Peter Boettcher‘s work, famous for photographing not the band itself, but rather their robots. Through his vision of Kraftwerk’s work, Peter depicted the metamorphosis of the man-machine who, profoundly influenced by the 21st century technology progress, is no longer attending a concert in a traditional way, but rather filming it and watching through the lenses of a smartphone.
Music may not be the art of immediate, instant gratification, and sometimes, we end up not seeing the true value of an artist right away, because we don’t have the time and patience to explore his or her work. Kraftwerk are definitely the dwarfs who have become the giants of the electronic music. With their visionary approach, they have predicted a lot of the behavior we are seeing right now on the social media, and that’s why their influences are bound to be seen not just in music, but in other arts as well.
While I like to see them as the Dadaists of electronic music, Kraftwerk went beyond these music genre boundaries, and as Paul Morley poetically puts it “You hear the ghost of Kraftwerk everywhere”. Enjoy!