LONDON (Reuters) - German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk have always aimed to combine music and art so performing at London’s Tate Modern was the ideal venue for them after three years of planning.
Kraftwerk took over the 800-capacity Turbine Hall at the art gallery on Wednesday to play the first of eight consecutive shows, each focused on a different album, starting with “Autobahn” from 1974 and ending with “Tour de France” from 2003.
The sight of four middle-aged men in skin-tight neon suits standing almost motionless on stage behind a line of consoles backed by 3D images may look bizarre to the uninitiated but to the group’s devoted following it all seems to make sense.
When tickets went on sale in December, priced at 60 pounds each, the demand crashed the gallery’s website.
Two similar eight night runs at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and in Kraftwerk’s home town of Duesseldorf were also sold out with massive demand to see the group hailed by some as one of the most influential in pop history.
Catherine Wood, curator of contemporary art and performance at the Tate Modern, said it made sense for Kraftwerk to perform in an art gallery, and particularly at the Tate Modern which was once a power station - the English translation of Kraftwerk.
“They have a history of engaging with visual art, with minimal form, and perform in a way that is completely at odds with the usual idea of the rock star by putting the robot in the foreground,” Wood told Reuters.
“It takes away the aura of the artist and they have played with that in a very knowing way.”
In fact only one of the original members of Kraftwerk remains in the group — Ralf Hutter — and no details were available on the other three musicians in the line-up.
Kraftwerk rarely does interviews and a request for one this week was unsuccessful. In 2009, Hutter sent a robot in his place for an interview on a British television show.
The group dates back to 1970 when Hutter and Florian Schneider began the Kraftwerk project at their Kling Klang Studio in Duesseldorf, experimenting with electronic music and creating images of the future and the digital age.
Their international breakthrough came in 1974 with “Autobahn” and they went on to build a strong following for using robotic and technical innovations in performances as well as computerised compositions.
They are credited for being the godfathers of synthpop, hip-hop and all range of electronic offshoots and cited as an inspiration for groups like Joy Division, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, and Human League.
In the past two decades Kraftwerk has produced little new material which some critics put down to the fact that synthesisers and electronics are now fully integrated into mainstream pop and dance music.
The retrospective performances at the Tate Modern, titled “The Catalogue 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8”, were their first London dates since 2004 and the crowd, handed 3D glasses on entry, was dominated by middle-aged men on Wednesday.
The show started with robotic figures in suits towering out of the screen over the audience as the group performed “The Robots” before a Volkswagen Beetle sped up and down a motorway to their hit song “Autobahn”.
Lunar landscapes, the galaxy, musical notes all rose and emerged from the screen during the two-hour show that started and ended precisely on time and included “The Model” from 1981, their most successful UK single.
Fans and critics described the show as “mesmerising”, “spectacular” and “unique”, even after 40 years.
“As a work of art, part of an abstract history lesson set to music, ghostly echoes of the 20th century, it is mesmerising,” Paul Morley wrote in The Telegraph. (Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith, editing by Paul Casciato)