Miami bass, the Magic City's signature sound, owes a lot to a couple of robots from Düsseldorf.
Kraftwerk's influence on dance music cannot be understated. And more than 30 years later, tracks such as "It's More Fun to Compute" and "Trans-Europe Express" are still DJ favorites to cut and sample with bass and breakbeat sounds, which stand as a testament to the influence of the German electro pioneers.
So was it all that surprising that the first of two Kraftwerk shows at the Olympia Theater seemed to sell out within minutes of going on sale?
"We know about Miami bass, and the special type of music, electronic music, is quite influential in Miami in the dance and club circuits," says Ralf Hütter, the sole remaining original member of Kraftwerk, when asked if he was surprised at the speed of the ticket sales. "That's been going for a very long time, and Kraftwerk is very much involved in the electro-music scene, especially in the early days."
Saying they were simply involved is an understatement. As it stands, Kraftwerk is like a live encyclopedia of the evolution of electronic music. Through ten studio albums and one remix compilation, the band has explored sounds and compositions while touching on topics such as technology, alienation, computer privacy, and nuclear weaponry.
And Kraftwerk's music is always evolving. Hütter completed a remastering of all the band's albums in 2009, adding new depth to the robots' sound. One album, the often-maligned Electric Café, considered the weakest link in Kraftwerk's catalog because of its lack of a strong theme, was re-released as Techno Pop with some reworking done to the tracks.
"Art is alive, and it's not a dead sculpture in stone," Hütter says. Though some would rather see Kraftwerk focusing on new music instead of breathing new life into old songs, Hütter defends his remasterings. "Music is an art form which is running in time. We are improvising, so in a way we're closer. For us, it's alive. Music is nonstop."
In 2012, Kraftwerk pushed the presentation of its art further and invited fans to a series of shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for the exhibition "Kraftwerk — Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8." Over the course of eight nights, the band played every album, from Autobahn to Tour de France, to sold-out crowds. After the museum stint, Kraftwerk held onto the 3D concept it introduced at MoMA and went on tour. (They also repeated the eight-night exhibition in several other countries.)
Hütter says "Retrospective" allowed the band to revisit its archives and catalogs of sounds and songs.
"There are many compositions which we never performed live and which we never or rarely performed in the old days. It was like rediscovering the whole catalog and transforming it into digital format from our original tapes, the old analog tapes which were degrading, for this retrospective."
Now that the band's entire catalog is digitized, Hütter says Kraftwerk can compose and improvise from those sounds.
"We have computer programs running, but everything is running live in real time," says Hütter of the band's live performances. "The four of us have access to all the programs so we can operate all the sounds and all the sources... Our graphic programmer can change programs or interfere and run some live images. It's really an art performance."
Thanks to extensive touring the last couple of years, the sight of Hütter and band members Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz, and Falk Grieffenhagen standing stoically behind their computers as they perform has become as iconic as Daft Punk's pyramid or Deadmau5's headgear. However, Hütter insists the reason they perform so "robotically" is because the live performances require a great deal of concentration.
"You cannot jump around on the stage like maybe when you have other instruments, physical instruments. It's all high concentration involved."
But while the band seems to continue reinventing and repacking its old sound, fans remain hungry for new music. It's been 12 years since Kraftwerk released its last studio album, Tour de France, and when New Times last spoke to Hütter in 2012 before the band's appearance at Ultra Music Festival, he said, "We definitely have some sounds prepared, but I couldn't give you a date right now."
So what's the delay?
"At the moment, we're working on a Blu-ray for our entire catalog in 3D. We are hoping to be finished or to be releasing it by the end of this year."
According to Hütter, the Blu-ray release will combine the visuals used in "Retrospective" with the 3D concerts and Kraftwerk's musical catalog. He insists the band is working overtime to get the release done. Perhaps after that, fans can expect new music.
However, despite the lack of new releases, Kraftwerk's sound has aged surprisingly well. "Autobahn" still has that new-car smell, while the Cold War appeal of "The Robots" seems back in fashion thanks to a strained U.S.-Russia relationship. One thing that's not surprising to Hütter is electronic and dance music's current wave of popularity.
"We predicted that the future is definitely going to be electronic. It's progressing. Art is progressing. Music is progressing."
That's not the only thing Kraftwerk predicted correctly. Foreseeing dating apps like Tinder ("Computer Love"), NSA-style espionage ("Computer World"), and a pervasive car culture ("Autobahn"), the band's songs seem like they were written by an electronic oracle.
"It was all around us at that time, and we wrote lyrics and music about... the technology of today. For us, it's the reality of everyday life."
Perhaps that's why it's so interesting to think how Kraftwerk will tackle creating new music in the future — if they ever get around to it. Will Hütter continue to philosophize about technology's permeation of everyday life? Or will he continue to build on the robotic-man ideas explored on The Man-Machine and Tour de France?
At the current rate of Kraftwerk's musical output, we're more likely to see the band return to Miami once more before we find out the answer.
Still, if you were lucky enough to catch Kraftwerk's performances at Ultra in 2012 and the Fillmore Miami Beach in 2004, Hütter says this one will be very different thanks to the band's 3D visuals being displayed in Miami for the first time.
"We are complete 3D. This is a 3D concert where the audience will have those paper 3D glasses. All our visuals, the complete show is in 3D projections, films, and graphic images and our visual music that we produced at the Kling Klang Studio."
Is that all?
"We are now bringing our robots. They are again traveling with us because they wanted to go on tour, so the robots are coming with us."
8 and 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, September 29, at the Olympia Theater, 174 E. Flagler St., Miami; 305-374-2444. Tickets cost $58.50 to $78.50 plus fees via olympiatheater.org.
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