Kraftwerk’s First Concert: The Beginning of the Endlessly Influential Band (1970)

“No, I have not short­ed out or fall­en in love with a cyborg,” insist­ed Robert Christ­gau in his review of Kraftwerk’s 1977 album Trans-Europe Express, which he cred­it­ed with “a sim­ple-mind­ed air of mock-seri­ous fas­ci­na­tion with melody and rep­e­ti­tion” and tex­tures that “sound like par­o­dies by some cos­mic school­boy of every lush syn­the­siz­er surge that’s ever stuck in your gul­let — yet also work the way those surges are sup­posed to work.” To elec­tron­ic music fans, Kraftwerk now have a sta­tus even beyond that of the grand old men of the tra­di­tion, but con­tin­ue to tour the world enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly (with their own detached, bio­me­chan­i­cal inter­pre­ta­tion of enthu­si­asm), per­form­ing the delib­er­ate­ly tech­no­log­i­cal, some­times star­tling­ly jagged, some­times star­tling­ly rhyth­mic music they invent­ed.

The world got their first taste of it, in an ear­ly exper­i­men­tal form, a few short years before suc­cess­ful and rel­a­tive­ly main­stream Kraftwerk records like Trans-Europe Express or Auto­bahn came along. The group debuted onstage in their native Ger­many (in the town of Soest, to be pre­cise) in the 1970 con­cert cap­tured on video. Watch the gig above, or find it on YouTube. Togeth­er, the footage cap­tures with unex­pect­ed clar­i­ty the avant-gardism of both Kraftwerk’s per­for­ma­tive sen­si­bil­i­ty and tech­no­log­i­cal set­up as well as the reac­tion of the crowd, on the whole more pleased than bewil­dered. Now, in an age where per­form­ers play­ing from lap­tops onstage have become com­mon­place — even Kraftwerk them­selves have joined that rather intro­vert­ed par­ty — it does­n’t seem as strik­ing as all that.

But the genre of “kraut rock” (which All Music Guide describes as made by “legions of Ger­man bands of the ear­ly ’70s that expand­ed the son­ic pos­si­bil­i­ties of art and pro­gres­sive rock,” going in “mechan­i­cal and elec­tron­ic” direc­tions by “work­ing with ear­ly syn­the­siz­ers and splic­ing togeth­er seem­ing­ly uncon­nect­ed reels of tape”) began in a dif­fer­ent real­i­ty — in an era when Christ­gau could still, review­ing a lat­er Kraftwerk album in 1981, write that every time he hears their lyric “ ‘I pro­gram my home computer/Bring myself into the future,’ I want to make a tape for all those zealots who claim a word proces­sor will change my life.”

The com­plete 1970 con­cert is on YouTube here.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Meet the Dr. Who Com­pos­er Who Almost Turned The Bea­t­les’ “Yes­ter­day” Into Ear­ly Elec­tron­i­ca

Mr. Rogers Intro­duces Kids to Exper­i­men­tal Elec­tron­ic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nel­son (1968)

Thomas Dol­by Explains How a Syn­the­siz­er Works on a Jim Hen­son Kids Show (1989)

Pio­neer­ing Elec­tron­ic Com­pos­er Karl­heinz Stock­hausen Presents “Four Cri­te­ria of Elec­tron­ic Music” & Oth­er Lec­tures in Eng­lish (1972)

Meet the “Tel­har­mo­ni­um,” the First Syn­the­siz­er (and Pre­de­ces­sor to Muzak), Invent­ed in 1897

Hear Sev­en Hours of Women Mak­ing Elec­tron­ic Music (1938–2014)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.