SHE’S LOOKING GOOD AND FOR BEAUTY WE WILL PAY

You’ll pay for the moment. But the magic of special escorts will enchant forever. Thus the bittersweet longing to seek the enduring presence of beauty.

Aesthetics, attractiveness, elegance, luxury, success! The German legend of electronic music, Kraftwerk, extols these virtues in its timeless “The Model” (The Man-Machine, 1978): The wonderfully naive text by Emil Schult, with a dry, brittle edge, is monotonously brought to life by band founder Ralf Hütter. The exuberant “Girls on Film” (1981) by Duran Duran or their mysterious beauty (“Rio”, 1982) both set the scene ablaze.
A man or woman seeks more than just an image or a thing: a man-machine as a “friend” for everything, now and always. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” (1979) by Gary Numan and “Strict Machine” (2003) by Goldfrapp also combine technology and the tactile.

Universal and common to all: the ideal calls to us forever!

THE MODEL

Tangerine Dream, Rammstein, and Die Toten Hosen and even Heino have covered Kraftwerk’s super-cool dance floor hit. Electronic pop from Düsseldorf sounds just as nonchalant as that small metropolis on the Rhine. The fashion city invites you to enjoy luxury and escorts embodying Schult’s words: “She’s a model and she’s looking good, I’d like to take her home that’s understood, she plays hard to get, she smiles from time to time.” This statement is still touchingly basal, banal, open.

The natural consequence of favourable genes is also asserted matter-of-factly: “For beauty we will pay.” Very simple! The integrated je-ne-sais-quoi from distance and proximity, “boy meets girl,” and the tenderness of youth together with vice are condensed into just a few words.

Kraftwerk: condensing the complex down to its essence. Head and body? Their coitus can be found in danceable concept songs like “The Model.” That’s what “Electronic Body Music” sounds like (Hütter, 19/6/78, interview, WKSU radio station). These synthetic sounds are created in the group’s Kling Klang studio. The robotic artificial body rocks out there, while in the real world, models or high-class escorts entice with body art.

MECHANICAL MINIMALISM

Less is still more. This insight is the effective principle of Hütter and Schneider’s sound art or musical art. Everyone immediately understands their simple language of electronic sounds. Kraftwerk has been using it to communicate with the world since 1970. The long history of this formative band came to an end in April 2020: Founding member Florian Schneider-Esleben died.

“Pop” may not be what first comes to mind for any first-time listeners to gems like “Neon Lights” (1978) or “Radioactivity” (1975). However, many creators of popular music do in fact cite the products of Kling Klang as inspiration. David Bowie, members of Depeche Mode, OMD, and New Order as well as numerous other artists make reference to the Rhenish electrobards in interviews or musical quotations. Let us perhaps agree on “art pop” as a symbol: “Boing Boom Tschak” (Kraftwerk, “Musique Non-Stop” 1986).

The art of the respective formation of the band lay and lies in its reduction to the essence. The abstract music in Kraftwerk’s nature involves universal sounds. So glass breaks like crystal when mannequins escape their showroom (2:10 in “Showroom Dummies”, Trans-Europe Express, 1977), the brakes of the incoming TEE creak painfully (end of “Abzug”, 1977), audible radiation rattles nervously as an invisible death (0:30 in “Geiger Counter”, Radio-Activity, 1975), or an electronically modulated voice creaks as an almighty reminder of the electrical generator as both servant and lord of mankind (“The Voice of Energy”, 1975).

ART AND PATTERN

Sound and light come together in Kraftwerk’s synthesis of the visual and audial. Music and animation from digital hardware provide the person experiencing them with numerous associations, whether live or canned. The band doesn’t showcase its human side, nor does it slide into a frenzy of effects without any relation to Homo sapiens. Rather, Kraftwerk has always used technological audio and video media to describe our species. To this end, the group combines the conditions of human existence with phenomena of technology: nature (“Expo 2000”, 1999), energy and information (Radio-Activity, 1973), digitalisation (Computer World, 1981), cyborgs (The Man-Machine, 1978), space travel (“Spacelab”, 1978), mobility (Trans-Europe Express, 1977), production (“The Robots”, 1978), consumption (“The Model”, 1978), physicality (“Sex Object”, 1986; “Tour de France”, 1983).

The delightful blocky graphics of the 80s (http://www.kraftwerk.com/) and the gnarled charm of the harshly modulated “we are the robots” are deliberately alienating. Such intended artefacts counter the polished perfection of the Kling Klang products. This wink of the eye and “jump to the left” are always lurking in Kraftwerk’s cosmos. In this vein: “And we are dancing mechanic” (sic!) (“The Robots”). Puns and witty sounds ignite associative thunderstorms in listeners’ neural networks. Hütter’s bone-dry humour is also featured live every once in a while. So when the concert technology crashed in the middle of the evergreen “Autobahn”, the founder laconically said: “out of petrol” (January 2014, Cirkus, Stockholm).

The original lyrics by Hütter and Schneider remain matter-of-fact and descriptive. Only later were rare values added as an imperative, for example, by inserting “stop radioactivity” into the lyrics of an old song. That insistence on the abstract as freedom of interpretation combines Kraftwerk’s work with art. As such, the band performed a concert at the opening of the Centre for Art and Media Technology (Karlsruhe). Sound, words, and images from the group’s offerings merge into multidimensional objects in our heads. At the same time, something absolute that is recognisable in one or the other compilation from Kling Klang glimmers in every brain.

The makers remain concealed behind their art because they integrate into the man-machine called Kraftwerk. Longstanding members, such as Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos, are understood to be interchangeable. This also notionally applies to Hütter and Schneider as founders of the band. So occasionally, they and others in the group are replaced on stage by their robot alter egos. As an artificial product under complete control, Kraftwerk conveys the reality of technology as a feeling. The band also shamelessly uses clichés like “made in Germany” or “over-engineering.” So what?

Ultimately, Kraftwerk speaks an artificial language made up of words, music, and images. As a former student of architecture, Hütter conveys something that can’t be expressed verbally. In 1968, he founded “Organisation” together with Florian Schneider-Esleben, a musician and the son of an architect. Then, with the emergence of Kling Klang, this formation became Kraftwerk. Static structures arise from dynamics in the mind. Goethe’s view that architecture is rigid music may be the best metaphor for this. That unpronounceable and individual quality flows from Kraftwerk’s compositions.

This great fascination and inspiration is reflected in numerous affirmations of international music artists, such as in their eulogies to Florian Schneider. Jean-Michel Jarre, Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran), Peter Hook (Joy Division), Gary Numan, Midge Ure (Ultravox), and Giorgio Moroder were among those singing his praises and paying their respects. Perhaps Numan summarised it best: “This is what true innovation sounds like.” Innovation requires inspiration. Therefore, it is true: “It will always go on: music as a carrier of ideas.” (Kraftwerk, “Techno Pop” 1986)

Beyond technology, the cyborganic remains: a night of dancing to electronic body music, models, luxury, and escorts. “I’d like to take her home that’s understood.” That may happen. Whether tangible or not: “She’s looking good.” In the mind forever.