Icebreaker Kraftwerk Uncovered
The lucky several who nabbed tickets to observe Kraftwerk at Tate Modern this past year could have witnessed a recognisable brand. They’re right now the Teutonic Fab Four, besuited cyborgs standing up motionless behind keyboards, presiding over some body-popping metronomic pulses. This tribute concert, nevertheless, reminds us that Kraftwerk began as an extremely different entity. Their first several albums, documented with Conny Plank, were the task of long-haired prog rockers. They performed flutes and violins and skronky electrical guitars. They indulged in lengthy, Grateful Dead-style jam classes. They improvised. They actually played bum notes.
It is the spirit of the earlier, hairy Kraftwerk that British chamber ensemble Icebreaker revisited in the Technology Museum’s IMAX theatre. There is little improvisation therefore – they are meticulous arrangements for a 12-item orchestra, synchronised with bleakly arty, black-and-white films – however they were very radical reinventions. The discordant, ambient textures of Megaherz, from Kraftwerk’s 1970 debut album, had been converted into a chirruping Nymanesque symphony. Two excerpts from 1974’s Autobahn had been distended into hypnotic slices of Philip Glass-design minimalism, all burbling organs and parping saxes, while Hall of Mirrors (from 1977’s Trans Europe Express) was subjected to the dub chamber. Somewhere else Icebreaker utilized their unorthodox lineup to reproduce sounds in a way you wouldn’t keep company with krautrock – sinister drones were performed on accordions, synth riffs on pan-pipes, while pulsating basslines had been bashed on a massive bass drum.
Icebreaker weren’t the only take action spending tribute to Düsseldorf’s finest: in another section of the museum, the Balanescu Quartet carried out elegant readings of even more orthodox Kraftwerk faves, like the Model and Wallet Calculator. Their variations beautifully captured the top textures of the music. Nonetheless it was Icebreaker’s reinterpretations that appeared to delve heavy into Kraftwerk’s innards, finding something messy and frightening but even more interesting.