At first I was dubious as to whether Kraftwerk actually needed a 3-D visual show to accompany their performance of greatest hits at Harpa, but after seeing the show live on this final night of Airwaves, I am a believer. Simple, abstract, cubist, and Google Earth-style images flashed across the screen as the four men of Kraftwerk did their thing. And I guess we have to take it on their word, or at least on their severe German demeanor, that they were indeed doing their thing. It’s hard to actually see what they are doing behind those consoles, and for all we know they could just be playing solitaire after hitting play on a pre-programmed backing track. Any lingering doubts were dispelled by the end of the show, however, as each member took a turn doing his own computer-music solo before stepping into the spotlight and taking a bow. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Kraftwerk played all the classics – “The Robots,” “Neon Lights,” “The Man-Machine,” and of course “Trans-Europe Express,” among others – keeping true to their original electro-pop sound while often updating and extending songs with modern techno and house music additions. Although the audience was seated, heads everywhere were bobbing and nodding as the band expertly pulled off a visual and aural tour de force. Topical matter was also updated, both literally and figuratively. “Computer-World” seemed especially prescient in the Edward Snowden/NSA era as names of eavesdropping organizations and institutions were listed off. “Radioactivity” took on new meaning as “Fukishima” was added to the list of hot spots.
The four men were dressed in Tron-style outfits that reflected the intricate light show. They may be getting older, but they seem to be totally in tune with the current state of dance music, without letting it contaminate their minimalistic musical ethos. The performance was part live concert, part art installation, and all energetic, vital, and incredible. It’s been over 40 years since Kraftwerk released their first album, and even the oldest songs haven’t aged much. Not many bands can say that about their catalogue, especially in the electronic genre.
I think it’s safe to say that a portion of the artists that played this year were influenced by Kraftwerk in some capacity. What a way to end another excellent year of Iceland Airwaves, by bringing the pop-locking granddaddies of electro to close out the festival.