There’s a remarkably deafening echo of media coverage on sites and blogs that cover the new movement known as EDM, that catch-all term that basically says “youthful, rave-like electronic dance music” as a way to define something that has been called a ton of various things over the years. It’s akin to the way the term “jamband” is a catch-all for “band that plays festivals where people wear tie-dye shirts” that simultaneously says everything and nothing about the band that may be lumped in that group. What is EDM? What is a jamband? Everyone sorta knows, yet nobody has a really great answer and if you ask 10 different people to describe what it means, you’d get 10 different answers.
A lot of this was floating around in my head when I went to see Kraftwerk on Sunday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland, the first of three nights in the Bay Area billed as Kraftwerk 3D. I kept wondering if the kids coming up in EDM will have a solid place in their heart for Kraftwerk, arguably the band that invented EDM back in the 1970’s and carried it forward into the 80’s with their proliferation of techno pop and computer love. When I was introduced to their music back when I was in college, it was referred to as “intelligent dance music” or IDM, a genre of music makers that focus on beats in a much more artistic way. You can dance to it, sure, but it’s not really what it was meant for. And Sunday night’s show was way more art project than it was dance show — how many club nights begin with you entering the venue and being handed a pair of 3D glasses?
They opened a show with “The Robots” — which was basically an inverse of the show I saw years ago in Chicago. Showing off their projections early on, you can actually hear the crowd cheer the second the graphics switch to the 3D version and immediately we knew we were in for a major treat.
Over the span of the next two hours, the four-pillars of Kraftwerk played the “hits” as only they could. “The Robots” lead off, but we got a huge “Numbers / Computerworld” segment next that really got everyone whooping and hollering. “It’s More Fun to Compute” was really impressive as a standalone but it went quickly into “Computer Love”, basically Kraftwerk’s prediction of the movie Her at least 20 years before Spike Jonze could expand on the concept. “The Man-Machine” commanded some great attention, but “Spacelab” brought us into a hand-drawn space ship traveling around the Earth, with satellites flying towards the crowd prompting some of us to reach up and try to tough the antennas flying towards our heads. If you glanced around at any point and took your eyes off the screen, you saw an engaged crowd with white Kraftwerk-branded 3D glasses with mouths open and gazes transfixed on the show. It was really quite impressive.
Other highlights included the “Autobahn”, my first version of “Airwaves” (huge personal favorite for me), which really expanded into a beautiful version of the studio cut off Radio-Activity, and “Planet of Visions” to end the show. They had updated their “Radioactivity” version to include mention of the Fukushima disaster which was a stark reminder for all of us, but the set ended on a high-note with the techno-pop suite of songs.
Our friend Rebecca Wilkowski got this photo gallery from the show, which really only scratches the surface to what the group was projecting live. If you have a chance to see one of these 3D shows, I highly recommend you spend the money, find an extra (as it’ll likely be sold-out), and make an effort to catch these legends of electronic music live before they hang it up for good.