So Kim Jong-Un is alive, but Florian Schneider really is dead. Not that the two have anything to do with each other (outside of strong opinions on the benefits of physical exercise) but it really is emblematic of 2020 that the one time the rumor of someone’s death wound up being false it was a fucking murderous dictator. Not only that but the news happened to fall on May 6th, which is my birthday, so while I’m waking up to birthday wishes I’m also seeing the news that one of my musical heroes has died.
At some point, it all changed. When you think of Kraftwerk, there are essentially two distinct entities there. One is the forward-thinking, massively influential technopop band that released albums on a regular basis and consistently evolved their sound as technology allowed. The other is the group of perfectionists who treat their discography as a timeless artifact, one which requires gradual upgrading and polishing every now and then, like an exhibit in a museum. I am not exactly sure when one transitioned to the other – somehow, I feel the five-year process of digitizing and re-sampling that led to 1991’s The Mix had something to do with it – but the fact is that Kraftwerk today seem diametrically opposed to the Kraftwerk of yesterday. During the group’s heyday there was still a sense of adventure and improvisation about them; the group would perform on analogue instruments and show some semblance of personality on stage. Just watch Bartos and Schneider in this clip; they seemed to actually recognize the humor in their work, in a deadpan sort of way. Nowadays Kraftwerk is four men on stage trying to move as little as possible, to the point where you can hear people ask if they’re doing anything at all; the animatronic mannequins that take the stage during “The Robots” are more lively than the actual humans. The classic lineup has been reduced to the 70-year old Hutter and three guys you probably can’t name, even though two of them have been in the group for over 25 years (the other is someone named Falk Grieffenhagen, who may not be a real person).