The coolest part about the Kraftwerk exhibition is the 3D glasses. You literally walk in the gallery, pick up a pair of 3D glasses and watch a video of the band in a big dark room. Even if you know nothing about krautrock, Kraftwerk is best experienced with 3D glasses.
For their first solo at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, the legendary electro granddaddies show eight looped videos from 1974-2003. From The Man-Machine to Tour de France, the videos reveal, beat by beat, how band co-founders Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider revolutionized electronic music deep from their Kling Klang Studio in Düsseldorf (which was next door to the atelier of Gerhard Richter).
Unlike your typical red cyan 3D frames, the 3D glasses are German – presented in two shades of grey. Here, you can see how they redefined a post-WWII German aesthetic, one ‘motorik’ 4/4 segment to the next. The band is gussied up in identical red and black outfits, investigating the relation between man and machine with synths and a pocket calculator. It was an incredibly abstract gesture from anything else happening at the time in Britain or America. For a band which has toured internationally for decades, it almost comes as a surprise they’ve only played in the US a handful of times.
Starting with Autobahn, the title track from their 1974 album, other international hits are revisited from Radio-Activity and Trans Europe Express, as well as The Robots taken from their Man-Machine album in 1978. The Robots is also the name of the band’s controversial autobiography, written by former band member Wolfgang Flür. Here, it is classic German electro with simplistic beats and stoic, painterly male Barbie doll characters that slowly come to 3D life onscreen. Computer World from 1981 still foretells the world we live in today – you cannot escape their deadpan humour.
Hütter's love of professional cycling is realized in Tour de France, which appears to be a re-edit of the original music video from 2003. The track is still the same, including the sounds of bike chains, clanging gears and panting, as if riding up the Col du Tourmalet. There is also the myth that Hütter would, while on tour, get the bus driver to drop him off 100 miles before each venue so he could ride his bike to shows. It’s an interesting note to end the video piece on.
This installation is not a music video montage but a spaced out time capsule that can be appreciated in retrospect. With the 3D glasses, it’s like You Tube on acid. It’s too bad they didn’t include Vitamin, but most of the bases are covered.
Kraftwerk is raw, but in a different way of the traditional German expressionists – unlike Otto Dix or Käthe Kollowitz, this show brings the focus back to the art. After all, the band co-founders first met at an art academy in west Germany.
The never-ending, looped dance party is such a metaphor for German culture, on a relentless ostinato rhythm. Dancing is something that never truly stops in Berlin, even in the white box.
'Kraftwerk 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8' runs until August 31 2013 at Sprüth Magers, Berlin Germany.
Follow Nadja Sayej on Twitter here @nadjasayej