You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks


Welcome to

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on

Kraftwerk: Back to yesterday’s future, once more with (robotic) feeling

Austin’s “live music capital” self-tagging gets a bit more legit Friday night: Kraftwerk is coming to town, for the first time in (we think) 40 years.

What, you might ask, is the big deal? For starters, simply calling the German combo “pioneers of electronic dance music” is a serious understatement: their fusion of early synthesizers with robotic beats and vocals became a key foundation stone of house, techno, 1980s synthpop, and club music in general. They’ve been sampled by countless artists across multiple genres and cultures, and their visuals and general man-machine aesthetic inspired everyone from Bowie to Daft Punk. Also, aside from doing away with conventional instruments altogether, the band’s public framing of their individual musicians as anonymous workers not only served their creative vision, it effectively thumbed a nose at bloated rock-star ego trips even before punk did (in a very different way). In terms of influence on pop music, their only serious competition is the Beatles.

Ralf Hütter, Kraftwerk’s cofounder and last remaining original member, will lead the current lineup of himself, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen – and their doppelganger robots – through two multimedia greatest-hits 3-D concerts, disposable glasses and all, at Bass Concert Hall. Austin is one of only 12 stops on this fall’s North American tour. Hütter doesn’t give interviews often; over the phone he was congenial enough if sounding, true to his reputation, a bit like an enigmatic museum curator. Kraftwerk arose out of the art-gallery and university circles of Düsseldorf in the late ‘60s, and even today Hütter feels the band belongs more to that world than to the rock circuit.

Even Hütter doesn’t remember whether Kraftwerk has ever played Austin before, although there are some online references to a concert at Armadillo World Headquarters in 1975 when they first toured the US behind their breakthough album, “Autobahn.” “I’m quite sure we played Houston,” he says. “Austin, I’m not really sure, but I cannot say the contrary. But Austin is more the university city, I think.”

Hütter is flattered by all the latter-day accolades Kraftwerk gets as the founding fathers of EDM. “For us that’s a great feedback of energy coming from artists, musicians around the world, especially from different fields of music or within different cultural or sociological contexts,” he says, “because here in Düsseldorf, Germany, you cannot predict that one day you’ll be understood in Tokyo or in Sydney, Australia. So it’s many surprises, but things happen in art and music and you have to be awake.”

I’m far from the first observer to point out that we’re now living in the future Kraftwerk were singing about 30-plus years ago, with their odes to robots, pocket calculators and personal computers (their concept album “Computer World” came out way back in 1981). Technology, of course, pervades much of how we live now. How does Hütter feel about this: prophetic, vindicated, horrified?

“It was a day-to-day reality, working with electronics in our Kling Klang Studio, so for us it was a reality (then), and now it’s a reality for everybody out there on the planet.”

So, is that a good or a bad thing?

“Well, it’s not an evaluation — it’s real and we have to deal with it, and create art with technology. That was the main idea for Kraftwerk in the beginning, to create music and art. We installed our Kling Klang Studio with my partner Florian Schneider in 1970, and we created music from zero, from silence, with tapes and little music machines. As students we didn’t have access to any big institutions or big factories, so we built some homemade equipment and some home studios with friends and engineers, and we made musical paintings and small films; now with computers we have 3-D animation, so we work in all these fields.” (Schneider left the band in 2008; Hütter says he retired because he disliked touring.)

Asked about plans for new recordings — it’s been 12 years since their last studio album — Hütter simply says, “Yes, we are always working on tracks and things like that.” He adds that later this year Kraftwerk will release a 3-D Blu-ray live concert package, encompassing their entire eight-disc back catalog.

Decades ago, Hütter was quoted as saying he saw the band’s members more as scientists than musicians. Does he still feel that way?

“A combination of, really,” he says. “We never liked the different categories, like a musician is living (like a) recluse and practicing his instrument. When we were children I always hated that, just practicing music and thus and so; we were so much interested in different forms of everyday life, of art, of films, of literature, writing words, and like in the late ‘60s when the boundaries between different art forms were falling apart, so that opened for us the theme, too. We created our own words and combinations, creating a musical language (and) visuals, and that makes it so interesting rather than being a specialist in just one little category. That’s multimedia art.”

Apparently, even a vintage future is still relevant. Kraftwerk’s robots may be indestructible, but how long does Hütter envision the band can keep going?

“The master plan is until I fall off the stage,” he says, and laughs.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Music

The magnificent seven 
The magnificent seven 

The prestige and importance of any major wine competition relies to some extent on the quality of the entries, particularly the presence of top-notch wines from other parts of the world. The annual Critics Challenge International Wine & Spirits competition typically attracts strong global representation, which makes an award a bit more meaningful. ...
Yoplait learns to manufacture authenticity to go with its yogurt
Yoplait learns to manufacture authenticity to go with its yogurt

A few years ago, as the Yogurt Wars were heating up and Greek invaders were storming the grocery aisles, executives at Yoplait, one of the nation’s largest yogurt companies, began arguing among themselves. Thick, sour Greek yogurts with names like Chobani, Fage and Oikos were surging in popularity. Sales of runny, sugary Yoplait were oozing off...
Food & Wine magazine will leave New York for Alabama

Food & Wine, the glossy, chef-focused food magazine, is moving to Birmingham, Alabama, joining a stable of other publications owned by Time Inc. that includes Cooking Light and Southern Living. Hunter Lewis, editor of Cooking Light, will become Food & Wine’s new editor-in-chief, replacing Nilou Motamed, who is leaving the company after a little...
Ellie Krieger perfects the zucchini noodle salad
Ellie Krieger perfects the zucchini noodle salad

I have a relatively small kitchen (not nearly the size of the one I use on my television show) and an aversion to clutter, so I tend to avoid collecting gadgets. That's why I had held off buying a spiralizer - one of those slicers that cuts vegetables into noodle shapes. Until now. After all, you can get a similar, ribbonlike effect using a vegetable...
3 wines to drink when you’re grilling shrimp for a summer salad
3 wines to drink when you’re grilling shrimp for a summer salad

Is there a better idea this time of year than shrimp off the grill? Make a summer-ready salad from shrimp-and-pineapple skewers, and pour a round of wine to match — something with enough acidity to complement the pineapple while simultaneously cutting through its sweetness. Sommelier Nate Redner of Oyster Bah in Chicago’s Lincoln Park suggests...
More Stories