Performance-wise, no Kraftwerk show is really more special than any other. The band's very German mastery of automation, precision, and repetation renders the men on stage as close to robots as their Man-Machine album would suggest. To say one Kraftwerk performance is really any better than another is to swear that the automated Pirates at Disney World seemed like they really were putting more effort and umph into the ride this time.
No, what makes a Kraftwerk performance special is the context.
The context last night: Kraftwerk, the band that's almost singlehandedly responsible for originally putting the E in EDM was playing for the first time at what has become America's permier electronic dance music festival.
Or as we overheard one young man in a fake mustache explain to a not-so-clued-in friend, "They're, like, where all of this comes from," while motioning with his hand to the rest of Ultra.
Seeing Kraftwerk at Ultra Music Festival was kind of like getting to see the Sex Pistols and Ramones at Warped Tour or the ghost of Bob Marley at a reggae fest -- just about every other band on the bill owes them a considerable debt. The crowd was appreciatively full, and the band drew the biggest concentration of people that the live stage at the Klipsch Amphitheater had seen all night. Not to mention its oldest. (The kids, well, you know, they were off moshing to Skrillex at the main stage.)
Photo by Ian Witlen
It made for a reverent, almost hypnotic mood complimentary to the band's minimal stage presence. Not much has changed in the world of Kraftwerk's oeuvre over the past two decades, including, apparently, the band's backing visuals. In particularly, the video accompanying "Autobahn" looked like Pixar's Cars if it had been made in 1980s Germany. Yet Kraftwerk doesn't fix what isn't broken, and we couldn't help being caught up watching a Benz overtake a Volkswagen on a pixelated highway.
The band took to its familiar setup: Four men dressed in identical Tron-like suits standing behind podiums while toying with buttons and knobs kept out of the view of the audience.
These days, Ralf Hütter is the only remaining member from the classic Kraftwerk lineup. (Though, remember we are talking about "robots" here and the personnel changes don't seem to matter much when it comes to performances.) And last night, he took the position furthest to stage right, supplying occasional live vocals.
Photo by Ian Witlen
Of course, besides context and audience reaction, the only thing that does differentiate one Kraftwerk show from the next is track selection. For Ultra, the band opted for a sampling of familiar tracks from all of its post-Autobahn album. (See the setlist below.)
But that also meant that a few fan favorites weren't going to make the cut for the hour-long set. Disappointingly, the band's most Miami-appropriate track, "The Model," didn't get a walk down the runway. Neither did other classics like "Pocket Calculator," "Neon Lights," or "Hall of Mirrors." Though, it's hard to complain considering what did get played, and the selection felt like a thoughtful curation of Kraftwerk's electronic legacy.
The music came to a stop during "Music Non Stop" (Kraftwerk's idea of humor?), and the band members began filing offstage, one by one, leaving the others to keep the beats going. Eventually, only Hütter was left standing on the stage. More than any other time during the night it really did seem apparent he was actually doing something behind that podium while putting the final touches on "Non Stop."
Maybe the ol' robot was putting more effort and umph into it this time?
Photo by Ian Witlen
-"We Are the Robots"
-"Planet of Visions"
-"Tour de France"
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-"Music Non Stop"