Quite what it was that was so spellbinding about a quartet of middle-aged German blokes in skintight bodysuits standing at neon-lit consoles is difficult to articulate. They didn’t even seem to be doing very much up there on stage. But the audience of 1,000 for round two of Kraftwerk’s eight-night retrospective in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall were mesmerised for two hours solid.
The high priests of electronica, whose bittersweet retro-futurism sowed so many of the seeds of modern pop music, performed their 1975 album Radio-Activity against a backdrop of 3D visuals (specs provided) that were always engaging and occasionally jaw-dropping.
Live, the sound lacked the authentic crackle and fuzz of the original album, but clarity and surround sound lent it a different sort of potency. From the hypnotic thud of the Geiger Counter that opens side one to the sweet, lullaby-like melody of ‘Ohm Sweet Ohm’ (who says the Germans don’t have a sense of humour), all was delivered with breathtaking excellence and precision, and — despite the signature deadpan vocals — packed a powerful emotional punch.
There was still time for a medley of crowd-pleasing back-catalogue classics, before the four took their leave of us one by one, with a formal bow, to the beat of 1986’s ‘Musique Non-Stop’. The last to go was Ralf Hütter, last man-machine standing from the band’s original line-up.
The lights came on and the spell was broken. We may have looked faintly ridiculous in our cardboard 3D spectacles, but no one gave a hoot.