Music Like Dirt has become my brothers blog of late, were it not for his TEN4SE7ENS there’d be little but tumbleweed here. So thanks go to Ryan (even though that Gringo Star track in the last post made me want to gouge my own ears with a blunt instrument) for keeping the music coming while I wallowed in a combination of life’s little troubles and a new job. The Poland trip may have caused another lull in posts but there’s nothing like standing in a room and being told 850 innocent people at a time were gassed in it to give a sprinkling of perspective to any seemingly all consuming problems.

If its possible to crunch gears from the incomprehensible horror of Auschwitz to pithy anecdotes about record shops, Krakow offered a “rude record shop owner” experience to rival anything from the pages of Nick Hornby. Whether or not “High Fidelity” the shop, was inspired by the book is unclear, but its modest racks of classic 70’s/80’s albums were an unexpected and delightful discovery. As we merrily flicked through the albums, idly discussing those of note, a familiar and usually friendly question of “looking for anything in particular” came from behind us.

No we’re just browsing thanks” I replied to what may have been the owner – a man in his late 50’s with long grey hair and a battered cardigan. I turned back to continue, well, browsing…

You don’t browse!, there’s no browsing” came the reply, his face as grey as his cardigan. Assuming a great witticism had perhaps been lost in translation we both laughed a nervous laugh.

This is no joke!!” he deadpanned “If you love vinyl you understand this. People come in here “to browse” and the vinyl, it is never the same“.

Our brains momentarily spun searching for a correct response to such jaw dropping rudeness, with nothing coming to mind we did what seemed inevitable and left. Trudging sheepishly out, all I could muster as a petty retort was an indignant cry of “I’ve got more Vinyl than this in my house!

Last time Kraftwerk visited the UK back in 2004 I saw them at Brixton Academy & The Royal Festival Hall, both gigs rank among my greatest of all time. With no sign of an imminent UK return the announcement that they would be playing 3 dates in a Polish Steel factory prompted some urgent Babel Fish Polish translation and much searching of forums before I managed to work out how to get tickets. Every year The Sacrum Profanum festival focuses on the music of one country, and puts their finest exponents on show in post-industrial venues.

The Lenin Steel Works at Nowa Huta is the daddy of all Steel works, to give you some idea of its sheer scale at its peak it employed 40,000 workers and churned out almost 7 million tonnes of Steel a year. Such was its reputation that when Castro visited Poland it was the Steelworks that topped his sightseeing list.

A half hour journey to the eastern outskirts of Krakow brings us to the gates of the factory and the imposing Huta Sendzimira (as its now known) sign. The place is so vast that “Sacrum Profanum Festival” buses await to drive us through the complex, across dark railway lines, past teetering piles of metal to the huge industrial hanger where “the Beach Boys from Düsseldorf” Kraftwerk have decided to take up a three day residence.

Where in London the audience seemed to be heavily slanted towards 30 something media types paying tribute to Kraftwerk and their influence and pioneering role in Hip-Hop and the entire Electronic music genre, in Krakow the crowd seem a generation older. Around me at least Kraftwerk were in front of their peers, people presumably who may have actually been present the first time they visited Poland back in 1981. The guy sat next to me spent the entire concert glued to his camera’s viewfinder, recording it all for grainy posterity.

Founder member and sound perfectionist Florian Schneider famously hates touring and his place at least on the road has been taken by Stefan Pfaffe, with fellow founder Ralf Hutter augmented by Henning Schmitz and Fritz Hilpert.

At the risk of national stereotyping you could set your watch by Kraftwerk – Pete Doherty they are not – at 9pm exactly electronic burbling and de-tuned bleeps begin to rumble around the hall. “Meine Damen und Herren… Ladies and Gentlemen… Heute Abend.. Die Mensch-maschine” booms out a deep robot voice.

The curtain drops to reveal the four members each at a laptop stand spaced equally on a plinth that pulses light tied in to the large screen behind them. Its one of the enduring oddities of the Kraftwerk live experience, how can four blokes stood motionless in front of some laptops carry such emotion and effect?

With “Pocket Calculator” the crowd respond with whoops of delight as Ralf shamelessly panders to them singing the second half in Polish, “Jestem operator i mam mini kalkulator. Ja dodaję, odejmuję, kontroluję, komponuję.”

Tour De France” goes on for approximately four days, taking in the three part 2003 version as well as the 1983 original. That’s not a criticism by the way, there’s not a moments lull in the entire 15 minutes, as the song ebbs and flows like the tour itself, mountain sections, sprints, and all. Kraftwerk and Ralf Hutter in particular are cycling nuts, drawing parallels between it and their music and as the ultimate expression of the “Mensch Machine“. Such is the obsession that after a cycling accident put Hutter in a Coma for 2 days his first words are reported to have been “where’s my bike?”.

The disused hangar proves an inspired setting – a monumental post industrial setting for monumental Electronic legends. The sides of the hall are partly open and during certain songs the building transforms into a giant percussive instrument. As the bass of “Autobahn” hits the building shudders, its corrugated iron cladding vibrating to create a sound not unlike a jazz drummer caressing his cymbal with a brush.

Trans Europ Express” and “Radioactivity” are highlights with the latter offering a glowering warning of nuclear power. Opening with a deep booming voice intoning stark facts about nuclear waste, half life’s and Hiroshima, it’s a devastatingly effective track that shows off the Kraftwerk sound with each bass, each crackle, each line digitally crystal clear. In truth the sound wasn’t quite as good at this gig as in London, but at those I’d started to believe they may have actually wired directly into my brain so unbelievable was the clarity of sound. Incidentally my brother, ravaged by the delights of night shifts prior to the trip spent “Radioactivity” drifting off into sleep. Sacrilege!

For their first encore “Robots” Kraftwerk pull off a witty theatrical flourish that’s genuinlingly shocking the first time you see it (actually its pretty good the third time). Pulsing synths start as lights flash on and off behind the curtain throwing up large silhouettes of four stationary figures, the curtain then drops to reveal only robots behind the four laptops. Its simple but very effective, and pokes fun at the “they don’t even play anything live” critics.

Kraftwerk have one final visual trick up their sleeves as they return clad in neon wireframe outfits as if direct from the set of “Tron“. It’s a stunning effect although every time I see it I get a slightly comical mental image of a middle aged German man squeezing into his suit and mournfully looking down as his growing paunch is illuminated in all its wireframe glory. He sucks it in but as he breathes out the vectors bounce and jiggle back into shape. Cruel ageist thoughts aside it looks phenomenal.

AeroDynamik” and the bass crunching venue shaking joy of “Elektro Kardiogramm” proves their new material is a match to the classics. Closing track “Music Non-Stop” allows each member to show off what part of the sound their laptop controls before they leave the stage with a bow. So you get a solo of dubby bass driven effects from one, finally ending with Ralf alone on stage with his keyboard flourishes, then with a thank you and another bow he too is gone.

The Kraftwerk show may have barely changed in the four years since I saw them last, but its hard to fiddle too much with perfection.

Setlist:
01. THE MAN-MACHINE
02. PLANET DER VISIOMEN (new version)
03. NUMMERN
04. COMPUTERWELT
05. HOMECOMPUTER
06. TASCHENRECHNER / MINIKALKULATOR (original 1981 mixed with new version, parts sung in Polish)
07. TOUR DE FRANCE 03 (Etape 1, 2 & 3)
08. TOUR DE FRANCE (1983 original version)
09. VITAMIN
10. AUTOBAHN
11. COMPUTERLIEBE
12. DAS MODEL
13. NEON LIGHTS / NEONLICHT
14. SCHAUFENSTERPUPPEN
15. RADIOACTIVITAET
16. TRANS-EUROPA EXPRESS
17. THE ROBOTS
18. ELEKTROKARDIOGRAMM
19. AERODYNAMIK
20. MUSIK NON STOP

Krafterk – Official site / Best fan site on net

Listen:
Kraftwerk – ElektroKardiogramm (Live @ The Lenin Steelworks, Nowa Huta)” (MP3)
Kraftwerk – RadioActivitaet (Live @ The Lenin Steelworks, Nowa Huta)” (MP3)
Kraftwerk – Pocket Calculator (Polish/German version) (Live @ The Lenin Steelworks, Nowa Huta)” (MP3)
Download torrent of entire gig – visit here or search torrent sites

BBC Documentary We Are The Robots” (MP3)
Solid Steel Strictly Kev Kraftwerk Kovers mix (MP3) – Visit BosBos.net for more, cd covers etc

I had no luck finding any fantastic new Polish music… anyone any tips? In place of that here’s a couple of Poland Golden Oldies:

Czerwone Gitary – “Coda” (MP3)
Andrzej Kurylewicz – “Rubber” (MP3)

Read:
Recent Interview with Ralf Hutter
Fantastic review of the gig by Kraftwerk fansite – Polish but worth visiting for the pictures

Buy:
Minimum Maximun Kraftwerk Live on DVD or CD – Recomended

Watch:
Polish TV report on the Kraftwerk gigs
Superb TOTP KraftwerkAutobahn” recording and look at the group – Watch this
Kraftwerk 1981 German TV Special