Five things we learnt watching Kraftwerk 3D

We donned some 3D glasses and went on a journey through space and time at Kraftwerk’s Man Machine Vivid LIVE show.

So far in 2013, Kraftwerk has proven masterful in a new field: melting ticket servers. Ahead of the group’s eight-night stand at MoMA in New York, the ticketing company Showclix kept an angry mob of fans in an unending queue. Meanwhile in London, the Tate Modern’s website broke from the “huge demand” for its eight show run. Hell hath no fury like a wizened Kraftwerk fan scorned, so Sydney’s Vivid LIVE festival wisely went with a ticket ballot.

Securing the full ‘Catalogue’ for the Sydney Opera House was a coup. The last time Kraftwerk toured Australia, it was for the never-to-return Global Gathering festival, a visit that failed to run with Germanic precision. The group’s Melbourne set was cancelled after Fritz Hilpert was hospitalised, while in Sydney the Hordern Pavilion was far from overflowing. This time round, in the setting of the Opera House’s Joan Sutherland Theatre, the reverie felt just right. We donned our 3D glasses and settled in for the 9:30pm session of The Man-Machine on Saturday night. Here’s what we learned.

3D is made for Kraftwerk

First Kraftwerk gave us pioneering albums like The Robots and Computer Love. Then they gave us a pair of cardboard 3D glasses. As the lights of the theatre dimmed and a “this is really happening!” cheer filled the space, four figures took their places behind the glowing pedestals on-stage, with original Kraftwerk-er Ralf Hütter sporting the headset microphone.

From the moment The Man-Machine opened the show, the 3D was immediately arresting. As we journeyed above the earth in Spacelab, a satellite came flying out of the screen to the sound of excited gasps. While 3D movies pile on the spectacle en route to a migraine, Kraftwerk’s use of the technology is striking for its simplicity. From the stark messages of Radioactivity hovering above the heads of the front row to the cyclists climbing towards us in Tour De France, each song looked almost as good as it sounded.

We came for the album, but got all the hits

While each of the eight concerts was dedicated to a different Kraftwerk album, The Man-Machine set moved into a ‘greatest hits’ run. For the super-fans who bought tickets to multiple shows, this meant some déjà vu. For everyone else, though, it was a condensed journey through Kraftwerk’s catalogue in glorious 3D, from Autobahn all the way to 1986’s Boing Boom Tschak.

The cliché is true: Kraftwerk still sounds like music from the future

As Tour De France boomed crisply around the theatre, we all sat transfixed by the sweeping images of cyclists speeding along rural roads. The impulse to stand up and move, though, was almost as strong. Kraftwerk in concert is a vivid reminder of the group’s blueprint for electronic music.

Throughout the set-list, there are subtle tweaks for the 21st Century, but the spirit of the original songs remains intact. Computer Love, for example, sounds astounding in the context of 2013, while Radioactivity is now a more sinister inventory than ever. As precise and controlled as the music is, it’s never lifeless. In the darkness, surrounded on all sides by sound, these songs made decades ago felt palpably alive.

3D induces micro-sleeps

After The Man-Machine show, we did an anecdotal audit in the foyer to find out who else had a shameful micro-sleep moment around the 40-minute mark. As it turned out, everyone (in the small sample we spoke to). Was it eye-strain from all that three-dimensional wonderment that caused our sudden onset of tiredness? Was it the dark, reverent room? Or did we simply have too many beers in the foyer beforehand? No, as one guilty nodder pointed out, “I think I was in a trance!”

Somehow four middle-aged men in figure-hugging body-suits was the coolest thing ever

There’s something unreal about watching a deadpan Ralf Hütter singing “we are the robots” just 50 metres in front of you. Since the departure of Florian Schneider, Hütter’s the only original member in a line-up that now includes Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen, but it’s still Kraftwerk in the building.

It’s a prerequisite that you must look fetching in a sci-fi jumpsuit, like something Andy Serkis might wear on the set of The Hobbit. As ever, interaction between the members was minimal, save for the odd sideways smile or quizzical look. Leg-jiggling was permissible, fist-pumps still discouraged. Newest member Grieffenhagen on the furthest right is the group’s visuals guru, and there were stretches where he’d stand, almost unmoving, transfixed by the controls in his lectern (the open laptops of previous tours have now been streamlined into an entirely-hidden console).

When it came time to leave the stage, Kraftwerk went one-by-one after delivering their iPad-solos, stepping into a dramatic pool of light on the stage to bow. From right to left, the cheers grew louder, crescendoing on Hütter’s departure. It was an oddly emotional moment. Then, incongruously, they had to return and “turn back on the machines” for the encore. After another welcome 3D trip, Kraftwerk-circa-2013 filed off in their black Spiderman suits, with the contented look of unlikely superheroes.