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Review: Bryget Chrisfield. Photos: Jason Rosewarne.

Alongside The Beatles, Kraftwerk are widely regarded as one of the two most important groups in music history.

As we enter Margaret Court Arena, clocking the minimal set – which comprises four consoles evenly dispersed across the front of the stage – makes our excitement levels peak. Kraftwerk’s live shows promise “Gesamtkunstwerk”, which roughly translates as ‘a total work of art’ incorporating several different artforms – eg. electronic music, computer animations, performance art – to spectacular effect.

The absence of music pumping through the venue’s sound system cleanses our earholes, readying us for the still-futuristic, computer-generated sounds these electro wizards pioneered. Founding member/lead vocalist Ralf Hütter, who engineered Kraftwerk’s vision alongside the late Florian Schneider way back in 1969 when they formed, is the group’s sole remaining OG element.

Kraftwerk’s four current members file out on stage and take their positions behind individual consoles, now neon-lit. They sport matching neoprene bodysuits, which are covered in LED grids that illuminate and change colour – meticulous lighting design, programmed to the beats. A giant screen stretches across the entirety of the stage’s back wall and dazzling visuals further enhance each track from the opening Numbers right through to Music Non Stop, which basically describes tonight’s awe-inspiring and effortlessly cool display of Kraftwerkian superiority.

To open Spacelab, Kraftwerk appear to be controlling a spaceship’s descent to Earth before customised visuals depict a flying saucer zeroing in on Australia, and then Melbourne, where it touches down inside this specific arena. Genius.

When Kraftwerk released their celebration of fast cars – 1974’s Autobahn – the success of this album and its title track in particular introduced vocoder to the mainstream. The footage that accompanies this song brings Autobahn’s cover art, which resembles a children’s picture book, to life as a Volkswagen negotiates the famous motorway petrolheads drool over. We also notice Hütter performing live vocals for the first time during Autobahn, albeit in a restrained fashion and with minimal head/mouth movement.

The Model, accompanied by vintage black-and-white footage of glamorous models, is a standout moment featuring humans. The nuclear-dread-evoking Geiger counter introduces an updated version of Radioactivity, during which Fukushima is now namechecked. As the four cyclists from Tour De France’s cover art grace the screen, we enjoy the floaty, ascending synth parts. Hütter also impressively huffs and puffs this song’s exertion sounds live, while somehow still remaining motionless. Then it’s all aboard the Trans-Europe Express, with its clickety-clack railway track accents.

At the end of their main set, Kraftwerk pause, then take a coupla backwards steps in unison – away from their consoles – before exiting the stage in single file. As the name of their Düsseldorf studio-cum-HQ, Kling Klang, flashes up on the ginormous screen, we cheer for more.

“We are programmed just to do/ Anything you want us to…” – The Robots signals Kraftwerk’s encore and a mini-rave breaks out at the back of the stalls. Boing Boom Tschak is a multidimensional banger that spotlights Chemical Brothers’ debt to this quartet. Kraftwerk exit one at a time starting from stage left, with each robot pausing to soak up his individual accolades. And then there was one. Hütter, hand over heart: “Good night. Auf Weidersehen. Music Non Stop.”

They may look like four motionless dudes checking their emails up there, but Kraftwerk’s efficiency, next-level attention to detail and robotic mastery remain unrivalled. Eine Meisterklasse.


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