Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thoughts from the Kraftwerk concert Wed 3 December Singapore

It was a mixed and varied group of us that attended the Kraftwerk gig on Wednesday 3 December in Singapore at the Esplanade - Ivan Ho (EML 1994 - now running sales for a graphic design company), Emily Haw (EML 2003 - now running marketing for a multinational in FMCG, also helping to teach the EML Marketing Team), Melvin Foong (a friend from the 1980s, used to program analog synths and sequence on an Apple II computer, now in IT), and me, Ben Ang (EML Music Director).

After the concert, while hanging around the lobby, we also met other EML alumni like Teng Chwan (EML 1999, now a software developer at muvee Technologies) Pete Kellock (EML Tutor 1995 a senior electronic musician who even built equipment for the composer Vangelis, now Chairman of muvee Technologies i.e. Teng Chwan's boss), and Elizabeth Goh (EML 2001, now running an Executivec Search business).

Our knowledge of Kraftwerk was also varied - from Emily, who had minimal exposure to Kraftwerk before the concert, to Melvin, who had lent me the first Kraftwerk LP (vinyl) that I'd ever heard. I'd bought the Mix CD several years ago, watched the Maximum-Minimum DVD, and thought that the original vinyl versions were quaint but dated.

So a moderate Kraftwerk fan, I went into the concert with a few questions:
(1) Why are Kraftwerk still so popular after 3 decades? Is it just history and nostalgia?
(2) Will it be boring to watch 4 men with laptops standing still on stage? (Especially since I'd already watched the DVD)
(3) Who would be interested in a concert like this? Would it just be trainspotters and geeks?

After one and a half hours, I came to the following conclusions:

(3) Lots of people are interested in Kraftwerk - the concert hall was packed almost full, with a fair mix of female and male fans, teutonic and oriental faces, young and old. Someone even brought his pre-teen daughter. In hindsight, I should have brought my seven year old son Luke, since he loves the DVD so much that he's put it on regular rotation at home. In fact, all 3 of my kids (age 10, 7 and 2) can sing along to the lyrics and do the robot dance. So it looks like Kraftwerk's music will last far longer than the humans.

(2) Their live performance is more fun than the DVD. No doubt, it's the same performance with the same graphics, but there's a different sensation seeing it large as life in front of you, not on a TV screen, with big speakers, and a crowd of fans surrounding you.
There was a bit too much high frequency, so the white noise snare drums sounded harsh. And a friend kept rabbiting on beside me about when he'd first heard XYZ song, how Karl Bartos was the true genius not Ralf Hutter, how Wolfgang Flur had been the original air drummer, etc etc.

But overall, it was a good experience which gave ideas for our own live electronic music performances:
  • Perform with a group on stage - all 4 of them stayed onstage throughout, except when the robots replaced them (see photo)
  • Dress up - they all wore the same uniform / costume (see photos)
  • Divide the work - Ralf sang/vocoded and played melodies, another played filter sweeps, another ran noise effects, and the fourth one ... I don't know what he was doing, maybe checking his email ...
  • Keep both hands on the keyboard at all times (see photos)
  • Make customized keyboard stands - very neat, unlike our usual cable spaghetti (see photos)
  • Use 3 projectors to create a wall of images (see photos)
(1) I also concluded that Kraftwerk is still popular because
  • The music is fundamentally catchy and well written
  • Simplicity and clarity is good - you don't always need hundreds of complicated layers
These are thoughts that we can use in our own electronic music work [to be continued]

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