Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

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So a limited crowd tonight, a couple of hundred snugly in the Town Hall avoiding winds and horizontal rain to see a Kraftwerk extravaganza. This is another cultural event that the Birmingham’s Town Hall / Symphony Hall (THSH) group should be justifiably proud in presenting, celebrating creativity, and exactly because it is not a safe option – it certainly couldn’t be classed as mainstream.

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Let’s be clear about this – this is something completely different – we’re here for an experience – similar to the Joy Division Reworked, that THSH put on last year. Contemporary orchestra Icebreaker are here tonight with their own unique take on the music that was created by the legends of electronica – Kraftwerk. Created by German sound-scape artist and composer J. Peter Schwalm, this intentionally deconstructs Kraftwerk’s music and features award-winning visual artists Sophie Clements’ and Toby Cornish’s creative cinematic works, filmed in the Ruhr, the region in Germany from which Kraftwerk started off life.

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So it will be interesting to see how the inspired performance delivers.  So in jeans and T’s the orchestra take to the stage. Icebreaker are indeed different – not your usual take on an orchestra – instruments include panpipes, accordion, drumkits, guitars in the mix with your traditional orchestral and percussion instruments – plus the additional of two electronic keyboards.  The first half hour set is not Kraftwerk, but features Erik Bunger’s Variation on a Theme (featuring snippets of KC & the Sunshine Band), Michael Nyman’s Think Slow, Act Fast and three track montage from Moss Side Story original written by Barry Adamson (of Magazine and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds fame). It is a unique way of looking at things, electronica done by live instruments and people – and it does take some getting used to. It is indeed the alternative to the alternative. There isn’t any visuals here – just the orchestra on stage – so it’s very much close your eyes and take in the music.

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Barry Adamson’s reworking includes tracks ‘Chocolate Milkshake’ and ‘Under Wraps’ – and was apparently written for a fictitious film, written about the seedier side of life and drug culture in Moss Side, Manchester.  The music has a bluesy feel – I’m not sure I’m feeling in Moss Side – more like 60s / 70s New York or London and I’m waiting for Michael Caine to make an appearance. First set over and I’m pondering about what this is all about.

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Half hour break and we’re into set number 2 – Kraftwerk. The origin’s of this piece of work goes back to 2009, after Icebreaker took on Brian Eno’s Apollo for  London’s Science Museum.  So the music starts up and the mono visuals are played on screen as we go into

‘Heimcomputer ‘(from Computer World 1981). It is a bizarre take as we get Kraftwerk deconstructed with real instruments especially as confusingly there electronic music too.

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‘Megaherz/mitternacht’ (from Kraftwerk 1970 / Autobahn 1974) the visuals take us to arthouse, grainy, mono and sepia toned footage of the exterior of houses, a time warp  -they seem 70s and architecturally simple. Next performance, ‘multitanz’ is inspired by the track Tanzmusik (from Ralf & Florian 1973). Sans footage this time, musically Icebreaker are very good.

And now accompanied by visuals of triangles, squares and circles, ‘Modul 6’ (inspired by the track Radio-Activity from Radio-Activity 1975) factories spewing smoke in sepia tones. With German words its almost a modern Metropolis on screen – metal structures, concrete structures and symmetrical flats.

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‘Morgenspaziergang’ (from Autobahn 1974) becomes the polar-opposite we have canals and water and greenery – all in mono footage; accompanied by lilting flutes and pan pipes, clarinet accompanies by violins. Mellow and quote beautiful.

And then to ‘Spiegelsaal’ (from Trans-Europe Express 1977)  – as floating mono squares zooms across the screens. And windows. This track too is beautifully delivered – the pan pipes replacing that dum dum dum keyboard sound.  Images show communist inspired  Germany – images are 70s-like – that ‘iconic’ feel run down, functional, Bauhaus created living.

And now the finale – ‘Autobahn’ – images of looking down at the central white lines and tarmac of the road, an autobahn indeed. And a 60s garage. And as the drumbeat kicks in for a crescendo…and we’re going along the road. And now were on the motorway, and as the track rises – the autobahn in full flow.

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Well tonight was a different experience. I remain a tad confused and I’m not sure just who this was delivered for in terms of audience – however, the performance by Icebreaker was great and exceptionally well delivered. Kraftwerk took a leftfield approach, sampling sounds, using electronica to develop sounds in their own unique way. It was the polar opposite of what was delivered tonight – so in a twist, their replacement for live instruments is now being delivered by –  live instruments. For me I’m not sure if it worked, unlike the Joy Division Reworked which was indeed leftfield of leftfield, I guess I was slightly disappointed that Icebreaker didn’t go further – it seemed a little safe, given that Kraftwerk have always been, and continue to, push artistic and creative boundaries.

Tonight’s performance has been supported by Arts Council England, Science Museum London, Goeth Institut, Edge Hill University and Third Earl Music.

3 Responses to “Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live at The Town Hall, Birmingham, UK, – 8th February 2014”

  1. Kraftwerk Uncovered featured in online magazines - News Says:

    […] “Let’s be clear about this – this is something completely different – we’re here for an experience – similar to the Joy Division Reworked, that THSH put on last year. Contemporary orchestra Icebreaker are here tonight with their own unique take on the music that was created by the legends of electronica – Kraftwerk. Created by German sound-scape artist and composer J. Peter Schwalm, this intentionally deconstructs Kraftwerk’s music and features award-winning visual artists Sophie Clements’ and Toby Cornish’s creative cinematic works, filmed in the Ruhr, the region in Germany from which Kraftwerk started off life…” Read the full review on Gig Junkies here. […]

  2. Kraftwerk Uncovered – Live @ The Town Hall, Birmingham, UK, Saturday February 8th February 2014 » Musings of a Creative Mind Says:

    […] for Gig Junkies; Pictures by Ken […]

  3. Fun Lovin’ Criminals + Klasside @ Wulfrun Hall, Wolves Civic, Wolverhampton UK – 19 January 2014 » Musings of a Creative Mind Says:

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