I don’t know why Kraftwerk has decided to tour the U.S. in 1998, 12 years after releasing its last original album, Electric Cafe, but it’s a safe bet easy cash has something to do with it. Generally I think this sort of nostalgia exploitation is tacky; however, if anyone’s earned the right to do it, it’s Kraftwerk. Fifteen years ago you might’ve cursed the group for inspiring legions of two-bit synth-pop bands, most of whom merely mimicked Kraftwerk’s instrumentation and banal melodies and ignored the loaded social commentary that lurked beyond them. But nowadays it’s clear that the quartet’s real contributions just took longer to manifest themselves. Kraftwerk was one of the first groups to use an all-synthesizer sound in a pop context; it dismantled traditional pop song forms in favor of more amorphous structures; and it pushed the drum machine into the mainstream. And from the beeps and beats in “Numbers” (from 1981’s Computer World), which served as the blueprint for Afrika Bambaataa’s epochal 1982 hip-hop smash “Planet Rock,” to the electronic crackle of “Geiger Counter” (from 1975’s Radio-Activity), which presaged the information-overload style of current electronica proponents like Autechre, Speedy J, Boards of Canada, and Panasonic, Kraftwerk’s pioneering efforts continue to have an effect on almost all modern pop music, be it direct or diffuse. The group’s management has offered no information about its U.S. shows, but as there are no new recordings planned, I wouldn’t expect anything you haven’t heard before. Hopefully Kraftwerk won’t wither beneath the weight of its importance to electronica as it did with synth pop (on the mediocre Electric Cafe), but either way the visuals are bound to be something to see. Wednesday, 7:30 PM, Riviera Theatre, 4746 N. Racine; 773-275-6800 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Kingklang.