Jack Skelley beams himself into the future to watch the robots of Kraftwerk serve Walt Disney Concert Hall.

By Jack SkelleyJune 13, 2024


    KRAFTWERK, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, May 28, 2024.

    When the Disney Hall usher scanned my e-ticket, it emitted a cute, space-age tone: “Blorp!” Ah, another way Kraftwerk has transformed music culture. It’s a trite truism that the krautrock legends are longtime, worldwide trendsetters. Of course, the Düsseldorf-based group pioneered electronic and techno. And without them there would be no industrial rock—Einstürzende Neubauten, Nine Inch Nails, and the like. David Bowie and Brian Eno were early disciples, propelling synthy pop from Depeche Mode to Daft Punk to Devo. And hip-hop is thick with Kraftwerk influence: I still cherish my 12-inch “Planet Rock” by Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. That electro-funk jam went gold in 1982 using themes from Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express.”

    But that’s old news. What floored me at the Walt Disney Concert Hall performance of The Mix (1991)—part of a nine-night residency showcasing their biggest albums—was how fresh the Kraftwerk concept remains. (I had this realization bouncing in my seat, because … dang! Those beats!) Magically, Kraftwerk has remained cutting-edge since the 1970s. They continually update their material—not just the rhythms and synth tones but also the stage graphics that magnify the music and multilingual lyrics. This is Kraftwerk’s version of Wagnerian “Gesamtkunstwerk,” or total art form.

    In the studio version of “Spacelab,” for example, a rolling sequencer-based ostinato echoes the proto-disco of Giorgio Moroder. (Moroder produced Donna Summer’s sublime banger “I Feel Love” in 1977, the same year that Kraftwerk released “Trans-Europe Express.”) But at this performance, satisfying today’s dance-music tastes, the thumps were now monster-sized, and the snare slapped hard—the better to rock Disney Hall’s superb acoustics. Likewise, in “The Robots,” compared to the original, the BPMs were accelerated and funkified: an infectious confusion of loose and mechanical. And in “Home Computer,” the syncopations achieved jazzy/baroque levels of synth riffing, verging on atonality, that danced with the abstract graphics. Exquisite!

    This new-old schtick employs the aesthetics of “retrofuturism,” a foundational paradox for the group. Uwe Schütte’s definitive biography, Kraftwerk: Future Music from Germany (2020), quotes Kraftwerk founder Ralf Hütter: “We were much considering […] the simultaneity of past, present and future today. I think visions and memories synchronise together, and I think certain things from a little way back look more towards the future than things that are pseudo-modern today.”

    A word about the visual displays: They played the same new-old trick. Yet each was unique to the song at hand. “The Man Machine” was all Russian Constructivist flying cubes and quadrilaterals. (Think artist Kazimir Malevich.) “Tour de France” repurposed black-and-white racing newsreels as the music upshifted to syncopation and sophisti-synth tones. Very slick, and very cool.

    At the end, band members exited one-by-one, leaving Ralf Hütter, Kraftwerk’s last original member, to perform a solo. No longer robotic, he was moving his hips and tapping his feet. Then he waved goodbye.


    Photo of Kraftwerk by contributor.

    LARB Short Takes live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

    LARB Contributor

    Jack Skelley is the author of the novel The Complete Fear of Kathy Acker (Semiotext(e), 2023), and Myth Lab: Theories of Plastic Love (Far West Press, 2024). Jack’s other books include Monsters (Little Caesar Press, 1982), Dennis Wilson and Charlie Manson (Fred & Barney Press, 2021), and Interstellar Theme Park: New and Selected Writing (BlazeVOX, 2022). Jack’s psychedelic surf band Lawndale released two albums on SST Records, and has a new album, Twango.


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