You used to act like Autobahn was where it all came
together for you, and the albums before that didn't really count.
Hütter: No, we've just never really taken
a look at those albums. They've always been available, but as really bad
bootlegs. Now we have more artwork. Emil has researched extra contemporary
drawings, graphics, and photographs to go with each album, collections of
paintings that we worked with, and drawings that Florian and I did. We took
a lot of polaroids in those days.
What did the remastering involve?
had to get all the original master tapes, which have been degrading. You
can imagine that the mixing from the '70s, with our budgets then, wasn't
too elaborate. If their was a black and white piece it would stay black
and white, we wouldn't be colour painting anything. The remastering process
was more like a historical restoration. We're also adding paintings that
we weren't allowed to use then, like the ones Emil did for Autobahn, which
in those days the record company wouldn't let us put on the cover - they
didn't want to print on the inner sleeve for expense reasons, and wouldn't
make it a gatefold. So we're making these the original covers with all the
conceptual artwork we had planned at the time.
Are there unreleased tracks from each album session
that might go on the reissues as extras?
Hütter: No. It has never been our working
principle to produce twenty tracks and then just put the best ten out. We
recorded very little. We spent a lot of time thinking - and also forgetting.
We play music for six hours every night. If we accidentally do something
brilliant we have to quickly make a note of it. We've forgotten loads, because
we try to establish the music before we record. When we're ready, we just
make an album, very live, very fresh. We've never had an album sit in the
archives, except for Tour De France, where we had the concept and some lyrics
and scripts and sketches sitting around for twenty years, but not the music.
Why do you cup your hand opposite the headset mic
when you sing?
Hütter: In normal singing you can work loudness
by moving the mic nearer and closer. I can't do that, as it's fixed to my
head, so I use my hand to emphasise what I'm singing. On Computer World
lines like "Interpol and Deutsche Bank", it makes it louder, gives
the words a bit more room ambience, reverb. My hand is a small resonance
chamber, intimate but enabling me to proclaim like a loud-hailer. The figure
in Edvard Munch's The Scream is like "AAAAAAARGH!", but I'm more
like "aaaaaah", whispering in your ear.
Your sounds have resurfaced dismembered and out of
context all over the place, forming a recurrent theme in every regional
black American dance scene of the last three decades, the subject of tribute
albums from Slovenia to Africa and beyond. Given your straight aura - stiff,
even for a white band - that must have amazed you?
Hütter: I remember we went to a loft club
in New York around the time of Trans Europe Express, and the DJ had pressed
his own record, using our tapes of Metal On Metal, but extending it on and
on. It was the beginning of DJ record making, and we were fascinated. It
was just in our direction, because that's what we would do in our studio,
establish a groove and play it for hours and hours. Maybe go out and come
back hours later, and the machines would still be playing. So we were both
surprised and pleased. And the spirit and language of what we do is also
understood in Detroit's techno scene - Derrick May, Underground Resistance
and Rolando. Planet Of Visions incorporates their sounds into our show,
so we're remixing their remixes of our mixes - it's feedback. Someone described
it as a fusion of Daimler, Benz and Chrysler.
You and Florian regularly cycle 125 miles a day and
reports of your passion for the sport make it sound maniacal - like you
asking first about the well-being of your bike after a near fatal accident.
Hütter: Cycling is the man-machine. It's
about dynamics, always continuing straight ahead, forwards, no stopping.
He who stops falls over. It's always forwards.
The Tour De France Soundtracks album is filled out
with songs about dynamism, medical health and vitamins. Are you vitamin
Hütter: Sometimes we take supplements. We
have training programs from cycling scientists, from East Germany of course.
Through the sweating you lose a lot of water and vitamins, and we have cycling
food products in our pockets, mineral drinks. Then there's diet. I'm a vegetarian
and try to consume a lot of fresh food in order to do the long distances.
We sometimes participate in the classic races, and the Tour de France does
an event once a year, where you have the same treatment as the race itself,
police escorts, roads closed, doing the Alpine stage the same as the professionals,
the day before or a few
days afterwards, depending on the weekend. You do it in your own rhythm,
and 7,000 people of all ages take part. I did one stage in ten hours, that
Pantani had done in six. It's just for health and dynamics.
Given the amount of innovations you pioneered, it
seems odd that you now see yourselves as workers in an electronic garden,
where everything's an offshoot of the original plants, refining your craft
Hütter: No, not perfection. It's a continuum.
It's never finished. Kraftwerk is really live electronics, and the albums
are documents of certain times, like photographs or phonographs of that
year, but they shouldn't be placed above anything we do today. It changes.
We're not against originality, but we're a plugged band, so we're not about
to make an unplugged album of folk music. You never know, we could do it
like the Viennese Vegetable Orchestra, play it on cabbages and stuff.
Is it still important to you to use found sounds?
Hütter: Yes. We find them by accident, chance,
research, curiosity or by having ideas that spring from the concept of the
piece. On the Tour de France soundtracks album we took medical tests I did
over a couple of years, heartbeat recordings, pulse frequencies lung volume
tests, and used those tests on the album. It's percussive and dynamic. We
never feel there is nowhere left for us to go.
What recent technological development most excites
Hütter: Mobility with our notebooks has been
a gift - for Kraftwerk it's fantastic. Before, on the older shows, we used
tons of equipment, tapes and cables and technological problems, so much
energy spent physically putting it all together and wiring. And now we have
tiny, powerful equipment, everything is completely digital and runs in real-
time during the concert, synchronised with the audiovisual. We recorded
our live album entirely on a notebook. We're very lucky to be here.
Your love of autonomy meant shooting the live DVD
yourselves, rather than getting in a big name director. Was that wise?
Hütter: In general the response has been
good. Some people like it, others
don't. We tried to make it very minimalist, not too many cameras - that's
been done by MTV. We tried to be close to a concert documentary, and to
render the computer images on screen very simplistically, with crude pixilation,
To what extent does your work follow the principles
of the Bauhaus, and where did you come into contact with those ideas?
Hütter: We knew them from the art scene in
Germany; they were the basic programs of our education. The ideas reflected
in our work are both internationalism and the mixing of different art forms,
the idea that you don't separate dance over here and architecture over there,
painting over there. We do everything, and the marriage of art and technology
was Kraftwerk right from the beginning, even though we didn't have the tools
we have today - we used old tape recorders, small echo units and distortion.
We broke down the barrier between craftsmen and artist, we were music workers.
The Pompidou Centre in Paris, with its transparency
and externalised workings, strikes me as a very Kraftwerk kind of building.
What parallels do you see between your music and architecture?
Hütter: Only the spirit of construction.
What is the most bizarre bit of career advice you've
Hütter: That we should stop, we should die,
so that we leave the Kraftwerk albums untouched and untouchable. I don't
think they meant that we should harm ourselves, just that we should stop
making music, because we can never stop it. Some very weird ideas have been
floated. For certain artists the history of art has all kinds of concepts,
but we don't care about all that. The idea of being music workers has been
relevant to us, so we're very constructive in staying alive and being productive.
to Simon Witter