In 1997, in a tent in the English countryside, Kraftwerk experienced a rather special moment. They were playing their first UK show in five years at the Tribal Gathering festival. The Detroit tent emptied as the faithful gathered to witness it, the big name DJs heading the charge. In a spectacular confluence of old and new, Kraftwerk were presented to an entirely fresh audience, a crowd of mashed Day-Glo hedonists primed by nearly a decade of their techno and house idols citing Kraftwerk as the motherlode of the electronic dance music that had changed their lives. The response was so enthusiastic that the tent nearly blasted into space.
Before our eyes, Kraftwerk shapeshifted from elder statesmen of analogue electronic music (Ralf Hütter turned 50 the year before) into the Original Techno Gods. The title may have been made up by me just now, but they were certainly anointed thus by public affirmation in that tent just outside Luton in 1997.
Hütter has never shied away from implementing quite radical updates to the Kraftwerk machinery to keep it in the, erm, mix. This compilation album, originally released without fanfare on streaming platforms just over a year ago and now getting a fully fledged physical release, is the wax document of one of those transformations.
Kraftwerk has been seriously retooled at least four times over the decades, and ‘Remixes’ is a kind of final report on the success of the 1997 clubland diversification. There are rerubs from dance lords like Underground Resistance (there are three stabs at ‘Expo 2000’ from various permutations of the UR crew), Orbital, Alex Gopher, Étienne De Crécy, William Orbit, Hot Chip and longtime Kraftwerk associate François Kervorkian, as well as the Kling Klangers themselves.
Keeping on top of the various mixes (there are 19) is an exercise in taxonomy in itself. The second disc of the triple vinyl version is entirely given over to remixes of ‘Expo 2000’, seven in all. ‘Aéro Dynamik’ gets four reboots, there are two versions of ‘Radioactivity’, a couple of ‘The Robots’ (‘Robotronik’ and ‘Robotnik’), one ‘Home Computer’ (the 2021 seven-inch edit), one ‘Tour De France’ and one ‘La Forme’.
Most interesting is ‘Non Stop’, which opens proceedings. It started life as a 30-second sting developed for MTV in the 1980s. In 2020 it was processed into the Kling Klang databanks and transmogrified into this eight-minute piece. The plaintive melody, hesitant beat and mournful machine singing echoes the romantic melancholy of 1970s-era Kraftwerk.
But the snippet-into-song technique of ‘Non Stop’ creates both familiarity and confusion. Is it a version of ‘Musique Non-Stop’ from ‘Electric Cafe’ (or ‘Techno Pop’ as it was called when remastered in 2009)? It’s not, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it might be. Once upon a time you really knew where you were with a Kraftwerk song. After all, there weren’t that many and no one bothered with the first three albums anyway. But since ‘The Mix’ in 1991, the circular song cycle of 2003’s ‘Tour De France Soundtracks’, with its four tracks called ‘Tour De France’, not to mention the 1983 single ‘Tour De France’, the ‘3-D The Catalogue’ live versions and these remixes, have all led to a dizziness when it comes to mapping your Kraftwerk experiences these days.
This gets all the more maze-like with the ‘Expo 2000’ mixes. On the Spotify version, there are Kling Klang mixes from 2000, 2002 and 2001, in that order. But the vinyl and CD tracklisting drops the more dreamy 2000 mix. Is it because the 2000 mix is also sort of ‘Planet Of Visions’? Or perhaps it’s because it isn’t a banger. But then the 2001 mix isn’t either, being almost devoid of beats. We shall never know, but Orbital’s remix fires it up with their trademark arpeggiating and thumping beats, while Underground Resistance emigre DJ Rolando adds a Latin swing and sweeping strings, creating a German phonics-spouting/robot lush-house crossover oddity.
Elsewhere, William Orbit’s acid bassline to ‘Radioactivity’ and dubstep bass interventions tool the track for a big dancefloor. François Kervorkian’s 12-inch remix is from around the time when they added the word “Stop” before ‘Radioactivity’, making the “Atomkraft? Nein Danke” activism explicit in what had been a more oblique statement. French sophisticates Étienne De Crécy and Alex Gopher turn in an acid-laden ‘Aéro Dynamik’, which Hot Chip also muck about with, as well as ‘La Forme’, giving both a woozy, thin mountain air chunkiness.
And what I realise, after a day stewing in these mixes, is that I’m more precious about the source material than its creator. There’s a lot of fun to be had with Kraftwerk music, and certainly everyone here sounds like they enjoyed the opportunity to pull it apart and rebuild it.
Whatever the motivation behind this release, and there are plenty of robust opinions on that question in the (re)mixed reaction from fans across social media, it will give the perma-touring Kraftwerk experience some more battery life as it picks up where it left off in 2019.