Wolfgang Flür (ex-Kraftwerk) | Review
The Black Box, Belfast • 13 January ’18
Out to Lunch Festival performance
By Nerys Coleman • Photos: Conor Kerr
Wolfgang Flür was the first person we know of to play an electronic drumkit in public. The event took place on TV in 1973, Germany and the band, Kraftwerk, were pioneering electronic music. The quartet went on to achieve both cult and commercial success with their unique style of robot pop and have been cited as having as much influence on popular music as the Beatles. Since leaving the group in 1987, Flür has been involved in many collaborations, released singles, written a biography, been a touring DJ and in 2015, released his first solo album, Eloquence.
It’s an eclectic and mostly mature crowd gathered in the Black Box this chilly January night to see the German septuagenarian. They happily warm up to the techno house and electro set from DJ Stuart Watson playing for an hour and half before the main act begins. The room feels nearly at capacity when the projector screen is switched on and Flür steps up to the stage to take his place behind the carefully set-up table. He doesn’t speak, but has recorded himself welcoming the audience and introducing the show as Musik Soldat, or Music Soldier.
As the retro electro starts, the front rows are straight into quirky rave mode and Flür gestures idiosyncratically to the beat every 30 seconds, as if still playing the electro drumkit. He looks fit, healthy and at least 10 years younger than he is.
The projected visuals are a compilation of Kraftwerk stills and artwork throughout their career, many of which have become iconic and are instantly recognisable, while others show rarer performances as well as more ‘human’ shots of the band backstage and on the road.
Around 30 minutes in, the high energy opening relaxes into funky house and disco. The visuals also change to show a present day Flür comically marching around London, Amsterdam, Malmö, Berlin, New York and his hometown of Düsseldorf wearing the distinctive German spiked military helmet or pickelhaube. The soldier, robot and machine motifs are as much a constant in Flür’s present as in his past.
Although not mixing the tracks in the traditional sense, Flür adds some effects and has a charismatic presence behind the laptop. He moves nimbly and makes grandiose head and hand movements with a wry smile, giving the impression that he doesn’t take himself too seriously.
The set is heavy on the beats as you would expect from an ex-drummer and contains a lot of material from Eloquence. The atmospheric ‘Cover Girl’ is a sequel to Kraftwerk’s ‘Model’ and has an accompanying arty music video. This song comes closest to matching the hypnotizing and stripped back melodies of Kraftwerk.
The set enters the cumulative third phase as the tracks become beefier and are reminiscent of early millennium Euro trance, keeping the crowd on their toes. At just over the hour mark, the man behind the machine dons the well-travelled pickelhaube and marches around the stage and the crowd cheer on their fearless music soldier.
Overall, the show openly celebrates the career of an iconic group and the ongoing work of a key member who wants to continue the fusion of art and technology. Although there was no ‘Fun Fun Fun on the Autobahn’ tonight, there will be plenty of fun to remember on the way home on the M1.