Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

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04/19/2005: Thought for the Day:

I'm starting to get psyched up for Kraftwerk. This is from a Guardian Arts Friday Review from July of 2003:

Few bands have ever seemed as rooted in their environment as Kraftwerk. While their German peers - Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream - muddied their cultural identity with a liberal dose of commune-dwelling, acid-munching hippy idealism, it's hard to see how Kraftwerk could have appeared more German without taking to the stage clad in lederhosen. While every one else was letting it all hang out, they sported suits, ties and short haircuts. Their sound was precise, efficient, emotionally cold and technologically advanced. It was music that had bagged the sun loungers while everyone else was still snoozing.

Occasionally, their image even led Kraftwerk into slightly sinister waters. In 1975, Ralf Hütter told one gobsmacked music journalist that "the German mentality" was "more advanced" than anyone else's and that German was "the mother language". The night before I leave, a telephone call comes from Kraftwerk's British press officer. Somehow, the band have got wind of my scheme. Ralf Hütter, it is intimated, will give me an interview on condition that I abandon any plans to go to Düsseldorf. This has rather the opposite effect from the one intended. Why are they so keen to keep me away from Düsseldorf? What am I going to find there? I think of Wolfgang Flür's memoir, I Was A Robot. Less an autobiography than an extended treatise on Flür's virility, I Was A Robot paints Kraftwerk not as emotionless "man-machines", but shameless groupie hounds. Perhaps Düsseldorf is filled with evidence of their youthful indiscretions, populated by children who bear a startling resemblance to members of Kraftwerk. In the case of Schneider, who the late rock critic Lester Bangs once described as looking like a man who could push a button and blow up half the world without blinking, this is a disturbing thought indeed.


Next, we get sent a list of pre-interview conditions stringent enough to make your average Hollywood superstar baulk. Hütter will not discuss Kraftwerk's history, their KlingKlang studio or indeed anything other than the new album. This poses a problem, as nobody in England has actually heard the new album yet. You suspect the end result will bear an uncanny resemblance to Kraftwerk's most recent German interview, in which Hütter and a fearless correspondent from Der Spiegel spend two pages attempting to bore each other to death. Its gripping highlight comes when Hütter is forced to admit that computers are smaller nowadays than they were in the early 70s. We tactfully decline their kind offer and I head for Heathrow.


Indeed, the only solid information we have to hand is a series of hints to the whereabouts of KlingKlang studios, dropped in Pascal Bussy's Kraftwerk: Man, Machine and Music. According to Bussy, KlingKlang is near the station, it is a "yellowish" building, it overlooks a cheap hotel and there is a Turkish grocers nearby. Dirk is confident - "we will find this!" - and leads the way to his car.

It quickly becomes apparent that you could never accuse Bussy of giving too much away. Every street adjacent to Düsseldorf station features a yellow-ish building, a Turkish grocers and a cheap hotel, frequently blessed with an appetising name such as Hotel Wurms. Every street also seems to feature a table dancing club, something called a Sexy-Kino and a lot of furtive-looking men. Perhaps realising that driving very slowly up and down the streets of Düsseldorf's red light district while staring out of the car window is liable to attract the attentions of the polizei, Dirk suggests we continue our quest on foot.


Over a glass of Altbier, a remarkable local brew that smells of bacon, we weigh up our options. We have failed to find KlingKlang. Record companies and music shops have proved no use. The largest decimal clock in the world aside, Düsseldorf itself has proved not to be the sort of futuristic technopolis that would inspire Kraftwerk's music, but a slightly dull German city where people like Robbie Williams. We have got nowhere.


I start to giggle, before a troubling thought strikes me. I have flown from England to Düsseldorf, made innumerable telephone calls, wandered around its streets for a day, illegally entered a building, and really annoyed one of the city's top photographers. And what is the sum total of knowledge gleaned from this experience? Have I gained any insight into the fascistic overtones of some of their early statements? Have I discovered the key to an appeal so vast that people will fill a venue just to see the band's former percussionist play live, a decade after his departure? Have I even found out whether or not the Düsseldorf accent is a Teutonic equivalent of Brummie? No.

My investigations have exclusively revealed that one of Kraftwerk's members owns a collapsible bike. Dirk appears at my rapidly-sagging shoulder. "I don't think we win the Pulitzer prize here, huh?" he says softly, a master of understatement.
--Alexis Petridis

Len on 04.19.05 @ 07:03 AM CST

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