German electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk bridged the gaps between Europe and Detroit, old and new and electropop and techno during the group’s headlining performance at Movement on Saturday.
The group’s 90-minute set, which came complete with 3D visuals, made good on years of promise. For a festival that is so dedicated to honoring and preserving techno’s history, the Kraftwerk booking was an important one, a nod to the sounds that paved the way for techno to take root. And it didn’t disappoint.
The Kraftwerk show came at the end of a healthy first day at the fest, which saw robust crowds and warm temps welcome techno music back to Detroit’s Hart Plaza for the 17th consecutive Memorial Day weekend. Thousands were on the ground at Hart Plaza as non-stop sounds boomed from five stages, featuring Detroit legends such as Derrick May and Stacey Pullen to artists that followed in their footsteps, including Seth Troxler and Matthew Dear.
The fest continues Sunday with headliner Dubfire and closes Monday with a performance by Danny Tenaglia. He fills in for Richie Hawtin, whose scheduled performance was shelved on Saturday due to visa issues.
Kraftwerk marked the highest profile booking in years for the fest, now in its 11th year under the management of Detroit’s Paxahau Event Productions. Going back to 2000, when the Detroit Electronic Music Festival debuted over Memorial Day weekend in Hart Plaza, Kraftwerk has always been buzzed about as a potential festival headliner, but things never lined up until Saturday.
Fans, wearing 3D glasses over their eyes – the paper kind from the 1950s, not the plastic ones handed out at today’s 3D movies – were treated to a crisp, seamless performance and a living history lesson, as a direct line could be drawn from the group’s early electro stylings to the techno and techno-offshoots that populate the festival.
But not everyone wants a history lesson, and crowds inside Hart Plaza’s main bowl became noticeably lighter as Kraftwerk’s performance progressed. Young fans came early, paid their respects and then moved on to other stages, where Carl Craig and Caribou dazzled audiences.
The four members of Kraftwerk – Ralf Hutter, Fritz Hilpert, Henning Schmitz and Falk Grieffenhagen – hit the stage after being preceded by their robot likenesses during opener “The Robots.” The foursome, sporting their signature skin-tight suits that look as though they’re modeled after “Tron” grids, kicked off with “Numbers” and rolled through a greatest hits set that included “Computer World,” “Pocket Calculator,” “Autobahn,” “Tour de France” and “Trans-Europe Express.” Each was backed on the huge screen behind them by 3D visuals of charmingly retro graphics – a hand pressing numbers on a calculator, cars rolling down a highway – that would have been state-of-the-art in 1974.\
Several times the graphics directly referenced Detroit, with satellite photos of Michigan, shots of the Motown Museum and a picture of Derrick May’s Transmat Records headquarters earning roars of approval from the crowd. And during “Planet of Visions,” Kraftwerk directly shouted out the Motor City, repeating the words “Detroit electro, Germany electro.”
The group was short on words, offering only a “goodnight, auf wiedersehen” at the end of its performance – its second Detroit show in seven months, following an October concert at the Masonic Temple.
But the point was made, and Krafwerk closed an important loop for the festival. Detroit electro, Germany electro. Even without 3D glasses, the message was clear.