Whilst the review below from 1976 begins with very positive words for the exciting new English band National Health, calling them “an intellectual band…often gustier than Queen”, it goes on to less than enthusiastic opinion of Kraftwerk – a very neat band, all dressed in shirts and ties with short haircuts. The reviewer describes their expressions as blank and their minimal electronic beats as “blank” too. Their new sound was very unfamiliar to this audience and Kraftwerk were still trying to break through into the UK market.
Miles, New Musical Express, 16 October 1976
Kraftwerk: This is what your fathers fought to save you from…
LET ME SAY straight off that National Health are probably the most exciting new band playing in England at the present. They have recently attracted attention again by Bill Bruford joining them on drums – that is when Genesis aren’t touring: he can’t afford to give up 500 pounds a week.
Amanda Parsons is listed as voice, and she uses it like an instrument, hitting amazing high notes with a clarity and purity that’s sometimes breathtaking. She has the strength to compete with the surges of volume that occur when Bruford rolls, Dave Stuart hits a Chinese chord and Alan Gowan growls at the Moog, all at once in a sea-swell of colours and textures.
They function like the arms of an octopus, each tentacle reaching out and exploring, touching new areas, yet all under the control of a central collective brain.
They often build a repeating rolling wave riff which has room between crests for Phil Miller to get in some surprisingly tough chops on guitar and for Neil Murray to display the more melodic side of bass guitar.
Though they are regarded as an “intellectual” band, the fact is that they maintain a far more sustained beat and are often gutsier than, say, Queen. When Bruford starts yelling away to himself and thumping the side drums and Dave Stewart’s piano starts to chug, you not only have a band that cooks but one that creates a finished meal so tasty, so full of subtle nuances of flavour and protein, that I would expect you to hunger for more. Why this band don’t have a recording contract is beyond me.
KRAFTWERK are a very different matter. Their names are Rolf, Karl, Wolfgang, and Florian – I know because they had neat blue chemist neon signs sitting on stage in front of them to tell us.
They are a very neat band, all dressed in suits and ties and short hair like bank managers. They all stand stock still except Karl and Wolfgang, who have to move their arms a bit to play bass and drums – not ordinary bass and drums, but small flat suitcases on legs like electric pianos – that’s right, electronic pads.
Bryan Ferry might strive for this ’40s decadent look but underneath everyone knows he’s really a scruffy art student. But with these guys – they would actually look weird in a pair of jeans. Since it was dark on stage and we couldn’t see what they looked like they showed slides of themselves wearing bow ties and looking blank.
Their music was blank too. The electronic melodies flowed as slowly as a piece of garbage floating down the polluted Rhine.
They had a scaffolding which enabled first Wolfgang, then he and Karl, to stand aside making traffic cop signals and create the electronic rhythm section simply by their hand gestures breaking photoelectric beams connecting various parts of the structure. Their hands glowed blue and it was all a bit ridiculous except maybe on ‘Radioactivity’.
Despite some of the most advanced sound equipment I’ve seen for a while their music was largely old fashioned whistles and squeaks on a ring modulator and keyboards. They are actually old fashioned realists – they use electronics to imitate their surroundings.
Just as the ‘Pastoral Symphony’ has cuckoos and stuff in it, so Kraftwerk love to imitate trains (on ‘Trans European Express’), radio static and Morse code (on ‘Radioactivity’) and of course their big hit ‘Autobahn’, where the doppler effect of cars with horns blaring passing each other at speed occupies their creative energy for a great deal of time.
At one point the stage lights came on and we could actually see what the band looked like. Guess what, Rolf had white shoes – it was like something out of Goodbye To Berlin. I thought at first that they were spats.
‘Autobahn’ is in fact German surfing music. If Hawkwind are the Michael Moorcock end of space rock, then Kraftwerk are closer to Asimov with their clinical equipment and neon stage lights.
© Miles, 1976
Review provided courtesy of Rock’s Back Pages.