Somnambule - Writing About Music

Kraftwerk ~ Minimum Maximum

Minimum Maximum: the title succinctly expresses Kraftwerk’s credo. In hindsight, Kraftwerk’s mission since the mid 80’s has been an ongoing process of refinement and rationalisation. Less has very much become more. Just as Kraftwerk’s conceptual approach has been concerned with the distillation of their worldview to a resonating essence, so too with their music. This modus operandi may be attributed to the psychic distress of releasing inferior product (c.f. Electric Café), but whatever its source, it has led to an admirable degree of self-restraint rarely found in popular music. Better to remain silent than dilute the achievement of their seminal recordings. This wisdom has paid dividends. Ralf and Florian’s restraint, allied to an openness to new techniques, has resulted in their oeuvre acquiring a remarkable sense of timelessness, a tricky feat considering the apparent technological focus of most of their work.

In light of the foregoing, does Minimum Maximum, a 22 track live album, adulterate the mix? The pun’s intended, given that the only other Kraftwerk sanctioned compilation was 1991’s The Mix. Despite the group’s global touring schedule, the release of a live album replete with roaring audience reaction may appear almost indecent. However, only the most superficial of observers would conclude that Kraftwerk’s primary concern is that of the machine: man forever precedes it in the equation. Kraftwerk’s mission has long been to explore what constitutes humanity in the face of ever-increasing technological encroachment. In threading so much audience roar through the recordings, the balance between the two poles is subtly ajusted once again and the direction of 2003’s Tour De France re-emphasised. That album presented Kraftwerk’s most viable and optimistic solution to the difficult balance between humanity and the seemingly unstoppable technological, rather than spiritual, progress in which we’re engaged. Whether Minimum Maximum represents a final farewell or not is unknowable. It’s certainly an updated overview that now includes the strongest work from 2003’s Tour De France and it’s to be hoped that it will presage the remastered back-catalogue (scheduled for 2004) and the DVD mentioned on the group’s official website.

The only (minor) disappointments on this release are the absence of the eery repeating figure and vocoder introduction that played before the appearance of the group. Also missing is the the failure of the engine to start up at the beginning of Autobahn (surely a humorously trenchant comment upon the dodo-like insidiousness of car culture). Ultimately the beautifully recorded and sequenced Minimum Maximum convincingly reasserts Kraftwerk’s enduring centrality to the contemporary cultural landscape. It’s a gorgeous ride through an oeuvre that remains remarkably relevant even as its deliberate retro-futurism imbues their project with a profundity impossible to achieve by merely racing to keep up with ceaseless technological change. In noting the cities in which each track was recorded beside the track titles, Kraftwerk underline the pervasive sweep of their influence – London, Moscow, San Francisco, Paris, Tokyo...
Colin Buttimer
June 2005
Published by Grooves magazine