Sunday, July 02, 2006
I.C.R.N. Live Review 1: Hanno Reichel. DIE KRUPPS 25th Anniversary Tour
BACK TO THE AGE OF STEEL? - VOLLE KRAFT ZURUECK!
DIE KRUPPS 25th Anniversary Tour “25 Jahre Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn”
Berlin, Kato. 29.1.2006
As part of their 25th anniversary tour, the renowned German electro/industrial pioneers DIE KRUPPS returned to the stage on Sunday 29th January. The group had fallen silent since the last official tour in 1997 and the increasing preoccupation of frontman Juergen ENGLER with his new project DKAY.COM. In any case, by the mid to late 1990s little remained of the original avant gardist reputation of DIE KRUPPS who had once been a crucial influence on the electro- and industrial-scene back in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, their visionary approach had since the early 1990s literally been buried by a layer of “rock” and “metal” debris, leaving the former KRUPPS´ factory halls ruined and dysfunctional, echoing to the slowly fading sounds of their “Stahlwerksinfonie” (Steelworks Symphony). Nevertheless, the “new” KRUPPS-style with the massive use of (-ironically- metal)-guitars and more or less completely English and non-industrial lyrics seemed quite suitable to the new market: the blood- and sweat era of the former “Steelworkers” was quickly forgotten, giving way to more streamlined and designed music and lyrics for the new (post-industrial) generation of consumers.
In this sense, the return of DIE KRUPPS accompanied by an explicit reference to the early 1980s “Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn” era was unexpected enough to raise speculation about what was to be expected from these concerts. The announcements of the concert already suggested a return to the roots of DIE KRUPPS, with posters bearing on a black background the familiar KRUPPS “rings of steel”, surrounded half and half by a cogwheel and wreath. This visual proclamation of past times was accompanied by the news that the concerts would be performed by the most original KRUPPS-line up imaginable, Juergen ENGLER (vocals), Ralph DOERPER (keyboards/programming) and Ruediger ESCH (bass). For all that, the announcements also already gave the impression that, far more than just performing old-school material, DIE KRUPPS seemed to have adapted to contemporary influences, as the phrase “Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn” featured the letters “A” in the font used in the official acronym and logo of the German federal office “Bundesanstalt fuer Arbeit” which has become synonymous for the problem of mass-unemployment in Germany since the early 1990ies.
Thus, when the group entered the stage (which was -in a Laibachian manner- flanked by flags bearing the “rings of steel”-logo), the audience seemed full of expectation of what was to come. The set started with the –musically and lyrically timeless- track “High Tech-Low Life” from the album “I”, and the very sound of that track already gave an impression of the shift backwards in the sound of DIE KRUPPS: Even though it was originally one of the more guitar-based tracks, the guitar-elements remained quite far in the background, giving more space to the synthesizer-sequences of the stoically (KRAFTWERK-like) acting DOERPER and the great bass-work of ESCH, which effectively transformed the venue into a hammering and vibrating industrial worksite. Following that concept, ENGLER resembled perfectly his image in (now 25 year old!) photographs from the “Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn”-album with a black work vest and trousers and precise short haircut. Thus, even the more recent tracks that followed were greeted enthusiastically by the audience (which seemed to be composed at least 50 percent of “old” DIE KRUPPS fans). The atmosphere intensified even more, when, to the sounds of “Germaniac”, the large apparatus that had been carried onto the stage just before the beginning of the show turned out to be a renewed and improved (but conceptually original) version of the ancient KRUPPS “Stahlophon” furiously beaten by the energetic ENGLER.
After the first 30 minutes, which mainly featured tracks from the more recent (guitar oriented) albums “I”, “II”, “III” and “Paradise Now”, KRUPPS embarked on a time-trip back to the early 1980s presenting (among others) “Volle Kraft voraus!”, “Goldfinger” and “Fuer einen Augenblick”, all performed in the original style, with only slightly modified synthesizer sequences and absolutely (!) no guitars. Although the audience was enthusiastic enough about hearing such old tracks once again after their total absence from DIE KRUPPS for so long, a medley of old and new songs wouldn’t have been in itself anything significant for an anniversary tour, but DIE KRUPPS seemed to have more in mind.
The small section of totally new and so far unreleased tracks started with “5 Millionen”, a song musically strongly linked to “Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn” but addressing the problem of the now more than 5 million unemployed in Germany. Musically and lyrically, the track is –due to these contradictory references- a perfect description of the social problems in post-industrial Europe, on the one hand once more satirically celebrating the sweat of hard industrial labour as the basis of post-war Europe (“von der Stirne heiß, rinnen muß der Schweiss”) but at the same time stating that this kind of work seems less and less available and/or suitable to people now (“5 Millionen – Denn die Zukunft muß sich lohnen”). More than any other, this song might mark a new beginning of DIE KRUPPS, recognizing that their original artistic approach towards work and industry themes in the early 1980s might not be at all out of date but in need of only a few adaptations to the context of the new decade and the global economy. In this sense, the return of the “Stahlophon” and the reduction of populist rock-elements in the KRUPPS performance might parallel the signs of a coming era that will be marked by more basic needs for work, energy and raw materials across the globe. Philosophically speaking, it might have occurred to society as well as to KRUPPS that the future can sometimes be found in the past. In this sense, the formerly explicit message of “Volle Kraft voraus!” could be transformed into the oxymoronic statement “Vorwärts, Kameraden – Wir müssen zurück! (Onward, comrades – We must go back!)”.
In this way, the second new track “Der Amboss” (featuring CLIENT) even more retro-stylistically connects the idea of industrial work (“Wir schlagen den Amboss”) with post-modern club culture (“Tanz mit mir!”) and even includes slightly erotic musical and lyrical elements. The result is a track that comes across like an obscure mixture of “Wahre Arbeit, wahrer Lohn” and DAF´s “Der Mussolini” done in a retro style but nevertheless with a state-of-the-art sound-mix. Forcing together the contradictory -but also self-stipulating- aspects of hard work on the one hand and ecstatic leisure time on the other brings to light the dramatic problem of “contemporary” western societies: offering aspects of leisure and entertainment on the broadest possible basis, but being incapable of offering enough “wahre Arbeit” for its citizens to participate in society and contribute the effort of “wahrer Lohn” to legitimately afford the comforts produced.
Coming full-circle, the time-travel ended with the another new mix of “Wahrer Arbeit, wahrer Lohn” (featuring Nitzer Ebb’s DOUGLAS MCCARTHY), performed with some additional guitar sound but also the most “original” elements of the “Stahlophon” and ENGLER´s whistle blasts, once again confronting the audience with the sociological and economical question of whether this image of work is a) out of date and b) if not, if it is then desirable or frightening.
Speaking in the industrial-economic mode that was a permanent trademark of DIE KRUPPS in their early days, the concert could be described as a good test performance of some first new machinery-prototypes and marketing strategies hopefully giving way to a successful resumption of mass-production. If DIE KRUPPS are able to reflect on their traditional methods again, and adapt them to the new challenges, they might be successful again in the same way as their predecessors: The “rings of steel” logo of the former steel and arms manufacturer KRUPP survived wartime- and post war disruption as a permanent symbol for “deutsche Wertarbeit” (German workmanship), and are now gliding towards the future on the advanced suspension-railway “Transrapid” built by the German industrial-trust THYSSEN-KRUPP in China. Maybe the shadow group who appropriated their logo will once again be able to create a successful cultural “Exportschlager”, stimulating discussion about industrial and post-industrial art, society and life.
Hanno Reichel is based in Berlin and is a regular contributor to http://www.nskstate.com/
die krupps site: http://www.dkay.de/krupps_index.html
thyssen-krupp/transrapid site : http://www.thyssenkrupp-transrapid.de/
photographer´s site: http://www.vorndranphotography.com/