Icebreaker perform Kraftwerk Uncovered A Future Past: The Interview

Following their highly successful Brian Eno/Apollo tour, Icebreaker are turning their focus on another contemporary electronic pioneer – Kraftwerk. German sound-scape artist and composer J. Peter Schwalm has created a new work for Icebreaker based on material from a range of Kraftwerk tracks. Drawing deeply on the imagistic and sonic legacy of Kraftwerk’s back catalogue from the little known radical early albums, to iconic material from Autobahn, Computer World and Trans-Europe Express, Schwalm articulates their journey from experimental krautrock band to international icons. Described as the eyes to Schwalm’s ears, Sophie Clements, a long time collaborator of Schwalm, and Toby Cornish are producing an accompanying film for this work. Filmed almost entirely in the Ruhrgebeit, the district from which Kraftwerk famously come, the film makes direct reference to Kraftwerk’s heritage, setting the scene, for a picture of Germany at the time of early Kraftwerk, whilst at the same time touching upon themes ever-present in Kraftwerk’s vision – technological progress, and man’s relation to it.A purposeful departure from the dehumanised high-tech of the current Kraftwerk shows, the show references an earlier era of technological and industrial innovation, and the experimental or avant-garde film and sound work that came as a result, presenting at the same time a nostalgic vision of a ‘future’ now passed, and a modern reworking of a lost utopian dream.

The show will premiere Friday January 24, 2014 at the IMAX at Science Museum in London( CLICK HERE FOR ALL TOUR DATES IN UK ), where we’ll be attending for a live review and photo report. In the meanwhile, enjoy our interview with Icebreaker. 

Q: First Brian Eno, now Kraftwerk: what inspired you to re-imagine such icons and why did you pick them?
A: The Brian Eno project kind of landed in our lap – it was the brainchild of Tim Boon, Head of Research at the Science Museum, and he asked us whether we’d like to be play the music.  The idea of doing a live version of Apollo in the context of the 40th anniversary of the moon landings and with the Apollo film was fantastic, so we obviously were very keen to be involved.  But that set the ball rolling on the idea of dealing with electronic music in a live setting with acoustic (albeit amplified) instruments, and we discussed with Tim Boon what our next project would be.  Various options came up, but Kraftwerk seemed like the logical next step because they are kind of the other side of the coin in terms of ’70’s/’80’s electronic music – everything that came after, in terms of electronic music, relates and is influenced by one or other of these artists, probably both.  We’re keen to take this theme further, developing versions of more recent music (including the Barry Adamson tracks we are playing on the subsequebnt dates on the tour), but Eno and Kraftwerk needed to be in there first.

Q: How difficult was it to turn the concept you had in mind for Kraftwerk works into a feasible show?
A: It was a lot more difficult than Apollo, because for that we were dealing with an arrangement of one album, in combination with a pre-existing film.  With Kraftwerk there were a lot of issues, such as which music do we want to select, what do we want to do with it – Icebreaker doing Kraftwerk covers wouldn’t be very interesting – plus Kraftwerk still actually play live, so if we are doing something it has to be a very different perspective.  The starting point was, like Apollo, the question of what it means to translate something created electronically in a studio into live performance music (albeit with a fair amount of modern electronics involved), but we wanted to make it an exploration of Kraftwerk’s radical roots and to put Kraftwerk’s music into a wider artistic context – more on that in the following question.

Q: How do your versions of Kraftwerk works fit in the modern world?
A: That is part of the question of what the nature of the show is.  A lot has changed in the 40 years since Autobahn was released, both in terms of classical contemporary and pop/rock/electronic music.  I was keen to relate Kraftwerk (and Eno)’s music to minimalism and other types of experimental music.  Kraftwerk came out of the experimental “Krautrock” scene of the early ’70’s (Eno out of the English experimental scene), and their early albums are pretty radical.  Even Autobahn is predominantly experimental – most of side two, and large parts of the extended titel track – and musically there are strong links with the repetitive minimalism of Reich/Glass etc (in the same way that Eno’s music relates to the drone minimalism of LaMonte Young / Phil Niblock / Eliane Radigue etc).  40 years ago there was pop/rock music and classical music and never the twain etc, but now, not only is the a considerable overlap in music being produced now, there is the dawning realisation that most people back in the ’70’s, both classical and non-classical, were basically doing the SAME THINGS, its just nobody realised it at the time. I should also add that, altho this is a live experience with live musicians playing real music, there is also a strong electronic element with Peter Schwalm doing live processing on the music we play, and that means translating the music into a modern electronic sound world as well.

Q: What should the public expect from Kraftwerk Uncovered Live?
A: Well despite all the analytical shit I’ve just written above, I hope the main thing is that the audience will get a very exciting show, with very original treatments of material from various Kraftwerk tracks, and a brilliant film by Sophie Clements and Toby Cornish, that comments on and develops themes from the music and Kraftwerk’s world, including a lot of footage filmed in the Ruhr Valley, where Kraftwerk came from.   I think the music is very visceral and exciting.  Its a long way from being straight versions of the original tracks, but there are a lot of recognisable themes from Autobahn, from some of the early albums, and also from Computer World.  Also, if you come to the Science Museum show, you’ll get a lot more stuff revolving around Kraftwerk, with talks, Kraftwerk arrangements played by the Balanescu Quartet, a documentary about Krautrock and an exhibition, so I hope that is going to be a really exciting evening.

Gessica Puglielli
Visual/Web Designer, Digital Marketing Strategist born in Lecce (Italy), I currently live in London. Between 1998 and 2005 I collaborated with Michael Jackson’s staff and in 2000 I had a meeting with the man himself. I founded Rebel Rebel in 2013 and so far it has been an exciting journey. Some of my favourite artists include Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Skunk Anansie, Depeche Mode, Pink Floyd, Archive, Kraftwerk, Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Anthony & The Johnsons, Gazpacho, The Maccabees, Led Zeppelin, Brian Eno, Beethoven, Bjork, Steve Wonder and many others. I feel a deep connection to animals and Mother Nature, which led me to choose a vegan lifestyle. I like playing electric guitar, photography, cinema, art, entertainment, travelling, playing tennis and browsing London.