When the first Kraftwerk album came out, the line-up was long-time stalwarts Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider joined by drummer Klaus Dinger. Dinger had played drums on side B of the album, replacing Andreas Hohmann who had drummed on side A. This line-up definitely played live as there is TV footage of them but when they went to do a tour, the line-up was now Florian Schneider and Klaus Dinger joined by guitar player Michael Rother. For reasons unknown, Ralf (who, ironically, is the only original member in Kraftwerk these days) had left the band.
Whilst once this line-up was the subject of obscure footnotes, thanks to the Youtube age and their appearance on German TV, everyone has seen this line-up playing their one original song, the unreleased “Rückstoß Gondoliero” (sometimes known as “Truckstop Gondolero” because the TV announcer got it wrong). Just in case you haven’t, though, here it is:
Let me know if the link stops working. Anyway, An old bootleg circulated of this era that featured the audio of above performance alongside some very rough and ready audience recording of this line-up playing three songs that may or may not be off the first Kraftwerk LP. Then, just a few years into the 21st Century, an astounding new recording arrived onto the world wide web – a lovingly remastered professional radio recording of the lost line-up. It is fair to say, the tatty old audience recordings were instantly obsolete.
The release emerged with an interesting tracklist, but no explanations as to how the titles were chosen. The opening track is listed as “Heavy Metal Kids” an intriguing title but one that begs the question is this just the bootlegger referencing how heavy the music sounds or were Kraftwerk referencing William Burroughs? One thing is certain, it is heavy. It starts with with a repeating, deep sickening lurch of guitar, electronics and drum thud which picks up in pace until suddenly Rother does a massive Sabbathesque guitar chord of doom and Dinger breaks out into a slomo stomp. Rother begins to riff it along while Florian’s electronics seem to be duelling with him.
I have baffled a few music experts in my time with this one by playing the game “You know all these musicians very well, who are they?” and nobody has passed that one. That is because you are seeing a radically different side to all of the musicians. Rother is simply way heavier than anything he ever did subsequently. Dinger is slower. While Florian may be doing a similar line in electronics to “Kraftwerk 1”, the simple fact that he is involved in this is enough to throw people off the scent. As the track builds up to its frentic, fast climax, all you can do is lie back in wonder and awe that this is Kraftwerk.
From herein, the tracklisting given is a simple K and a number. So, “K1” comes next and starts off with some kinda wah-wah ish guitar electronics interplay and then builds up into a fast pace rock stomper. The cocky rock swagger of it is is quite astounding. Rother’s guitar playing is still as skilful and intricate as ever but just heavier and more rocked up. Thanks to the professional stereo sound we can really hear this details which were muddied on the previous audience taping.
Florian really is a backseat passenger a lot of the time on this one, squiggling his electrics while the other two just rock the fuck out. Some sources put “K1” down on the track listing as “Stratovarius”, the second track off the first Kraftwerk album. To be honest, while it may be derived from that song, it is so far removed from the original (bar the electronic wig-out finale and a little bit of melodic similarity in some of the riffing) that it is hard to relate it as anything other than a passing nod to its origins. This is not that Kraftwerk, baby. The crowd go wild.
The next track came from the source with the title “K2 (Ruckzuck)” and the audience cheer in delighted recognition as Florian plays that iconic, floaty flute riff. For the first time it starts to sound like Florian’s gig and then Dinger smacks out a heavy drum roll and Rother’s nabbed the riff for this guitar. Florian is sat in the back again. It’s not too hard to see what the future held for this line-up. The original album version is just short of eight minutes but this one nearly clocks up twenty including two false stops which trick the audience into early applause.
Its fair to say, they have them in the palm of their hands this night and the crowd begins a delirious chant of “Kraftwerk” over and over. “K3” begins with a bit of riffing from Rither and a frentic stomp off of Dinger. Florian joins in with more of the power station electronics. Pretty soon it starts to sound like the Rother we know from Neu! with those widescreen scenic riffs. Klaus still feels less motoric than we remember him but is still a thumping great rock drummer. They build it up and up in pace, until Dinger is crashing around madly and Rother is doing riffy rock doodles like the clappers. It really is bang your head time.
Then it suddenly goes into a weird breakdown, slows to a crawl and roars its way along to a staggered conclusion. Some later online tracklists credit the song as being “Von Himmel Hoch” or “Rückstoß Gondoliero” but bar Florian’s growling electronics towards the end, there is nothing here of either song
The last track, “K4”, is a strange beast. Florian plays what sounds like an electric violin and the Rother/Dinger juggernaut goes along at a slower but heavy and steady pace. The same sources that misidentify other songs on here claim this to be “Rückstoß Gondoliero” or even an early version of “Autobahn” but that is just wishful, wistful bollocks.
Florian’s change of instrument makes him higher in the mix and makes this feel like a proper trio gig at last. He takes the lead with some beautifully wild string work over the stoner rock groove of Rother/Diner. The swagger on this one is startling, just try sitting still while it’s blasting through your speakers.
And that is it. After the tour, they went into the studio and tried to capture the live act on record but there were creative tensions and the recording was aborted. Florian hooked back up with Ralf to make the more sedate “Kraftwerk 2” and Rother/Dinger formed Neu! The rest is rock n roll history. This is just a footnote, but a damn fascinating one and a lot of fun to boot.