Kraftwerk - Tour de France Soundtracks

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(Astralwerks/EMI)

Ask most musicians of past and present to list their influences and it is a sure bet that the vast majority would have one common name in their lists. That name is Kraftwerk. After being one of the most influential electronic acts in history, Germany’s Kraftwerk return to the global platform. It seems Kraftwerk, and the general public has a lot to celebrate and reflect on.

Thirty-three years after first emerging, twenty years after first releasing the seminal classic – Tour de France – and seventeen years since their last album, Electric Caf, Kraftwerk deliver the latest in their legacy: Tour de France Soundtracks to coincide with the centenary of the legendary bicycle race of the same name. As the name suggests, this release heralds the reworking of the nineteen eighty-three track. For some, this is a musical paradox. That is, reworking a classic, fundamental track for modern times. Why? Well, drop the original Tour de France on a dance floor today and you can still see the hairs on the back of the punters necks stand to attention. It’s timeless.

A few critics have gone as far as slamming the re-release and some have questioned the extent to which Kraftwerk have developed or expanded over the twenty years as well as questioning the two ‘new’ members – Franz Hilpert and Henning’s Schmitz – roles in Kraftwerk. However, there is one thing to remember. In their advent, Kraftwerk were well ahead of their time. It took the remainder of the world a decade or two to catch-up to their innovation. And their music is still intensely in-tune with today’s musical world and culture. Kraftwerk have created their sound and this is still very much patented Kraftwerk territory, it is just slightly different. Now, to the release…

The beginning of Soundtracks starts out with a synthetic, airy snippet – Prologue before it delves, seamlessly, into the first part of Tour de France Etape 1. This revised Tour de France has been separated into three parts of varying length – Etape 1, Etape 2 and Etape 3, which follow sequentially on the release to create a Tour De France opus. Etape 1, Etape 2, Etape 3 are quite far removed from the original. There still remains that bubbly, percussiveness, which lies menacingly underneath the surface. There is still the mechanical Tour De France spoken to create the top layer and there is still that man and machine union ever present. Overall, however, these three segments are a lot darker, a lot moodier, a lot sparser and reach into the depths of minimalism. The strings of Etape 1 are mechanically heavier, but they’re lightened in ambience in Etape 2, before it returns to the dark synthetics in Etape 3. Around the three-minute mark of Etape 3, that bottled beauty of Tour De France (and a host of other Kraftwerk tracks of which Europe Endless comes to mine) shines. Its construction is still brilliant. This is not the Tour de France of 1983, but I don’t think it is trying to be.

This release also houses some new material from Kraftwerk and, as I said, this is still Kraftwerk territory. Chrono continues on from the close of Etape 3, in a similar manner. Vitamin enters with a light aloofness and an added quirk, ABCD Vitamin. Aero Dynamik explores the dark, electro depths. It is spatially juxtaposed and mechanic. Automatically, fragments of Isolee darted through my ears, that distinct synthesized treatment of sound, which extends itself into Titanium and Elektro Kardiogramm. The preferred choices from this soundtrack are – La Forme and Regeneration. It’s plastic beauty. Your ear is forced to shift with the scalic patterns and the abject sounds that float in from right and left. Then, to close, the original Tour de France enters and you remember the sheer brilliance of this track.

This work still embodies the thoughts of Kraftwerk. It should be treated as the new body of work that it is. There are fragments throughout this hour and a bit soundtrack that people will be able to draw something from and I think that is what is important.

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