Is the future already here?

Alexander Betancourt on 2020-01-24

An album review on Kraftwerk’s seventh record: The Man Machine

Photo by: Günter Fröhling | Image from The Man Machine photoshoot

Whatever the specific context is when someone discover Kraftwerk (or just their music), will always result in strangeness. If your case is the opposite, then I’m happy that this text is traveling trough galaxies.

This strangeness it’s positive as negative in the extent you want, I’m afraid that I can not assure you if this characteristic will be your entrance key to this fantastic music group created in the 70’s, but, what I can assure is that the singularity its not the best that the band has to offer.

Luckily, for me and you, I have the good news that I’m not here for talking about Kraftwerk, instead of that, I’ll talk about their The Man Machine, a literal translation from German and the title with which it was marketed in most places in the world the Die Mensch-Maschine (1978), let’s not take this translation lightly because is more than accurate.

Four artificial appearance men posing, all them dressed with the same outfit that in combination with the paleness in their faces, demonstrates the concept in this record. Is the characteristic tricolor that predominates in the album, the cover an its paradigm, a powerful red-black-white in reference to the soviet propaganda as El Lissitzky’s work (influence also seen in other bands like Franz Ferdinand).

They proposed the existence of the man-machine as a critic to the totalitarian regimes and how they snatch individual identity in the members of a society, as well as a perspective of our close relation with the robotic and the mechanic. It’s easy to infer that Kraftwerk suffered (and suffers) a fascination about the robots, technology and the cybernetics, and needed (and needs) to put it on the table to discuss it.

Kraftwerk it is not the future. We can’t look to a 1978 record and expecting predictions and the resolutions about what’s coming, The Man Machine is the manifesto on how were its present and how saw its future that today is; it’s a 40 years old manifesto that tales the perspective of four humans, germans, born in the postwar period, directly involved in a country divided by the cold war, aware that their nation and their generation needed a transformation; they turned back to look better forward.

They took the knowledge and the influence of the classic music, the science fiction, the electronics systems and everything else that they wanted to create their own and new musical and artistic aesthetics. Metropolis is a great example for showing us that, it is a clear reference to Fritz Lang’s movie and, at the same time, it’s a work itself, with it constant percussion barely changing and a defined and direct melodic line. Actually, ain’t necessary to know that in the 70’s the European Space Research Organisation (ESRO) build a micro-gravity laboratory called in the same way, to introduce us in the intoxicating feeling of space exploration of Spacelab.

Even when Neonlights it’s a mellow passage with almost 9 minutes length about a nightly city and The Model it’s a digestible electropop song, doesn’t mean that these are empty pieces, because in both cases we can observe a strong presence of their authors decisions. They’re not there as separated songs, they´re part of the same concept and what Kraftwerk wanted to say and do in that moment. Just because The Man Machine and The Robots are allusions to the machines, does not mean that denies or despises the creativity and the value of a person; the robotic it is not the opposite to the human.

Photo by: Günter Fröhling | Artwork by: Karl Klefisch | The Man Machine original cover

Any technology or machine created to this moment has been stemmed from us, how to talk about the inhuman in something created with the soul, effort and knowledge of our species? The robotics and the cybernetics are an extension of the human, not a polarized issue, again, our relation with it is close, and although changing, it’s our responsibility to lead it.

That’s why we shouldn’t look to The Man Machine or any artistic piece as the great answer to the new questions around the growing and fast technological advance: how it impacts in the legal and ethical field the cloning of human tissues?, how transparent and harmful the methods are to obtain the materials that satisfy the industry?, at which point someone or something is considered a cyborg and what it’s her/his/it status in the society?…

As the Kraftwerk members did it in the past, we can (and we should) look in the past not to glorify it, but to understand us a bit more, what are we, and specially, where are we going? Let’s take a look to The Man Machine as it is: a great artistic work that while we enjoy, also remember to rethink ourselves.

The Favorites

1.-The Man Machine 2.-Metropolis 3.-Neonlights

The great moment

The Man Machine 1:14–1:23 Although repeated several times during the song, in this fragment appears for the first time the climbing of “The man machine, machine machine, machine, machine, machine, machine, machine” and that’s what fascinates me. It’s like climbing the stairs while everything gets higher, and the tension increases knowing that at some point it will end, until it reaches the top and falls back into the following “machine”. A small climax again and again.

When and where?

Kling Klang Studios, Mintropstraße 16, Düsseldorf, Germany Recorded between 1977 and 1978 Released in May the 19th of 1978


Every image, musical piece or any copyrighted work used o referenced in this text, is used in the terms of fair use. I do not own the rights for these creations and my purpose is doing a musical review .