NEWS 20040803: Aloha Magazine Interview with Ralf Hütter


Aloha Magazine, the Netherlands, 2004
Translated from Dutch to English by twingo
Also published on

Scans of the magazine on pages 1, 2, 3, 4


On the cover:
Kraftwerk. the German gods of elektro are talking.

Ahead, because of technology.
Never before a blank act was so succesfull with a music style developed by there own. That the German pioneers of techno of Kraftwerk are, after more than 35 years, still dedicated and weird, was noticed by Willem Bemboom, during an extraordinary long interview with Ralf Hütter. "We call ourselves workers of music: everything with us is about music and we do not want to be disturbed with that."

by Willem Bemboom.

"Reporter arrived"
"Taxi for Florian"
"Hotel or club"

It's Monday evening in Amsterdam, about 11 minutes before 23:00, The reporter is me, your reporter. Your reporter is at the front door of the Heineken Music Hall, which is guarded by an army of Kraftwerk fans, weaponed with album covers and felt-tipped pens. The Florian of the walktie-talkie is Florian Schneider, one half of the main duo of Kraftwerk. In about one minute the other half, Ralf Hütter, is prepared to receive Aloha for one time. That is rather unique, because normally Kraftwerk refrains themselves from any promotional activitities, in particular interviews. But today, March 29th 2004, Easter and Whitsun fall on the same day.
At the moment that Schneider steps into the elevator towards the ambush of signature hunters, I am guided up via the staircase. The otherwise by VIP's and security personal crowded corridor is tonight an empty, dead silent and fully lighted corridor, with here and there green direction signs - text they do not have, only dotted lines in the direction of the elevator and staircase.
Through the portophones of Kraftwerk's female roadmanager still sound the terms "Reporter", "Florian" and "Club". Schneider will go, as proper Kraftwerk habit, dancing in the city. Hütters dance event is being postponed, but this won't be for long. For a moment I have to think about a promotion lady, various persons from Mojo Concerts and a dozen other people who know already: "Count on 10 minutes, if you get 15 minutes, you are lucky. If he stops talking after 5 minutes, be happy what you have gotten." It's 10 minutes before eleven by now. I would not be surprised if the daily schedule is followed with militairy precision and states around 23:00: Leave of Ralf.
Again a person appears with a portophone. This time it is the tourmanager, who greets me with full name and details. It is the kind of reception which you also have in James Bond movies: remarkable friendly, correct, but distant and not refrained from any sentiment of distrust. Kraftwerk is not fond of any people who are just interested in looking. The serene tranquility and almost unbearable silence in the sterile hall on the top floor, sometimes alternated with some language text through the portophone, makes me even a little nervous. What am I about to expect? Is he gonna open his mouth at all? What if Hütter walks away after 5 minutes? Where is the trainstation? In my mind I strike my openings joke away, something with don't mention the war
Because of all the thinking I do not even notice that a man, dressed in black, has arrived, standing next to me. He introduces himself as "Ralf". He resembles a little to "Thé Lau" (twingo: Dutch musical artist). He seems to me a kind person.

One hour ago the same man was standing on the left of the stage, in a sold -out Heineken Music Hall, singing about his Pocket Calculator. And fahren on the Autobahn. And about the Tour de France. It's a strange experience, as was to be expected of the first Dutch Kraftwerk convert in 12 years time. Four gentlemen with increasing age, each behind a laptop, with on the background an immense projection screen. Hütter and Schneider, left and right flanking their studio-engineers Fritz Hilpert and Henning Schmitz. The four of them hardly looking towards eachother. More than 2 hours you would be dazzled with elektro pop classics: The Model, The Robots, Trans Europe Express, Radioactivity. Each track which made the current dance scene what it is now. Because everywhere you are hearing Kraftwerk in the modern pop music: Kylie has beats and bleeps, Daftpunk and Air stole the little atmospheres, Rammstein is as much as mechanical and in an even more grey past whole musical genras were created because of the creations of Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider. Because without Kraftwerk no Depeche Mode. No Zooropa (U2). No DJ Tiësto (twingo: most succesfull Dutch DJ). No House, dance or hiphop as we know it like now. Never before a white act influenced so much without having stolen it first from black music.
The "Krautrock Beatles" they are called. Autobahn was their Revolver, The Man Machine there Sergeant Pepper. But instead of a new Anthology a brand new album was released last year, Tour de France Soundtracks. Which is about the bands love for cycling. Next to Hütter and Schneider Kraftwerk consisted for years as well of the percussionists Karl Bartos and Wolfgang Flür. The first left in the nineties because of the extreme slow moving production proces of the two higher gentlemen. Flür already quitted end of the eighties, because he got more and more a stranger to the introverted Hütter and Schneider. And the ones who quit were kind of right: after the album Electric Cafe in 1986 Hütter and Schneider hided themselves in their mysterious Kling Klang Studio in Düsseldorf, in order not to release any new material for the next 15 years. Except the mix album The Mix ('91) and some little tours Kraftwerk wouldn't show anything. Press, fans, recordcompanies, just about everything which has got to do with the music business was banned out of there electronic little world. Only after Kraftwerk composed the leader of the World Expo 2000 in Hannover (a 4 second lasten vocoder voice saying "Expo 2000") the group allowed some interfearance from the outside world. And when the album Tour de France Soundtracks was released Hütter even dared himself into some rare interviews. Just as this evening.

Because of all the thinking I do not even notice that a man, dressed in black, has arrived, standing next to me. He introduces himself as "Ralf". He resembles a little to "Thé Lau" (twingo: Dutch musical artist). He seems to me a kind person.

Ralf Hütter, from head to toe dressed in black, seats himself comfortably, with his black shoulderbag (ready for departure), in an evenly black one and a halve seat sofa, in an empty room. He agrees to perform the interview in English. And I have to say, his English is correct, although he has this typical "'Allo 'Allo" accent (twingo: English TV comedy which lots of germans speaking English with a strong German accent). Once in a while he cannot remember a word in English and then he uses the German version. And how about his Dutch? "Well, I just tried to speak Dutch. That was with the introduction speech of Trans Europe Express, because we played that track for the first live in Paradiso in 1976. Yeah Paradiso……" (twingo: Paradiso is a famous music-temple in Amsterdam, still exists). Hütter leans backwards, is looking towards the wall and suddenly starts to humm the melody of Trans Europe Express, his head shakes from left to right. This he would do more often during the interview, illustrating a sound with a humm or imitation. He also constantly keeps smiling and is knocking his head "yes" with every question to indicate he understands the question. Interviews in the past confronted him with curious and direct quotes. Questions about the past, private life and other mysteries in the Kraftwerk world were answered with cryptic responses. Many times he "sampled" literaly old quotes when certain topics were addressed. That would not be any different tonight. But the Aloha magazine we brought for him, he scans briefly, and he asks if he may keep it, since he likes the magazine. "Really reading I would not do, but I can understand the words and the sentences, May I ?". He opens his black bag and a quick look into the bag learns that the colorfull head of Jim Morrison ends up in a bunch of unclear other black things. Even the bag of the man is mysterious.

You are not known for your openess towards the press and the fans. What was the reason that Aloha was awarded with this interview?
"Mmmh. It belongs to our records, Tour de France Soundtracks. We are currently busy with our Worldtour and a new live configuration for Kraftwerk. We used to bring our whole Klng Klang studio during. Now all is inside laptops. A totally new situation. It took us years to digitize all our material, because of this also little new music was released during the past years. But now we are ready and Klang Klang is all on a digital platform."

Since all fits into a laptop now, I guess you have lots of space in your studio?
"No, not really. We have digitized the whole bunch in order to store and keep it properly. Some of the oldest tapes had been touched by tie. Those were already 30 years or more in the archives. We are constantly busy with the latest equipment, but we never throw away the old ones. From all the models and types of the synths and sequencers, which we have used during the various Kraftwerk periodes, we have kept one prototype. The machine we used for Autobahn is still there. Florian's first homemade drumpads. Some equipment has a personal value, you understand?"

From all the models and types of the synths and sequencers, which we have used during the various Kraftwerk periodes, we have kept one prototype. The machine we used for Autobahn is still there. Florian's first homemade drumpads. Some equipment has a personal value, you understand?"

That is typical for Kraftwerk, to attach an emotional value towards an instrument.
"I do mean a collection value. We have old synthesizers, not so much because a certain sound or track was created with it, but also to create certain sounds, which are nowadays impossible to create with other instruments."

Describe how Kling Klang looks like inside?
"A bunch of old taperecorders, echo rooms, computers. It's an electronic garden. We like to perform some electronic gardening."

The location of the building is a well kept secret. Are you frequently "located"?
"Sometimes somebody comes all the way from Japan. But the doors are tightly closed and we are never inside on a regular basis. We concentrate ourselves onto the music and not on what's happening outside. We call ourselves "Musikarbeiter". Everything with us is about the music and we do not want to be disturbed with that.

And if people do knock on the door?
"There is no door to knock on. So that's easy, hahaha."

Many fans you won't meet in this way, because according to me you have very little contact with the outside world, during this tour.
"Ah, I do meet people sometimes. And we have friends."

To whom you refer to for any feedback?
"The audience. Since they give us vibes during the concert. On the basis of that you can judge if you are correct or not."

Are you never afraid that the enormous mask of secrecy will have a negative effect to the performance?
"Oh, we do not care about this. We just do our job, nothing more than that. We are musical professors which are maintaining there music. And as we have said before: we play the machines and the machines play us."

What was your first encounter with the phenomenom called synthesizer?
"My first synthesizer was a Mini Moog. I did not knew upfront how it would sound, but I had seen photos and had read about it. But a thing like that was beginning 70's difficult to obtain in Germany. Unreachable for us. I bought my import one through a studio connection and it was as expensive as my Volkswagen. Ah, my old grey Volkswagen…. That one you also see on the cover of Autobahn."

Are you and Florian after 34 years of corperation stills the same friends?
"Sure, it's even 36 years, since I met Florian 2 years before we builded the Kling Klang Studio and founded Kraftwerk. That must have been in '68. We are still very good friends. It's an electronic marriage between mister Kling and mister Klang."

That quote you use more often in interviews.
[Smiles and knocks his head] "…."

What would you say about: "electronic Mick and Keith"?
"Well, I don't know so sure"

In the meantime its past eleven hours and the tourmanager runs in for the third time during 15 minutes. His demanding look indicates that the schedule is rather messy again. He first looks me at me, then to Ralf, but he just give a smile and then again to me. Is that the sign to finish? "No, a little more." We now go for the full 20 minutes!

Your work has always been inspired by travel?
"Movement. Motion and Emotion."

I mean the themes: Autobahn, the train Trans Europe Express, the bicycle in Tour de France. How did you guys arrive today?
"We flew in from Hamburg."

What is, outside cycling, your favourite way of transport?
"We do not like to fly. Maar sometime it is unavoidable. Florian does a lot of routes by train, I travelled by train through the canal tunnel from England to Belgium. But the absolute favourite remains the bicycle."

What is it with this fascination for bicycles?
"Well, in the part of Germany where we live its kind of part of culture, just like here in the Netherlands. We once participated in the Amstel Gold Race (twingo: Dutch version of French Tour de France). Not the real race, but just the route. The touristic route. And all the mountain routes of the Tour.

Last year you have been visiting there, isn't it?
"Yes, we were busy with the the last remixing of the Tour de France when wer were invited. Late in the evening we departed from Kling Klang, flew to Paris, stepped into a helicopter and the next day we were in the car of oud-professional cyclist Duclos-Lasalle. We drove right behind Leblan [director of Tour de France]. Towards the Alpe d'Huez, which we had cycled as well a few years earlier. I once was a spectator of the Tour, but never experienced it from so close as this time. The concept of the Tour de France originates from '83 when we made our single. We ever wanted to make a movie on this, but the project got rather forgotten due to other things. When the Tour had its 100 year celebration we picked up where we had left. IN the single we saw the Tour as from a Satellite, Tour de France, Les Alpes, Les Pyrenes. Now we were right to the core: Tour de France, Radio Tour-information. This gave us just the right dimension for our new songs."

The people at the Tour knew who you were?
"No, and we did not promot that too much either"

Did you speak to Jan Ullrich?
"He was too busy with cycling."

Did you ever speak to him?
"No, neither did that."

They do call him the Man Machine, like your musical track?
"Yes, but in a different way, 'a Kraftwerk on two wheels'. Because he has so much energy in his legs. I liked to read that. He is indeed the Man Machine in full format. Cycling is very close to Kraftwerk. Time, movement, clear thinking. Exactly the same balance we use for our music. On the bicycle you listen to the wind and the rhythm of your breathing. Recharging our battery/And now we are full of energy. That piece of text is reality when we are cycling."

As a cyclist , it must be enormous tiring to watch for 2 hours to a (laptop) screen during a concert?
"No, that is not so much tiring. It's more all the things around a concert which makes you tired. The travelling, for instance. You do not get into a right rhythm due to all the timezones. You fly to Tokyo, play a full week every night and just when you get adjusted, you are already flying back, and then you can start again. You have to pay attention to your energy. Often this is very difficult."

Is it possible to cycle from Düsseldorf to the Netherlands?
"Yes, within one hour, about 30km."

So the chance is very high that in the neighbourhood of Nijmegen or Arnhem I am going to be passed by a high speeding bicycle?
"Venlo, mostly we end up in Venlo. Then we cycle alongside the river Maas to the south and from there we return to Düsseldorf. It's a rather windy part alongside the river Maas."

What do you know about the Dutch music scene. To what music you are going to dance tonight?
"I do not know yet, we still have to figure that yet. Make us a suggestion."

The name Tiësto rings a bell?
"mmh, not really, not that I know of."

During the concerts its kind of "blind contact" between us. Telepathy. Sometimes I use a subtle code with the fingertops. More we do not need.

I am so much a dancer. But the Supperclub (twingo: dance/lounge club in Amsterdam) is a place to have been to.
"Ah, that's a lounge eh? And until late I guess?, maybe, perhaps. Early tomorrow morning we will fly to Barcelona."

You are living in the world of Kraftwerk and cycling. But last year you were of of a sudden part of the pop world during the MTV Awards. What did you think of that?
"We tried to stay a little in the background, but we did speak to Kylie Minoque. She has a very good electronic vibe in her music. On what we did speak? Just nothing, just a little small talk, chit-chat."

Half an hour has passed already and the tourmanager is already for the seventh time next to the sofa. "Packing, would not be a bad idea", he suggests silently. I am allowed to ask one more question, but sneaky I managed to ask two. It's all ok to Hütter.

After 34 years of Kraftwerk , what are you most proud of?
"That we are still here and that we are moving forward. We have digitized all of our succesfull records and they wil be released under the name "The Catalogue". The music is still the same, however we have changed the artwork. The old covers always had something wrong: photos printed in mirror, bad looking innersleeves. In one stroke we did correct this all. Furthermore we will release a new album and a lot of concerts will come. That should be a nice thing to look out for."

One more time back to the concert. You were only looking towards your screens, not towards eachother. How did you guys communicate during the show? Email? Messenger?
"No, during the concerts its kind of "blind contact" between us. Telepathy. Sometimes I use a subtle code with the fingertops. More we do not need."

"Ok, ok, ofcourse we also have our microphones and screens. But if it really goes wrong, only one quick look is sufficient."

In two minutes it's 23:30 and then Ralf Hütter, 58 years, can finally go to his disco.