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DEPT.

Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterbation: Kraftwerk at MoMA

By Bob Nickas


Kraftwerk, Trans-Europe Express, 1977

Yesterbation. What is that? It sounds so familiar, like being overly-familiar with yourself, and not in a good way. We first heard the term emerge from the deep dark lips of Kembra Pfahler, of the Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Yesterbation is an indulgence we are all at one time or another guilty of. It is the bad habit of being overly nostalgic, and not necessarily for something that was ever experienced the first time around. The audience for anything will eventually die out, and unless it's replaced, the possibility for eternal returns (and financial returns) is in grave danger. It's very likely that without yesterbation there wouldn't even be a Nostalgia-Machine. And so this form of cultural self-abuse, which remains one of the most reliable methods of social control, is necessary to help perpetuate the shadow corporation we all work for, or intern for, commonly referred to as Reality. Engaging in this not-so furtive—even shameful—activity may lead, pathologically speaking, to historical blindness. Of this we can't be sure. Tests are being conducted, results as yet unconfirmed.

In the meantime, you may be one of the thousands worldwide who did not manage to get tickets to the upcoming Kraftwerk shows at New York's Museum of Modern Art. There will be eight in all, billed as "Kraftwerk – Retrospective 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8." Presented chronologically, on each night the group will perform one of their albums in its entirety, followed by selections from their über-glorious career. Between April 10 and 17, select guests and some very lucky ticket-holders will get to hear Autobahn (1974), Radio-Activity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978), Computer World (1981), Techno Pop (1986), The Mix (1991), and Tour de France (2003). Bands performing—and even re-forming to play—landmark albums in their entirety is nothing new. This is the highly lucrative side of nostalgia, and no one seems immune. Even the Sex Pistols reconvened for their "Filthy Lucre" tour nearly 20 years after they famously splintered, and the great industrial giants Throbbing Gristle, who announced in 1981 that the "Mission Is Terminated," made a return to performing and recording in 2004. Back on Planet Rock, never mind that Kraftwerk's earliest, and in some ways more adventurously organic compositions will not be performed. Indeed, the albums Tone Float (1970), released by an embryonic form of the group under the name Organisation; Kraftwerk (also 1970); Kraftwerk 2 (1972); and the exceptional Ralf and Florian (1973), are not part of the program at MoMA. And neither is founding member Florian Schneider, who retired from the group three years ago, leaving Ralf Hutter its only original member. But no matter. Unlike bands such as the Strolling Bones, who need Mick and Keith to survive, Kraftwerk can continue no matter who's on stage. As long as their instantly recognizable image and sound is projected, as long as the illusion is maintained and an audience is willing to participate in the spectacle of the illusion, there will always be a Kraftwerk. In a world where everyone is infinitely replaceable, Kraftwerk self-evolved as the perfect corporate model, the embodiment of and "perfection of a fantasy." According to the museum's press release:

"In contrast to all former presentations, where Kraftwerk videos, visuals, or the “robots” were presented in a museum context but performances were staged as concerts, MoMA is realizing a groundbreaking new display: the first synthetic retrospective to present, simultaneously and in one location, Kraftwerk's complex layers of music, sound, videos, sets, and performance as a total work of art."

A total work of art, or, as the Germans would say, Gesamtkunstwerk. How all of this and an audience is supposed to be crammed into the museum's Atrium is a bit of a mystery. As a space for live music, its terrible acoustics will be daunting for even a clever audio engineer. The Atrium is only large in terms of its volume—its great height. It's suitable for towering sculptures or a herd of giraffes. But as far as floor space is concerned, they don't have an expansive amount of square footage. So how many people can it hold, and where will all the equipment go, and the men-machines themselves? Have you ever been in MoMA's Atrium? It's really not that big, certainly not spacious enough to accommodate an event of these proportions. The museum's press release states that "Kraftwerk anticipated the impact of technology on art and everyday life, creating sounds and visuals that capture the human condition in the age of mobility and telecommunication." And yet no one seems to have anticipated the fact that many thousands would want to attend performances that will probably only accommodate hundreds. And how, in the "age of mobility and communication," is it that the company contracted to sell tickets for MoMA didn't realize that their system would almost instantaneously overload with the crushing demand? Most who logged on to buy tickets were unsuccessful, waiting and waiting only to be denied. A new form of tech-no. From Computer World to Frustration World. Nein! ShowClix has sold tickets to MoMA events before, but maybe they've never set foot in the Atrium itself. Anyone who has will tell you that trying to put on a Kraftwerk concert in the Atrium is about as realistic as trying to send the Trans-Europe Express over the JMZ line. And the people at the museum didn't have a clue? The strategies of the art world don't differ all that greatly from those of the elite business world, and supply must always magnify, not satisfy, demand. 


Klaus Biesenbach at a V Magazine Halloween party

A letter of apology from NoTix CEO, Joshua Dziabiak, in which he referred to the ticket sales as "a debacle," was posted almost immediately on ShowClix. He refers to his company as having been founded by a "team of live entertainment and technology addicts," and insists that "contrary to some reports ... our servers never crashed or went offline." He suggests, as all good CEOs do these days, that the source of the problem lies in human error. Although he says that he's not able "to disclose the number of tickets that were available for these performances," this in itself is incredibly telling. MoMA probably won't let him. What museums are attracted to, what MoMA in particular is enamored with, is the aura of exclusivity. It's clear that ShowClix was only allowed to sell a very small block of tickets to this event. What Dziabiak does admit is the fact that "of the tens and tens of thousands of die-hard Kraftwerk fans from around the world [who tried to get tickets], the venue capacity restrictions would only ever allow approximately 1.20% of them to actually be reserved." Despite an email from MoMA curator Klaus Biesenbach, sent out the day before online sales began, in which he claimed that there would be no guest list, that the process was democratic, with a first-come, first-served policy, it's simply not believable. One of the reasons that there were so few tickets available to the public is because the museum needs to accommodate their special patrons and friends, including FvK—Freunde von Klaus. Surely some places have been reserved for celebrities such as Marina Abramovic, Michael Stipe, Terence Koh, and Antony Hegarty? And the press has to be there, or it won't really have happened. And there must be a VIP lounge, if only to demarcate the space between the stars and the extras, between "all access" and none. In stadium rock (and now museum rock), the audience is not comprised of individuals, but a mass of bodies, as if assembled at an immense rally. They can be made to stand in long lines, waiting hours to be granted entry, the visible sign of passage and exclusion.

But let's not complain too loudly. After all, Klaus Biesenbach practically invented Kraftwerk. He founded Kunstwerke, the contemporary art space in Berlin. He believes that life is a performance. And he himself is sort of robotic. "Ja tvoi sluga, ja tvoi Rabotnik." Never mind that not one single MoMA board member sat interminably in front of a computer vainly attempting to buy tickets. According to Gothamist, "one ticket scalping site currently has a single ticket on sale for $42,413." Can this be for one night? Or is it for the whole run of eight? And if you happen to have 42K burning a hole in your pocket, why not make a down payment on a house. Maybe on the outskirts of Dusseldorf. And then Kraftwerk can be your neighbors. Whoever they are.

What's really galling is that you know perfectly well plenty of uptown stiffs will go to these shows to make the scene and be photographed, catch a couple numbers, and split. The clusterfuck of the crowd alone, or Klaustrophobia, will make them head for the exits. And then there's the "You're So Vain" problem (as in the lyric, "You're so vain, you probably think this song is about you"), when the well-heeled are confronted with Kraftwerk's "Showroom Dummies." As some have remarked, plenty in the audience will only be there because it's at MoMA. They didn't go to the phenomenal show at the Hammerstein Ballroom back in 2005. There's no cachet to that. And they certainly didn't see them 30 years before at the New Century Theater in Buffalo, New York, for their 1975 Autobahn tour. That show was promoted by a team who went by the name Harvey and Corky. Not as glamorous as "Presented by the Museum of Modern Art." The price of admission in Buffalo was only $5.50, and the opening band was Sparks! There's a ticket stub for sale on eBay, with a Buy It Now price of only $21.98. Ah... yesterbation.

Previously – Catch as Catch Can

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