“Radio-Activity”: how Kraftwerk went nuclear with their fifth album

At the time of Radioactivity, music critics were unsure how to interpret Kraftwerk’s ambivalent stance toward nuclear power. It may not have been helped by the way the band chose to promote the album. “They [our record company] sent us to a real Atomkraftwerk [nuclear power plant] for silly promotional photos,” Karl Bartos later explained. “While filming, I seem to remember that we suddenly had strange feelings.” With photos showing the group dressed in white protective suits and radiation bags over their shoes, it was unclear whether Kraftwerk endorsed nuclear power or simply co-opted the idea as a statement. clever artistry.

In a 1977 interview, Ralf Hütter attempted to set the record straight. “It wasn’t about saying good or bad,” Hütter said. “We are not in morality, but in realism.” Nevertheless, Kraftwerk would rework the song in 1991 to clarify their position. Their live broadcasts began to include overt lyrical references to notable meltdowns such as the Three Mile Island accident and the Chernobyl disaster, pleading with the powers that be to “stop the radioactivity”. Today, their position on the nuclear issue is clear.

“Suddenly, there was a theme in the air: the activity of the radios”

The idea that energy is part of everyday life is not limited to radioactivity: the next track on the album, the slow and ethereal Radioland, taps into radio waves. “Suddenly there was a theme in the air: the activity of radio stations,” said Wolfgang Flür. Having spent their youth playing with shortwave radios in their childhood bedroom, the idea of ​​making all-electronic music to convey the idea of ​​invisible electrical currents transmitting sounds to listeners’ ears was a masterstroke. . “Radio has always fascinated us deeply,” continued Hütter.

Using their synth-based ingenuity to celebrate the wonders of radio communication, Airwaves sit alongside a woozy Moog hook as Hütter speaks in his native tongue about how music brings people together (translation: “When the waves oscillate / Distant voices sing”). In the spirit of the great modernists of the past, Kraftwerk sees radio as a laudable positive technological evolution, tasked with bringing distant sounds into our collective antennae.

Comments are closed.