When I was 13 years old and just getting into “proper” music for the first time, most of the kids at my school were huge followers of heavy metal, in particular the short-lived phenomenon known as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. As a quieter and more bookish type (don’t laugh), I was the only person I knew of that age who worshipped instead at the altar of electronic music, in particular the German group Kraftwerk. I’m tempted to say I had the last laugh, for while the NWOBHM quickly floundered, Kraftwerk are still a formidable proposition. It’s unfortunate, though perhaps inevitable, that their rare concert in Austria this month takes place at a dance music festival, since Kraftwerk are still more often thought of in terms of their supposed “influence” on hip-hop and techno than their own music itself. Kraftwerk music is possessed of a shimmering, crystalline beauty, the simplicity and urgency of their melodies utterly beguiling. Although founder member Ralf Hütter is the only one left from the classic Kraftwerk line-up, in this case it hardly matters, since the individual personalities were long ago subsumed into a group identity that represents itself onstage in a stunning multimedia show including, at one point, the appearance of the legendary Kraftwerk robots. Impossibly dry and funny, at times sinister yet strangely hopeful and touching, Kraftwerk are the sound of the future turning back in on itself.
Just sneaking in under the wire this month is a welcome return to these shores by experimental drone metallers Sunn O))). Although the duo of Stephen O’Malley and Greg Anderson have played with a bewildering variety of other artists, their strongest music undeniably emerges from their work together as Sunn O))), a group originally conceived as a tribute to Earth, another band in this field. Yet in recent years Sunn O))) have outstripped Earth with their dark, mysterious and resonant music, which consists of deep, agonisingly slow guitar lines played amid a welter of feedback and the occasional anguished vocal. Live, they present an intriguing spectacle, playing at deafening volume, dressed in long, hooded robes and filling the room with industrial quantities of fog that add to the ritualistic aspect of the performance. Arrive early to catch the support slot from Vienna laptop maestro Peter Rehberg aka Pita, who plays with O’Malley as KTL.
Finally, I could hardly end this column without mentioning another Vienna concert by the German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, this time performing with his celebrated Chicago Tentet in the elegant surroundings of Porgy & Bess. This awesomely talented and expressive big band is now at the height of its powers, merging the delights of way-out jazz and free improvisation into an extended and delirious whole. Not to be missed.