With the last original output from everyone's favourite Teutonic electro-pioneers coming in 2003 (the divisive 'Tour De France Soundtracks'), this August will see the 10th anniversary of waiting for a new album to appear. Of course, Kraftwerk fans will know this is nothing new. After the 1970s heyday of the group, when their workrate was far more prolific (garnering seven albums in ten years), the pace began to slow, BIG TIME. A three-year wait for 1981's 'Computer World' was followed by a five-year gap before the disappointing 'Electric Cafe'. A further five years passed before 1991's greatest hits/re-recordings package 'The Mix' (which again split fans on the morals of reworking their back catalogue and whether this was strictly necessary). Since then of course, the Klingklang studio in Dusseldorf has remained fairly silent, with the cobwebs only being blown away for 2003's aforementioned 'Tour De France Soundtracks'.
Despite a fairly constant stream of touring and live performances (for which we should be thankful - these chaps aren't getting any younger, yet still manage to pull off the neon-grid stage suits that make them look like extras from 'Tron'), including the critically acclaimed residency at London's Tate Modern gallery, there has been a singular lack of anything new in a melodic sense reaching our ears. Ralf Hutter, being the sole mastermind of the group after his friend and co-founder Florian Schneider left, is fairly well versed in providing the odd surreal interview. In these, he assures us via means of a robotic mannequin 'talking' to a journalist that the four media-shy musicians are beavering away at new material (but only during office hours - Hutter has been keen in past interviews to stress that Kraftwerk are 'musical workers' - more of that later), and a fresh album will be 'imminent'.
The only problem with Kraftwerk's definition of 'imminent' is it probably involves an event happening any time in the next half-century. It certainly seems Guns 'n' Roses frontman Axl Rose learnt all he knows about long gestation periods for albums from them, judging by the thirty-seven-or-how-many-years-it-was wait for the turgid 'Chinese Democracy'. Playing off the group's robotic image, it's entirely possible that Kraftwerk have not been making new music at all, but have rather been manufacturing cyborg clones of themselves that can replicate their playing style, and essentially create new Kraftwerk compositions for the next thousand years (with a few decades rest between releases, of course - we don't want people getting too excited). Alternatively, it could just be there German perfectionism that has meant entire truckloads of new material has been binned for not having quite the right tone on the vocodered vocals, or perhaps a sequenced synthesiser pattern was just TOO left-field to make any sense to the casual listener.
So then, to fill in the blanks of this most elusive of bands, Musicmuso.com presents a timeline of the group from the release of their last album, to the 'upcoming' release of their next...
5 AUG 2003 - Kraftwerk convene for a 'post-album completion efficiency meeting', where they discuss how well the recording process went for their first original album in 17 years. The general consensus is that 86.53% of the album was completed according to schedule, but that ideally, another seven months could have been devoted to ensuring the snare drum sounds were 'just right'.
NOV 2003 - The band are given a welcome respite from their post-album activities when they are invited to play the MTV Music Awards, and are as baffled as anyone else when Australian pop-midget Kylie Minogue introduces them onstage. They perform 'Aerodynamik', a track that doesn't feature the words 'Tour De France', and is therefore less likely to rile longterm fans who can't really understand why they've made an album based around a 1983 track that appeared in a movie about break-dancing.
2004 - Kraftwerk play a gig in Brixton, London, where I attended and got chatting to an overweight man from Croydon about what their best album was. I also shared a Tube back to my hotel with a carriage of menacing looking skinheads, who probably weren't at the concert. Back at Kraftwerk HQ, Hutter tries to manage the world tour himself, but is met by opposition to his plan to cycle to each country on the schedule, with the other three band members scuppering the idea by mangling Hutter's bicycle. Florian Schneider is reported to have said: 'I like cycling as much as the next man, but contrary to popular belief, we are not robots. We experience chafing as much as anyone else. Ralf's plan is crazy.'
JULY 2004 - The group hold a meeting to discuss plans for the follow up to 'Tour De France Soundtracks'. After seven hours of discussion, they decide they are 'creatively burnt-out' and decide to reconvene in January 2005 to discuss the matter further. In the meantime, they shall have a cup of tea.
JAN 2005 - The second attempt at a group meeting goes much better, with Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider planning a concept album about wind power. 'The Other Two' (come on, you don't know their names either) shuffle out the room quietly as the two founding members discuss what type of wind turbine would look nice on the front cover of the record.
JUN 2005 - The band release their first ever live album, 'Minimum/Maximum'. This is, in itself, a joke as any Kraftwerk fan worth their salt already has a pile of live bootleg albums that are - whisper it - a much better live document of their back catalogue than this extremely well-played yet sort-of-indistinguishable-from-the-studio-originals set of recordings. An accompanying DVD is also released, marking the first venturing into this media since they became popular around...well, 1998. So much for being pioneers. A spanking box set version containing both CDs and DVDs of the live material is released in the shape of a lap-top computer. 'It's a nice box set' the band agree. 'People will be pleased to have this on their coffee tables, pretending it is a real lap-top.'
APR 2006 - Kraftwerk, in a fit of sudden creative violence, record 36 tracks in a 24-hour period. Blitzing themselves on Red Bull, biscuits and Skittles, they collapse onto the Klingklang studios comfortable leather sofas at the end of the session and listen back to the fruits of their labour. 'It's too commercial' Hutter remarks, slowly dozing off. 'I'm getting too old for this shit' Schneider yawns. The Other Two telephone for a pizza. The DAT tapes of the recorded material is methodically wiped, and everyone goes home bitterly disappointed.
DEC 2007 - Will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas writes to Kraftwerk's studio asking if he can 'lay down some dope beats and sick rhymes' on a record with them. All four band members regard the letter with open-mouthed fury, before balling it up and throwing it out the window. Back home, Will.i.am assures his manager that 'the boys in Dusseldorf will write back soon.'
NOV 2008 - Florian Schneider parts company with the group after being with them for four decades. He refuses to say whether the rather slow progress on their new album is a key issue in his decision to leave, but states he would like to pursue a solo career. Fast forward four-and-a-half years and his solo output remains...um, zilch. But his debut solo LP is probably 'imminent', so don't worry.
MAY 2009 - At a loss without Schneider, Hutter takes a holiday in Cornwall and temporarily joins a hippy commune on the outskirts of Bodmin. He takes up folk guitar and wearing a long beard. He forms a wandering minstrel band called The Trees Have Hearts, and performs in several local pubs. It is only when The Other Two, unable to enter the Klingklang studio because Hutter has the only key and Schneider won't return their calls, travel to Bodmin, shave his beard off, break his guitar and snap him out of his hippy brainwashing via a 72-hour period of enforced listening to Karlheinz Stockhausen compositions, that Hutter regains his former personality and agrees to travel back to Germany.
2009 - 'The Catalogue' box set is released. To save the band from wasting any creative juices on new musical compositions that fans might want to hear, they instead release the fruits of their remastering labours by casting the albums Autobahn, Radioactivity, Trans Europe Express, The Man Machine, Computer World, Electric Cafe, The Mix and Tour De France Soundtracks out in lavish new packaging, hoping that nobody will notice the set contains absolutely no new or unreleased material whatsoever, save a track called 'House Phone' that was relatively rare unless you were an avid collector of Kraftwerk 12" singles during the 1980s. 'It's a nice box set' the band agree. 'People will delight in having this on their bookshelves. Plus it can be used to stave in the head of a burglar in an emergency.'
2011 - Hutter plans to re-record 1991's 'The Mix' album one weekend, but even he realises that he wouldn't be able to get away with re-recording a batch of re-recordings, even if it is on the shiny new mixing desk that has been installed in Klingklang studios with the savings they made from not paying Florian Schneider any wages.
2012 - Ralf Hutter suggests that the band's first three albums, the commercially successful 'Kraftwerk', 'Kraftwerk 2' and 'Ralf Und Florian' may be re-released in remastered form 'after the release of their next studio album'. Estimates on a release date for this range from 2014, right up to the death of planet Earth when it is destroyed in a hail of super-storms, meteor strikes and eventual galactic implosion. But hey, it gives them something to focus on instead of recording new songs.
MARCH 2012 - Kraftwerk, bored of making new songs, decide to descend upon the Museum of Modern Art for a week-long retrospective residency exploring the eight studio albums featured in 'The Catalogue' box set in the live environment. The series of shows is a critical success, but mainly because they are performed with accompanying 3D visuals. Because 3D is like, SO the shit right now and is what the kids want. Famed for their pioneering antics with electronic music in the 1970s, Kraftwerk are instead now offering a visual element to their concerts that first came about around 1915. Nice work, chaps.
2013 - After the fun they had at the MOMA in New York, the lads play the Tate Modern in London, to more critical and commercial acclaim - so much so that they crash the gallery's website but generally bring the house down by once more performing their eight albums in order.
APR 2013 - Hutter breaks radio silence and sends the internet into overdrive again by claiming that progress is being made on their new studio album. 'It will be a thing of beauty' he remarks. 'It will also be so advanced and pioneering that it will be released on a format that none of today's musical technology will be able to play. For this reason, we must delay the release of the album until 2020. But the actual record will be finished imminently.'
And that, electro-fans, brings us to the present day. Will we ever hear new music from Kraftwerk? Do bears shit in the woods? Actually, the answers there are 'probably not' and 'yes, probably', so don't really correlate that much, but for now, the best advice is brace yourself, hunker down and stick 'Computer World' on repeat. We could be in for a long wait...