EMUSIC / USAINTERVIEW: KARL BARTOS
By Andy Battaglia
(...) More recently, after a stint as a professor in Berlin, Bartos revisited archival sounds he made during his Kraftwerk years and refashioned them in the form of Off the Record, an album full of taut, allusive synth-pop songs that signal back to the past while peering toward the future. Over Skype from Berlin, Bartos talked about both with a mix of objective dispassion and palpable excitement — characteristics that play into the music he favors more than 60 years after he was born. (...)
(...) Did you not think the music significant, personally? Did it feel powerful and new to you, or not necessarily?
We felt we were always some sort of pioneers in terms of production. Before the computer arrived in the studio we had good analog machinery working, with sequencers and electronic drum devices. They were custom-made, and we always thought, “When will the black guys from America discover that a drum box can have a really groovy beat?” Finally, they did! I remember, when I visited, going down the streets of Manhattan and seeing a guy with a boombox, or ghetto blaster, and doing some weird dancing. Now I would call it “breakdancing,” but I didn’t know it at the time. They were listening to loops of Trans-Europe Express, a segment from “Metal on Metal,” and they were head-spinning and stuff like that. That made me really happy. (...)
(...) In your song “Without a Trace of Emotion, “you sing “I wish I could remix my life to another beat.” What did you mean?
Everybody keeps referring to my former band because it got so important over 40 years of existence. But I’m quite ambivalent about it. Sometimes it’s nice, because people are interested in my work still and I have contributed to some famous songs that became evergreens. But sometimes it’s really annoying that I always have to work so hard to get even close to the same reception for my music now. (...) Maybe in 30 years from now people won’t want to be so picky with my solo stuff. With that song in particular ["Without a Trace of Emotion"], I was trying to work this out. I came up with a story where I meet Herr Karl, which was the name of Kraftwerk showroom dummy, and I start a conversation with him. I talk to him and he talks to me. “I won’t let go, I won’t let go,” he says. And I tell him, “Red shirt, black tie, you’re history, you’re history.” I made a video for it, and it shows Herr Karl in all of his costumes: a red shirt, a Tour de France outfit, acting like a model. It became really funny without being comic. You can see me walking on this famous street in Hamburg where the Beatles used to play — I live very close by. Then suddenly I am passing this Panopticon and see Herr Karl. I had to do it just once in my life, to make it subject of an album and especially one song. “Without a Trace of Emotion” sums it up for me very well. (...)