THE MONITORS / UKINTERVIEW KARL BARTOS
By Kier Wiater Carnihan
Kraftwerk’s legendary Kling Klang studio was famous for containing many weird and wonderful electronic instruments, but one of the strangest was also one of the most mundane: the telephone. In order to avoid any irritating disturbances when the band were at work, it didn’t have a ringer. Occasionally, the story goes, a journalist with the rare opportunity of interviewing the band over the phone would be given a precise time to call, and at that moment one of the band, usually co-founder Ralf Hütter, would pick up the receiver. If there was no one there, he put it down again. That was it. You’d missed your chance. You could try calling as many times as you’d like, but no one would hear you.
Whether the tale is apocryphal or not, Karl Bartos seems less demanding than his former bandmate when it comes to punctuality. Which is fortunate for me, as a delayed train means I stumble into the Corus Hotel near Lancaster Gate fifteen minutes late for our scheduled meeting. If he’s annoyed, he doesn’t show it. Thoughtful and softly spoken while remaining opinionated and fond of speaking (which is fortunate, as this turns out to be his fifth 90-minute interview of the day), the only time he shows any sign of weariness is when he’s asked about musical equipment (presumably a few tech-head journos have been in already). He may have become famous as a robot but he’s relaxed and engaging in reality.
The youngest member of Kraftwerk, he initially joined as a percussionist but went on to be credited with some of their biggest hits, including ‘The Model’ and ‘Computer Love’. He’s also been the most creative since the band’s original line-up fragmented with Flür’s departure in 1987. Quitting himself shortly afterwards, Bartos went on to work with Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr’s Electronic, collaborate with Mark Bell of LFO fame, and produce two solo albums – 2003′s Communication and this year’s Off The Record, an album inspired by his own archive recordings. Yet the current incarnation of Kraftwerk, featuring only Hütter from the classic line-up, does cast a shadow. While not as outspokenly dismissive as Flür (whose amusingly bitchy review of the Hütter-led line-up’s hometown show earlier this year is worth reading), he still can’t quite bring himself to call them Kraftwerk, instead referring to them as “that band” much as he elsewhere refers to Hitler as “that guy”.
Despite his undiminished association with technology and electronics, he’s surprisingly dismissive of modern gadgets, nodding approvingly when he catches a glance of the scruffy notebook in which my questions are scribbled. “Old school!” he chuckles. “Handwriting is always the best. Don’t trust technology. It’s good to have it, but don’t trust it. Sometimes it breaks my heart if I see a 6-year-old with a tablet playing some silly game”. I mention reading about the invention of the iPotty, a toilet for toddlers with a stand to hold an iPad. He shakes his head, laughing. “No! Oh come on! Where are we gonna go?”. Not wanting to start speculating on the various ways shitting and technology might be combined in the future, we begin the interview by focusing on the past…