“They are evil,” splutters the Christian fundamentalist skinhead brandishing a huge billboard embossed with the legend ‘TURN TO JESUS OR BURN IN HELL!’ “They shoot fire and spray their audience with a giant dildo – they are evil, sin-loving, immoral Satanists.”
The earnest young man outside San Francisco’s century-old Warfield Theatre is tonight protesting at the appearance of Germany’s foremost industrial rockers Rammstein. As a one-man picket line, his choice of bugbear is somewhat indiscriminate: either side of the theater are hardcore sex shops, while dealers, junkies and street prophets clutter the sidewalk alongside fans who look like extras from biker vampire flick The Lost Boys.
“Dildos are perverted,” he continues loudly, simultaneously allowing two giggling, large-breasted ladies to rub up against him for a quick photo. “Rammstein are disgusting and sinful! They give out an evil message – perverted sex – and it’s wrong!” Judging by both the surroundings and tonight’s sold-out house, in actual fact, Rammstein would seem to have it very, very right.
Bassist Oliver Riedel sits quietly backstage in a small room dominated by incense and candles. He is joined by a youthful tour translator: Rammstein’s English is rudimentary at best. The shy Riedel nurses a decidedly undiabolical latte grande. Both men are unswervingly polite. Neither is currently brandishing a dildo or even a box of matches. “I think,” starts Riedel, “that it is very important people understand that those are characters who take the stage in Rammstein, those are characters who execute the performance and offstage we are not like them.”
Unlike their primary influence – Slovenian crypto-fascist funsters Laibach – Rammstein have fully cracked the international egg of fame thanks to their canny use of fire and explosions.
“Explosions are an international language,” reckons Riedel. “They are instant and translate to the same reaction everywhere. Almost everything we do is motivated by the desire to shock and provoke people.”
This desire is in part inspired by growing up in pre-unification East Berlin. “We had no freedom, we had no music and we had no films,” says Riedel firmly, “it was impossible to find anything creative in the mainstream. The only hope was the extreme underground scene, but even that was very restricted.”
“We weren’t even sure what was happening in the West. That oppression made people more creative because there was little to do but make things happen yourself, but it still wasn’t fun. Two of the band ended up leaving before the Berlin Wall came down.”
And the most subversive music to catch Rammstein’s ears as youths?
“Definitely Western pop music. Cyndi Lauper. Things like that were seen as very dangerous.”
Since Rammstein formed in 1993, their career has moved pretty sharpish. It was the band’s 1995 debut album, ‘Herzeleid,’ that weirdo arthouse director David Lynch took the closing track ‘Rammstein’ from, using it alongside Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson on the soundtrack to Lost Highway. This lead to an immediate international buzz which was validated by the platinum success of second album ‘Sehnsucht.’ Their newest album ‘Mutter,’ meanwhile refers not to inaudible speech but is German for ‘mummy.’ What exactly is it that makes mother so important? “Universally, what we are dictated by how we were brought up,” states Riedel. “Motherly love is crucial, and when that motherly love is missing, life is very tough.”
There’s not too much motherly love floating about when the house lights give way to an eerie slasher movie-style soundscape. White-coated attendants lead six ambling ‘guests,’ clad only in their underwear, through a whirl of mist to their stage positions. Screaming bright lights and very, very loud music reveal men in black with dyed-red hair and mohawks, standing stiffly with instruments in-hand. The crowd goes wild as a firebomb goes off. Singer Till Lindemann, replete with comedy postcard punk mohican, rumbles the all-German lyrics, casually shooting flames from his hands as guitarists Richard Kruspe-Bernstein and Paul Landers toss riffs around like lump hammers.
It’s a relentless, stringently militaristic display of power, illustrating why some have accused Rammstein of harboring fascist sympathies.
“We have nothing to do with fascism at all,” states Riedel after the show. “This was something which the German media stirred up and they are totally wrong. One thing is that Till sometimes rolls his ‘r’s when he sings, and traditionally, when you roll an ‘r’ in German it means that you are right wing. But we will always go out of our way to make sure people now that we are not fascists.”
During ‘Links 2 3 4,’ ‘Mutter’ and ‘Du Hast’ the pyro stunts reach a blazing crescendo. Guitars are blown up, brighter flashbombs go off, drummer Christpoh ‘Doom’ Schneider’s sticks explode and Lindemann wears a fire-breathing mask from which he belches six-foot flames. It’s deeply preposterous. Yet after 20 minutes the spectacle all gets a bit wearing, largely because Rammstein only have two riffs and once you’ve seen one explosion, you’ve seen them all.
Only during the encore – ‘Rammstein’ – does Lindemann finally gets round to setting himself on fire. It is an impressive sight, only outdone when he takes his coat off to reveal flaming trousers.
Backstage afterwards, Rammstein are in a surprisingly somber mood. So what do they do for post-performance kicks?
“Well, we party,” replies Riedel, coyly.
“We have a good time.”
That’s all? The God Squad outside claims you’re a bunch of deranged perverts.
“Well, we did have two strippers after the Las Vegas show who came back and stripped for us,” he says with a nervy smile, “and then some things happened which I do not want to tell you about!”
There is a moment of uneasy silence.
So does anything make Rammstein laugh?
“Us,” replies Riedel instantly. “We make ourselves laugh and we laugh at ourselves.”
Like they say, the German sense of humor really is no laughing matter.
Date: August 2001
Source: King Size