Personnel File: Jonas Åkerlund

“Obviously, I’m totally against censorship in all ways”

Whenever push comes to shove, Rammstein seems to go Swedish. Jakob Hellner is a long-time partner in crime, as is Peter Tägtgren and, of course, Jonas Åkerlund.

Åkerlund is the Black Metal kid from suburban Stockholm who ended up in Hollywood.

”I decided early on that I was not going to be one of those celebrity guys, and I do regret a few interviews I’ve given. It’s my movies that are interesting, not me as a person,” says Åkerlund in a 2009 interview, adding to the rumours of being rather “journalist shy” and notoriously difficult to get an interview with.

Even while making music videos for the elite of international pop culture, such as Madonna, Lady Gaga, The Rolling Stones and Beyoncé (only to name a few), he still dyes his hair black, and wears only black, the outfit complete with leather jacket and hat, even in the scorching Los Angeles heat. In appearance, he’s still the goth kid who started out as the drummer for the band, Bathory.

Bathory was one of the forerunners of the Black Metal scene which was forming in Scandinavia in the 80s, and the band was described as heavily influenced by Venom, maybe a bit too much. This is not putting a damper on their cult status today, even if they never played a gig, with any line up, ever. But it does make sense that Åkerlund’s first music video was for the band, Candlemass, a Doom Metal outfit from Sweden, in 1988, even if he’d left Bathory by then.

It also makes sense that Åkerlund is directing the film, “Lords of Chaos”, an adaptation of the non-fiction book with the same name, about the church burnings and murders which took place in Norway in the early 90s, all revolving around the Black Metal scene with Varg Vikernes and Euronymous at its core. The film is currently under production in Oslo, Norway.

Interestingly, Åkerlund just recently directed the promo clip for Metallica’s “ManUNkind” in Black Metal aesthetics. Back to the roots or into the future?

These days, terms like “provocation”, “controversial” and “shock” are buzzwords flying around the heads of Rammstein fans like a swarm of angry hornets, and they have all but lost their punch and become a bit of a bore.

Let’s instead call it the cutting edge. And that is where Jonas Åkerlund has been for the last 29 years. His first, major music video notoriety was The Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up”, which was banned all over the place and maybe only shown around 3 in the morning, back when MTV ruled the world.

 

“I’ve never been good at half-assed”

Åkerlund’s music videos and films often show gothic, dark and twisted aesthetics, featuring graphic pictures of violence, suicide and occult references. Or, as in the above mentioned “Smack My Bitch Up” and Rammstein’s “Mein Land”, taking something superficially normal and twisting it into something sinister. When shock value has lost its shock value, it’s time to do over and do better. And that is what Åkerlund is doing in a lot of his work. Maybe that is why the crème de la crème of Hollywood and the music industry is lining up to contract him, because Jonas isn’t scared of anything in his artistic expression.

“In a way, life turned out the way I dreamed in a way; I’m working with music, just not as a musician,” in his own words.

A few years ago, Rammstein found themselves in a bit of a bother because of a video clip in the form of a porno. It wasn’t the first time their artistic expression had been criticized, and not the first time Åkerlund had a hand in it either. Starting off in 2006 with “Mann Gegen Mann”, Åkerlund have made a string of music videos with the band, all of them ending up with some sort of ban or, at least, moral panic.

“Well, nobody cares about MTV anymore anyway. It was never made for MTV in the first place, but I do know that that video is probably the most viewed video I’ve ever done.”

Take a wild stab at which video Åkerlund is referring to, and then head on over to your porn site of choice and add to the viewing numbers. And, since the Internet is made up of equal parts porn and cute kittens, that’s enough clues for you right there.

“What’s so special about Rammstein, with whom I have worked for several years, is that you can do things with them that you can’t do with anyone else. One of the reasons is that their fans are not only very loyal, but expect to be challenged. Everything we do, we do for them. Personally, I’ve never particularly liked porn, but what it’s all about is a caricature of the world, an undertone that I think is OK. I think Rammstein have been amazing to work with. They keep reminding me of the value of integrity and artistry.”

 

The feature length concert film, ”Rammstein:Paris” is opening in selected theatres in March, 2017.

For a complete list of Jonas Åkerlund’s work, please visit jonasakerlund.com

Complete list of sources can be obtained from Rammstein Press.

 

Murray/Schnitz

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