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Members include RichardKruspe (born June 24, 1967, in the German Democratic Republic), guitar;PaulLanders (born December 9, 1964, in the German Democratic Republic), guitar;TillLindemann (born January 4, 1963, in the German Democratic Republic), vocals; FlakeLorenz (born November 6, 1966, in the German Democratic Republic), keyboard;OliverRiedel (born April 11, 1971, in the German Democratic Republic), bass;ChristophSchneider (born May 11, 1966, in the German Democratic Republic), drums. Addresses: Record company-London Records, 825 Eighth Ave., New York, NY 10019.
A sextet of Germans who sing about death, blood, and sexual trauma entirely in their own language, backed by thunderous metal guitar chords twinned with the synthesizers of dance music, would seem an unlikely act to find an audience in North America. But Rammstein merged several disparate elements going on inside the European music scene and achieved huge success there as a result; a spectacular stage show involving numerous pyrotechnic stunts also added to their reputation and helped create a buzz about them overseas. Though extremely successful in Germany and across Europe's northern lands, Rammstein has been criticized in the press as a "fascist" band, a charge they vehemently reject.
Rammstein took their name from an infamous 1988 air-show disaster in Germany that killed several onlookers. Its members--guitarist Richard Kruspe, singer Till Lindemann (a onetime Olympic swimmer), drummer Christoph Schneider, bassist Oliver Riedel, second guitarist Paul Landers, and keyboardist Flake Lorenz-all hail from the Berlin and Schwerin area. With the exception of Riedel, all were well into their twenties in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down as the Communist bloc collapsed. The following year ceremonies were held that officially rejoined the states of the former Communist-bloc East Germany with those in its affluent European Union counterpart in West Germany. An array of new social ills was the unexpected result, and the resentment simmering on both sides led to a rise in the number of violent right-wing groups. Their fury found a target in Germany's large immigrant population. Numerous incidents of terrorism and violence carried out by a well-organized network of fascists of varying stripes and allegiances became a staple of the nightly news. Western Germans commonly blamed the disenfranchised youth of the former eastern lands for Germany's shameful new reputation as an emerging neo-fascist land, but the skinhead movement was not without disenchanted teens on the other side as well.
Rammstein grew out of such social and economic ills, and their huge commercial success as well as vilification in the media owe to this divide. When they formed in Berlin in early 1994, they were already seasoned musicians in the thriving German metal-goth-industrial scene. In an interview with Christopher Pearson for the Dartmouth Review, the band noted that before they coalesced as Rammstein, "we were each playing in different bands but we found that each of us was frustrated in their band. We couldn't express what we wanted to express musically in our old bands."
The members of Rammstein liked the hard, synthesizer-based music of contemporary bands like KMFDM-a sound very popular in Germany and referred to as "EBM," for "electronic body music"--but shared a passion for metal as well. When they were teens, it was extremely difficult to obtain rock records in the heavily-censored climate of East Germany. As Kruspe told Paul Gargano in an interview for Metal Edge, "You didn't have records at all.... You had to make tapes from second or third copies. KISS, for example, was an absolute phenomenon. They represented capitalism in its purest sense, and every child was KISS infected because they were so big." Kruspe also recalled that to even write the band's name on one's notebook at school could be grounds for expulsion. "I used to have a poster of them in my room," Kruspe told Gargano, "and when I was 12 years old my stepfather tore it down and into a thousand pieces. I was up all night trying to put it back together, and you can be sure it was hanging the next day."
Conquest of Europe
Rammstein was taken on by a management company in the spring of 1994, and signed with Germany's Motor Music, a part of Polygram Records, in early 1995. In March of that year they traveled to Sweden to record their first album, Herzeleid. The first single, "Du riechst so gut" ("You smell so good") was released in Europe in August of 1995, and the entire LP the following month. They then toured Germany with a popular EBM act, Project Pitchfork, and in early 1996 opened for the Ramones. They spent the following summer playing the massive open-air festivals that are an integral part of the German alternative music scene, and found success in countries like Holland, Sweden, and Norway.
The seeds for Rammstein's invasion of the American alternative/metal scene were planted when two of their songs appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 David Lynch film, Lost Highway. When it came time to do their first video, as the band told the Dartmouth Review, "we thought of whom we would most want to direct it and we came up with the name of David Lynch. All of us like his work a lot. Then we contacted him and sent him one of our tapes, asking if he would be willing to direct our video." Lynch was busy with his film at the time, but liked Rammstein's sound so much he included two songs, "Heirate mich" and "Rammstein," on the soundtrack to his film, which, like other odd works of his, was a hit with disaffected youth.
By this point Rammstein were a huge commercial success in Germany, but were critically disparaged in the music press. Assumed to be right-wing Ossies, some of the band's pronouncements and imagery played into such rumors, but much of their music revolved around nonpolitical themes of sexual lust and dysfunction. Guitarist and spokesperson Kruspe even went to far as to term the German media irresponsible when he was interviewed by NY Rock. "Accusing a band of having fascistic tendencies attracts a fascistic audience even if the band is not fascistic at all," Kruspe said, comparing it with the far less wary reception they received in America. "Germany can be really uptight about things ... a show with a lot of pyrotechnics is simply that-a good show. Not everything is political, but it is a very German thing to try and find the proverbial fly in the soup. Plus we're German. So, of course, they can't like us," Kruspe joked. Rammstein also became infamous for its treatment of the media in return: in one reported incident, the band taped an MTV Europe employee to a chair and set off a smoke bomb near him before a show in Germany.
After the Lost Highway songs attracted a cult fan base overseas, it was decided to release Sehnsucht ("Longing"), their second LP, as Rammstein's debut in North America. Sehnsucht was already a huge success in Germany. It debuted in the States in early 1998, and by the following summer had sold over 100,000 copies and broken the Billboard Top 100. Perhaps most surprising of all was the amount of radio play its first single, "Du Hast" ("You Hate"), received on both rock and alternative stations. The group was also beginning to court controversy Stateside as well: a video clip for "Du Hast," roughly based on the Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs, was initially rejected by MTV because of its heavy gore content.
Hit a Nerve with U.S. Teens
Rammstein made their U.S. concert debut at the College Music Journal (CMJ) Marathon, an insider convention well-known for launching new bands, in New York City in September of 1997. They returned to Germany and played numerous shows that year, and in December of 1997 came back to North America for another brief tour. By the time they came back for a third visit, in the spring of 1998, Sehnsucht had been selling well and the media was ready, fed by rumors of an unbelievable live show in which Lindemann set himself afire in a special 140-pound chain-mail suit coated with a flammable paste. As he erupts, the singer makes reference to the air-show disaster as he intones, "Rammstein is the place where hope crashed to the ground." Such sentiments sound particularly ominous delivered in the German language in a deep voice. Even more enthralling to Rammstein's growing number of fans were the mock sado-masochistic and homoerotic rituals that band members perform on one another.
Yet again, the media were anything but complimentary. In one of his milder statements, New York Times writer Ben Ratliff called Rammstein "a prolonged, not-so-clever caricature of the German temperament's dark side, all severity and kinkiness." Ratliff termed them a Teutonic send-up of Gwar, the theatrical metal band, "but Rammstein isn't nearly as loony or inventive." Village Voicewriter Sia Michel also reviewed the same sold-out show at the Roxy in New York and lauded the band for their marketing savvy, for "without the smoke and s/m hijinks, no one would pay much attention to yet another bunch of angry young men combining cockrock riffage with pedestrian techno-industrial flourishes, especially ones who sing solely in German," declared Michel.
Their American label, London, asked them to re-record one track in English, and they did so because they just wanted to hear what it would sound like. Yet in a surprising turn, the radio DJs preferred to play the German version. Kruspe told NY Rock that during their live shows, he was "really surprised how many people could sing along. But, you know, most of us grew up behind the iron curtain. When we started to listen to music, and especially American music, we didn't understand the lyrics and it wasn't really important. I think the feeling they get from the songs is what is really important. Maybe hearing them in another language helps to add some mystery."
by Carol Brennan
Lindemann was in a band called First Arsch; Kruspe played in Orgasm Death Gimmick; Schneider belonged to Die Firma; Riedel was a member of the Inchtabokatables; and Landers and Lorenz were in Feeling B; Ramstein formed in Berlin, Germany, 1994; signed to Motor Music/Polygram, 1995; released LP Herzeleid in Germany, 1995; made U.S. performance debut at College Music Journal festival in New York City, September, 1997; toured U.S. with KMFDM, 1997; released Sehnsucht in the U. S., 1997.
- Billboard , July 19, 1997, p. 56.
- Dartmouth Review , December 15, 1998.
- Metal Edge , January 1999.
- New Musical Express , October 14, 1998.
- New York Times , May 8, 1998, p. E24.
- NY Rock , November 1998.
- Village Voice , May 19, 1998, p. 146.
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