lundi, février 14, 2005

Rammstein & Rooster

Subtle as a battering ram, camp as a row of tents

By Simon Price

Published : 13 February 2005

Rammstein, Arena, Nottingham. Rooster, The Crypt, Middlesbrough

When is a Nazi not a Nazi? When he's got a guitar around his neck? Countless rock artists, from David Bowie via Siouxsie Sioux, Joy Division and Laibach to Marilyn Manson have flirted with the imagery of the Third Reich, with varying degrees of dodginess or righteousness, satire or sincerity.

Enter Rammstein (double entendre intentional, but more of that later). Formed in east Berlin in 1995, Rammstein - the name means "ramming stone" or "battering ram" - are now arguably the world's foremost exponents of industrial metal. I first encountered their music on a dancefloor, watching trenchcoated goths stomping around to their 1997 single, "Du Hast". Now, my German's about as good as that of Peter O'Hanrahanrahan, the hapless stringer from The Day Today ("Ich... nichten lichten..."), but I'm told that Rammstein's lyrics rarely betray any political leanings, and are largely about love, sex and heartbreak. "We're all living in Amerika, Amerika, it's wunderbar..." is about as contentious as it gets.

Nevertheless, I couldn't help finding something unsettling about watching a bunch of black-clad buffoons cathartically releasing their pent-up male aggression to this strident, martial marching beat and the sound of a man bellowing in a deep Teutonic voice in the language of the Führer. What's more, the Rammstein logo is consciously fashioned to resemble an Iron Cross. The song "Heirate Mich" ("Marry Me"), familiar to David Lynch fans from the soundtrack of The Lost Highway, contains a deliberate aural pun: the refrain "Hei-Hei-Hei ... rate Mich!" echoes the chant "Heil! Heil! Heil!" There was also a minor furore when the video to accompany Rammstein's cover of Depeche Mode's "Stripped" included clips from Leni Riefenstahl's film of Hitler's 1936 Olympics. And Rammstein are hugely - and, for them, very lucratively - popular among young German neo-Nazis, have never made any statement to disassociate themselves (unlike Laibach, who have made it clear that their intention is satirical). The case against is building.

So, tonight, when Till Lindemann stomps out of a giant rubber vagina (no kidding) and does what can only be described as a goose step towards the microphone stand, why am I not immediately phoning 118 for Searchlight magazine, and instead rocking helplessly with laughter? The answer won't be any mystery to the generation of comedians who survived the war. The likes of Spike Milligan and Mel Brooks knew that the best way to neutralise the power of the Nazis is to make them look ridiculous. In fact, perhaps I'm being too pompous on Milligan and Brooks's behalf. The bottom line is simpler than that: "Nazis are funny".

Rammstein are one of the funniest bands I've ever seen, and for that I thank them from the bottom of mein herz. They're also one of the most camp. I mean this partly in the primary sense of blatant gayness. We're talking, after all, about a bunch of borderline-musclebound men, mostly topless, mostly oiled-up, some of them in lederhosen, some of them in those little Bavarian hats, whose debut album Herzeleid portrays them naked in front of a giant flower, and whose stage show involves scooting about the stage on those two-wheeled people-movers beloved of US presidents, and inviting us to "come wiss me into ze trees" like a Deutsch Duncan Norvelle.

But I also mean it in the secondary sense. If camp can be defined as the gap between the seriousness of the delivery and the silliness of the end result, then Rammstein's gap is an absolute abyss.

There are no smiles onstage tonight. Only the simplest, curt "sank you". If Rammstein are joking, they disguise it well. But they do have one clear and self-evident belief: they believe in putting on a show. Pyrotechnics in rock shows are nothing new, but Rammstein are raising the bar. At one point, Lindemann - who looks like he's stepped straight from the engine room of Das Boot - emerges from that rubber vagina wearing two steel robo-arms, which he points at the roof. Suddenly, it becomes clear that they are flamethrowers, and he shoots pretty plaited towers of fire into the sky. At another point, he literally takes a shower under a cascade of Roman Candle sparks. It's difficult not to be impressed.

Giving your band a name like Rooster is asking for trouble. The "turkey" gags, and the comparisons to calamity-prone cartoon chicken Foghorn Leghorn, write themselves. It's already clear, however, that Rooster are going to be huger than Alan Partridge's putative 20ft-tall chicken, looking down at all the other chickens thinking, "Why am I so massive?" With Busted busted, and McFly taking a breather, there's something of an interregnum in the kiddiepunk market at the moment, and pop abhors a vacuum. If Rooster hadn't invented themselves - and conspiracy theories on that will abound - someone would surely have invented them: a band of four reasonably clean, reasonably pretty boys who won't tell CD:UK to naff off, who won't get caught snorting charlie off a Hollyoaks actress's breasts (well, not for a couple of years anyway, when it's a strategically useful career move), and - here's a novelty - who can actually play their instruments, meaning that they can tour tiny venues without the need for an expensive backing band (or an unreliable DAT machine).

This London-based quartet, you see, can do Rock Clichés blindfold. They're deeply indebted to Aerosmith, Free, Rage Against The Machine and Pearl Jam, but they're playing to a crowd too young to recognise the steals from "Love in an Elevator", "Alright Now", "Bullet in the Head" and "Alive".

The whole thing has the feel of a talent night at the local church hall, with an 80 per cent female audience who are unmistakeably gig virgins (they scream and cheer during the quiet bits written into all modern rock songs to allow you to get your breath back, thinking it's the end).

Singer Nick Atkinson has enough of a Jagger pout and puts in enough sweat (his T-shirt starts the night bright blue, and ends up dark navy) to send their hormones haywire, and it's starting to pay off: last Sunday, the debut album flew from nowhere to number three.

Whether I like it or not - and I think you can probably guess - the omens are good: tonight is the eve of the Chinese Year of the Rooster.


Rooster: Glasgow Uni (0141 339 9784), tonight; UEA, Norwich (01603 632717), Tue; Manchester Uni (0161 275 2930), Wed; Academy, Liverpool (0870 771 2000), Thur; Leadmill, Sheffield (0114 221 2828), Fri; tour continues

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