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Three Songs No Flash

Pop Ist Nicht Tot: Rammstein Flame It Live At The O2
Toby Cook , February 27th, 2012 13:14

Days after the Brits tediumathon at the O2, Rammstein set fire to the place not only with eyebrow singeing pyrotechnics, but also some killer tunes that even your Billy Joel fan would love, says Toby Cook. Photographs by Katja Ogrin

“I reckon I could drop a tab of low grade LSD and do nothing other than just look at Ed Sheeran’s haircut for seven hours.” That this tweet from The Quietus’ John Doran was undoubtedly the most interesting and amusing thing related to this year’s Brit Awards ceremony is one thing. Another entirely is that, in a roundabout way, it underlines a truth about the mainstream music industry that, really, we’d all rather not have to admit to: that virtually everything is presided over and influenced by the soulless deadites that work in marketing. Of course we could all have watched Ed Sheeran’s hair, because one of these morally-challenged thunder twats will have spotted that dressing like middle class homeless students will bring in the middle class £, and the student £ and the embittered music journalist £ (probably). It’s why British pop music’s fucked.

As if by some sort of dark serendipitous fate, three nights later, on the 24th, the very venue that hosted this year’s Brits, London’s O2 arena, was once again filled to capacity. This time not by profit maximising pap-pop, but by an industrial metal band from Germany. It was filled, of course, by Rammstein.

Looking at it through the reptilian eyes of marketing people, there is literally no way that Rammstein should be in the position that they are tonight. Not only do they play what could most easily be described as industrial metal – although really it is far, far more than that – but they also sing entirely in their native language, toy with militaristic imagery and frequently indulge in flagrantly over the top homoerotic behaviour. If you were a marketing exec charged with selling their 1995 debut, Herzeleid, you’d have probably had a brain hemorrhage, and yet tonight here we are celebrating the band's nearly 20 year career and the release of their first greatest hits collection, the appropriately titled Made In Germany.

Cynically, yet honestly speaking, it is not just Rammstein’s music that enables them to sell out arenas around the globe. No, a large part of what puts bums on seats is the now world infamous pyrophile’s wet dream that is their live show; what puts bums on seats is the total theatre of a Rammstein live show, the industrial-themed grandeur of their performance. Tonight is of course no different.

In what seems like a faint nod to the forthcoming Olympics, tonight, led by the flaming torch of drummer Christoph Schneider, the band emerge not from the stage but about halfway up the first tier of seating and, brandishing both a St Georges cross and a flag with their own ‘R’ logo, proceed to make their way very slowly towards a rusted platform in front of the mixing desk. In an act that seems to take at least 10 minutes, the platform is raised to meet a large metal walkway suspended above the audience - a hulk that appears to have been looted from a Russian tank factory - before the band march over it to light yet more fires either side of the stage itself. By the time they launch into their opening number, the track that really broke them in the UK, ‘Sonne’, you could be forgiven for forgetting that you were actually here to watch a metal gig.

This is, though, perhaps Rammstein’s greatest problem. Make no mistake Rammstein are a phenomenal live act, they are consummate performers, musicians and most importantly entertainers, and they rarely put a foot wrong. There is the usual obscene amount of pyrotechnics; vocalist Til Lindemann’s constant goading of Keyboardist Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz (the highlight being where the moment Lindemann emerges with ‘Flake’ in a giant cauldron which he then proceeds to set fire to with a several increasingly large flamethrowers); constantly shifting backdrops that change from a mutated beehive to something that looks like one of Fritz Lang’s nightmares; and the giant, cock shaped foam cannon. It’s a truly supreme performance, a modern study in imposing, Wagnerian grandeur. The problem, then, is that all this could detract from the music. The problem is the people who turn up just for the spectacle. Doesn’t this therefore reduce the music to little more than an accompaniment?

Actually, no. Spectacularly, the raised platform in the centre of the arena, a platform no bigger than the stage in any toilet venue in London later serves as a stripped down performance area for ‘Buch Dich’, ‘Mann Gegen’ and ‘Mann Ohne Dich’, probably the highlight of the evening. What it proves is that no matter how many gimmicks, flame throwers and bondage gear Rammstein might want to pull out, when it’s just the six of them playing songs on a cramped stage, they are still are a match for any artist or performer out there. It proves that their songs are fucking great. It proves that this is a band who know how to write a melody, and who know how to write a riff as accessible to people who like Slayer as to people who like Billy Joel.

Above all though, tonight - and indeed Rammstein’s very existence - proves ultimately that if you show people innovation, not contrived homogenised crap, if you show people dedication and talent, not auto-tuned flash-in-the-pans, you can make something of both commercial and artistic value. We won’t be staring at Ed Sheeran’s hair in 12 months time, but we’ll certainly be staring at Til Lindemann’s fake ejaculating penis for at least the next 10 to 15 years.

Photographs by Katja Ogrin - for more, head to her website

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