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Music

Rammstein: Playing with fire

Rammstein's world tour just came to an end at Wacken. There's media hype and a dash of mysticism wherever Germany's most successful metal band goes. But the band's personal assistant wants none of it.

It was after Pinochet's coup in Chile that Paulo San Martin and his parents were granted asylum in East Germany. At school in Berlin, the six-year-old was seated next to Christian Lorenz, a clever kid and talented pianist who took Paulo under his wing. The two become friends.

For the last 10 years, Christian 'Flake' Lorenz and Paulo San Martin have been on tour together almost without stopping. 'Flake' is the keyboardist for Rammstein - six musicians from the former GDR, who stuck around in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district after the fall of the Wall and set out to do something new and creative. They were after music that was as provocative as it was original - and, above all, angry.

'They want it!'

Rammstein assistant Paulo San Martin stands in front of a series of signs at a tour stop in Melbourne (c) Paulo San Martin

Paulo San Martin, ready to point the way during a 2011 tour stop in Melbourne

Paulo San Martin is the band's personal tour and production assistant. Day to day, that can mean putting up signs around the artists' little village of trailers at an open air festival or getting costumes ready. Generally, San Martin has to ensure that all wishes go fulfilled and crises are averted.

"For me, they're friends!" said Paulo San Martin during a short pause in the band's tour, adding, "And they are very ambitious artists - which is to say musicians. Rockers! They are very consistent."

The band has always been like that, the assistant says, even when they had no money, rehearsed like crazy and performed on weekends for free. "You really noticed: They want it!"

380,000-watt autobiography

The six members of Rammstein, sitting together and dressed in black (c) DW

Rammstein: Six guys from Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg

The band, with its 60 technicians, travels around the world like a circus. And they hire over 100 additional stagehands for each stop. Everyone has to know what's to be done with the gigantic steel stage, 50 tons of equipment and a 380,000-watt system, resulting in a show that's a mixture of light, fire, costumes and intricate props.

"Rammstein works with theatrical elements that set the stage for six strong personalities. Not just with their outstanding use of effects and light. That goes for the lyrics too: they've experienced a thing or two. Partly it's about their personal views, partly about provocations they want to generate," San Martin says.

Ablaze

Keyboardist 'Flake' rides an inflatable boat, carried by a large group of cheering fans Copyright Frédéric Batier

Keyboardist 'Flake' rides a boat atop cheering fans

And the band's songs are, indeed, full of explosive material: matricide, incest, S&M fantasies, life and death, blood and decay. Rammstein prefer the extremes, and you can hardly call their approach ambiguous. Meanwhile, they've developed a certain knack for knowing when the air needs to burn or when a set of lyrics deserve a softer but macabre sense of romanticism.

Paulo San Martin has nothing but praise for Rammstein's exaggerated artistic approach, saying, "It fascinates me how they reach the audience - with their entire show and all around the world!"

In regions where fans don't understand the words to the songs, they find translations. "The people know what it's about," the assistant confirms.

At the top

Looking out at the crowd at a festival stop (c) Paulo San Martin

Metal lovers as far as the eye can see

It's not seldom to see the band's fans waiting for hours in the blistering sun for the overpowering dramaturgy of a Rammstein show to begin, with brutal rock music, unsettling silences, provocations and fountains of fire.

"Ten thousand in Madison Square Garden, New York City! That's when you think you're really on top. What other German band can do that? Kraftwerk. Way back the Scorpions. But otherwise, I don't know. At that level? Rammstein's the only one in the world," says San Martin, evidently one of the band's biggest fans.

'Rebellious anarchists'

Rammstein guitarist Paul Landers and Paulo San Martin, pictured backstage together copyright: Paulo San Martin

Rammstein guitarist Paul Landers and Paulo San Martin

Part of what makes the shows run so well, Paulo San Martin says, is the band's restless drive for perfection. "It's always a challenge to work with them because they're never content. They improve their shows while on tour - everything from changing a little light bulb or a song to throwing out the whole set list."

It all makes for a hair-raising experience for the crew, but the group's ingenuity is what die-hard fans adore about seeing Rammstein live - that and a good measure of pyrotechnics, of course.

Now that their mammoth world tour is finished, Paulo San Martin is ready for a break at home. Summing up the experience, he quotes a journalist from the German daily "Süddeutsche Zeitung" who was along for the ride: "Many, many hours with reflective, musical and, at their core, totally rebellious anarchists."

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