Rammstein and Jonas Åkerlund was always going to be a marriage made in heaven – if heaven was filled with pyrotechnics, explosions and prosthetic cocks, that is.
Just look at the evidence. Rammstein have spent their career raising the bar on what a band can do onstage. The German six-piece’s live performances aren’t so much gigs as modern warfare set to music – an audio-visual blitzkrieg that’s part Hollywood blockbuster, part military display, part Dante’s Inferno.
Their live MO has always been simple: no stunt is off-limits, no buttons should remain unpushed, no eyebrows should be left unsinged. The stage props they’ve used over the years tell you all you need to know, from the spark shooters and flaming metal coats of their early gigs to the gigantic, fire-shooting angel wings and the ridiculously over-the-top cannibal cook-pot stunt – in which frontman Till Lindemann ‘boils’ keyboard player Flake Lorenz alive.
“You have to understand that 99% of the people don’t understand the lyrics, so you have to come up with something to keep the drama in the show,” says guitarist Richard Kruspe. “We have to do something. We like to have a show; we like to play with fire.”
Jonas Åkerlund is the behind-the-camera equivalent of Rammstein. A dyed-in-the- wool metalhead who started out as drummer with Swedish black metal pioneers Bathory, he made his name with his eye-catching, frequently provocative promo videos for the likes of The Prodigy (Smack My Bitch Up) and Metallica (Turn The Page). His memorably graphic promo-cum-porno spoof for Rammstein’s 2009 single Pussy featured the naked bandmembers (or at least their stand-ins) shagging various willing partners, and climaxed with ‘their’ penises jizzing like there was no tomorrow. When Rammstein wanted someone to capture their 2012 Made In Germany ‘greatest hits’ tour on camera, it was Jonas they turned to. Five years later, that film – titled Rammstein: Paris – is finally making its way into the world.
“For me, as a director, you are always looking for those bands that want to go a little extra, want to push things further and have the balls to do something different,” says Jonas today, taking time out from working on Lords Of Chaos, his fictionalised movie version of Michael Moynihan and Didrik Søderlind’s infamous history of the Norwegian black metal scene. “Rammstein definitely want to push stuff as far as they can. And they definitely have balls.”
On March 6 and 7, 2012, the Made In Germany tour rolled into the 17,000-capacity Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy on the outskirts of Paris like a Panzer division with all guns blazing. It was there, over those two nights, that Jonas was tasked with filming the two- hour-and-40-minute Rammstein show for a concert film.
“To be honest, I don’t like concert films,” says Jonas. “I call it Eurovision Song Contest footage – they roll in the bus, have their cranes, sit in the back doing a live edit, then it’s done. If you want an ordinary music video, I’m usually not your guy.”
But the director was a trusted pair of hands for Rammstein. His relationship with the band stretches back more than a decade, to 2006’s gleefully homoerotic video for Mann Gegen Mann.
“They sent me that song, and I wrote this very simple and short treatment, which was basically: ‘You guys perform naked, and there’s a shitload of naked men around you in a pile of man-flesh, with a pink carpet and a rain of baby oil’,” he recalls. “I remember Till called me and said [deep stentorian voice], ‘We like it – let’s do it.’”
The Paris gigs weren’t the first time Rammstein had filmed a show – 1999’s Live Aus Berlin, 2006’s Völkerball and 2015’s Rammstein In Amerika had all shown the band in their full Teutonic glory. But, says Jonas, this was something different.
“My creative pitch on it was that in order to make a concert film interesting, you have to deal with it with the same precision you have in music videos – every frame needs to be perfect. There was no release date, there was no, ‘We’ve gotta do the best we can in the time we’ve got’,” he says.
The sheer spectacle of the show was already in place by the time Jonas signed up: the flaming ball-gags, the spunk-shooting giant cock, the burning angel wings, the cannibal cook pot and flaming torch.
“The Rammstein guys know exactly what they want and how to present themselves,” he says. “Creatively, it’s a group effort, but they all take different positions when we talk about certain things. It’s a little bit like Paul is in charge of the sound, Till is in charge of the pyro…”
The man actually in charge of the pyro is Nicolai Sabottka, managing director of Berlin special effects team FFP. The company have been working with Rammstein since the early days of their career, and are the brains behind everything from the singer’s burning coat to their flame-throwing guitars.
“My job is to work on new FX and search the market for anything exciting,” says Nicolai. “If we can’t find what we want, we have a team of engineers who work on special effects and an entire pyrotechnics factory in the state of Montana who will build what we’re looking for. I usually present what’s new to the band during pre-production and let them get carried away with ideas. Then we make sure what can be achieved in a secure way and start testing shortly after. We do excessive outdoor and indoor testing.”
Even with the danger of immolation removed, the day of the shows found the adrenaline pumping through Jonas’s system. He had already filmed a dress rehearsal to get the close-ups he wouldn’t have been able to shoot during the actual gigs. And he and his team were as prepared as they could be when it came to the show itself.
“Their show is super-choreographed because of the pyro they use – it has to be the same every night,” he says. “Literally, you cannot see the difference between any two nights.”
Jonas had positioned a total of 26 cameras around the venue to literally cover every angle – way more than for a regular concert movie. But with an increased visual arsenal came more chance of things going wrong.
“I think on those two nights, I was way more nervous than the band,” he says. “You only have one chance to do it. We actually had a big problem on the first night. I’m in the back, looking at all these screens, communicating with the cameramen, and the communication broke down. That was tough.”
In the event, the filming went off with minimal problems. For the director and his team, the biggest issue was capturing the sheer firepower of Rammstein’s pyrotechnic display. “We had these one of these Phantom cameras that captures extreme slow motion. It’s beautiful because you get a chance to see it in a way you’d never see it otherwise.”
With all the fireworks going off onstage, was anybody in physical danger?
“We had a few cameramen that had different colour eyebrows afterwards – they get fried by the heat of the fire,” he says. “But let me tell you, those six bandmembers put their lives at risk every night when they do that show.”
It’s taken five years for Rammstein: Paris to see the light of day (during that time, Jonas found time to direct promo videos for Madonna, Coldplay, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, as well as a full-length concert film for Taylor Swift). Much of this lengthy gestation period is down to the sheer amount of footage culled from the two Bercy shows.
“Twenty-six cameras a night filming two two-hour-and-40-minute shows, plus dress rehearsals… I’ll let you do the maths,” he says with a laugh. “We did have discussions with the band in the edit – sometimes I take the edit a little bit too far, or you’ve got to balance it out between the bandmembers. But that’s all it was – discussions. I wouldn’t call it friction. It never got to the point where we need to pull out the contracts and check. I’m there to make them look good. That’s my job.”
With the band rumoured to be working on their first studio album since 2009’s excellent Liebe Ist Für Alle Da, the Rammstein: Paris film acts as both a stop-gap and a reminder of what we’ve been missing, with Jonas Åkerlund putting the ‘technik’ in their vorsprung durch technik. And besides, what’s a mere five years between freunde anyway?
“With Rammstein, they never let go of anything until it’s perfect. They don’t hurry into anything, and they don’t care about the timing of stuff – every time they do something, it’s timeless anyway. A lot of the artists I work with, something they did five years ago would not be interesting at all. But this show will never get old.”
Rammstein: Paris will be screened across the world from March 23. See www.rammstein-paris.com for details
Rammstein’s most dangerous set-pieces rated
The Gigantic Spunking Cock
Perhaps unwilling to recreate the porn pastiche video for Pussy onstage, the band instead opt for a gigantic, cannon-like penis that shoots fake spunk over the crowd. Is that a stage prop in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?
Life-threatening rating: 1⁄5 (not dangerous, just messy)
The Flaming Mouthpieces
The band turn up the heat during Feuer Frei! by simultaneously shooting flames from mouthpieces. It makes a change from synchronised headbanging, though one sharp intake of breath and it could all end nastily.
Life-threatening rating: 3⁄5
The Flame-throwing Angel Wings
If you have a song called Engel, it would make sense for your singer to strap on a pair of 30-foot industrial angel wings, then watch as they shoot fireworks and flames out into the ether.
Life-threatening rating: 3⁄5 (mainly to the other members of the band)
The Cooking Pot
During cannibal love song Mein Teil, Flake Lorenz climbs into a giant cauldron that has been wheeled onstage. Cue Till Lindemann attacking it with a flamethrower as Flake avoids his goose being cooked.
Life-threatening rating: 4⁄5
Feuer frei! - How Rammstein Almost Went Down In Flames