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German Music

Press: Rammstein Hits U.S.


By Doug Reece and Wolfgang Spahr

Taken from Billboard
August 1, 1998
v110 n31 p13(1)


LOS ANGELES--It wouldn't be a stretch to call German industrial hardcore act Rammstein the most unlikely Heatseeker Impact story of the year.

The Motor/Slash band, known for darkly themed music sung in the group's native tongue and an outrageous live show that includes members setting themselves on fire or crowd-surfing in an inflatable raft, has parlayed a word-of-mouth following and 10 U.S. shows into regular MTV and radio airplay, as well as a flood of mainstream and underground press.

As an indication of the act's burgeoning popularity, its album, "Sehnsucht," broke into the top 100 of The Billboard 200 in the July 25 issue at No. 80, up 28 spots from its previous week's standing of No. 108. The album, which moves up this issue to No. 60, has sold more than 113,000 units since its U.S. release Jan. 13, according to SoundScan.

Petra Husemann, head of progressive music at PolyGram's Berlin-based Motor affiliate, attributes the German-speaking group's U.S. success to the fact that the German language has become part of the music that fans sing along to. PolyGram Germany president Wolf-D. Gramatke, on the other hand, sees the Rammstein phenomenon as a sign of a young generation trying to escape everyday life and career pressures through uncompromising lyrics and hard music.

Says Rammstein keyboardist Flake Lorenz, "We see our future in the U.S. market. We've sewn up Germany, and now it's America's turn."

Here, London Records (U.S.) product manager Wayne Pighini says the label got its first glimpse of the hand's potential via first-week sales. In December, the group performed 10 U.S. dates with TVT act KMFDM.

"They had a tremendous impact in tour markets," says Pighini. "We got the SoundScan figures, and it was no surprise that in markets they visited--such as Austin, Texas, Salt Lake City, and Denver--we saw spikes. We knew that they would have success in the hippest markets, like New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but the tour showed how much impact they could really have."

The act's wild show has provided a few snags, however, in securing appropriate venues.

Dave Levesque, senior music buyer for the 36-store, Troy, Mich.-based Harmony House, says that press, MTV, and a smattering of airplay have maintained the band's profile in the market Still, be says, Rammstein needs another tour to boost its success.

"The album is building, but unfortunately we've run into a problem where the band hasn't been able to supplement its buzz in Detroit because we don't have a venue that can accommodate their pyrotechnics," says Levesque. "Now's the time for them to get in here."

London anticipates that Rammstein, which is booked by QBQ in New York and managed by Pilgrim in Berlin, will return to tour the U.S. in September.

In the meantime, London has taken some unique turns to generate excitement for the act.

Pivotal in its early marketing plan was the decision to give away a video that included a clip for the band's first single, "Du Hast" (You Hate), with purchase of the album. London spent $24,000 to produce the value-added tapes.

"We decided the video was the backbone of our campaign," says Pighini. "We felt that it was the best tool to show people what the band is about. With Rammstein, it's a whole visual and lifestyle market."

The original cut of the video--a takeoff on Quentin Tarantino's film "Reservoir Dogs"- was deemed too shocking by MTV censors because of its violent scenes and had to be altered.

London took a more casual approach to radio, forsaking set impact dates for a soft sell at key stations. One of the first to fall to "Du Hast" was modern rock WXRK New York, though Rammstein owes most of its success to mainstream rock stations. "Du Hast" is No.22 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart this issue.

The larger-than-life Rammstein has also found a fitting niche on film soundtracks. The band appeared on popular albums for "Lost Highway" and "Mortal Kombat II."

Additionally, the act contributes its cover of "Stripped" to the forthcoming Depeche Mode tribute album, "For The Masses."

Mainstream rock WRCX Chicago, one of the two stations Pighini credits with turning the tide in the act's favor, was immediately drawn to the track in spite of London's low-key approach.

"The [promotion] person, who's no longer with the label, brought us some stuff the first week of January and was like, 'Oh yeah, there's also this thing. We don't know what we're going to do with it, but they're big in Germany,'" says WRCX PD Dave Richards.

"We played it once, and the phones just went out of control."

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