The Matrix in Bochum is a real feast for the eyes for visitors. If you follow the many steps down into the Bochum subway, you will see unplastered brick walls and nooks and crannies that seem to lead into a dark abyss. Only the signposted “pee path” lets you quickly know where they head. If you venture deeper into the catacombs without getting lost, the centerpiece is waiting for fans and artists: The tubular hall with an impressive brick vault. The first time you visit the Matrix, it leaves you with this impression.
However, you really only become aware of how extensive and sprawling it really is when you enter the area that is not open to the public. The term “backstage” does it little justice. A double door on the hall wall leads to another large wing of the Matrix. An equally high vault that takes up half the space serves as a storage place for technology and superfluous things, areas in which other clubs would have found space, while the other half serves as a classic retreat for artists. This part is undoubtedly recognizable from the tour posters that fully cover the walls up to the ceiling. The crew has three spacious rooms at their disposal, including two rooms with comfortable sofas and cinema armchairs against the wall, as well as a catering room with an open kitchen. While the technicians outside are getting the hall ready to go, cook Joana has already set up a cold, now well-plundered buffet and is already preparing dinner.
“I really have to take care of myself as a singer”
Guitarist Thorsten Mewes repeatedly visits the hall during set-up and is also the first on stage when the sound check for the band starts at 4:30 pm. There is a lot of professionalism, you can feel that over 25 years of band history ensure confidence. Despite the quarter century, the band centered around singer Marta Jandová has not lost its sense of fun. Together, the band’s set list from the previous day is studied and boisterously danced to on stage, while Die Happy play some songs from their relatively new set list. When putting the list together, the band went back to its roots, Marta says, “We play songs that we haven’t played in a very long time. Since we played an unplugged tour last year for our quarter-century birthday, we have to celebrate it by rocking it out.” This is at the request of the fans, adds Thorsten. “We conducted a social media survey of what people would like to have on the set list and there were requests for a lot of rare, old songs and then we thought, Okay, if that’s what people want. Then we want it, too!”
Singer Marta has to take care of her voice today and cannot always accompany the band, but she makes up for it by going along without vocals and inspires her band mates. Her focus is clearly on being fit for the concerts and taking care of herself. “I sing, scream, speak for almost two hours from start to finish. […] I leave everything on the table after a the two-hour concert.” In order to be able to go on an entire tour at this level, she rarely mixes with the fans after the show where they still fill the hall and it is still loud. “If I were to give a bad concert the next day because of all the entertainment I indulged in the night before, I would be cheating the people who bought a ticket for the next show. That’s why I really have to take care of myself as a singer.”
Some fine adjustments and arrangements are still required during the sound check. The new guitarist Robert “Robse” Kerner gets some instructions, songs from the set list are gone over thoroughly and while Die Happy talk to each other continuously, they gradually leave their stage set-up and group in a circle around drummer Jürgen Stiehle. The team works together seamlessly and so naturally during the sound check, a performative attitude becomes a constructive collective that attaches great importance to details in their songs.
The calm before the storm
Around 5:15 pm, the five band members spread out again. Some of the partners are on site, so that everyone uses this time independently for personal matters. Thorsten does not hesitate; he is down on the ground soaking up sunlight. For him, daylight in the backstage area is one of the things he is most happy about. The same applies to functioning WiFi. Unfortunately, he isn’t getting either one today.
Meanwhile, Marta has retreated into the tour manager Kirsten Baumeister’s production office, the only place with Internet access, to clarify private matters. Because even on tour, deep underground, you can’t escape them. The singer enjoys being on tour, mostly to find respite from her stressful everyday life: “When I’m at home, I’m constantly pressed for time. Get my child to school, pick my child up from school only to take them somewhere, pick them up again, get the shopping done, take the dogs out, do this, do that.” This is probably the reason for the silence that prevails backstage. For many bands that we have already accompanied in the #backstagestories, touring is a wild school trip. For Die Happy, it borders on a vacation. “I enjoy just lying in bed, opening the little window on the bus and looking to see where we are and see what kind of view I have. To just play a few games or check Instagram and then go back to sleep for a little while and do nothing,” Marta muses.
Despite the distraction, everyone occasionally finds each other in the large catering area. As they pass by, the band members sign a few copies of the anniversary volumes on display or snatch snacks or hot meals from the buffet. In between, Marta also notices my smeared mascara and shows solidarity: “Sometimes I walk around with smeared makeup for hours and none of the guys says anything!”
With her make-up perfectly applied, Marta and her band begin to gather together in the backstage room, looking for peace and quiet. They reminisce. Because they recorded a choir part right here for their last album, “Everlove.” Thorsten has to laugh when he says, “There were a lot of friends and acquaintances here, like twenty people, and Jürgen then conducted the choir like a trained conductor.” But that is it; there are no more backstage stories from Die Happy. “This is the cloak of silence. What happens on tour stays on tour.”
And so her backstage room closes shortly before the concert starts. As Die Happy swear to each other once again in the famous circle, the expectant murmur increases in the hall. Bochum is and remains something special for Die Happy and its fans. This evening will not be an exception.