So far, I’ve learned three things about the legendary “backstage”:
- The interesting part of the backstage area is often under, over, or next to the stage, but rarely actually behind it.
- The time from the band’s soundcheck to the actual gig can be quite long, requiring a healthy amount of independent activity, creative or not.
- For Oomph! none of this applies.
Before a gig, Oomph! spend most of their time either on or in front of the stage, and their daily routine is thoroughly planned. “That way we don’t start eating or drinking out of boredom,” Dero laughs.
Structure versus boredom
Such a tour day in the life of the Wolfsburgers depends on a clear sequence of events: Line & sound check, meet and greet, interviews, warm-up, show, reflecting on the show, a second meet and greet, and on to the next city.
At the stopover on their Ritual Tour 2019 in Cologne, things go a little differently. Due to a follow-up event, the usual schedule has to be moved forward by one hour. That really messes up the usual rhythm, admits Flux, who after a successful sound check treats himself to a coffee at the generous buffet.
He had already been on stage for an hour to check the equipment and instruments to make sure they were ready for performance. Halfway through the soundcheck, the first fans with ticket upgrades arrived, and a relaxed and intimate living room concert atmosphere replaced the professional mood both on and in front of the stage. Despite his dark sunglasses, singer Dero was already making contact with the fans again and again, striking up the song “Viva Colonia.” Even though the versatile light show and the scene outfits are integral aspects of a successful Oomph! performance, the Wolfsburgers know how to entertain their fans even without all that – and the fans obviously enjoy this completely different side of the band.
The calm before the storm?
During the soundcheck, it’s quiet upstairs in the backstage area. The cook and her helper prepare the warm meals in an open kitchen, while in front of it a large selection of bread, rolls, cold cuts, salad, and drinks are already waiting on long tables. Apart from the mention of a vegan and a vegetarian, there is nothing unusual on the catering rider. When it comes to the choice of beer, they now have a special tactic, reveals Flux: “We used to have one type of beer for our catering rider because we figured, if we know the beer, at least we know where we stand. Today we do things completely differently. We challenge the local organizer to provide us with the best local beer. That way the organizers also feel motivated to show us a really good beer from the area.”
The row of different dressing rooms has gradually been scaled down to one, where the opening band Nervenbeißer quietly unloads its equipment. It feels like the calm before the storm.
During the short break between the soundcheck and the meet and greet, the catering room fills up suddenly without things getting much louder. Flux and Crap are looking for other crew members, while Dero withdraws briefly to his changing room. The band only has about 10 minutes until the next item on the program. Dero is ready on time, while first Flux and now Crap have disappeared for the moment. Although there are only three band members, it seems like herding the proverbial cats to get them all together in one place. Nevertheless, they are not late for a single event on the program today.
Meet and greet: A win-win for band and fans
At 5:10 p.m. sharp, the three of them saunter to the front of the stage to answer questions from their fans. Dero directly addresses a young man: “I know you from Facebook! You have a band, don’t you?!” The fan is perplexed, but also happy to have been recognized. Flux and Crap also recognize a few faces from past concerts. At that moment, you can sense that the ice between the band and the fans has been broken. Although the questions still remain timid and shy, the three continually encourage their listeners to speak out – and they gladly accept this invitation. Among them are fans from Belgium, Russia, and New York, for whom one of the band members also translates the most important information.
Local fans are also interested to know if Oomph! have any rituals before the show, and if so, what they are. Before the show, everyone comes together in a circle one more time, answers Dero. He later adds in our interview: “It’s important, just before you go on stage, to signal and symbolize a community and make a ritual out of it. But everyone has their own special personal rituals for preparing for the concert, too. And this is also connected to the role he plays in the band.”
Flux shares a backstage anecdote that amused him with the fans: “There are usually signs backstage with arrows pointing to dressing rooms and stuff like that. In some backstage areas there’s a sign saying ‘We’re in Frankfurt,’ just so you won’t forget.” Although it sounds funny at first, it seems to make sense on closer inspection: If you are bouncing between the tour bus and backstage in a tight tour schedule, you easily lose your orientation.
After the group question-and-answer session, fans have the opportunity to have a professional picture taken with the band as well as to make selfies, give presents, or have items signed. Dero, Flux, and Crap pose flawlessly, they obviously have routine when it comes to showing their good side, but don’t lose sight of individual fans. A young woman tells the three band members in a shaky voice how her music has helped her. Others confidently present the gifts they have brought with them. The reasons why fans want to meet their band vary a lot, Dero explains: “They say it’s like a dream come true for them: They saw us live for the first time 15 years ago and now they can meet us in person and tell us something they’ve always wanted to say or get something signed. A chance to get up-close and personal. There are very mundane reasons why people book these meet and greets. But It works well and it’s fun, too.”
The meet and greets are also a win-win situation for Flux: “It‘ s also nice for us to be able to interact with people. You get feedback from the fans, and once the ice starts to melt, most of them dare to say something or ask questions. It’s also very entertaining for us!”
Even if pens go on strike or cell phones don’t work – Oomph! keeps relaxed. Even after the scheduled time had already passed, for them this was no reason to get through the remaining fans quickly.
“We’re not special.”
Oomph! have long since reached a certain level of fame, which they could have easily let go to their heads, especially within their own scene. But there is no sign of this at all – towards their fans or their crew. The reason for this respectful, equal treatment is as simple as it is remarkable in the music business: “We’re not special, we’re just lucky to be able to make music and to have made our hobby our profession. But in the end we’re as special as a garbage man or an architect. Hopefully everyone gets to do what makes them feel fulfilled and what needs to be done. I also have total respect for people who have to remove our garbage or clean toilets, as trivial as it sounds. We’re not special,” Dero emphasizes once again. It’s only natural to feel special when there are constantly people around you looking after your comfort. But he also likes to take a step back from the music business on occasion himself, considering at the whole spectacle with a little distance and thinking with a laugh: “What a joke!”
Last but not least: The interviews & preparation for the show
Even after the meet and greets, Oomph! doesn’t have much time for a breather. But it’s the first time in the past few hours that I’ve seen the band backstage for more than 15 minutes. Our interview was followed by another with their record label, after which the preparations for the show were already starting. However, stage fright doesn’t play a role in the band anymore. “Definitely not stage fright in the sense of fear. More like anticipation, like a kid before Christmas maybe.”
As you would expect, Oomph! start their show on time. As the band plays their first note, there’s no doubt in Flux’s words: “That’s really the highlight of the day for us, being on stage for two hours and doing what we love and seeing the happy eyes of the fans when the song starts and they start cheering.”
It wasn’t always this quiet backstage…
The backstage area is not and was not always a place of calm for the band. “Of course, there’s the cliché about situations when two, three, four girls in nurse’s uniforms came backstage and asked if someone could give them some a little extra treatment,” Dero says unenthusiastically. Crap adds: “And sometimes they even brought a guy along to film it for them, that was the best part.”
Apart from stalker fans, groupies, and other crazy fan experiences, it was mainly other bands that have caused frightening backstage experiences, as Dero goes on to explain: “You also have freaky people at festivals who put amphetamines in their body cavities and go berserk. If you take too much, you’ll eventually just destroy the backstage room.” Oomph! have found their own path in this respect: “Fortunately, we’ve always more or less limited this kind of thing to short periods of time and fortunately everyone has a stable environment at home that has little to do with music, so you can get back down to earth. A lot of guys don’t have that.”