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Electro band Deichkind talk fame and the future

"In England and the USA, no-one knows us," say Deichkind. But plenty of Germans do, and the electro-rappers with a big cult following are high in the charts. Lead singer Philipp Grütering talks about their fate abroad.

Deichkind are making a stir in Germany, hitting the second spot on the German album charts with their latest release "Befehl von ganz unten" (Command from Below). Mixing eclectic musical influences with an eye-popping stage show, the band from Hamburg formed in the late 1990s and have long since been a fan favorite. Outside of Germany, though, they remain almost completely unknown. How do they plan on conquering the world? DW asks lead singer Philipp Grütering.

DW: For those people who don't know your band, how would you describe your music in a succinct way?

Philipp Grütering: Techno theatre - by that I mean electronic beats with German-language spoken word and singing. That would be my musical description. There are pop influences, and we have a rock 'n' roll song on our album called "Illegal Fans." We also have a large hip hop section, down tempo and so on. It’s sort of a mixed supermarket of music, I suppose you could say.

Deichkind on stage

When album sales sag, it's time for the stage effects, say Deichkind

How do you explain the album name, "Command from below?"

We have decided that it is band policy that we don’t tell anyone what we mean by the name of an album. That is like when you tell a joke and then you explain the joke afterwards. Either you get it or you don’t.

How important is playing with social media for you guys - do you enjoy doing it yourselves? Or is it just marketing?

This new media stuff is very important for us. It is the way we reach our target audience most quickly. That didn’t exist before. I don’t really know how they managed to sell records before actually. That being said, the traditional media is still very important for us. You can’t say that you are just going to market things on the Internet. We have noticed that with the current album, which is the most effective so far in our careers. We are actually second on the German top ten with this album; before we were never even in the top 10. Not even with “Bon Voyage” did we get that success, back in 2000. With new media you can do a lot - little videoclips, the fans can send us questions directly - anything is possible.

But still you place a lot of importance on the live show. Why is that?

The band members in a press photo

The band formed in 1997 in Hamburg, Germany

We realized that record sales are just going down. You don’t sell as many records these days as 10 or 20 years ago - nowhere near as many, just a fraction of that number actually. So we just adapted.

What has been your craziest moment on stage?

I think the most amazing experience for me was the first beer shower that we had. Porky just had an idea that we should grab a bunch of beer and distribute it to the crowd. Everyone was meant to shake their beers and then, all at the same time, open them. We handed them out and told them to shake the beers for three or four minutes. Then we counted down from ten to one and when the beers opened it was like an atomic bomb cloud of beer. I was completely gobsmacked, I forgot the text of what I was rapping.

You were involved in the tryouts to represent Germany in the Eurovision song contest. Could you imagine being involved again?

Two years ago we were asked again, and we said yes. But then we were uncertain. When we did it before, we came in last. We realised then that Deichkind on television is a bit difficult. We are better live than on TV. So, in the end we cancelled it. And we won’t be doing it any more. That isn’t going to get us ahead.

But how do you get ahead then internationally?

The band members in a press photo

Deichkind in Tokyo? Well, maybe...

Many of our friends and people that work with us say that we must go to London, New York or Tokyo or somewhere, because the people there would love us. I think that’s true. But it is really difficult to establish ourselves there. It is a new market, so you need to get to know people. You need contacts, and we don’t have those. In Australia, England or the USA, no one knows us. You need to release albums there. It is like when you are unemployed and you have no home at the same time. Then the employer asks you, do you have an apartment? If you don’t then you don’t get the job. On the other hand, if you are looking for an apartment and you have no work, then you often get no apartment. That’s sort of how I picture it at the moment.

We also have a lot to do here, and we are really at our limits. But we are planning in 2014 or 2015 to really try to do it, to release a record worldwide. But I think we can stay with the German lyrics. The lyrics aren’t that relevant. Perhaps you could translate the single into English or Chinese. We could try that.

I don't want to seem rude, but you guys are getting older. You are famous for a crazy stage show and for an edgy image, but is there any plan to slow down?

It's just too much fun right now to stop and worry about it. Of course I notice too that my beard is getting grey, and I am getting older. But it is simply too successful as well right now to stop. I am still young. Sure, I am not an 18 year old teenager who runs around at parties getting drunk. But I am not old, so I think that we can do 2 or 3 more records. Then we can have another look at it, especially if people aren’t interested any more. But no one in our band really has a Plan B, that is, something they can do when Deichkind stops working.

Interview: Andre Leslie
Editor: Greg Wiser