Great art is often born out of extreme repression.
Pressure builds when you force human beings to adhere to strict societal guidelines for long enough. Throw in covert establishment terror tactics such as the threat of secret police and you’ve got a recipe for combustion in the long term.
Given the circumstances under which Rammstein grew up and began making music, it’s no surprise that things turned out the way they did.
The members of Rammstein all played in East Berlin punk and post-punk bands in the 1980s and early ‘90s. Paul Landers and Christian Lorenz enjoyed some success as founding members of Feeling B, along with Christoph Schneider. Till Lindemann, Richard Bernstein, and Landers were members of the avant-garde First Arsch. Lorenz, Schneider, Landers, and Bernstein all played in the notable post-punk band Die Firma.
Die Firma aren’t notable for being particularly inventive or successful, although they were a long-standing and important part of the East Berlin scene. No, Die Firma’s notoriety comes from a far more nefarious place. As it would turn out, two of the members of the band were East German spies!
Speaking with Metal Hammer about the conditions faced by active musicians in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Rammstein drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider had this to say about his former band:
“Die Firma was like a new wave punk band. The style was a little dark, with gothic influences. We had lyrics that protested against the system. This was not permitted, of course — we were an underground band. All the other Rammstein guys were in underground bands, too. We used to play in small clubs with all kinds of fans: freaks, goths, punks.
The government had their people everywhere, though: Secret Service spies. What was funny was that I couldn’t imagine any harder band than mine at the time, and we had two people actually in the band who were spies — the singer and the keyboard player! Ha ha! Incredible. They weren’t professionals: They were hired spies who received a little payment and every once in a while had to report about the music scene.”
Due to restrictions put on members of the performing arts community at large, it was common practice for governmental agencies to infiltrate these scenes altogether. In order to perform in public, musicians needed to obtain a license. In order to get this license, bands had to perform original compositions in front of a jury. It was state control from the bottom up.
Schneider elaborated, “In the East we had professional bands which had all studied music and had official permission to play music. They were allowed to work as professionals and they had the right to charge money for their shows.
If you were an amateur, you had to be classified at a certain level. There were three levels, and I reached the first one! I had a certificate which allowed me to charge four Deutschmarks per hour when I played a concert.
Without this certificate, it was illegal to play gigs, and you weren’t allowed to make contact with promoters without one. People accepted this because they had to.
To get your certificate you had to play in front of a commission, like a jury, who decided if you had the right songs: you were only allowed to play 40-percent cover versions in your set, the rest had to be your own music.
Actually it wasn’t that bad an idea, because bands had to come up with their own stuff, and so there were a lot of interesting bands at that time.”
After the Berlin Wall came down, the members of Feeling B and Die Firma would eventually collaborate and form Rammstein. The rest is history.