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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

TMHU Behind the Scenes - Antilopen Gang

(Left-to-right: Danger Dan, Koljah, Panik Panzer /Photo: Benjamin Cory)

Several months ago, I had the "brilliant" idea of trying to interview the members of the Antilopen Gang for a piece for my radio show. Those sarcastiquotes have nothing to do with my personal opinion of the Antilopen Gang, but rather my ill-preparedness throughout the entire process. I am not a brilliant person, so I rarely do things the easy or smart or subtle way. But it does get done... so there's that.

There are three reasons why I chose the Antilopen to be my first attempt at organizing an interview:

1.) They're an interesting group releasing interesting music in an unconventional way. In my opinion, they're teetering on the cusp of something big. I don't know what that "big thing" is as yet and, in part, it might be emerging through the tragic loss of a group member. But if I start adding more interview elements to the show, then they fit the description of the types of artists who I want to approach.

2.) They're well-known enough to have at least a slight name recognition in hip-hop circles, i.e. other people have heard of them and would be interested in hearing more about what they're doing. I wanted to shoot high, but not *too* high.

3.) They're still underground enough that I wouldn't have to jump through manager, label, publicist hoops, which drastically reduces the run around (but not avoiding it altogether, which you can see later).

And mostly...I just wanted to see if I could make it happen. 

So, once I found out they were playing in Hamburg, I reached out to the concert promoter, who helped me get in touch with the group. 

At this point, I could write a bunch of stuff that makes it seem like I did all the heavy lifting, but the truth is that I encountered a barrage of Real Life Shita few weeks before the concert. I know I had months to prepare everything, but back in early June... September seemed so very far away. You know how it is.

With time running out, I had to either find an alternate interviewer or scrap the idea entirely. 

And since I really wanted this to work out, I made Frosty an offer that he could not refuse: He'd interview the Antilopen Gang, I'd get him up to Hamburg and he could crash on my couch.

The idea of spending a weekend with my ex -- after a nearly year of sporadic contact -- posed its own unique set of issues and I questioned my sanity more than once. However, I am firmly convinced that there was no one better suited (not even myself) to take on this task. If he wouldn't have done it, it wouldn't have gotten done. Luckily (for me), he agreed to do it.

I had my interviewer and interview confirmation in the bag. I reserved a studio at the radio station for the pre-concert interview and everything seemed on track...

...until we stopped hearing back from the group about a week before the concert and, two days before the concert, I started coming down with a nasty cold. 

Four hours before the concert, we still hadn't heard anything back from the group, so I decided to call the concert promoter. We made arrangements to meet up before doors open at the venue, at which time the promoter said he'd check with the group to make sure they reaaaaaaallly wanted to do the interview. Which, to be honest, was not the best solution, because we already got the greenlight from the group... we just hadn't been able to get in touch with them.

After talking to the concert promoter, Frosty decided to try contacting the Antilopen by mobile. No answer; straight to voicemail.

Relevant fact: the whole time, we'd been in contact with Panik Panzer, one of the group members.

I suggested to Frosty to send a text message, because maybe Panik was screening his calls or just generally not checking voicemails, because it's 2013 and who the fuck checks their voicemails? If I had the patience to figure out how to turn that shit off, I totally would.

Frosty sent the text message, while I was on my balcony. Then, he came over to join me:

Frosty: I sent him a message.

Me: What did it say?

Frosty: It said, "Dear Panik Panzer, you're not only the cruel shop man, you're also the cruel interview man."

Me: ...

Frosty: What? I think it's funny and I think they'll think it's funny, too. Was that too "unprofessional"?

His text message referenced an "apology" track called "Der Shopmann" released by the group after they had some shipping issues in their online shop with their most recent release. While I understood the reference, I was still a bit shell shocked. At that point, the concert was two hours away and I felt like I was watching the remnants of the whole interview plan dissolve before my eyes. I couldn't form my thoughts into words and Frosty stood there with the cheeky grin that he gets when he's convinced he's executed a particularly clever idea.

As it turns out... it was a particularly clever idea, because a very short time later, he received the phone call that put the final touches on the meet up plan. Here's where I'll emphasize that I don't endorse this method of brazenness, but I will say that it was effective in this case.

We got the interview. In fact, we got two interviews. One version took place backstage after the show (and was cut off, as the venue owner wanted to close up shop). The other took place the next day, when the group returned to the venue to pick up their things. There are pros and cons to both and certainly room for improvement style-wise. But, hey, it was a learning experience all around.

The guys were actually really sweet and apologized for the lack of communication leading up to the show. They were also quite gracious and accommodating -- not that I expected them to be assholes -- I just found them to be genuinely nice. The concert was a lot of good fun. If you're a hip-hop "purist", they're probably not the group for you; probably because you're too old or too inflexible to think outside of the hip-hop box (you know who you are and, yes, I'm talking to you). Their backing tracks were played on a MacBook. So what?

Also palpable was the absence of the late NMZS. The other Antilopen took turns performing some of his songs or his parts from group tracks. Their bond with each other and with their deceased friend was very apparent and very moving at times. Perhaps, in particular, when they performed the song, "Bleib am Boden". The antithesis of positive-keep-your-head-up-you-can-do-it-homie rap tracks, "Bleib am Boden" takes the position that it's just easier to give up and... kill yourself, when the going gets tough. K.I.Z. released a song in a similar vein called "Wenn es brennt" ...about a year after AG.

But, of course, after NMZS's passing, the track takes on a whole other flavor:

Frosty's putting together a report with excerpts from the interview for next month's radio show. It'll be in German, of course, but I'll post an English transcript, so no one misses out.
Nice guys, great concert. I'll have to see if more interview hijinx are in my future...
P.S. Special thanks goes out to my awesome friend Beni (who's not big into rap, but loves photography and agreed to come and take pics for me)

(From left to right: Danger Dan, Koljah, Panik Panzer, Frosty, me, and Andy the promoter)

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