A World of Burnt Corpses: An Interview with Rudy Ratzinger of :Wumpscut:
Issue #37, March 1998
Rudy Ratzinger, aka :Wumpscut:, may represent the summary statement on contemporary German/European "dark wave" music. Wumpscut is industrial music with a caustic mosh-pit dance orientation, but it's far more thematic than earlier industrial formations (such as Throbbing Gristle or Einstürzende Neubauten). It is both more unrelenting and more lyrical than the highly commercial Nine Inch Nails and other assembly-line (no irony here) industrial music. :Wumpscut: -- as well as other performers loosely affiliated with Ratzinger such as Noisex and Remyl -- fuses a meditation on the German past with an apocalyptic aesthetic; Auschwitz is a prelude to the postindustrial wasteland that Ratzinger charts, a landscape filled with sex crimes, child murder, and cultural burn-out. :Wumpscut:'s CDs thus far include MUSIC FOR A SLAUGHTERING TRIBE, BUNKER GATE 7, EMBRYODEAD, GOMORRHA, DRIED BLOOD, and THE MESNER TAPES. This conversation took place via e-mail November, 1997.
Sharrett:You have spoken of a negative aesthetic informing the work of :Wumpscut:. Could you elaborate on this?
Ratzinger: In a world of burnt corpses, who would be more attractive than the woman featured on the cover of GOMORRHA? I do not like beauty itself, as it fades away constantly and definitely. I realize there are too many people in the dark scene who prefer the negative aesthetic, but I simply find it to be affirming.
S: Wumpscut seems to have an apocalyptic dimension.
R: I have often searched for a product such as mine. The better I feel, the more I get interested in the concept of the end, the apocalypse. It is a kind of soul-balance.
S: Isn't an element of the apocalyptic basic to much industrial music?
R: Is it? Well, maybe. I do not care. I've never consciously looked for ideals, icons, idols. But one thing is clear in my work: It is not enough to exploit Germany's past by using fragments and newsreels from the war to give a sense of Nazism. This offers no message; it is just free play with symbols.
S: How is the apocalyptic element different as embodied in :Wumpscut:?
R: Your personal apocalypse (your death) and the global apocalypse (humanity's death) are fixed points in time. No one will be able to help you and/or humanity out of this mess. :Wumpscut: demonstrates a philosophy of the imminence of this apocalypse.
S: You have spoken of your work as nonideological. Isn't the dystopian, apocalyptic element itself ideological in that it sees the current political-economic order as irredeemable?
R: :Wumpscut: does not tell people what to do. I am just a storyteller. Be sure: The world will die. I do not like to refer too much to scenes from real history (apart from "Untermensch"; and "In the Night"). For me it is important to create music that can be timeless. As long as we live in this physical world, people will look for physical solutions born out of physical problems. :Wumpscut: is physical as well, although it creates something immaterial: your imagination. Maybe this music helps some human beings to make up their minds about being mortal, maybe it drives some to commit suicide. I do not care too much about this since I cannot experience the world in its totality, not in any detail. The most important thing is to MOVE the people. My approach to history is of this kind.
S: You speak a great deal about "evil"; the crucifixion, etc. Do you believe in god?
S: What books particularly influence your philosophy?
R: The time for books is over. Create your own philosophy.
S: You seem to view critically the use of German World War II images in the media, yet you make use of these images in MUSIC FOR A SLAUGHTERING TRIBE, BUNKER GATE 7, GOMORRHA, and elsewhere. How do you see the relation of Hitler to postwar Germany?
R: Regarding the bad situation of East Germany's youth, you could speak of tendencies toward nationalism. And Hitler is of course always part of that. But this is true not just for the youth but for all of Germany, day by day; its past is present. Magazines like Der Spiegel and Focus always prove this.
S: Unlike many late industrial acts, you seem to focus on the concept of a song with lyrics.
R: This is to reach the listener's soul. :Wumpscut: does not feature too much noise and takes care with melody, the use of the violin and such. Each song is an individual narrative.
S: Is it fair to say that your albums are very concept-oriented? EMBRYODEAD has the obvious concept of telling the embryo to avoid the world. What about MUSIC FOR A SLAUGHTERING TRIBE and BUNKER GATE 7?
R: EMBRYODEAD became a conceptual album unconsciously. You cannot say the same for the others. I do not care about things like that. But at the same time I cannot tell if BOESES JUNGES FLEISCH/EVIL YOUNG FLESH [upcoming album] will follow the EMBRYODEAD ideology that you speak of correctly.
S: The pictures you use are interesting, especially the ones for MUSIC FOR A SLAUGHTERING TRIBE. Who is the old man with the library full of skeletons, the source of the picture of the Wehrmacht soldiers with prisoner, and the dead child?
R: The doctor is Paul Virchow, a famous eccentric German scholar. I do not know the original source of the picture of the soldiers. It is from newsreels. The girl is Gabi from Hamburg who died during the bombardment of 1942.
S: Why have Klaus Haarman as the Beton Kopf Media (Ratzinger's label) logo, as opposed to some other serial killer? Is Haarman associated in your mind with Weimar Germany and the coming of the Nazis, especially since he resembles Hitler?
R: His name is Fritz Haarmann. He had an interesting mental state. He had the mind of a child in opposition to his own physical strength, thus I use him for the Beton Kopf image. Certainly he was aware of the conditions of Weimar, but I can say no more than that. He was beheaded a long time before the Nazis took power.
S: Is Fritz Haarmann actually the person who inspired the film M?
R: Yes, as far as I know.
S: What do the songs "Koslow"; and "Dudek" refer to?
R: "Koslow" refers to the killer living next to you. "Dudek" is nearly the same.
S: When you created the song "Dying Culture" were you referring to the loss of European culture specifically?
R: No. There is no special angst about Europe, no reference there. It is about global death.
S: What would you say is the relationship of the apocalypse of :Wumpscut: to the utopia of the Beatles?
R: Like the Beatles, :Wumpscut: will die as soon as I do not find any sense in it anymore. This is the way in which all art is apocalyptic.
S: Is :Wumpscut: music the last music?
R: Maybe. Who knows?
Christopher Sharrett is Associate Professor of Communication at Seton Hall University. His articles on film/media have appeared in CineAction, Cineaste, Film Quarterly, Journal of Popular Film and Television, Persistence of Vision, Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, and elsewhere. He is the editor of Crisis Cinema: The Apocalyptic Idea in Postmodern Narrative Film (Maisonneuve Press, 1993).