When I heard about punkrock in the beginning of the 1980s as a small child the guys with mohawks and leather jeackets looked threatening to me. Dangerous people you shouldn’t deal with, that’s what my parents used to say jokingly. Still when I started listening to the music and went to my first few shows it turned out that those things were highly exaggerated. It was different from normal concerts and scenes, I guess, but it wasn’t as dangerous as I expected it to be. Still there used to be an exciting atmosphere before shows. A feeling that you didn’t know what to expect from the concert. Anything could happen. From funny things to fights. This changed over the years as shows became more streamlined and predictable. Not that nothing happened afterwards, but the feeling before a show changed. Maybe it’s because things really calmed down, but maybe it’s also because I had gotten used to going to a lot of shows and by doing so I experienced a lot of things. There were no surprises left, it seemed.
And then came Hammerhead. I first read about them in the Hardcore pages of German metal magazine Rock Hard, if I’m not mistaken. Those were two pages dealing with a lot of bands in short reviews and news. It said there that this was special. Their new record was just released recently and the most shocking thing was the cover sleeve showing to criminals who had taken hostages during a bank raid in 1988. This incident is simply known as “Gladbeck” in Germany. Those guys took hostages, drove thorugh the whole country, ended up in Cologne holding a press conference to reporters on the street and were finally set up on the highway by the special police. That, it turned out, was a desaster. The cops turned their car into a sink, killing one hostage. The famous picture showing one criminal holding his gun at the chin of the hostage who was later killed was on the cover of “Stay Where The Pepper Grows”, Hammerhead‘s first full length record.
I wasn’t going to buy the record though as I was far more interested in melodic punkrock back then (1993) and the way the review was written it sounded like that wasn’t my cup of tea anyway. But then I went to Neuss’ Geschwister-Scholl-Haus to watch them play live, that coming a few years after the release, I think, and I was completely blown away. This was raw, this was threatening, this was punkrock at its best. They played with Vulture Culture, but when I say that I don’t remember anything about the opening act it’s because I was so impressed by Hammerhead‘s performance. They had a whole bunch of plastic beer glasses on stage and their singer was pouring one after another either down his throat or into the audience. The whole thing quickly became a rather dirty affair. He also kept on insulting the audience, lashing out at people standing in front of the stage, questioning their personality. This was fun, this wasn’t ordinary, this was exactly what I had been looking for at that time. It got me hooked.
I then did a little research over the time, because I wanted to know more about the band. It turned out they had started as a rather normale straight edge hardcore band while still going to school. Back then they were known as Breaking Through. With the change of the name their sound became more brutal and raw and they built up a reputation in the German scene with the 7″s they released. “Stay Where The Pepper Grows” expanded their fame and they played a lot of shows after the release. The record itself was pure brilliance. To start off a record with a song called “Handgranate” (handgranade) is just great. Pissed off vocals, violent guitars, thumping basslines, crashing drums, what else do you need? Then there’s those hilarious samples from German movies. This recording is the personification of pure nihilism. There’s no hope, there’s no future, just let go, do us a favour and die. In a way this is what punk was supposed to be like, right? But at the same time when the scene was celebrating itself for being so damn individual Hammerhead just didn’t give a shit. They were telling people they sucked and that didn’t exclude anyone.
I went to some other shows and then in 1997 everybody was raving about their new release, the so called “White Album”. Although it was still Hammerhead it sounded to me as if they had taken their style to a new level. Songs like “Köter”, “Spinne” or the hit of the record “Ich sauf’ allein” became instant favourites to me and were cheered at the concerts. Especially the latter turned out to become an idiom for staying at home alone. Watching Hammerhead shows became something I was looking forward to a few weeks prior to the concert. Im remember them playing Cologne’s Sonic Ballroom with Dayglo Abortions and that was before the make over. The band was supposed to start the show but the whisky bottles were missing. The played one hell of a show and right after it their drummer stormed out of the room only to throw up in front of the bar. That’s when a friend of mine coined the phrase “I don’t have anything against punks, but why can’t they have decent manners”.
The years went on, I saw some more shows, they released another record, this time a 10″, and then suddenly came the announcement that the band was to call it quits at the end of the summer of 2004. They went on one last tour and I was eager to attend the shows at Düsseldorf and Bonn. They had thought of a nice gimmick for their final salute at the Bla in Germany’s former capital. The audience was required to wear mourning clothes. So the guys had to wear black suits and the girls black dresses. This was by far the best dressed audience I had ever seen at a punk concert. And the show still ranks in my personal Top 10 shows of all time. Pure brilliance. They played for over 1.5 hours, I think I even recall them playing songs twice just to keep on playing. The room was so packed, people weren’t able to moce to the side anymore. I heard from a friend they put in another extra 60 people for this occasion. Had the cops known this they would have stopped the show at once. But then again, how would they had done that? The place was packed with crazy punker guys and girls. That would have been a blast.
As the time went on, Hammerhead then released their final goodbye, a DVD entitled “Sterbt alle” (Die, you all). It covers their whole career from the beginnings as a straight edge hardcore band to their legendary status they achieved by the end. It’s really fun to watch as they play with all the myths that surrounded the band. It has the footage from some German talkshows where their singer exposed himself as the prototype punk guy who doesn’t want to work. It also has the famous quote he gave on MTV while being interviewed at the Chaos Days in Hannover: “Ich bin Punker und schmeiss’ Mülltonnen” (“I’m a punk and I throw garbage boxes”). A lot of people they got to know while playing shows all over Germany were interviewed as well for this and it’s extremely interesting to see who is affiliated with the band. To be honest, as of today, noone would expect the singer of a German indie rock band with some sort of chart success to be interested in a fucked up punkrock group like Hammerhead. Yet Thees Uhlmann, the singer in Tomte, gives his wonderful view of the times. And they also make fun of German zinester Joachim Hiller, editor of Ox Magazine. Great fun. Hilarious stuff and always worthwhile watching with a bunch of friends while getting drunk on a boring weekend.
So, now we are in 2009 and while noone was expecting it the band has scheduled a concert at the Underground in Cologne in April and I wonder what that might be like. Is there a chance for a constant comeback or is it just a once-in-a-while thing? We’ll find out, but I will definetely go there to enjoy myself.
For additional info on the band please visit hammerhead.de.