|Years Active:||1980 - 2005|
Metal Enterprises (1987-1990)
Bellaphon Records (1991-1994)
Virgin Schallplatten (1995-2000)
rule23 Recordings (2000-2005)
|Current Members:||Kevin Russell (Vocals)|
Stephan Weidner (Bass guitar)
Matthias Röhr (Guitar)
Peter Schorowsky (Drums)
Böhse Onkelz started out in November 1980 in Hösbach as a punk rock band heavily inspired by bands such as Sex Pistols and the Ramones by Stephan "Der W" Weidner, Kevin Russell (he never uses his middle name Richard) and Peter "Pe" Schorowsky.
The name is an incorrect spelling of "bad uncles" (the correct form would be böse Onkels), which is German baby talk for bad grown-ups. According to Weidner on their DVD release "20 Jahre: Live in Frankfurt", the name was created when the three founding members stole a sledge from some other teenagers, one of whom said "Hey, da sind die bösen Onkels schon wieder" (Hey, there come the bad uncles again).
The band kept its initial line-up until Matthias Röhr (nicknamed Gonzo after the Ted Nugent album of the same name) joined them in 1981. Musically he was by far the most experienced of the group; he had been playing guitar for six years, and had played in other bands such as Antikörper. Since Weidner played guitar, Matthias started out on bass, but they switched instruments before their first recordings for the punk sampler Soundtracks zum Untergang 2. Initially, the band was active mainly in the region of Frankfurt am Main.
Soundtracks zum Untergang 2 (Soundtracks to the Downfall Vol. 2) was a left-wing oriented punk sampler on which Böhse Onkelz featured in the band's first widely released recording. However, after the until then apolitical punk movement moved further into anarchism, the Onkelz lost interest in this subculture. "Fußball" became more important in their lives and with it, fights surrounding games accumulated.
Initially, the band considered themselves part of the (originally unpolitical) Oi! movement, but they underwent their first drift to the political right in the early 1980s. The gigs and demos that had been released until then appealed to their fans, who ranged from unpolitical to the extreme right. The release of the album Der nette Mann followed in 1984 on the right-wing rock label Rock-O-Rama. This album was indexed in September 1986 because of its violence-glorifying and sexist content. The album also contained the patriotic songs Stolz (Pride) and Deutschland (Germany), by which the Onkelz slowly gained cult status in the right-wing scene. Der nette Mann was copied numerous times to cassettes and thereby spread rapidly in the scene. Shortly after the release of the Mexico EP in late 1985 the band split with Rock-O-Rama.
After their split from the skinhead scene in 1986, the band proceeded without any distinguishable political motivation. The albums following also contained songs about drinking and violence, but were much richer musically and lyrically. Despite substantial problems caused by Russell's alcohol and heroin addictions, the band continued to work together.
On the 16th of June, 1990, the band's best common friend, Andreas "Trimmi" Trimborn, was stabbed to death during an incident in a bar located in Frankfurt's Sachsenhausen district. Only two days later Böhse Onkelz supporters located the assailant, a "Bundeswehr" soldier whose father held a high military rank. The murderer was tried in court but released without sentence. The judge stated that the Böhse Onkelz band and entourage were known to be violent and that the stabbing was committed in self-defense. Even today, all witnesses sharply reject this claim that Trimmi threatened the killer and his companion, both of whom allegedly snorted cocaine just minutes before the incident, with a beer mug. Russell fell into a severe depression over the loss of his friend and tried to compensate his grief with drugs and alcohol. His substance abuse habits became so destructive that he almost died as a result. The songs Nur die besten sterben jung (Only the best die young) and Der Platz neben mir (The place beside me) are dedicated to and written in memory of Trimmi.
In 1992, without any marketing, the album Heilige Lieder rose to no. 5 on the German LP charts. Despite their increasing commercial success, the band was marked with the stigma of being a right-wing band till the end. During various xenophobia-related attacks, the media discovered the right-wing past of the band. Following some critical reports, the Onkelz were faced with substantial criticism, which among other things led to individual radio stations refusing to play Onkelz songs. Many outside observers simply didn't believe that the band had "seen the light" and instead considered their exit from the skinhead scene as a maneuver to avoid bans and prosecution. The band's reputation also suffered from several poorly researched articles written about them. As a reaction to this, Weidner wrote songs like Fahrt zur Hölle (Go To Hell) on Weiß or Danke für Nichts (Thanks for Nothing) on Hier sind die Onkelz (Here are the Unclez).
Additionally, big department stores such as Media Markt, World of Music (WOM) and Saturn refused to sell Onkelz albums. By the end of the 1990s, however, Media Markt and WOM took the albums back into their range of products. Only Saturn refused to sell them until the band's final album Adios in 2005 which, along with others of their later albums, was on top of the charts for several weeks. In the following years, the Onkelz repeatedly took positions against extremism of any kind and referred to themselves as outsiders with no political affiliation.
When the band's five year contract with Virgin ended in 2003, they found a new selling partner in the indie label SPV GmbH for their final album, Adios. On 24 May, 2004 the Onkelz officially announced their retreat from the active music business. After the release of the album, a gig on the Wacken Open Air in August 2004 and the sold-out tour La Ultima, the farewell show took place on 17 and 18 June 2005 at the EuroSpeedway Lausitz (in Lusatia, Brandenburg) under the name Vaya con tioz, to which approximately 120,000 fans came.
The musical style of the Onkelz has changed several times. Originally they played punk, starting with the Demoalbum. Throughout their career, their music was stylistically similar to heavy metal. Fans think they distinguish themselves by being excluded from society because of their rage, which directly expresses what they are thinking. Russell's brutal vocals have also been a very distinctive part of the band's style.
At the beginning of most albums, the first song is some kind of a welcome, in which the Onkelz present themselves as the greatest in an ironic way. Often the band played with its reputation in the songs: they refer to a community feeling shared with the public from which the band and their fans experienced such a dissociation.
The band also frequently attacks its critics, because the band feels that it is treated in an unfair way. Therefore many songs are directed against the media, especially journalists, who are considered with all kinds of loathing and criticism. For example "Danke für nichts, Ihr sollt dem Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben, Jaja, Leck mich am Arsch, Keine Amnestie für MTV" Furthermore, in earlier years the Onkelz sang various drunkard hymns like Heute trinken wir richtig, Alkohol and Freibier.
Beyond that, lyrics of later albums are occupied with the question of the meaning of life, as a passage in the text of Finde die Wahrheit shows: „Denn die Wege sind lang, und selbst der Tod ist nicht ihr Ende, wach endlich auf!" ("For the paths are long, and even death isn't their end, wake up already!"). Other songs with this topic are Wieder mal 'nen Tag verschenkt, Stand der Dinge, Das Problem bist Du and Dunkler Ort. These questions probably arose during and through the trial of the murderer Andreas "Trimmi" Trimborn, mentioned above. This event was mentioned in several songs (Nur die Besten sterben jung, So geht's Dir (Deine Hölle), Das Messer und die Wunde, Ganz egal, and Der Platz neben mir).
Other important topics addressed by the band's lyrics are individualism, self-finding and self-love. In the song Wenn Du wirklich willst are the lyrics „Sei du selbst, steh zu dir, die Wahrheit wird gelebt und nicht doziert. Du bist was du warst und du wirst sein was Du tust, beginne dich zu lieben, und du findest, was du suchst" ("Be yourself, stand for you, the truth is lived and is not taught. You are what you were and you will be what you do, begin to love yourself and you will find what you are searching for."). Songs like Das Wunder der Persönlichkeit, Mutier mit mir, Ich mache was ich will und Ich bin wie ich bin refer strongly to that topic.
In later albums, the past is addressed again and again, whereby it often concerns the wild experiences of the band members. One example is the song Erinnerungen. In the text passage: „Ich erinner' mich gern an diese Zeit, eine Zeit die man nie vergißt. Doch ich muss mein Leben leben, meinen Weg alleine gehn, mach's gut, Du schöne Zeit, auf Wiederseh'n" ("I gladly remember that time, a time that you never forget. But I have to live my life, have to go my way alone. Farewell, beautiful time, good bye"), the topic is the band's exit from the skinhead scene. The songs Ein langer Weg, Scheiße passiert, Nie wieder, Flammen, Deutschland im Herbst, Buch der Erinnerungen and Ohne mich also concern themselves occupied with this topic.
Even today the band is accused - despite many attempts at dissociation - of having right-wing-extremist tendencies, whereby frequently the band's 1981 song Türkähn rauhs (modified spelling of German "Türken raus", meaning "Turks out") is named. This song was written during their punk phase. The Onkelz say that the song was developed as a reaction to a specific gang of Turks which often involved the Onkelz in fights. Critics claim that the song doesn't refer to a specific group, but demands that "all Turks have to go". This generalization must, according to the band, be taken in the context of their primitive way of thinking at that time. Also the song Deutschland den Deutschen (Germany to the Germans), which is a rewritten version of "Oi, Oi, Oi", is often named. This song, too, was developed as a reaction to their experiences on the street.
Another song from 1981, SS-Staat (SS state), on the single Kill the Hippies - Oi!, is, according to the band, to be understood as a deliberate provocation to the Nazis. Due to the bad recording quality the text passage „SS-Staat im Staate, wir wollen's nicht erleben" ("SS-state in the state, we don't want to see it") can be heard as „SS-Staat im Staate, wir wollen's mit erleben" ("SS-state in the state, we want to see it"). The text itself leaves the assumption of a bad and brutally Nazi song, but the band says it was written "as a glaringly provocation and anti-Nazi-song."
Fans of the band refer to the fact that Türken raus and Deutschland den Deutschen were never released on an official release of the Böhse Onkelz. These songs were spread by copying and passing on the demotapes. Weidner spoke in an interview on the topic: "The text was a big stupidity and of course there was never a release of this song, and of course there will be never such a release."
Furthermore, the band have denied all right-wing tendencies since 1985 and wrote several songs against extremism, totalitarism and racism. Later political songs show an attitude towards an independent opinion and against hate.