TOKIO HOTEL are Bill Kaulitz (vocals) & Tom Kaulitz (guitar), Georg Listing (bass) and Gustav Schafer (drums), and their story reads like the script for a blockbuster movie...
'... A band from a town in East Germany become the biggest stars of the past 20 years in their native country, charting records at No. 1, playing to ten or 20 thousand each night and being feted with every German industry award. Before long, the four musicians are travelling farther afield, and demand is growing fast - not just from an increasingly manic fanbase, but from the mass media too. Much attention is focussed on the frontman and the guitarist - identical twin brothers with a potent 'fight for your dreams' philosophy. The former is a striking, androgynous-looking performer, pierced & tattooed, an artist effortlessly able to drive his followers into a frenzy, whilst the latter cuts a distinctive dash of his own. They record & release two full albums of memorable guitar-driven anthems, complete with German lyrics, and Tokio Fever rages out of control...'
You can already hear the cameras starting to roll, except...
The script would have to include the fact that two of the TH members were just 13 years old when they made their first record, and they are still only 18 today. So no-one would believe it. No way.
ACTUALLY, NOT only is the above synopsis free from artistic licence, but if anything it underplays the impact these spirited teens have made on a German market where 'Tokio Fever' is now an epidemic...
Since signing with Universal in May 2005, TH have sold approaching three million records & DVDs in Germany alone, making them the country's most successful band, with a host of domestic awards jostling for space in the collective cabinet (nine platinum/four gold, at last count, plus an additional four platinum awards for sales in Austria & Switzerland). And they played the most successful debut live tour EVER to grace German stages.
The two TH albums - 2005's 'Schrei' ('Scream') and follow-up 'Zimmer 483' ('Room 483'), recently released - have both topped the charts at home, spawning four No.1 singles, and in the case of the former, staying on those charts for 66 unbroken weeks. Meanwhile, the first leg of the European stadium tour in support of 'Zimmer...' (April 3rd - May 14th) will see the group playing in front of young crowds six to twenty thousand strong. All going mad. All of the time. Something underlined in the reddest possible ink by the 'Schrei-Live' DVD, issued in 2006, which has now sold approximately 100,000 copies in Germany, pushing total DVD sales for TH to the quarter million mark...
Put simply, it would be an act of rank foolishness to go toe-to-toe with these guys in terms of statues or stats, with existing records being rearranged as a matter of routine. They're the youngest band to reach the top of their charts at home, for example... and now the highest-placed German act ever in France, where 'Zimmer 483' (the meaning of the title is hidden somewhere in the album!) recently stormed the chart at No.2, turning gold week one.
With French national radio station NRJ reporting more text messages & phone calls for TH than for Madonna, and their supporters laying siege to any hotel they book into, it's clear that this audio/visual fan-driven phenomenon is not constrained by either language or location. France, Austria, Switzerland and most East-European countries are all now making their mark on the gold & platinum scale, paving the way for a co-ordinated leap into the wider overseas market, with the US & UK ridin' high on the 'to do' list.
Central to this, the key moments from both albums are being brought together on 'Scream' - a new 12-track package (set to appear on June 4th) that could already, and quite legitimately, be described as a 'Greatest Hits' release. Complete with specially revised artwork plus newly recorded English vocals (seven songs from the debut outing had to be re-worked three keys lower for Bill, since he was only 13 when he sung the original versions), it will serve as the ideal calling card for those markets yet to experience 'The Fever' at first-hand, with high-profile live & promotional activity due to take place in support.
And just to make the 'script' even more improbable, all of the above (and more!) has been achieved in less than two years - although the speed of this breakthrough should in no way imply either fast-tracking or favoritism. In the world of TH, dues have very much been paid...
BY VISITING the website of their hometown Magdeburg you can see who the town (population 230,000) considers its foremost sons & daughters. Top of the list is Otto von Guericke, inventor of the air pump, born there in 1602, but also on this roll of honour (and destined to knock Otto from his primary perch) are Tokio Hotel. It was in this vicinity, some 405 years later, that the Kaulitz brothers came into the world, Tom 10 minutes before Bill...
For their guitarist stepfather, encouraging the boys' musical instincts seemed the natural thing to do, and by the age of 12, a band had been formed. It was called Devilish, with Georg & Gustav - who had seen the twins play using keyboards rather than live bass & drums - coming on board to add sinew to the spine. Bound together by shared musical likes (and dislikes), the group launched itself onto the clubs & bars of Magdeburg, then booked time in a small budget studio to put the live set to tape. By the end of that session, however, it was obvious to all parties that lack of time, money & experience had taken its toll, leaving the sonics and the songs a little frayed around the edges.
In short, more work was required, and once that work was underway (in conjunction with the producer team: Dave Roth, Patrick Benzner, Peter Hoffmann & David Jost, who had previously worked for Mötley Crüe, Jewel, Faith Hill & Falco, amongst others - they even did remix work for The DOORS), a whole new level of composition was quick to emerge. Sturdy of hook, emotive of vocal and walking a confident middle path between pop sensibility and prime rock rebellion, it was at this point that the TH sound of today began to find its feet. Accessible? Absolutely. Modern? Most certainly. But at no point conceived to fall in line with fashion.
FOR BILL, Tom, Gustav & Georg, this learning curve is something that still gets discussed in (rare) quieter moments; their first time as members of an experienced/extended team, and their first chance to sit in a hi-tech control room, jet-fighter-cockpit-and- bridge-of-The-Enterprise all rolled into one. Out of these early sessions came a selection of songs powerful enough to pull in major industry interest (Universal offered their deal after another label had 'fumbled the ball'), and also to captivate the public in a way that seldom happens, with debut single/video 'Durch Den Monsun' ('Through The Monsoon') leading the charge in spectacular style...
A prime example of restrained drama and telling melody, '... Monsun' charted at No.1 in Germany on August 20th 2005, with Tokio Hotel now the name of the band; by the following week, the track had rocketed to No.1 in Austria as well... which at this point makes 'the script' impossible to put down!
Sure, the song was a hit, and a serious one, occupying the top spot in Germany for seven consecutive weeks and staying in the Top 100 for a further 16. More than that, however, it took a rather large flame to the TH fuse, connecting with receptive hearts & minds on a level that flagged up a healthy future for the group beyond this early assault. It was also, significantly, the 'tipping point' track in France, where radio reticence was finally overcome with an English language version (!)... and now it will be the launch song from the international 'Scream' album, supported by a new video filmed in Cape Town, South Africa with director Daniel Siegler.
FROM THE initial release of '... Monsun' onwards, the words 'Tokio Hotel' and 'major chart success' have never been out of the same sentence, with the next four singles all striking home: 'Schrei' (Top Five), 'Rette Mich' (No.1), 'Der Letzte Tag' (No.1) & 'Ubers Ende Der Welt' (No.1), the latter from 'Zimmer 483'. No great surprise then that the band have been consistently honoured at such high-profile events as the World Music Awards, the Eins Live Krone Awards, the European Borders Breaker Awards and the Echo Awards, where they recently premiered new single 'Spring Nicht' ('Don't Jump') before collecting the 'Best Video' award for 'Der Letzte Tag' ('The Final Day').
With 'Spring Nicht' (also from 'Zimmer...') due out shortly in Europe plus the international release for '... Monsoon' now set at May 7th, 'the script' continues to be a page-turner, with extra cast & crew added all of the time. What there's no need for, however, is a stylist, as right from the start the four - particularly, Bill & Tom - have chosen to explore their own ideas about image, giving an extra-wide berth to convention & conformity (the clip for 'Ubers Ende Der Welt' tackles this subject with non-political aplomb).
There is a story that, when very young, Bill & Tom would wear T-shirts bearing their names so as to stop people mixing them up, but there's no chance of such confusion occurring today...
On one side, there's Bill, almost an anime character come to life with his exotic appearance and shock of hair - a 'live for the moment' personality who basically 'invented' himself when he was six years old. He has since become the biggest and most passionate stage performer in the country.
Tom, on the other hand, favours a different, more urban look, though one that's just as defined - all in marked relief to his brother's tight-fit taste in fashion. Not unexpectedly, their musical leanings are individual too, with Tom's early regard for AC/DC & Aerosmith now giving way to artists such as German hip hop star Samy Deluxe, whereas Bill, if pressed, is more likely to talk about David Bowie or veteran German singer Nena, for whom he's long nursed an affection.
With so much media attention focussed on the pair (the circulation of German youth title Bravo has risen by 22 per cent in the wake of TH's booming popularity), it can sometimes be hard for decisions to be taken with a fully level head. In this respect, the 'two G's' - whose musical loves range from Fall Out Boy & Green Day (Georg) through to Metallica & Foo Fighters (Gustav) - are on hand to provide the more measured view, the calm at the eye of the storm. Actually, make that monsoon...
GIVE ALL of the above a stir, and the result is a young band who pride themselves on playing their instruments since they could walk (Gustav started on drums when he was four) putting on great live shows (they've recently taken delivery of a new all-moving stage-set) and having positive things to say to fans their own age. Yes, their demeanour and their dress have played a significant role in bringing them into the spotlight, and yes, their average age is only 18, but it would be foolish to attribute such dramatic (and fast-growing) success to pin-up power alone. No cheekbones are that sturdily chiselled.
Ultimately, it always comes back to The Music, as in 'are the songs any good?' And in this respect, Tokio Hotel are not to be found wanting. Quite the opposite. This is one blockbuster destined to carry a really great soundtrack...
Bill Kaulitz- Lead Vocals
Tom Kaulitz- Lead Guitar, Backup Vocals
Georg Listing- Bass
Gustav Schäfer- Drums
Tokio Hotel Discography
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