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We almost lost Bochum

For a couple of years, following their debut album in 1998, RAG were absolutely massive. Well, that’s the claim of this film anyway, and I’ve no reason to doubt it. If you were to compile a list of Mastermind subjects you should absolutely avoid, German rap would be pretty high on my list. So here’s an opportunity to learn more about one of the key groups.

The talking heads making standard reminiscences include some people of whom even I’ve heard. But the key information comes from the 2 rappers and one MC who came together in 2018 for a 20th anniversary concert. They report back from the brief years of success through the difficult solo projects to the unfortunate circumstances which triggered this reunion.

Aphroe is referred to by the others as Karsten, his less prosaic real name. He is interviewed in his car, in the pub, and, for no apparent reason, standing up outside. He seems an affable enough bloke but doesn’t have too much to say. After the band broke up, he released a couple of solo albums, but was plagued by writer’s block and they always took much longer than planned to produce.

His colleagues Pahel and Mr. Wiz both ended up in the USA. As the only black members of the group, they found US-American racism more honest than the German variant and traded playing big stadiums for “proper”, but badly-paid work. When everything fell apart, their relationship seems not to have suffered, and they happily pose with their children and swap stories about the Bronx and Washington DC.

And then there was the fourth member of the group, Galla. His story is told by people who knew him, including an ex-girlfriend and a former flatmate. He tried to open up a shop selling ghetto fashion, but that fell apart and he took to drink and drugs, ending up sleeping on the streets. Before his 40th birthday, his body just packed up and he died – not of cancer, as some media claimed – but of exhaustion.

When Galla died, he was penniless. The reunion concert was a way of funding his funeral. Old mates from the Good Old Days happily played, and for some of the people interviewed after the concert, it was obviously one of the best experiences of their lives. I’m sure that they will love this film.

But a film about musicians will almost always be loved by the band’s fans unconditionally. A truly great music film must also appeal to people who know nothing of the music, or even hate it. And, sad to say, We almost lost Bochum lacks the tragic poignancy of, say, The Story of Anvil. It is also a film about ageing musicians who speak openly about not reaching the heights to which they aspired. But there’s just something lacking here.

So, we see a series of interviews with some middle aged men, whose fans may hang on their every word, but to a casual observer they have nothing more or less to say than someone who has just been picked off the street. Whereas The Story of Anvil successfully mixes the banal with the lingering desire to be a rock star, the guys from RAG seem to have accepted their fate and don’t share the foolish passion of the Canadian rockers. This may lead to more fulfilled lives, but it also makes for less interesting cinema.

Even the tragic story of Galla – the most moving part of the film – is ever so slightly dull. It’s a story of people neglecting to stay in touch, of him never really being interesting enough for them to check he was ok. Even his ex is resigned to the fact that they simply stopped getting along. For those of us who don’t revere him as a music legend, it is hard to appreciate the crashing significance of his loss.

I am sure that I would feel different about this film if the music we hear moved me, or if the band were part of my personal history. For this reason, I’m probably not the right person to be writing this review. People who will enjoy it don’t need my Eyeore-ish misery. But I do think if you’re not a fan already, you won’t be really charmed into buying any of the albums.

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