“This band is therapy, family, fun, work… it’s all together for us”: Blackout Problems on new album RIOT, the power of personal progression and standing up for what’s right

Blackout Problems have ideas, some grandiose, some personal, but they’re all wrapped up in new album RIOT. To dig into the record and what’s really inspiring the German electropunks, we headed to Belgium to find a band reckoning with everything from the departure of a member to complete environmental collapse…

“This band is therapy, family, fun, work… it’s all together for us”: Blackout Problems on new album RIOT, the power of personal progression and standing up for what’s right
Luke Morton
Paul Ambrusch, Mathilda Noelia and Bernhard Schinn

Mario Radetzky is a man possessed. Hurling himself into the crowd, darting around the venue, onto the balcony, standing on the shoulders of the front row… overcome with the energy and emotion of the evening, the Blackout Problems frontman is pouring every last ounce of sweat and adrenaline into their 30-minute set at the sold-out Ancienne Belgique venue in Brussels, Belgium.

Inside the 2,000-capacity sleek, industrial-looking hall of exposed metal and varying shades of red and grey, Blackout Problems are kicking off the European leg of Enter Shikari’s headline tour with FEVER 333 – the UK stretch of which climaxed at Wembley Arena just two days previous. Production issues and delays meant the German three-piece only had a four-minute soundcheck, but you wouldn’t know it from the tightness and tenacity with which they play, barrelling through six tracks of high octane, electro-inflected alt.rock.

Growing up as fans of Shikari, and with their own fusion of electronics and heavy music, there’s a surface-level connection between the two bands that makes this support slot a natural one. But when you actually listen to the music, there’s much more that binds them than their passion for synthesisers. It’s the progressive, political attitude of all three bands on the bill tonight that makes this such a compelling, vital package.

“People can connect with us; even though we might be a little less aggressive than FEVER 333, we have the same views and talk about topics that matter," says Mario. "There are a lot of bands that choose not to talk about these topics.

“We often get considered the outsiders or underdogs in different [tours], but this one fits,” he continues. “The people coming to these shows can take away something more than just buying a beer or shirt.”

We’re joining Mario and his bandmates a few hours before they take to the stage, in their slightly cramped dressing room, all buzzing with excitement. Mario, the more talkative of the three, leads the conversation, alongside the calm and collected bassist Marcus Schwarzbach, and wide-eyed guitarist Mo Hammrich, who’s surreptitiously vaping out the window.

There used to be four members of Blackout Problems, but they’re now going it as a three-piece with alternating live drummers. Not wanting to go into specifics about what happened to previous sticksman Michael Dreilich, Mo instinctively says he got “lost” a few years ago. Pushed for what that actually means, he adds, “there were some difficulties… we wanted to go forward and he doesn’t.”

“Losing a member was really tough on us,” adds Mario. “We had to ask ourselves, ‘Do we want to keep doing this? What’s the point? What do we want to say and do?’ But it brought us a little closer together. I think the biggest outcome of the whole situation is that we were so free to do whatever we wanted to do. What came out was a record that sounds fresher than all the records we’ve done before.”

Indeed, the resulting record RIOT (an anagram of ‘trio’) is the strongest piece of work Blackout Problems have put their name to, bringing together elements of punk, pop, EDM, R&B and alt.rock into one cohesive whole that traverses the personal and political, as Mario dissects not just the behaviour of governments and global events, but also trauma in his own life. It’s almost a cliché these days for artists to describe making a record as being ‘like therapy’, but Mario does acknowledge that RIOT is all about “personal progression”, with loss making up a large portion of the lyrics, and making peace with what he can’t change.

“If you write from the soul, from your heart, and write very personal lyrics, you can deliver them differently,” he begins. “It touches you as a listener a little more than if we talked about any idea that any person could have. I needed to talk about certain things, like the loss of friendship or what’s happening in the world and how I’m feeling in this chaos. I felt like I always snook around the topic too much, rather than pinpointing and really getting into detail and saying out loud what hurts me.

“I sat down and wrote the song Talk To Me (II) like, ‘What do I do? What do I think?’ I just started writing that and it’s me in the lyrics. The listener probably doesn’t think of me as a person, they think about their own story, and that was really important for me.

“I wrote lyrics for a song called Hold On [from 2016 album Holy] about the end of the relationship between my parents and their divorce. I was really anxious about singing it out loud, but the feedback at the merch table was always, ‘This song makes me think about the divorce of my parents.’ When I was a teenager I listened to a lot of Nirvana, I thought, ‘Why does this guy get me?!’ And that’s something that’s very beautiful about making music.”

Alongside the loss and hardship of Mario’s life, one common theme throughout RIOT, is the climate crisis. Like the aforementioned kinship with Enter Shikari who are no strangers to flying the flag for a greener, more sustainable world, Blackout Problems have long been outspoken about the need for drastic, meaningful change in order to save humanity.

It was the Fridays For Future demonstrations in 2019 – where millions of schoolchildren across the globe skipped school to protest – that really motivated the band to pick up the mantle.

“The protests in Munich were so big; seeing these kids going on the street and they were so brave,” says Mario. “Now we have people in front of the stage and we can use our voice, let’s take our chance and say something that really matters. We didn’t need to talk about [the climate] because it’s ‘the thing’ to talk about now, because it’s not actually, if you look at the majority artists in different genres they probably don’t talk about it. But we have the chance, in rock music we have an audience that’s interested in that, and they want to hear political songs, so why not give it a try?”

The purest distillation of this mindset is recent single GLOFS, featuring none other than Rou Reynolds from Enter Shikari (which they sadly didn’t perform together in Brussels tonight). The oldest song on the record, written in August 2021, comes as a direct response to the devastating Ahr Valley floods in July of that year, that killed more than 200 and destroyed entire villages.

“There was the feeling of nature being stronger and more violent than we as humans can be. My dad always told me that nature is always stronger and that’s what we could see with these floods; when the rain kept coming and the rivers got bigger, the houses didn’t stand a chance, they were just gone. That was the point where the chorus came about, ‘We wait for the sweet revenge’, we cannot do what we do as human beings and not think about the consequences of our actions, and politicians don’t really do anything. As a whole, we need to act and do something about these issues, and the song really pinpointed that feeling.”

If it sounds like Mario is a chest-thumping, placard-waving megaphone of a man, you’d be wrong. In fact, all three members of Blackout Problems sat opposite Kerrang! on the red faux leather sofa are mild-mannered, modest individuals. Despite being the frontman, yelling into the faces of thousands each night on this tour, he has long agonised over sharing his opinions in public – primarily on the internet – which manifests itself in the song WHALES.

“I think that we have to accept that the internet is full of bullshit sometimes,” laughs Mario. “If we put out our opinion on stuff, if we talk about LGBTQ rights or gender, then we have to accept that there are bots or real people giving us shit about it. I wanted to tell myself with WHALES to not stop giving out my opinion, because there was a certain point where I thought, ‘Do I really want to give in to these bots and people who disagree with what I think is right?’ No, I don’t. And if I see comments that are abusive or anything then I just delete them and move on.

“We’re very privileged in what we do and there are people who get way more shit for their stuff,” he continues. “If you’re a trans person and you make music, you probably get way more shit than we do – just for being a trans person, they won’t even talk about the music. They are the real heroes, these people who brush it off their shoulders. The most famous climate activist in Germany is Luisa Neubauer and she gets threats every day. She said that rape fantasies on her Instagram and in her DMs are a daily business for her, and she stands up to that and goes on talk shows and is so present and so eloquent. She’s straight to the point and has her opinion and that’s something I really admire. I want to take this example and be a little braver about that.”

This positive outlook and drive for self-betterment all comes back to that original idea of RIOT being about “personal progression”. Not only is Mario working through his own pain and experiences, but he’s actively striving for a better world – from improved online discourse to systemic change for the environment. With the record dropping last Friday, the band currently in the midst of a tour with their heroes Enter Shikari (which coincidentally ends in their hometown of Munich), and plans underway for a UK headline run later this year, it feels like the professional progression is paying off as much as the personal.

“We want to keep on doing it for a long time,” Mo says of the band’s current momentum. “I’m very proud that we’re still here, I’m very proud that we are the band and we have a great team around us. I don’t know what’s happening with this album or after this album, but I know we’re going on doing it. One of the greatest lines for me on this album is, ‘we didn’t ever stop’, the last sentence on the album, and for me it’s so positive and so important. I don’t know what’s coming after RIOT or with this album, but I’m so happy we’re doing this after all these years.”

“We’ve never had hype or anything,” Mario adds. “We’ve seen bands that are way smaller than us get way bigger than we are in one record, and that’s okay. We think of ourselves as a sustainable band who collect each and every listener (laughs). Last year we did two shows in Germany where we sold over 1,000 tickets, which was a big one for us. And we knew where it came from – playing, playing and playing and doing our stuff.”

“It’s about being satisfied in what we’re doing, no matter what size we are or how many records we’re selling or stuff like that,” adds Marcus. “This band is a part of it and we don’t want to get rid of it in any way. It’s therapy, family, fun, work… it’s all together for us. We don’t want to stop.”

Will there ever be a time where you think you’ve ‘made it’?

“The material side of things doesn’t really count if you’re not satisfied in what you do. I can agree with Marcus in that we want to be happy in what we’re doing and not stress ourselves too much about stuff. We started out at zero, we had nothing, we just wanted to make music, and we were driven by just wanting to have an outlet and wanting to make music, and it grew and grew, piece by piece.

“As long as there are ideas, you never stop and never have that feeling of making it. Enter Shikari just played Wembley, I don’t think they’ll say, ‘Okay we made it.’ Because they’re not going to stop now. You always have the next goal. I really like those bands that go for a long time and always try to evolve and keep it fresh, and that’s what this feels like. This is our fourth record now and it feels like our first. It’s a good sign.”

RIOT is out now via Sony Music

Read this next:

Check out more:

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?