The Cover Story

Electric Callboy: “We’re living our best lives right now. This is the time to celebrate that”

Gold records. Sold-out arenas. An ecstatic Avalanche Stage headline at Download and uber-rammed victory lap around the UK. The whole of 2023 has felt like a gift to Electric Callboy, but as the German superstars finally settle down for the holidays, frontmen Kevin Ratajczak and Nico Sallach stress that no milestone has been more meaningful than absolutely everyone having fun…

Electric Callboy: “We’re living our best lives right now. This is the time to celebrate that”
Sam Law

“There’s nothing worse than finding a crunchy sock on your tour bus!”

Kevin Ratajczak grins wickedly as he drops this pearl of wisdom. 2023, more than any year before, has seen Electric Callboy’s irrepressible frontman consumed by life on the road, dodging bandmates’ crusty cast-offs across no fewer than three continents. Still, he can’t hide the fresh delight as he watches fellow singer Nico Sallach wrinkle his nose in disgust before finally inevitably cracking up.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” the co-vocalist runs with a gross-out scenario. “I can see some of those socks standing up by themselves to walk home to our wives. ‘Knock! Knock! Knock!’ They’re at the door!”

This is Electric Callboy working through a post-tour low, apparently. Following Nico’s arrival to the Castrop-Rauxel collective back in April 2020, and the release of all-conquering sixth album TEKKNO in September of last year, reality has caught up with the OTT colour and thumping restlessness of their sound. Just last week they were wrapping up an Australian tour that saw thousands of fans bowled-over every night at the height of Antipodean summer. As their larger-than-life onstage personas have grown, however – along with the amplitude of ‘ups’ experienced along the way – so too has appreciation of the quietude of time back at home. Not that you’d know it on this evidence.

“There’s a saying we have in Germany,” Kevin insists at one point during our sprawling, often scatological Kerristmas catch-up. “‘I talk you a schnitzel to the ear!’” We’re not sure there is, really, but the phrase feels as good as any to describe the unrelenting, often absurd conversation today.

So, what exactly does an Electric Callboy Christmas look like?

Homely. Wholesome. Complete with a festive sprinkling of cinnamon. As much as our boys and bandmates Daniel Haniß and Pascal Schillo (guitars), Daniel Klossek (bass) and David Friedrich (drums) enjoyed hamming it up for K!’s seasonal cover shoot (affording them a break from end-of-year studio-time to wrap a couple of features and throw around ideas for album seven), the time is nigh to down tools and make up lost time with the families they’ve spent so long away from.

“There’s never been a time when I’ve not looked forward to getting back together,” Kevin says. “But, having lived so close to each other for weeks on end, you’re also kinda happy to be free.”

There’s no respite from bodily fluids and innuendo, mind. Gone are the days of getting home to lounge on the couch playing video games. Both our men are new fathers, and they vividly describe eager partners waiting to hand them snotty, bawling offspring at the door.

“I fucking hate my life right now,” Kevin gestures, melodramatically. “There’s no time for jetlag, no chance for rest. Both my kids are getting sick this week. When it seems like one of them is getting better, the other catches something else. It’s like playing ping-pong with germs and bacteria.”

“My wife has the flu,” Nico nods, empathetically. “She was vomiting all night. I’ve been helping out, holding her hand, telling her everything will be okay while telling my little boy to shut the fuck up!”

“And, when it comes to sexy times,” Kevin sighs exasperatedly, “it’s like, ‘Okay, the children are asleep, we have five minutes so let’s fucking go!’ Then, just as we’re getting intimate, one of the kids will poke their head up over the side of the bed as if to say, ‘Hey, that titty belongs to me!’”

Banter aside, the tired sparkle in the lads’ eyes assures us they love it, really. And for every 40-minute toilet-break to get away from the household pandemonium (“My wife never knows whether I’m taking a piss or a shit anymore,” Kevin laughs) there are a dozen magical moments to treasure.

“Christmas is beginning to feel special again,” nods Nico. “For a long time, it didn’t. It felt all about obligation: you have to have to go to somebody’s house; you have to have presents for your loved ones; you have to eat together. For years, it felt like you were being forced to celebrate. Now that we have small kids, we’re getting back to how we felt when we were those small kids ourselves.”

“It used to be that I’d go to the Christmas markets with my friends just to get fucked-up on glühwein,” chimes Kevin. “Now I’m going to celebrate Saint Nikolaus’ Day with my family, and buying all those sweets and special types of food that you only get at this time of year.”

This is the life they’ve been building. Ultimately, each side feeds the other, and as much as there can be a breakneck contrast between the two, there’s a hell of a lot to be thankful for on both.

“When you have to switch from being the tour guy, the singer, or the screamer, back to being the house-man and ‘dad’ in like a second, it can feel like you have two completely different lives,” smiles Nico, wryly. “But it’s getting to come home after all that we’ve accomplished that makes us happiest. If we find ourselves struggling, not feeling well or working through a bad time, there’s always the temptation to fall into that very German mood of complaining about everything. It’s important to remember that we’re so privileged to be where we’ve gotten to, and we don’t really have anything to complain about. We’re living our best lives right now. This is the time to celebrate that.”

Electric Callboy don’t want a lot for Christmas. Plant them on Santa’s lap and they’ll tell him that if next year pans out anything like this, that’ll be enough. Oh, and a PlayStation 5 would be nice, too.

“2023 began with our first-ever arena headline shows,” Kevin flashes back, “not just in Germany but right across Europe. They were all incredible, but I remember Belgium in particular. It’s one of those countries where we’ve always struggled to get the reception we have elsewhere. I remember getting to March 2, jumping in a car from a radio interview and going to a sold-out show at Antwerp’s [5,218-capacity] Lotto Arena. I’ll always remember that moment where we were standing on the floor looking at those big-ass LED screens and getting goosebumps. I realised that we were there – that all of this was happening – because of music that we’d made. I felt so thankful it was crazy.”

Indeed, live performance is at the heart of everything Electric Callboy do. If they’ve got a mantra, it’s ‘Music is made for the stage!’ Kevin grins just at the thought: “You see the artists. You feel the bass in your chest. You’re dazzled by the lights. It’s a very immersive, 360-degree experience that helps you make those memories that last forever.” Where many artists get on the K! cover at the start of an album cycle, it took 15 months of hard touring for Electric Callboy to fully unpack TEKKNO’s songs.

“What connects our audience is they want to have a good time…”

Listen to Kevin talk about the band’s live show, and how they bring different people together

A European festival run in early summer saw them crush their biggest stages yet including Hellfest and Copenhell. Late August and early September’s North American run consolidated their growing reputation in the United States and Canada. No territory was more telling than the UK, though, with October’s sold-out raid of Academy venues pre-empted by an equally packed stop at the Eventim Apollo and Sunday night headline of the Avalanche Stage at Download.

“We’d heard of these legendary venues,” Nico says. “But never did we imagine selling them out!”

“It had become a running joke for us,” Kevin expands. “We love the UK, but the UK doesn’t really love us. The people who’ve come out to our shows have always been amazing – it’s just there’s never really been that many of them. When people talk about that set at Donington, it comes to life again in our heads. People said that the tent was too small, but as our booking agents always tell us, it’s better to pack-out a smaller space than play to empty space in a bigger one. That closeness to the fans is what makes it really special. Not that it was actually small, by any means. There were thousands of people inside, and who knows how many outside we couldn’t even properly see.”

For those of us inside, or stuck around the edges of that massive marquee, there were countless incredible sights. More video screens than Parkway. More flame-stacks than Metallica. More ticker-tape and sparkles than, well, anyone. And a bright red, penis-shaped grand piano chucked in for good measure. Most remarkable was the huge crowd, many of them casual fans or rubbernecking interlopers, sticking around for a full 90-minute set even as the main stage was filling for Slipknot.

“I’ve been to a lot of shows in my life,” Kevin reckons on Callboy’s onstage magnetism. “It’s one song after another, and you go crazy for the ones you like, but there’s always space in-between. Our shows feel like more of a mixture. There’s a little comedy in there. We talk shit and make fun of each other. There’s even the [more chilled-out] section where we play Let It Go from Frozen or Backstreet Boys’ I Want It That Way. It’s about creating those good vibes. When you look at all the people at our shows – the business guys, the families, the younger kids at the front – what connects them isn’t necessarily that they want to hear these songs. It’s that they’re all here to have fun.”

Nico nods. “We’re authentic. We’re passionate. We’re a good live band with a great live show. And we’re always working on it, always giving the people who pay to come see us 100 per cent.”

There is a little bite to this observation; a sense of riposte to those who minimise what Electric Callboy do. Amongst the big beats, bright colours and overloaded LOLs, some naysayers see them as just as piss-taking chancers. But a hell of a lot of work goes into delivering this much of a good time.

Take their wig-strewn music videos, for instance. The zombie infested Hurrikan. The sun bleached sci-fi of Spaceman. We Got The Moves’ bowl-cut mania. Not only did they invest in them for 10 of the 11 songs on TEKKNO – including the ‘TEKKNO Version’ of Cascada/Maggie Reilly Eurodance classic Everytime We Touch – they routinely went hours over schedule to pack in all the rib-tickling imagery that would stick forever in fans’ memories. Add to that the musicianship to pull off some deceptively complex compositions, the logistical planning to put on a jaw-dropping live show, plus the vision to pull it off with some glaring coherence – and you’ve got a one-of-a-kind organisation.

“Look trashy, but be professional,” Kevin emphasises. “We love hard music. We love metal. We love screaming. So we wanted metal to be a little more fun. We wanted to look a little happier than your average ‘metal guy’. But it’s never as simple as just being a ‘funny’ metal band. The ticket to success isn’t just picking up instruments and looking cool. It’s always being willing to go the extra metre. Plus, you’ve got to find the right balance between high energy and musical quality. It doesn’t make sense to be back-flipping your way through songs if they end up sounding like shit. Likewise, neither does proving you’re the best singer while standing dead still. You need the best of both worlds.”

“We want to give people the best experience, music-wise”

Hear Nico explain how Electric Callboy are all about fun – but they’re also serious musicians

Electric Callboy haven’t released a Christmas song. Yet. An overdubbed clip from The Mandalorian dropped to Instagram last month, featuring Grogu (aka Baby Yoda) tenaciously switching the space-radio from Mariah Carey’s ubiquitous warbling to a series of their sickest riffs and breakdowns, suggests they’re in no particular hurry to do so. But precious few fans would bat an eyelid if they did.

“It’s one of the things that’s pretty special about our music,” Nico digs in. “Like, we’re not ‘trying to be a metal band’. We are a metal band. If you go through TEKKNO, you’ll find a few hard and heavy songs. Even in our softer, funnier numbers there are parts that really punch you in the face. But we have pop influences, too. And we have that willingness to combine sounds into something new. But almost anyone could get into what we do, because we put almost everything into it.”

Kevin grins. “Previously, we might’ve asked ourselves, ‘Could we actually put out a song like that?! Would people really like it?’ Now it’s like, ‘We’re Electric Callboy! That’s why people like us!’”

Compared to even their most successful ‘electronicore’ contemporaries – Kansas City’s The Browning, Osaka’s Crossfaith, fellow Germans We Butter The Bread With Butter – Electric Callboy’s ability to transcend, or rather rewrite, the boundaries of traditionally heavy music has been staggering. As they rolled into an absolutely rocking O2 Academy Glasgow back on October 24, for example, there were a good number of Scotland’s metal community spilling beer over their black T-shirts and jeans in the pit, but also a conspicuous quotient of bright-clad ravers swinging their jaws and bedazzled boppers who seemed to have spilled over from S Club a few nights earlier.

“We’ve never really believed in hard genre borders,” Kevin underlines that having Thy Art Is Murder, Scooter and The Prodigy in your most-played isn’t half as odd as some people make out. “That’s the kind of thing you care about in puberty, when you try to define who you are and how you’re different by what you listen to. Music needs no explanation. You listen to with your ears but feel in your heart. You’d never [predefine] the type of person you’d fall in love with, so why the songs?”

At the same time, any suggestion of ‘going mainstream’, or even of gravitationally pulling the mainstream towards them rankles with Electric Callboy. The breath of their inspiration is almost boundless. Sweaty hit single Pump It, for instance, was a direct response to seeing how well other songs had done on workout playlists. And they’re acutely aware of how bands confined to genres like black metal and deathcore might realistically only ever reach two per cent of the world’s population. But it would be out of the question – counterproductive, even – to change what they do.

“In my experience, when people talk about heavy bands ‘getting mainstream’, they’re talking about them changing their music,” Kevin expands. “They’re getting softer, more accessible, actively looking for more listeners. We’ve never done that. Sure, when people say that Electric Callboy makes metal music more accessible to people who consider themselves ‘non-metal fans’, I think it’s very beautiful. And I know, compared to pop acts, who might be able to reach over 60 per cent of the world’s population, not everyone has had a chance to find out about Electric Callboy. We want to reach all those people and believe we have the potential to. But we won’t change to do it. It’s got to be about people at our shows telling all their friends, then, next time, them coming, too.”

“I love this band, and it was the best decision of my life for me to join…”

Nico talks about his love for Electric Callboy, and his happiness at joining them in 2020

As the TEKKNO Train keeps building momentum, with more and more new converts spilling onboard, there’s a lot to think about. Growth of the brilliantly joyous movement they’ve sparked into life. Balance between band life and the more important things at home. And how they handle the pressure of being, and continuing to be, global superstars.

“There has always been pressure,” Kevin shrugs. “No matter where we’ve been as a band, no matter how successful the record you’ve just released, the next one is always supposed to be an upgrade. ‘Get bigger. Be better.’ If anything, we’ve reached level just now where we could be ‘satisfied…’”

“But it’s also the point of no return,” Nico cuts in. “We’re getting addicted, always wanting more.”

“We get back from all these incredible tours, and find ourselves saying, ‘That was amazing, but what if…’” says Kevin. “We just got back from playing 5,500 people at a show Down Under. Next time, we want 8,000. And it’s never just about getting more fans; it’s about giving them the show they deserve. The difference nowadays is that we have the self-confidence to really do whatever we like.”

“Being brave has always worked out pretty well for us,” Nico teases. “So why would we stop?”

Kevin and Nico stopped making New Year’s resolutions years ago. (“I used to commit to doing things, but the opposite would always end up happening,” sighs the former. “Maybe you should decide you’re going to be a chain-smoking, overweight alcoholic…” the latter bats back.) But if there’s one promise the pair are happy to double-down on, it’s that Electric Callboy is never allowed to feel like ‘just work’. 2024 promises big things. Prep for the next record is well underway. Some more massive shows are already in the books. But those are secondary to maintaining the spark that started it all.

Memento mori,” Kevin allows a shade of seriousness to slip in as we sign off. “There is a time for everything, and a time for everything to end. We need to remember why we’re doing this, that it’s what we’ve wanted our whole lives. We still have lots of goals and ambitions to fulfil, but everything is a bonus at this stage, really: ‘Just once, I’d like to play in a stadium, or with a symphony orchestra…’ So if it were all to end tomorrow, we want to be able to say it all was worth it.”

“I’ll never forget seeing the footage of Dave Grohl playing Best Of You in Wembley Stadium for the first time,” Nico concludes. “He was just crying. I remember wondering if I might experience something like that at some point in my life. And we’ve had a few of those moments already: playing stages like Pinkpop and Nova Rock, or being presented with our German gold record for [Hypa Hypa] in front of our friends, family and 20,000 fans at a sold-out Lanxass Arena in Cologne. I’ve had a lot of tears of joy in my eyes over the last two years. I don’t want them to end...”

TEKKNO is out now via Century Media

Read this next:

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