AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSHI OF ZSK: “MAN DARF DIE HOFFNUNG NICHT VERLIEREN” (ONE MUST NOT LOSE HOPE)
There is hardly a demo against Nazis in which the song “Antifascista“ by ZSK does not boom out of the loudspeaker car. The Berliners are one of the most important political punk bands of the republic. The band and FC St. Pauli not only share the same values, but they also have a long history: ZSK already performed in the old clubhouse in 2006. At the „100 Years FC St. Pauli“ concert in the Millerntor Stadium they were represented with a „Kein Bock auf Nazis“ (No desire of Nazis) -stand, they came as guests to the secret concert of the Toten Hosen in the fan rooms and of course Jolly Roger is their favourite pub in Hamburg. Time to finally invite the band to a concert in the fan shop on the Reeperbahn. Before they made a state of exception there on Friday evening (30.8.), we talked to singer Joshi. About racism, the political situation in Germany and the hope that not everything is lost yet.
Joshi, in 2006 you already played with ZSK in the clubhouse of FC St. Pauli – a pretty wild evening, right?
For sure. The old clubhouse had a very flat stage and was not designed for concerts. When we arrived, we right away thought it would be a ride. During our show the people fell on the stage the whole time. Fortunately, no bones got broken, just some equipment. I have very good memories of the evening, that was a really great buzz.
What do you have in common with FC St. Pauli?
In general, as teenagers nothing connected us with football for a long time. Football fans were assholes for us, idiots and people who beat you up. That was another world that totally collided with our punk world. But then in 2005 we played at the anti-racist football World Cup in Italy, where there were also many USP fans. We noticed for the first time that football also works differently; namely in cool, left and in connection with punk. When we go to the stadium today, it’s St. Pauli or Babelsberg 03. It’s a kind of football that we like because it’s not just about sport, there’s more to it. And because it is clear that everyone has a reasonable basic consensus about Nazis and racism.
Why should football be political?
In football you can see in particular how diverse a society has to be – given how diverse the teams are. That’s actually the best opportunity and reason to say that racism has no place here. No matter what skin colour you have, where you come from – football is a connecting element all over the world.
ZSK are undoubtedly one of the most political bands in Germany…
The foundation of your band in 1997 was preceded by a racist period in which numerous arson attacks were carried out on foreigners. To what extent did this influence you at the time or perhaps contributed to the formation of the band?
I still remember how I saw in the Tagesschau [daily news] how these racist pogroms ran in Rostock Lichtenhagen. That totally shocked me as a little boy. When we founded the band, this wave of racist violence had already ebbed away, at least in the media. At that time it was almost outdated to get involved against Nazis. But in our homeland Göttingen we always experienced it very closely. Thorsten Heise had the neo-Nazi „comradeship Northeim“ and often there were violent conflicts. Even then I asked myself how it came that people follow this ideology and hate people with different skin colors or religions. That’s why I started studying politics.
Did you find answers?
A lot of things come into play. Nobody at the age of 15 all the sudden says ‚oh, there is a flyer from the NPD, I read it through and then I become a right-wing extremist‘. For many young people, this has nothing to do with politics at all, but with a right-wing extremist world of experience that is offered. In rural areas, Nazi comradeships partly take over work in youth clubs, because civil society and cultural workers have retreated. Then the kids don’t go hiking with the THW [Federal Agency for Technical Relief] or the scouts, but with the Nazis.
How do you perceive the current situation in Germany?
Well, you only have to look at the election results. The shit really hit the fan. So far many people have said ‚it’s none of my business‘, but it’s slowly getting down to business. All the years we’ve been make music, militant neo-Nazis or the NPD have been an issue – but you never had to worry that the NPD would really make it in the Bundestag. I could never have imagined the situation we have now and it hasn’t been that dicey since 1945.
Because right-wing populism has become suitable for society?
Exactly. The AfD is using completely different levers than the NPD. In the past, fraternities and Nazis did extreme right-wing political work in their spare time, today they have a full-time job with the AfD, with a huge amount of money and huge possibilities. That is a completely different clout that the AfD has. Also they found out exactly who is currently fighting racism and they are trying to fight them in a targeted way. That is no coincidence, what they are doing, but a very well thought-out strategy.
What can or must we do?
Form alliances and check: Who is doing anything for human rights and democracy? In some cases that works very well, because it brings everyone together – over and above all the controversies that sometimes arise between them. The Unteilbar-demos are a great example of how this can work. We must continue to find and strengthen these alliances. At the same time, of course, we must collect and convince the AfD voters who are not yet beyond every argument. From our fans we often hear that these people are not so far away. That’s the uncle, the aunt, the father.
In 2005 you founded „Kein Bock auf Nazis“. Would you have thought that the campaign would run for so long and 2019 would be more relevant than ever?
Neither! This has become a huge campaign. Every year we have over 100 info booths at concerts and festivals and give out thousands of stickers and posters every day. We want to encourage young people who are already involved and motivate others to become active and do something. Sometimes people tell us that some kids only buy the „Kein Bock Auf Nazis“ T-shirts because they look cool or Sammy from the Broilers had one on. But I don’t have a problem with that. Because when these kids put on their shirts at school and are approached by right-wing classmates, they have to think and argue. We don’t need to go to the Rote Flora with the campaign because the people there already know. I want to reach the 15-year-old Toten Hosen-fan, who hasn’t dove in with the world of politics yet. He should know: Being against Nazis is cool and important. The rest is sure-fire success.
Appropriately your 2018 released album carries the title “Hallo Hoffnung” [Hello Hope]. Why?
Because even though these are terrible times, you can’t lose hope. Of course I think ‚dude, what’s going on here?‘ when you see the burning Amazon or a right pig has been elected to be in charge again. But when we meet Antifa groups in cities where we play, when we talk to Pro Asyl or when we see what’s happening to Indivisible – there are still a lot of people who stand up for things. They do not stop and despair, but continue to have hope that everything will be better. The album is written for exactly these people.
You just played in Israel, in November you’re going to Russia. Some bands avoid these countries, why do you play there anyway?
If we end up in prison in Russia, FC St. Pauli has to help us somehow (laughs)! We just play for punks, worldwide. When cool punk kids organize a show in Israel, then we come and the same counts for Russia. I think it’s fantastic that this punk thing works worldwide. You can meet punks across any language barrier and you have the same language through music – similar to football.
What can music change?
I am often asked if music can change the world. I don’t think you should overestimate it, but you shouldn’t underestimate it either. Music can be a soundtrack for a social movement. The Clash, Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy – that was the soundtrack to all the protest movements back then. That our song “Antifascista” is now playing at the demos and we are able to contribute something from a distance makes me really proud!
Interview: Nadine Wenzlick
Photos: Ben Wessler
Translation: Lea Schairer