Interview: Duo Jatekok Deliver The Most Elegant Rammstein You’ve Ever Heard

Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky
Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky
Rammstein + football stadiums + … classical piano playing? The veteran pianists of Duo Jatekok are eager to prove to American crowds that this formula is indeed a successful and captivating one.
‘Duo Jatekok Plays Rammstein’

We’re all performing in Amerikacould pass for Rammstein’s slogan these days.

The veteran heavy metal band from Berlin is currently making its way through a dozen shows across nine North American cities, representing the third leg of a world tour that began in May 2019 and has faced many COVID-induced setbacks over the ensuing three-year interim.

If you had to guess who would be serving as an opening act for many of these shows, you probably wouldn’t have suspected that it’d be a classical pianist duo from France. But indeed! Adélaïde Panaget and Naïri Badal, known collectively as Duo Jatekok, are set to deliver their keyboard covers of many popular Rammstein songs ahead of the concerts in Los Angeles, San Antonio and Mexico City. They also released a full album’s worth of these covers, Duo Jatekok Plays Rammstein, this past May.

While you might expect their delicate classical brand to be the furthest thing imaginable from Neue Deutsche Härte, Duo Jatekok explained how they were able to pull it off – as well as the surprising amount of overlap they uncovered between the two genres — in an exclusive interview with Atwood Magazine!

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:: stream/purchase Duo Jatekok here ::
Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky
Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky


Duo Jatekok plays Rammstein - Duo Jatekok

This interview was originally conducted in French. It has been translated and edited for length and clarity.

Atwood Magazine: You’ve been making music together for many years. If you think back to your goals in your early days as musicians, how well have you fulfilled them by now and are there any more you’d still like to tackle?

Naïri: Music is always a work-in-progress, right? It’s always something that’s incomplete. Evidently, we’re happy to look back at our career and all the ground we’ve covered. But we know we’ve still got a lot more work to do and people to meet. We want to keep learning and making progress.

Adélaïde: Classical music is our specialty. Our goal is to bridge it together with contemporary music. Rather than create our own original pieces, we perform classical renditions of modern music. Thus, there are always plenty of potential projects for us to imagine. Every year, we work on new material; it’s a bit of an indefinite process. For now, we hope to continue collaborating with orchestras, as we have often done over the past two or three years. We played with the BBC Orchestra in Scotland and with the Geneva Chamber Orchestra, as well as one from Guatemala.

We started in 2010, so it’s been about ten years now. We created the name of the duo in 2007, but then we took a hiatus while we went off to study abroad. At first, the two of us would often perform duets à quatre mains on the same piano, as it’s more expensive to reserve two pianos at once. But then, we started playing individually à deux mains at our own pianos. That was the next step for us, and now our goal is to keep playing with orchestras from around the world.

You've lived and worked in several different regions in France and elsewhere. How have you been inspired by the musical scene in each spot?

Adélaïde: I’m Parisian and now I live in Southern France, in Nîmes.

Naïri: We both grew up and studied in Paris. While we were there, we were fortunate to have access to so many concert halls and other places where artists come from all over to perform. I also did an exchange program in Rochester, NY, and I remember that I had a friend in my piano program who had never gone to see Mozart performed at the opera. That really startled me, because while Adélaïde and I were in Paris, we’d had plenty of opportunities to see those kinds of performances, and they have continued to inspire us.

Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky
Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky

Before starting to work with Rammstein, some of your most recent projects were Les Boys (2018) and Saint-Saëns: Le Carnaval des Animaux (2021). Can you talk about those records and how they came to be?

Adélaïde: We did the Saint-Saëns album with the Orchestre National de Lille last year to commemorate the centenary of the composer’s death. We also did a rendition of the work of Francis Poulenc with the orchestra’s conductor, Lucie Leguay. Finally, we had a Belgian comedian, Alex Vizorek, write and perform some text to accompany Le Carnaval des Animaux. It’s a very francophone project, given everyone who was involved. It’s really awesome, because it’s old music with a “new” feel to it. We’ve preserved the French identity of the original composition, but we also hope that we’ll be able to bring our version to new audiences abroad, where the original music is less well-known.

We recorded Les Boys as a two-piano ensemble. It was based on the works of an American duo, Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale [known collectively as “Gold & Fizdale”]. They were extremely well-known 50 years ago, and we wanted to pay homage to them because they often performed in France and were well-admired by French composers, who nicknamed them “Les Boys” (we found that funny, since people have often called us “Les Girls”). Gold & Fizdale inspired many two-piano covers in their day, and we wanted to carry on that tradition. We also hope to inspire other musicians to perform as two-piano ensembles more regularly.

Naïri: It was a cool duo, particularly since those two men originally had backgrounds outside of music. Gold & Fizdale had an openness of spirit that we found admirable. They were food critics for Vogue Magazine for several years, and also wrote both a cookbook and a biography on 19th century Polish pianist Misia Sert. As you can see, these two men were very cultured, interesting, and open to the world around them. We hope to connect old-fashioned classical music like theirs to today’s world, rather than have it stay as a “fans only” niche genre.

Before your new collaboration with Rammstein, did you listen to them or to other heavy metal bands while you were growing up?

Naïri: I listened to Metallica and some of System of a Down, but I wasn’t a huge fan of hard rock or metal. I also didn’t know much about Rammstein at all.

Adélaïde: Me neither.

Prior to this year's tour and album, you have previously performed alongside Rammstein for several years. How did you first make contact and develop your creative relationship with the band? Have you gotten to know the members personally, including lead singer Til Lindemann?

Adélaïde: Back in 2017, Rammstein performed three straight shows in Nîmes, France, where I still live and where Naïri was living at the time. There’s a popular rock festival that takes place there, although the bands usually don’t bring opening acts along. However, the festival’s producer wanted to add some local flavoring to the event, and one option was to have some piano-players from around Nîmes contribute to Rammstein’s keyboard-oriented songs. We were contacted and said, “OK, we’ll have a look.” It was a challenge for us to do music that we weren’t really familiar with, but performing onstage at the Arena of Nîmes [a massive Roman amphitheater built in AD 70] was awesome. It’s a magnificent venue.

We performed twice at that festival and got to meet three of the members of Rammstein— Til, Paul Landers and Christoph Schneider. In 2019, they wrote to us, asking if we’d be free to join them for 30 days during their European tour. We said, “Let’s go,” and it was on. That experience allowed us to forge some ties with the members of the group. We mainly performed the opening sets, but sometimes we got to be onstage at the same time as Rammstein. We would play piano, they would come on and sing, and the spectators would join a cappella. We became more intimate with the group in moments such as those.

Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky
Duo Jatekok © Tina Dubrovsky

Classical music and heavy metal seem like such distinct genres. What are some techniques you used to translate one genre to the other? As you were making your music, did you discover any similarities that surprised you?

Naïri: I’ve found that heavy metal performers are very free-spirited and curious when it comes to instrumental virtuosity. That allows for a certain bridge between metal and classical. Music is defined by melody and harmony, and that’s true of Rammstein as well— their music has melody, harmony and rhythm. Of course, they’re performing mainly with electric instruments, rather than acoustic ones. But we did our best to illustrate their music in our own acoustic format.

Rammstein have many ballads that work well on the piano. They’re melodic and romantic. That’s the key part: romance. Rammstein are really romantic, in fact!

This will be your first time playing concerts in North America. What do you hope that you and the fans will get out of this experience?

Adélaïde: We’re looking forward to seeing how the public reacts. Every time we perform in a new country, we encounter a new series of fans. So, we’re looking forward to seeing how that trend continues in California and Mexico, as well as visiting those places and meeting new people. For instance, we’re going to be joining the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and we’re very excited; it’ll be our first time performing in the United States. Plus, we’ve been waiting to do this North American leg of the tour for two years, and it’s been building up in our imagination the whole time. Now, it’s finally here, and I’m super excited!

After you finish this tour, will there be other projects you will be working on?

Adélaïde: It’s still a bit early to decide. Our collaboration with Rammstein was our first time writing our own arrangements; usually, we perform ones that have already been written. We came up with a way to interpret their music as a piano duo, which was very interesting for us. I think we could adapt more music to the piano— but would we do more heavy metal or maybe something a little more mainstream? We don’t know yet; we have a lot of ideas and haven’t decided. It’s tricky.

Naïri: We also have another classical album that we are going to begin recording in February 2023. The main theme of the record is going to be witches and witchcraft. We will select and record a number of classical tracks that relate to that topic.

Duo Jatekok © Xavier Aliot
Duo Jatekok © Xavier Aliot

A lot of fans might be surprised to see a classical duo open for a band like Rammstein. What do you hope they might come to appreciate after seeing you perform?

Naïri: I hope they’ll become curious and check out our music on Spotify or other streaming services. You can’t hear always hear us so well when we perform in these large stadiums— we don’t have the same sound system as Rammstein does— which has frustrated some fans. I hope they’ll make up for it by listening to Duo Jatekok Plays Rammstein, and then I hope they will go further and explore more of our back catalogue.

Adélaïde: I agree. It’s been great to have Rammstein’s fans come out to see us perform. Several times— including this summer when we performed “Carnival of the Animals”— several fans came up to us and said, “Oh, we saw you perform in Paris with Rammstein last year, and we wanted to come see you again!” That was awesome for us, because it proved that we’d succeeded in breaking down some of the barriers that exist between musical genres. It’s not like there’s “classical,” and then there’s “heavy metal,” and then there’s “jazz”… no, there’s just “music,” and it can be combined in so many ways, which is awesome.

Naïri: That’s what’s great about covering music. Not only does it allow listeners to rediscover well-known and well-liked music, but it also leads them into whole other artistic universes.

Any final words for your readers?

Naïri: Be ready, we’re coming!

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:: stream/purchase Duo Jatekok here ::

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Duo Jatekok plays Rammstein - Duo Jatekok

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