A long time ago, when Germany was cruelly divided into an east and a west, the Rot family — son Otto, daughter Astrid, and mom and dad — waited for a train to arrive at their democratic forest town. They were going to the zoo in Berlin. And then a lion, who had escaped from the very same zoo, showed up and devoured the parents whole while their children watched.
It was Astrid’s 12th birthday.
After this agonizing tragedy, the siblings lived with their aunt and uncle, who treated them very nastily. Astrid made the choice to run away, taking her little brother to Berlin just as the wall was coming down. They became squatters, cohabiting in abandoned spaces with strangers. Astrid acted as a mother figure to Otto, and he found fathers in the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and David Bowie. The other people in the improvised home started making music, forming bands. And so the remaining Rots decided to as well.
“It was a crazy party time and everyone was in a band and so that’s why we started being a band, because everyone that we lived with was playing in punk, post-punk, new wave kind of bands,” Otto Rot says, talking to the City Paper via Skype from Australia. Starting tomorrow, they’ll be at the Memminger until Saturday, performing their hits, like “Rock Bang!,” “I’m in a Band,” and “Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roboter (I am a Lion).”
The two started learning all the things that you need to know to be in a band. Like how to dress (like a clownish version of The White Stripes), how to stand when you’re in a photo, how to hang your guitar. The important stuff. The Rots didn’t start playing actual music until a long time after that. Eventually, the pair became Die Roten Punkte (which translates as The Red Dots), and they’ll perform as part of Spoleto Festival USA.
“I know we look a little bit different from some of the things that are there, but we’re just so excited to be part of this famous festival, and it’s going to be the best rock ‘n’ roll concert you’ve ever seen,” Otto promises.
For some strange reason, you’re more likely to see them on the same bill as comedy acts than with other bands. “It’s a little bit weird for us. We are sort of like this rock ‘n’ roll band and we play serious rock ‘n’ roll, but we keep getting booked for theater festivals and comedy festivals and stuff,” Otto says. “But it’s cool. Some people are laughing at what we do but I don’t mind as long as everyone is having fun.”
Despite some common genetic attributes, Astrid and Otto are very different people. In contrast to Astrid’s substance problems, Otto is straightedge (which, loosely defined, means a life free of alcohol and drugs). Otto’s vegan, while he says Astrid will eat anything — cupcakes, dirt, whatever she can get her hands on. He describes their relationship as crazy, but somehow everything manages to work out. “We can sometimes fight and stuff, but when we get on stage we just have this magic happen when we play rock ‘n’ roll music and we know it and everyone knows it and it’s beautiful. So for all the hard times, it’s worth it.”
Otto’s got the rock star look down, and believe him, that’s no casual effort. He has a uniform: black and white CBGB T-shirt, suspenders, black pants with a red tuxedo stripe down the leg, two sweatbands on each arm, and the mandatory Vans slip-ons.
“The things that I wear, I’ve done scientific tests to discover which is the best clothes to wear when you’re rocking out,” Otto explains. The T-shirt might be a little tight, but it’s got enough room to move around. The pants are “custom-made rock ‘n’ roll kick pants,” because Otto does lots of high leaps, and the tight black jeans he wore when the band first started split when he jumped around. And the Vans, since they’re intended for skateboarders, help him jump really high.
His closet is full of exact copies of all of these items (though Astrid varies up her wardrobe). He says he’s like an action hero: People see him and go “There’s Otto. I know him because he looks like that.” The Vans are new, though. Instead of the red tartan he used to wear, he’s now got black tartan with little bits of red, and on the back, a pirate’s skull-and-crossbones. They’re also custom-made, and he’ll be wearing them in Charleston.
Otto’s most notable aesthetic feature has to be his mouth, smeared with fabulous red lipstick. Astrid won’t let him use her stuff (not like she takes care of it anyway; she’s known to let things fall on the floor and so forth). Otto has a feeling that one day, some company’s going to ask him to endorse their particular product, and he tries out as many types as possible to prepare himself.
It’s not often that City Paper writers get to share makeup tips with celebrities; we couldn’t help ourselves from asking Otto his favorite brands. Of course, being vegan, he won’t use anything that’s been tested on animals. He’s tried Body Shop and stocked up on MAC when he was in Canada, the company’s home country. He particularly gushed about a new find, Natio, based in Australia. His pick is a classic bright red lipstick called Rush. “I’m going to pick a whole box up before I go from here because this stuff is the coolest,” he says. “And they make the coolest stuff to get eyeliner off too.”