As the longtime frontman for Die Ärzte, Farin Urlaub spearheaded the German punk rock revolution.
While the trio never achieved the international renown of rivals Die Toten Hosen, their impact on Central European music and culture is profound, and Urlaub's satirical and often political songs are even taught in German schools. Born Jan Ulrich Max Vetter in Berlin on October 27, 1963, he began playing guitar at age nine. At 16, he vacationed in London, discovered punk, and returned home with his hair peroxide-blonde. In 1980 he joined the short-lived punk outfit Soilent Grün alongside drummer Dirk Felsenheimer, who would adopt the alias Bela B. while Vetter renamed himself Farin Urlaub, a play on the German expression "Fahr in urlaub!," or "Go on vacation!" Urlaub and Bela B. co-founded Die Ärzte (German for "the Physicians") with bassist Hans Runge in 1982. The trio adopted the name Die Ärzte for the simple reason that no other band's moniker started with the letter Ä. Quickly emerging as a staple of the Berlin club circuit, the group soon appeared on the 20 Überschäumende Stimmungshits compilation, and after winning an amateur showcase spent their winnings on their 1983 debut EP, Uns Gehts Prima. The record brought Die Ärzte to the attention of Columbia Records, which issued the band's debut LP, Debil, in 1984. Im Schatten der Ärzte followed a year later. Creative differences forced Runge's exit prior to the release of Die Ärzte's 1986 breakthrough self-titled effort, recorded with producer Miccey Meuser on bass. The album introduced the distorted guitar sound that would emerge as the trio's signature in the years to come, while Urlaub's melodies embraced the classic rock & roll influences of his youth, in particular the Beatles.
Die Ärzte made headlines in 1987 when the German Federal Center for Media Harmful to Young Persons blacklisted a number of their most popular songs, including the incest ditty "Sibling Love" and the zoophilia ode "Claudia Hat Nen Schäferhund." The ban forced the trio to remove the offending songs from their live shows, and record stores selling their albums were subject to criminal charges. With no product at retail, Die Ärzte's career sputtered, although the adults-only compilation Ab 18, a collection of their most tasteless songs past and present, attracted critical raves, especially from media outlets troubled by the band's run-ins with censors. With 1988's Das Is Nicht die Ganze Warhheit, Die Ärzte even cracked the German Top Ten for the first time in its career. However, at the peak of their fame they announced plans to dissolve, with a farewell tour yielding the chart-topping live LP Nach uns die Sintflut. Both Urlaub and Bela B. soon formed new bands: the former King Køng, and the latter Depp Jones. To further distance himself from Die Ärzte, Urlaub dropped the Farin moniker in favor of his given name upon the release of King Køng's 1990 debut LP, King Who? The album was a commercial disappointment, and when the same fate befell its follow-up, General Theory, BMG Ariola terminated the band's contract. Indie label Gringo Records issued King Køng's third effort, 1992's Life Its Sweet, Sweet, Sweet. It too failed to catch on, and with Depp Jones struggling to find its footing as well, Urlaub and Bela B. reunited Die Ärzte in 1993, recruiting former Depp Jones bassist Rodrigo Gonzales to join the revitalized lineup.
Die Ärzte's comeback single, "Schrei Nach Liebe," was also their most explicitly political effort to date, a polemic against the growing rise of right-wing extremism and racially motivated violence. With the Berlin Wall and its Cold War resonance now resigned to history, Die Ärzte were upheld as champions of independent thoughts and ideals, and in years to follow Urlaub's lyrics were taught in high school and university classrooms. After the 1993 LP Die Bestie in Menschengestalt proved a bestseller in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, Die Ärzte mounted a successful reunion tour before returning to the studio for 1995's Planet Punk. With 1998's 13, the trio reached its commercial apex. The lead single, "Männer Sind Schwein," proved their first number one German single, and its success launched the album to the top of the LP charts as well. If anything, the record was too successful. Die Ärzte vowed never to play "Männer Sind Schwein" again, troubled by its mainstream saturation, and the trio spent the remainder of the decade in seclusion, finally resurfacing in 2000 with Runter mit den Spendierhosen, Unsichtbarer! and entering the Guinness Book of World Records via "Yoko Ono," at 30 seconds the shortest single ever commercially released. Another hiatus followed, with Urlaub releasing his first-ever solo disc, Endlich Urlaub!, in 2001. After a brief tour of Japan, Die Ärzte issued the double album Geräusch in 2003, returning to number one on the singles chart with "Unrockbar." Urlaub's second solo release, Am Ende der Sonne, followed in 2005, and featured his most personal and revealing songs to date. Livealbum of Death hit stores a year later. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi