Oberkampf was first created in 1978 by a bunch of kids who hung around the Gibus, a little concert hall in rue du Faubourg du Temple, a stone’s throw from République. The catalyst was the new music that was coming in the form of 45s from London, primarily the Sex Pistols and the Ramones. Joe Hell, who joined the group in early 1979, remembers: “You really have to put it back in context. In 1977 the music was disco, Genesis, Pink Floyd, the Stones getting old… and the Stones wasn’t my music, it was my big brother’s music. Then, when I saw what they [the Sex Pistols] looked like, I said: “That’s it! That’s what I think!””
The name of the band came from the subway stop where you get off to go the Bataclan, another venue in the area. In the early days, Oberkampf played at le Gibus and community halls in the suburbs. They went through all the usual stuff, like getting all their equipment stolen, and in 1981 they came out with a 45 called “Couleurs sur Paris”. They self-produced an EP that they sold at New Rose, a now-disappeared legendary record store in rue Pierre Sarrazin in the Latin Quarter.
They first got some real notoriety when they made a video of their cover of the national anthem, La Marseillaise, in front of the Oberkampf subway stop (this was a couple of years after Serge Gainsbourg had done his reggae version). It was the early days of music videos and the whole thing was pretty improvised, but still it must be one of the worst lip-synchs of all time. The video attracted a bit of media buzz, and also a following of hardcore nationalist skinhead kids who had misunderstood the spirit of the band. The band did some explaining from the stage and in interviews to get rid of this unwanted following.
A fan named Hélène Vachère made a superb animation to their song Fais Attention which played as a short in movie theaters. But still the band was not able to find a label. The producer of their first LP let them down right before they were supposed to start recording, so they decided to go straight to a bank. They met a sympathetic banker who was not very happy with his much more conventional life and decided to give these unlikely candidates a loan. P.L.C. came out in 1983.
Oberkampf gigged when they could, given that they all had jobs. At the time there wasn’t the national network of rock venues there is today, so they often had to play in community halls, sometimes on a stage made out of cafeteria tables. They also would do guerilla concerts in the subway: everyone would meet in a station, plug in their amps, play a short concert, and then grab their equipment and run off. They say there was a lot less police than today.
In 1985 they released their second LP, Cris sans thème and a live album. By that time they were worn out from doing everything themselves while at the same time trying to hold down day jobs, so they called it a day. The band was resurrected in 2000 but the only member of the original incarnation is the singer, Joe Hell.
Thanks to NYARk nyarK for a great interview of Joe Hell and Pat Kebra