Manu Delago about sandwich boxes, green electricity and cycling adventures on the ReCycling Tour 2021
1,600 kilometres on bikes across Austria – that sounds like an exciting adventure! And if it’s the illustrious group that accompanies the extraordinary musician Manu Delago, along with bandmates and technicians, then it’s sure to be an unforgettable road trip. But it isn’t just about having fun: the crew are blazing a trail in the music industry by using bikes for their whole tour of Austria, including for their instruments and equipment. We caught up with Manu Delago for an interview and looked back at his ReCycling Tour 2021.
The ReCycling Tour 2021 took you on a 1,600-kilometre journey across Austria on your bikes. It required many months of intensive musical and technical preparations. How were the preparations from a fitness point of view?
M: I’m a very sporty person myself, and I’m used to cycling regularly. But this was the first time I’d been on a long journey like this, not to mention with a trailer and equipment. Going on tour by bike was a truly special experience. You don’t just take longer to get to places than you do by plane, train or tour bus – you experience your surroundings in a different way. On the tour bus you usually see lots of motorways, service stations and then the venue where you’re doing the gig. This time we experienced the journey unlike ever before, with all our senses.
A few weeks ago in June 2021 you finished the tour in your home city of Innsbruck. Looking back, what are your memories of this special tour?
M: The last big stage of the tour was from South Tyrol through the Brenner Pass to Innsbruck. This “ultimate stage” had loomed large in our minds ever since we began planning the tour in 2018, as the combination of distance, altitude and a gig on the same day was pretty full on. After 10 hours on our bikes, we got such an incredible reception from the crowd that we were able to give our all one last time. That was one of the emotional highlights of the tour for me.
As an in-demand musician you’ve travelled a lot around the world, and many people may think this kind of career just isn’t possible without harming the environment. Would you say the ReCycling Tour 2021 has proved them wrong?
M: Protecting our climate was a key driver behind our plans. Most of all, we wanted to turn our talk into action and try to cover as many aspects as possible. Of course mobility is a huge factor, but it’s not just about that. We all switched to a vegetarian diet and tried to eat as many locally sourced products as possible. We carried our food in a sandwich box, we generated solar power while we were on the move which we used for our gigs, plus we avoided waste and recycled. The video blog was also important in terms of getting our message out there and inspiring others to do similar things. For instance, we asked the people attending our gigs to come on foot, by bike or on public transport if they could, and we’re over the moon that so many have followed our example.
As an international musician, I won’t be able to do every tour by bike in future. But as well as mobility, there are so many decisions you can consciously take to help protect our climate, and that’s what we’ll keep doing.
Your aim was also to inspire other musicians and bands to think more about sustainability. How can the music industry make itself sustainable?
Disposable plastic bottles are still common at gigs. But we don’t want to point fingers at the people we think are doing the wrong thing – we want to give an alternative, positive example. We’re definitely not the only band to speak out against disposable plastic bottles, and even this example shows how much potential there is for event organisers to rethink and change their policy. If you imagine one event organiser not giving any plastic to artists and crowds for a year, that’s a significant contribution to this fight. And that’s why it’s worth getting your message out there and raising awareness.
People usually think the life of a musician on tour is a bit different – and probably less healthy. Did you feel fitter overall after the ReCycling Tour 2021?
M: Before the tour began, we actually had a medical health check, and we can now say for certain that the tour had a positive impact on all of us. That’s a fantastic side-effect, and it’s a result of cycling and definitely also of being conscious of what we eat.
How much of the ReCycling mindset have you transferred from the tour to everyday life?
M: I would say I’ve become even more mindful of sustainability. I’d already managed without a car for 10 years and travel almost everywhere by bike, using a bike trailer or car sharing when I need to transport things. But what I became even more aware of during the tour was how much packaging waste we produce when we get takeaways. In one of our video blogs we directly compared takeaways and our food in the sandwich box, and that was when it really dawned on us that it makes a difference whether a pizza comes in a cardboard box or a meal comes in five plastic trays.
Travelling is something I can’t completely abandon right now. When I started touring internationally 15 years ago, I didn’t think about environmental issues at all and I flew to every country where I was offered a gig. I’m now more selective when it comes to choosing gig venues, and I plan my journeys to combine multiple destinations. I hardly ever fly anywhere just for a gig anymore – if possible I combine professional trips with a holiday, so that I can at least make the most of the flights I have to take.
You’ve visited lots of countries and experienced plenty of different cities. Which cities stick out in your mind as being particularly bike-friendly?
M: People say Holland and Denmark are examples of countries where people love cycling, but my personal experience of riding my bike in Holland wasn’t entirely positive. There were so many cyclists and mopeds on the cycle lanes that I was a bit stressed out, even though that infrastructure is absolutely incredible for cyclists. I now live in London, which I would say is beginning to catch up. They’re creating lots of new cycle lanes, and there are also Cycle Superhighways. My memory of Berlin is that it’s a very chilled out city to ride a bike – you can’t compare it with the hectic bike traffic you get on the Cycle Superhighways in London.
Back to Austria and to your tour: After a long break because of Covid, you’ve now played a gig in front of a live crowd for the first time. How emotional was that first live gig?
M: I have to make clear that we started the tour without any crowds. To be exact, the Covid rules meant we couldn’t play in front of a live crowd for the first 19 days, so the first five gigs were livestreamed. During that time we focused on our video blog, and we put a lot of time and energy into it. Things opened up on 19 May, and from then on we had a crowd at our 13 remaining gigs – obviously that was a huge boost for us.
The first of those 13 gigs was in Vienna. We postponed it from 17 May, when we still weren’t allowed a crowd, to 19 May, which meant we had to do it in the morning in order to get to Kottingbrunn in the evening for our scheduled gig there. So our first ever live gig in the Austrian capital was in broad daylight. Although the morning isn’t a typical time for a gig, the atmosphere was unique and the first live applause was a turning point which gave the tour a whole new meaning. It was the crowd’s first time at a live gig for a long while, and that first applause in Vienna felt like it wasn’t just for us – it was about really feeling the sound of people clapping again. I got goosebumps! Those gigs were incredibly fulfilling for me, and it was the intensity of the emotions which made the ReCycling Tour 2021 such a one-off.
Speaking of one-offs, will you have projects like this in future?
M: Right now we’re preparing for a European tour in the autumn, this time without bikes! This tour has been planned for a long time, and we wouldn’t have nearly enough time to make it a ReCycling Tour – you need much longer even just to plan which routes you’re going to take by bike. But we will be doing an international tour by bike! That will be a completely new challenge, though we do have lots of experience from the first one that we can draw on. If you tour internationally you need more breaks and longer gaps between gigs. We originally planned to do 25 gigs in Austria, with 5 gigs and 6 days’ cycling each week. Although we now know that our bodies can take it, next time we’ll give ourselves more time to recover. The earliest we could realistically do an international tour by bike is autumn 2022, more likely 2023. We’re already looking forward to it!
We’re giving away 5 copies of MANU DELAGO’s CD “Circadian”.
What would you call your bike band?
Write your suggestion of a band name till 20. 10. 2021 as a comment to the article to enter this draw.
We have been given the CDs free of charge and without having to provide anything in return.
We have done this interview because we love the idea of a tour using cargo bikes and want to support it.