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Manu Delago

Simon Rainer

Through Wind, Rain and Corona

Manu Delago’s Recycling Tour 2021 is taking the musician and his crew 1,200km on cargo bikes around Austria. An inspiring ecological musical adventure.

By Chris Cummins

I have to admit my heart was whooping with joy as I pedalled behind the cargo-bike fleet of Manu Delago’s Recycling Tour 2021. It was partly because the tour combines so many things I care about: cycling, adventure, sustainability as well as the charm of the ever-inventive but down-to-earth Austrian music scene.

But it was also because this was my own first trip out of town after several very claustrophobic months. The birds were singing in the trees, the blossom was out as I was whizzing down a bike path with the wind in my face. And, finally, the live music scene is back in Austria.

Manu Delago

Simon Rainer

Buch bei Jenbach

Manu’s tour is a massive undertaking. 1,200km of cycling with 70kg loads in the bike trailers, riding over mountains and through wind and rain. Then in the evenings, there over twenty concert dates; up until Wednesday in front of cameras behind closed doors but now in front of live audiences. So what is the aim of this epic adventure?

“We want to do something with this tour for the climate and for the environment,” Manu told me. “Transport is a big problem with touring. I used to fly a lot and take tour buses. So obviously using the bicycle is a key ingredient of the Recycling Tour.”

The issue of transport is an absolute key issue in the fight against the climate crisis. While carbon dioxide emissions in other sectors, including industry, are falling in Austria and many other Western countries, emissions from private cars and goods lorries continue to rise.

Traffic is Climate Actions’s Achilles Heel

The International Transport Forum’s Transport Outlook 2021, published this week, estimated that under the current policy trajectory by 2050 emissions from passenger mobility will have risen by 13%; freight emissions would be 22% higher than they are now. There’ll be a doubling in traffic which will outweigh any emissions reduced by a shift to electric vehicles. Why should we take politicians seriously who claim to be committed to tackling climate change while also building new motorways?

In Zwentendorf

Manu Delago


But Manu’s project is not just about the way they are getting around. “We want the tour to be as waste-free as possible. So, we get food provided from fans and audiences who make homemade vegetarian food for us. Then we have solar panels generate our own electricity to run the live shows.”

The Recycling Tour is the fulfilment of a long-held dream for the Tyrolean musician: a statement that musicians can travel and perform without a massive ecological footprint. But to make it happen, he had to convince a full crew to share that dream; in spite of the effort and the privations that might be involved.

No-one just plays; they also each have unglamorous extra jobs such as organizing the laundry or the food or fixing the bikes. Alois Eberl for example plays the trombone and the accordion but also organized the food. Where do you find such flexible musicians and engineers?

Manu Delago's Recycling Tour

Manu Delago

“Most of them have worked with me before and they know if they sign up for a project with me that it’s usually a little bit crazy and there’s some nature connection and some form of challenge,” Manu explained. “I think everyone is having a good time. And most people, everyone here likes cycling. And that’s an important thing for this tour because we do a lot of cycling.”

Multi-Tasking Musicians

They do a lot of things besides. Lukas Froschauer, the sound engineer, is an emergency doctor in Vienna but he’s spending his well-earned holiday riding throughout the day, fiddling with cables at night, as well as keeping the crew healthy and Covid-19-tested. Oh, and he is responsible for navigation and weather-forecasting. Enjoy the rest, Herr Doktor! How did Manu persuade him to take part?

“I didn’t have to think about it just a minute, actually I visited him on the bike, and he said, OK, you’re coming with the bike, then you’re coming on the tour. And I’m cycling since I’m a kid. I love it.” Lukas admitted maybe he didn’t love it quite as much on an 8-hour stretch of freezing rain between Melk and Krems last week, but these are experiences that bond a team and there is a cheerful intimacy among the team that is infectious.

Manu Delago's Recycling Tour

Manu Delago

Dominik, a medical student from Linz, joined the crew in Vienna to help pull a trailer after Manu suffered a slipped-disc in his back and he’s gone from being a fan answering a mercy call on Instagram to full integrated member of the team in a few hours. “I’m a fan of the music and a fan of the project,” he said, “so I was so happy I could help.”

Toby the trash guy

Chris Cummins

Then there is Tobias Steinberger responsible for laundry, percussion and shifting through scrap metal at the side of the road. Each evening he has the challenge of playing one song on any trash they find on route.

Today, near a main road there are some faded cans of beer and a sign that looks like it was disposed of in around 1970. “I’ll get some good sounds out of this,” Tobias grins. “It’s fun and it’s a challenge and there is a slightly different sound each night.”

Manu Delago's Recycling Tour fährt über eine Brücke

Simon Rainer

Toby the Trash Guy

The environmental emphasis has meant that the first half of this tour made sense even when the concerts were held behind closed doors. The messaging is vital and the live streams and daily vlogs have gained a great digital following.

With the emphasis on cycling, small venues and locally sourced and cooked food, the tour is intensely regional, but there is also a global aspect: Manu hopes to use his digital platforms and social media channels to provoke music makers, hosts and fans worldwide to think more about the ecological footprint of our shared love. This could be by adjusting the food served to the musicians and audience and the sourcing of more recyclable materials.

Manu Delago's Recycling Tour in Salzburg

Simon Rainer

Mit Fridays For Future in Salzburg

But now, after all the digital improvisations, live music is back. There’ll be a concert with an audience tomorrow, Saturday 22nd May, in Bruck an der Mur. And early this Wednesday, there was the first live audience show of the tour in Vienna at the Stadtsaal. “Already the first applause just walking on stage was just like a really amazing hug,” recalled Manu, with a smile. “It felt so nice. It was 11 o’clock in the morning and I think it was definitely one of the first concerts that happened in Austria. And yeah, it was a brilliant experience from the first second."

What will be the legacy?

After five arduous weeks on the bikes there will be a finale in the Treibhaus in Innsbruck on June the 2nd. But when the cycling and the music is over, what does Manu want to leave as the legacy of the Recycling Tour 2021? “I want to just basically keep this amazing experience and also take things that we learnt to future touring. We might not always be able to cycle to all the gigs because we tour internationally, but maybe we can keep some elements of eating local food. We would like to see if we can sort of minimize how much electricity we need, maybe have smaller lights or whatever. And also, I’m hoping that it will inspire many other people to live slightly more sustainable lives.”

Manu Delago's Recycling Tour

Simon Rainer

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