If you’ve been following the current post-apocalyptic costuming and LARP trends, you may have noticed that the European scene is some serious business. No, really… they don’t mess around. Most notably is what’s going with the more hardcore events like Oldtown, Bunker Springs, Fate, Resistopia, and more. Germany has risen as a hub for the very best of this scene, in my opinion, and a couple of the recent stars to shine are Chris and Mika from Rad Roach Gear.
These two started the business in 2015 after attending their first post-apocalyptic LARP. “I came up with the name because i wanted it to sound interesting,” Chris told me. “And yet convey the message of something that is tough and has a relation to the trash we use to build some of our gear, while not sounding boring and standard.”
Being a huge fan of the Fallout series, I just had to ask if the name was inspired by the game’s squishy, mutated enemies, but Chris assures me that it’s only partially the case. “Rad is slang for radical but also means radioactive, so it comes in pretty handy. And as radroaches convey the feeling for me, we agreed to name our project Rad Roach Gear. So yep, it’s based on Fallout… kind of.”
But it’s where Rad Roach Gear has gone in such a short time that is most impressive, mostly proven by the photos in the gallery below. “Although it started with building LARP equipment, it quickly evolved into much more,” Mika said. “By now we have built show outfits, props, weapon props, decorations, and artsy shit in general. With RRG we take the freedom to create not only post-apocalyptic gear, but also stuff influenced by other genres like horror, dystopia, tribal, etc.”
In that short period of time, Rad Roach has developed a distinct style that American costumers like our previous interviewee, Larry Hastings of Vulture Production, cites as an influence. “Man, I should have made up a fancy and cool word by now,” Chris joked about naming their style. “But to keep it simple, I would describe my style as ‘art that you can wear.’ Although when I build props or decorations, I’d just say it’s ‘art.'”
Mika, on the other hand, does have a word for her style: “Fancy-shmancy raiderswag.” We couldn’t agree more.
And while it may be a lot of work for the two, Rad Roach Gear is not their full-time job. Mika is currently dividing her time among university study, work, and crafting while Chris has another job. “Building post-apocalyptic props is not really a thing that can make you a living because there is basically no market for it — even less so here in Germany. I studied Graphic Design for two and a half years, and after that i worked as a painter and decorator. But to be honest that doesn’t really matter as people who build postapo kits can come from any background whatsoever. You have lawyers, construction workers, chefs, students, etc. Basically, anyone who loves the genre can join and be creative.”
Chris’ graphic design background did help with the interpretation of his vision for RRG projects, but he cites tabletop gaming and painting miniatures as an early inspiration for what colors to use and learning how shadows work on a real 3D model.
Mika has always been interested in art and has several outlets for her creativity. “Next to costumes, I create a lot of jewelry, synthetic dreads, and anything else that comes into my mind,” she said. “For example, I sewed a harness last year.”
Although her post-apocalyptic work is quite amazing, she says that it’s a general direction for her that can lead to other ideas. “It can be influenced by sci-fi, tribal, military, haute couture, and much more. I’d love to do some dystopian/dark futurestuff sometime.”
You can’t just throw some random shit together and call it a post-apocalyptic outfit.
But it’s the improvements to her techniques that Mika hopes to use on these new projects. “I’ve learned different techniques to weather different materials and I’ve learned to find the proper order for the single steps while creating an outfit. But I still tend to get carried away with sewing and end up thinking, ‘Shit! You should have weathered the fabric first…’ Also, I had to learn that good things take time and that quality goes over quantity… and to not force a creative process (at least not too much!) Mistakes were made!”
Chris, however, approaches his technique from a different angle. “To be perfectly honest, my techniques really did not change that much, but I learned that you need to be patient and that a proper kit requires time and preparation. You can’t just throw some random shit together and call it a post-apocalyptic outfit. Of course, I learned to apply different techniques more properly over time, but that’s just the natural development when you learn a new skill.
“Nowadays I draw most of my inspiration from people in the community building awesome gear,” he continued. “To namedrop just a few, Aesthetic Apocalypse, Radioactive Armory, Wasteland Pirate, or Dust Monkey for example. Also the usual influences like movies or games — basically anything that makes me go, “Wow, now that’s cool. Let’s try to build something similar!”
Mika finds most of her inspiration from fashion, be it extravagant haute couture, fetish gear, or even sci-fi costumes. But she says that there’s also an equal part from tribal and native cultures, as well as ancient religions. “Honestly, I feel this question is hard to answer because I, too, have the philosophy of ‘That looks cool, I’m gonna make my own version of it!'”
Mika and Chris are proud members of an elite group of European post-apocalyptic costumers known as the Wasteland Warriors. Chris describes the group as more of a German/International post-apocalyptic act. “We met the Wasteland Warriors at the Roleplay Convention in Cologne in 2016,” he recalls. “After that we became members and met a lot of awesome and talented people. A highlight was working at the world’s biggest metal festival, Wacken 2016, with them as part of a booked walking act. It was hard work but lots of fun!”
Since Rad Roach Gear was started, the two have created several props, accessories, and full costumes. Chris says that his favorite kit would have to be his Wasteland Warrior Riot Gear that’s based on an actual chest protector from the ’80s. “Over the last year i added tons of cool stuff to it and I kept the pieces modular so i can interchange equipment. Last summer i realized that my head got sunburned so i added a hood, for example. The process of building gear is a continous development. In Germany we have the saying, ‘Your gear is NEVER finished!'”
“I have the feeling that I always like my latest stuff the most,” Mika adds. “I get tired quickly by my own stuff. But if I had to name something that I like the best it would be my Motocross helmet and my plateau boots, because in combination they give you strange proportions and make you look creepy! A few things i am working on right now seem to turn out pretty decent, so stay tuned.”
Completely intrigued, I asked about those current projects. Just what are Mika and Chris working on? “I am working on a postapo tribal/voodoo/bellydancing outfit with an elaborate headpiece and some basic stuff for a few LARP events in 2017. I have tons of unfinished smaller stuff like masks, jewelry, or gloves in my room, so these things are finished spontaniously. I often create things that aren’t postapo-related at all like dreamcatchers, decorations out of bones, dreadjewelry, etc.”
“I’m working on a mutant costume for an upcoming LARP event in May 2017,” Chris added. “Also, I’m experimenting with casting real animal skulls in resin so you can use them with gear more easily. Other than that, there are tons of different small ideas I am working on: hats, gloves, an acidthrower prop, goggles, different modded Nerf guns, a vest and a jacket just to name a few.”
Chris says that his process involves taking a step back and refocusing when he runs out of ideas. This helps him regain energy and try something different. “I don’t believe forcing creativity works when you’re shooting for the best result.”
This advice directly carries over to those looking to get into the hobby for the first time. Whether you’re an established artist looking to branch out into costumes or a veteran costumer looking to get into the distressed and weathered post-nuclear side of things, it’s all about trial and error. “Don’t try to be perfect at your first try,” Mika advises. “I like the creation of postapo-style clothing because it unites many levels of different crafting types. You are going to have to sew, to age, to design, to screw, and to collect and use materials you never used before. It takes time to become familiar with it. So take your time but don’t settle for mediocrity.
“You have the chance to build something amazing out of scratch and are only limited to your imagination, so please don’t settle for mediocrity. This way your clothing can reflect who you are as a person and an artist and you’re never gonna want to take it off!”
Another important tip from Mika is about comfort. “Try to make your clothing as wearable as possible. Even if that means you have to wear parts of it for a few hours in your room. Nothing sucks more than spending a tremendous amount of time on an outfit you don’t wanna wear.”
Chris agrees, adding that you should always start small and not overthink what you’re trying to make. “Be prepared to scrap entire projects because you realized that what you had in mind doesn’t work. If that happens, take a step back, disassemble what you built and start new. The good thing when building postapo stuff is that you can’t really fuck it up by destroying your piece. The more you destroy it, the better it will look if you reassemble it because any scratch and hole you made can be repaired and makes your work more believable.
“Start small to save money. Develop your own style. Crafting props isn’t something that can be done one way only, and what may work for others may not work for you!”
Another piece of helpful advice from Chris comes in the form of the old time/money/quality triangle that service professionals and craftsman have been reciting to their customers for years. “You can’t have all three,” he points out. “If there is little time or money, then quality will suffer. The more time and/or money that is available to the project, the higher the quality can be. This theory perfectly applies to building your own postapo gear. If you search for good materials at fleamarkets and yard sales, it will take time. If you dont want to spend this time you will need to spend money for a quality build.
“And for the love of all that is high and mighty, weather and distress your gear! And don’t be afraid to destroy something! The destruction of perfectly good items is part of building postapo gear. A lot of beginners have a fear of ripping apart ‘that new jacket they bought,’ just to end up with a jacket that looks only halfway done. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! Immersing yourself into a post-apocalytic atmosphere only works when your gear looks old and used, so do not just throw on some fetish gear and assless chaps. A bit of dust is not enough weathering to look like proper post-apocalyptic gear, at least in my opinion.”
Be sure to check out the work of Chris and Mika at the Rad Roach Gear Facebook page and support their art by throwing a like their way.
Next up we have an interview with Deadbeard Props, so look for that one coming next week!
Mouse over gallery images below for photo credits. Header image by Freitag Fotografie.