Einstürzende Neubauten - Biography

Einstürzende Neubauten were formed in 1980. It means Collapsing New Buildings, or more acurately, Buildings That Are Collapsing. It’s German, so there are a lot of syllables, but Neubauten, the group, are singular as far as their aesthetic approach and performance idiom go. Live, they played trash. That doesn’t mean their music was trashy; they literally played trash. They beat on scrap metal, they used power tools, and construction equipment, and sheet metal, and they played shows in junk yards and utilized the debris as their instrumentation. Most would probably tell you that Neubauten are the progenitors of “industrial” music. They’ve moved away from the junkyards in recent years, but they’re still extant as a band, wildly experimenting in all manner of sound.

Kollaps (1981 Zick Zack) is the debut, and if you’re a purist, it’s probably your favorite. It’s a sandpaper-raw collision of pounding rhythm, metallic squalor, gnashing noise, and frontman Blixa Bargeld’s shrieking, distorted vocals. N.U. Unruh, and F.M. Einheit wail away in the background. It’s the most aggressive record in the entire catalog, and a prime example of what will be the band’s greatest strength: a baffling ability to mask the origins of the sounds they generate.

Mark Chung, Alexander Von Borsig, and Jon Caffery sign on for the second album, Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T. (1983 Some Bizarre). The title (Drawings of Patient O.T.) refers to the drawings of Oswald Tschirtner, a Swiss mental patient with some degree of notoriety to collectors of Art Brut and Outsider Art; Neubauten are excelling at their own brand of outsider art. O.T. is still a hardcore listen, but sonically, the six-piece band really branches out. The record is a self-assured mix of “standard” EN bashing, tape manipulation, field recordings, and droning minimalism. There’s also a lot of bass guitar, enough to suggest that within the chrysalis of noise, there might be a rock band trying to emerge.

That rock band does emerge on the third LP, ½ Mensch (1985 Some Bizarre). The band (now minus Jon Caffery) engaged producer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Wire, Interpol), and the record sounds great. They’ve marshaled the percussion into a psychotic cavalry charge; there is an intense and dense a cappella segment in “Seele Brennt”; elsewhere, in addition to the bombast, there’s piano. A pounding, energetic beat in “Yü-Gung (Fütter mein Ego)” flirts with electronic dance music — and it’s still. This is where the band takes off. They even havet an Adrian Sherwood remix. 1/2 Mensch is post-punk, quasi-industrial classic.

The same lineup, along with Gareth Jones, reappears for Fünf Auf der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala or Five on the Open-Ended Richter Scale (1987 Some Bizarre). This one’s much quieter, full of tension and dread and anxiety. “Zerstoerte Zelle (Destroyed Cell)” is creepy and conspiratorial; “Kein Bestandteil Sein (To Be No Part of It)” tick like a bomb waiting — and refusing — to explode. How much are Neubauten interested in testing the extremes of both audio and context? There’s a banging, crashing, careening version of the Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra classic, “Morning Dew.”

Haus der Luege (1989 Thirsty Ear), is the mature rock record, although it bumps up against electronic dance music. “Prolog” features Blixa doing an aggravated, spoken-word piece, punctuated by blasts of sheer cacophony. Then that abruptly cuts to “Feurio!” (“Fire!”), which is already cruising along at 90 mph. The primary instrument is a synthesizer, and while this is dance music, it’s great, because it features just a single, pulsing note. It’s fine, aggressive minimalism. “Haus der Luege” is straight-ahead, guitar-driven rock, but as with “Feurio!” it works because it all still sounds like Neubauten.

After four years, the band returned with a new release, Tabula Rasa (1993 Elektra), and new members: Jochen Arbeit, Rudi Moser, Ash Wednesday, and Boris Wilsdorf; only N.U. Unruh remained from the 80s version. With the blatant exception of the raucous closing track, “Headcleaner: Zentrifuge/Stabs/Rottlichtachse/Propa,” most of Tabula Rasa deals with dark ambience and weird, sullen atmospherics. A blank slate must’ve been just what Blixa wanted, because he’s cleared out the band and made a record that definitely confused most fans. Still, it has its moments.

Ende Neu (1996 Mute) is the inevitable (e.g., Swans) stab at conventional song structures. “Was Ist Ist (What Is Is)” is a hard rocker; elsewhere, “Stella Maris” is lilting with cooing female vocals and cello; “The Garden” has layers of keys (and is that a tabla?). There is at least one moment that is vaguely reminiscent of techno. Ende Neu is by no means a bad record — it has some fine textures to it — but if you’re expecting Kollaps, consider yourself warned.

The new millennium opened with Silence Is Sexy (2000 Mute). This time the band consists of Blixa, Jochen Arbeit, Alexander Hacke, Rudolph Moser, and N.U. Unruh. Again, meet the new boss, not a thing like the old boss. There are strings and vibraphone and guitars and sometimes it’s beautiful and sometimes it drops abrupt dynamic changes and give them credit: They’re not sitting on their laurels.

Perpetuum Mobile (2004 Mute) continues the trend. Refusing to be limited to industrial clangor, Neubauten traverse a vast terrain of sound, from the eerie to the poetic to the traumatic to the sublime. It’s also their last record for the major-label-distributed Mute. Always forward thinking, the band is now involved with a number of Internet-based projects. In 2002, Einstürzende Neubauten began self-releasing their material, relying on fan participation in an experiment of a type of Street Performer Protocol. Essentially, the band takes donations online and at live concerts; the funds go into an escrow account; once the recording is complete, it’s released into the public domain.

Also, live concerts are often burned on CDRs and sold directly after the show. In November 2004, the band performed a supporters-only performance at Berlin's Palast der Republik. Another online endeavor, the Musterhaus project, is a line of releases intended to give the band “an outlet for more experimental impulses and exploration,” making new releases available every three months. It’s an admirable effort to build bridges within and between the music and online communities; explore for yourself at neubauten.org. Here’s to inventiveness from Neubauten for another few decades.

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