A recent Russell Smith article
in the Globe and Mail
reminded me, in a good way, of my teenage years. It's all about Einstürzende Neubauten
, you see.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the formation of Einsturzende Neubauten, the German band that could have been the most important – and certainly was the most cerebral – pop-music ensemble of the fin-de-siècle, a band whose hysterical pessimism was the soundtrack for the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the last gasp of highbrow modernism. To celebrate the date, the band is doing an international tour that promises to be a multimedia art spectacle, and it will include two stops in Canada (both in Toronto; sorry, sorry, sorry).
It’s surprising they’re all still alive, given the insanity of what they lived through in the 1980s alone: They specialized in noise and mayhem, using found machinery and objects to bang out their tunes, and their stage shows often involved spinning sharp objects and sparks. (They were once kicked off a stage in New York for setting pans of paint thinner aflame.) They were the first to create a sound called “industrial” – a word that from then on was used to describe an entire genre, a post-punk, electronically driven, neo-futurist movement that gave a metallic edge to the 1980s, and became the choice of music for goths in the 1990s. Its presence even made disco music harder-edged: Without industrial, there would have been no techno.
[. . .]
Their association with earlier musical movements such as the noise concerts of Dada and Futurism, and with the found sounds of musique concrète, placed them on the line between the high art world and the low. They were the embodiment of despairing, Cold War, West Berlin angst, and of the alienating themes of performance art (chanting, repeating, mutilating, always in dark basements and warehouses). They were easy to parody as relentlessly serious Germans. There was little irony in an EN performance. (Bargeld was particularly adept at producing a painful shriek. Nick Cave said in an interview that when he first heard it he thought it was not like anything human: “It was more like a strangled cat.”)
Their name means “collapsing new buildings,” but with a particularly German subtext: “neubauten” were postwar buildings, often built quickly and cheaply, and the word connotes grey concrete to a European. Bargeld’s own name was a joke, Blixa being a brand of felt-tip pen and Bargeld meaning cash (a loose English translation might be Bic Bucks). Despite the gloomy Germanic seriousness of most of EN’s noise-music and video experimentation, and their severely black, vampiric aesthetic, he has shown himself unafraid to laugh at himself.
Back in 1997-1998, I was briefly involved in UPEI
's student newspaper, The Cadre
. I couldn't sustain it--I found the politics exhausting and terrifying--but one thing I did do was review was review CDs. One of these CD was Einstürzende Neubauten's 1996 album Ende Neu
. It was an interesting album, if one entirely foreign to my experience to date with popular music. The track I particularly liked was "The Garden."
I remember reading, perhaps in the liner notes, that the lyrics were drawn from something one of the bandmembers overheard one museumgoer say to another. "You will find me if you want me in the garden, unless it's pouring down with rain." The song felt unusual, mysterious, sad; the song clicked with me.