Who They Are: A German experimental/industrial band formed in divided Berlin around 1980. Their name translates in English to “Collapsing New Buildings,” a lightly-veiled critique of the ephemeral and flimsy modern architecture of their home city in those days. The original group included vocalist/guitarist Blixa Bargeld, homemade-instrument percussionist N.U. Unruh, bassist Beate Bartel, and synth player Gudrun Gut. The female half of the band left soon after their inception, and a stable line-up developed over the next few years including Bargeld, Unruh, guitarist Alexander Hacke, metal drummer F.M. Einheit, and bassist Mark Chung. That version of the band fractured around the recording of their 1996 album Ende Neu, and after a brief period of instability, a new line-up emerged, which remains constant to this day: Bargeld, Unruh, Hacke (now on bass), Rudolf Moser (metal drums), and Jochen Arbeit (guitar), with Ash Wednesday (keyboards) as a key long-term live-only member. The group are justifiably famed for their instrumental innovations, with a wide range of found, manufactured, and “junk” instruments featuring prominently in their creative pantheon.
When I First Heard Them: As was often the case in pre-Internet days, I’d heard of Einstürzende Neubauten via the music media before I actually heard them; being already interested in early industrial music, what I’d read about their efforts to bring junkyard elements to experimental rock music deeply piqued my curiosity. The first recording I actually heard by the group was the track “Wardrobe” on the utterly brilliant 1985 Some Bizzare Records sampler album, If You Can’t Please Yourself You Can’t, Please Your Soul, which has already featured prominently in this series, as it’s also where I first heard fellow-industrialists Coil. “Wardrobe” was weird and disturbing and wonderful, and it made me a Neubauten believer; I quickly acquired their then-current release, Halber Mensch, which utterly blew my mind. I’ve diligently stayed abreast of their group, solo, and collaborative works through the ensuing decades, and have been richly rewarded by the awesome scope and structure of the songs and albums they’ve released together and in various side configurations over the years. I’ve never seen Neubauten live, alas, but I did get to see Blixa Bargeld during his time as a founding member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Their November 1990 concert at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, would be my choice if asked to name the best live show I’ve ever seen; watching Cave and Bargeld duet on “The Weeping Song” was one of the finest concert experiences I’ve ever had, easily, bar none, and hands down.
Why I Love Them: In their early days, I would have justified my adoration of the group simply for their innovative approaches to making noisy, industrial music with non-traditional instruments. I saw my own creative aspirations mirrored in that approach, as that’s the sort of thing that I was doing with my own original music at the time, though I was doing it nowhere near as well as Einstürzende Neubauten did, obviously. But somewhere around the time of that transitional 1996 Ende Neu album, the group began to do something truly extraordinary, by making beautiful, accessible music with their noisy, non-traditional instruments. They can still whang and clang with the best of them, all these years on, but if that was the sole name of their creative game, they would have quickly grown stale and tired and dated; the magic of their latter work is their ability to swing between the dark and the light, the accessible and the off-putting, and the recognizable and the strange. The group are also blessed to have one of the most unique and riveting vocalists in modern rock music history in the person of Blixa Bargeld. He moves, between and within songs, from hair-raising shrieks and screams, to smooth, warm baritone stylings, as each song dictates, and as each word demands. Bargeld’s lyrics (usually sung in German) can be poetic, personal, and political in equal measure, and they are delivered with a passion and fervor often absent in experimental musical circles, where distanced, arch and wry delivery are more the norm than soul-baring, heart-shredding shrieks from the center of the self. Couple that titanic vocal presence with a mature, stable, dynamic and powerful instrumental ensemble, and you’ve got something truly moving and unique.
#10. “Ich Bin’s” from Fünf Auf Der Nach Oben Offenen Richterskala (1987)
#9. “Halber Mensch,” from Halber Mensch (1985)
#8. “Ten Grand Goldie,” from Alles in Allem (2020)
#7. “Feurio!,” from Haus der Lüge (1989)
#6. “Stella Maris,” from Ende Neu (1996)
#5. “Yü-Gung (Fütter Mein Ego),” from Halber Mensch (1985)
#4. “Blume,” from Tabula Rasa (1993)
#3. “Haus der Lüge/Epilog,” from Haus der Lüge (1989)
#2. “Die Interimsliebenden,” from Tabula Rasa (1993)
#1. “Youme & Meyou,” from Perpetuum Mobile (2004)