- by JAMES BOEHLER
In the late spring, early summer of 1991, I walked into one of my favourite record stores, Atomic Records, in Milwaukee. From the moment I walked in the door, a song later known to me as "Vanadium-I-Ching", struck me in a way that no other music had at that time. It was also a very heavy psycho-delicate time, in the aftermath of Gulf War Part One. What's different now from then? A lot and nothing. Many of bands the bands that I had been into at the time had been together for maybe 10 years, or were broken up or dead. The German and truly orchestrated noise group, EINSTURZENDE NEUBAUTEN, had just released a "greatest hits vol. 2" package entitled, "Strategies Against Architecture 2". It contained material from 1984-90 and disc/side 2 was playing. For the duration of my weekly visit, I had transcended into a different consciousness. I couldn't translate the language of my heritage, but oddly enough it felt very familiar to me. I was hooked, so I approached the music pusher who was going to get me straight on my latest fix. The Cooler-than-thou Record Store Clerk had to tell me at least 10 times how to pronounce their name. "EIN-STUR-ZENDE...NEU-BAU-TEN!" I had never heard anything on that level which had surpassed anything considered "industrial" at the time. If there was a true term for that word, E.N. would apply if not on the basis of the own instruments that they create or incorporate into their performances, then on the translation of their name alone: "Collapsing New Buildings!" On the 30th of April, 2004, I arrived a the Metro for what I would later learn was going to be their last show in Chicago, or the last tour of America for that matter. I still wasn't sure who I would be interviewing, though I requested to interview Blixa Bargeld, since the he was the mainline towards the group's existence. Whatever he says goes. I was bit nervous of the possibility of ever meeting him. He's a very educated and well traveled man that has no time for bullshit of any kind. He also is responsible for 2 of the more influential groups of the last 20 years. The Bad Seeds and, of course, Einsturzende Neubauten. Once lead into the bus, I the first face I saw was that of Professor Bargeld. I properly introduced myself and thank him for the opportunity to speak, or more or less, listen to him. He seemed more interested in talking any way. He reminisced about the last time they played the Metro (July 2000), but doesn't remember much because they toured so consistently. He remembers a lot of obnoxiousness in the audience during his monologues and how he feels about it.
BB: People having a conversation in front of the stage...there's 2 ways I can feel about it...cuz I feel that what I'm doing there on stage is not strong enough that I can hold enough (laughs) attention there. Then I should be perfectly correct of saying "Do I interrupt you conversation?" or they're just plain...dumb. I wouldn't say rude cuz I don't think rude is a bad thing.
He remains optimistic about the show and comments on the rain.
BB: It's raining. A lot of people are not going to come that are in doubt about going to the show, so we're probably going to have a thin, quintessential audience. [The shows] We're closing up on 3 hours. We are getting older, but we're getting closer to James Brown proportions...It's a nice life...It's fun life. It is really demanding on your strings.
I mention how EN has become more accessible to their supporters.
BB: We came up with that name, now we have supporters. I don't want to call them fans. It's logical root is in fanatic. We have supporters and that is a good thing, it's nice to have that means of communication. That we we would actually be able to get feedback to get the possibility of seeing what people think about what we're doing. Usually you would make a record. You would mix a record. You would do the promotion. Then you would do the press. You would do all the interview. You would read all the stuff that's going to get written and done about you and then you would wait for this record to be released and you would see how people actually react to that. Nowadays, the way we work, is we do get the feedback immediately when we start playing it and we attempt to record something, we all ready get the feedback and through the whole process of refining that we get the feedback and can easily react to that. Not that it is necessary for us to like modify the particular ideas to...in attempt to please anyone. That is certainly not the idea, but it certainly helps in a sense of gaining any kind of momentum to see that there is potential and see what people see and what we're doing there. So there are things we're doing and there are reactions immediately and they help. That is really nice. I'm definitely in the making of the music and the music has. I think the band are certainly more interested in whatever social impact it can make. I'm much more interested in the production of the music, of what it is more possible to do within the group. What the group dynamic is doing and what the social ideas are working within a group of people in opposite to working in a circuit of the producer, artist, composer and sitting in front of the computer screen. Which is the normal way of making music nowadays. I don't want to criticize technology in that sense...what is accepted as being a band is not really a band because the way music is produced doesn't have anything to do with a social interaction any more. And I'm more interested that and I'm certainly much more interested in creating a particular kind of theatre. I'm much more interested in the fact to make whole movements happen and things happen in sense, as we doing now with Neubauten.org, but see that we can create for whole new types of events and whole new...
Blixia's attention is briefly diverted, but he continues.
BB: The next piece that we're doing with Neubauten.org is [with] the participation of supporters and it's probably going to be about a 10 day long event and that's gonna happen in Berlin and it's gonna end up in the creation of one piece and it's completely outside. The format you couldn't normally sell to a record company...and they're not going to be around much longer. It's not cutting out the middle man. The whole concept, copyright concept, is gonna fail and go to hell.
One of my next topic of conversation are political nature. With the current state of affairs with the rest of the world being pissed off at the U.S., I wondered what Blixia felt about the war in Iraq.
BB: I'm not happy enough to ventilate my political thoughts, thank you. I'm happy to talk about music and joining territories. I can just say that tomorrow's the 1st of May. The International Day of the Fighting Proletarians. Something that Americans tend to forget.
Switching the subject back to music, I ask him about future projects or the possibility of putting out something of his own.
BB: No, we're just doing this. We're doing Phase 2 with Neubauten.org...in Phase 1, we ended up making 1 and a half records. 1 record was only for supporters [and sent out to them.] Then we split up the whole material of into a supporters album and the public album. The public album had about 70% overlap. With the next supporter's album is probably have no overlap. It is only to be for the supporters. Unless you subscribe to Neubauten.org, you're not going to be able to purchase it. Not even purchase it later. We're going to do a DVD as well, which is basically filmed by now, but a lot of editing to do...and we're going to do a performance, only to open to supporters as well. Which is going to be a supporters participation performance that will be recorded and filmed as well. All that is going to make the stash that out of which is gonna form the product that comes out of Phase 2. Also there will be several performances outside of Neubauten, cuz we're turning the whole thing into a veritable television station. The quality, as technology moves on, will rival television quality soon. And we are taking more accent on actually developing a particular broadcast that are gonna be television shows. They're are not gonna be on cable television. (Laughs.) They're just gonna be on Neubauten.org.
Sitting across from me, as he sips some wine, Blixa looks bored and asks if there's anything else I would like to know. One of the 7 questions I had come up with was why he had left the Bad Seeds after being such a prominent force. (Imagine Keith Richards quitting the Rolling Stones...ever?!)
JB: Why after 20...
BB: I was bored. Next question.
Completely derailed, I get back up on the track and discuss his appearances in films. There was this film "Dandy" that was shot in 5 different countries. It starred Blixa, along with Nick Cave, Nina Hagen, Lene Lovich and a few others. I didn't get a chance to tell him that the "video" for EN's "Morning Dew" in the film was great and also one of my favourite covers. There's this scene in the deserts of Cairo in between the pyramids and the Sphinx, sniffing up "Sand", (which is also a cool cover), through a straw. "I was fortunate enough to see a screening of "Dandy", where the director, Peter Sempel, spoke at a college campus in Milwaukee. I started to rave about the film, but Blixa felt differently.
BB: I disagree completely. The best thing about "Dandy" was there was this scene where I'm meant to roll dice(s) and I'm meant to roll 3 sixes...or 2 sixes. I ask how do you want to film that? Do you just want to continuing doing this and you film until there are 2 sixes or are you gonna trick that later? [Peter says] "No, no, just roll...should I show you how to do it?" And he takes the dice and does it! Then I just thought this is weird. This guy could really do it. He took the the dice and he rolled 2 sixes. He was, of course, happy himself that he could show me how to do that. That's bizarre. I don't know how he did it in the end i was really impressed he was able to do that. But he's not a normal director and that was not acting.
A few years back I had read an article where Blixa raved about a German Progressive Rock band called Can. That was all I need to start with "Soundtracks" and work my way through their catalog, up until the late 70s and 80s material.
BB: Music still plays a very important role in the formative years of your youth. It's a soundtrack. When I went to school there was probably 4 or 5 people in my class that i took seriously in what they were listening to. And there were about 26 that I did not take serious in what they were listening to. There was a lot of communication in a small group. It was all very important role in my life and my formative years...my first record was "Atom Heart Mother' and then I moved very quickly away from Pink Floyd to, basically, the German Progressive Rock of the time. There was Can, Kraftwerk, Neu...I had more to do, certainly, with the Clogne side of it than the Berlin cosmic side of it. Ash Ra Templ was not really my cup of tea. I really like the hypnotic and telepathic quality of Can, for example. And I still do and still adore that way of playing. And on the other side of what was influential to me and probably Neubauten, in general, was there was onlu one German rock band that sang in German. Kraftwerk at the times I'm talking about, did not sing...there was no vocals. They were purely instrumental. Can always parked sideways around it by having a black guy singing, that mumbled some kind of English. Or a Japanese guy that faked English. He did. but he employed a lot of techniques of singing without singing, which I always adored as well. The singing in these bands was absolutely unimportant. There was one band that sang in German, which was very unusual in Germany, that a band sang in German. It's hard to believe and hard to understand. but everybody tried to make you believe, in Germany, that rock music was not made to be sang in German. You can't employ that language to this type of music. There was only one band very political, very successful, very influential and also the only and first independent band. They produced, recorded, distributed their own records. They pressed them. They had their own publishing company. All that long before punk. They even had these wonderful sayings on their records. "Tell us about shops that sell this record for more than 50 marks." I saw them play live several times, because something in between The Riot and the great MC5 concert and in between that, Oscillation Field, is what drove me towards making music. Singing...and the contents of vocals and the aspect I love about improvisational quality and experimental quality of German Progressive Rock of the times. That is very comprehensive. Late other things came, but I was preoccupied already that time.
Speaking of which, it is getting closer to show time, when he suddenly drops a bomb.
BB: This is the last tour we're doing in America. We simply cannot afford it any more. It's not getting better. The dollar's not worth anything. Ticketmaster is eating it up all. Next year this is all gonna be Clear Channel. So, what the hell? We're not going on tour here no more. We're going to China next year. we're doing a nice extended China tour. Which is probably going to be really nice and successful, but we're not going to play here any more. It was very difficult for a band that was called, translated, "collapsing new buildings" to go on tour or make records after [9-11]. The record company refused releasing the record. They should not release records by the Byrds, probably.
The rest of the group passes through. Alexander Hacke is one of them. Earlier, before the interview, he did a double take on me, because we had met the last time they played. It was outside the Metro and he was the first to demonstrate the "lighter-as-a-beer-bottle-opener" maneuver and how it worked. That explanation would have taken to long to go into, so a pleasant "hello' suited me fine. They had 20 minutes until they had to be on stage. Anticipating their last show in America, I was satisfied with our discussion, or rather, former Professor Bargeld's lecture. I thanked him once again for his time and said for him to have a good time with tonight's performance. Then I sent into the venue to claim my spot.
Later EN took the stage, with much applause and Blixa opening up with his monologues. As usual, people still chatted and yelled out unintelligible things. Undaunted, he continued:
BB: Tomorrow is the 1st of May, that is the International Fighting Day of the Proletarians and the United States of America is the only country in the world that does not make that a national holiday.
The crowd is struck with indifference or laughter. They came to see a group of men making some noise. Most of them are not interested in politics, they came for a show. It's Friday night and some of them probably have the weekends off and want to have a good time.
BB: We always have a very good time playing in Chicago. We played here from the very beginning of Metro, I believe the first time was 1986. We've played many time and we played many other places here in Chicago even before that. So...this is a farewell. This is the last time we play here.
The supporters of tonight's show are vastly upset.
BB: We simply cannot afford to play the United States of America any longer. It's not getting any better. Not even for the International Fighting Day for the Proletarians. We can't. So, please enjoy this show...as much as we will try our best.
He has one last promise:
BB: The first song will be very low in volume, don't be afraid, we're gonna raise it up to a more admirable volume before the end of the night.
After almost 3 hours of a still transcending show, Einsturzende Neubauten always fail to disappoint. Much of their performances absorb so much of my attention that I find my senses overwhelmed. Very few groups can hold you in one spot for any great length of time. Not a lot of today's music can really doing that any more. With EN, there is so much going on at one time, it's hard to even think about the possibility of being bored. If they played any less than "James Brown Proportions", it wouldn't be as captivating. You're not forced, as so much as a willing participant. Even if all you can do is stand there and look interested in what they are doing. That's all they want. A reaction. To a touch a nerve in "Central Nervous System" and never tire of developing new strategies for and against all types of architecture.
Perhaps I'm wrong in thinking I know how they try to reach people, but it is my belief that they are perfectionists in the vein that King Crimson is. Robert Fripp is not going to put out anything that he is not happy with. Blixa Bargeld and the rest of EN are the same way. Different, but related in the structure of their material, improvisational and experimental performances. Not that I want to compare EN to KC, but both bands fit the definition of what Progressive Rock is all about. It surpasses any other type of "rock" music out there, if even in name alone. You can go back through either band's history and trace the evolution. All bands, and the human artists that are a part of them, get tired and burn out after awhile. Very few of them age well like vintage wine. Einsturzende Neubauten will be one of those groups that only a selected few will understand and appreciate whatever changes they decide to take. As they creep up on a third decade of existence, one will still be wondering what's in store for Phase 3. I've supported them for almost 15 years and I would continue to do so for longer.
Posted by Alex Zander at March 6, 2005 03:08 PM