Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The music of industry - Einstürzende Neubauten

I thought I had hit the jackpot when I discovered Rammstein a few weeks ago (see 13th January) but, when Marty R recently encouraged me to try some really out-there stuff from the German industrial genre, and to give Einstürzende Neubauten a go, I had no idea what an amazing experience I was in for.

I discovered pretty quickly how hard it is to find recordings of German 1980s experimental industrial rock in Melbourne, but then I stumbled into Heartland Records, a pokey little shop near Victoria Market, and to my delight saw that pretty well everything that Einstürzende Neubauten had ever recorded was there. Resisting the temptation to buy the lot there and then, I just swooped up the band’s debut album, Kollaps, to see what sort of impression this motley bunch of musicians, who bang random bits of metal onto random bits of anything they can find, would make on me.

Einstürzende Neubauten means “collapsing new buildings” and, with its hints of deconstruction, aggression, and disdain for modern development, it’s a name that captures a lot of what the band is about – music where you hear not just the collapse of new buildings, but of much of the hallowed, safe and comfortable traditions of music and culture.

In ‘Steh auf Berlin’, for example, you hear the sound of jackhammers, of metal on metal, of distorted noise, of random shouts and nightmarish screams, all brought together with an aggressive but ordered rhythmic cohesion that would sound almost conventional were it not for the crazed ferocity of the noise itself.

In ‘U-Haft-Muzak’ a dull wooden thud, heavy and laboured, hammers its way beneath creepy, freaky sounds of electric metal, distant cries and haunted whistling. It’s as if you are creeping through a long abandoned, grisly building, late at night, with only ghouls and your own amplified heartbeat to keep you company.

All throughout this album, Einstürzende Neubauten make extraordinary use of ordinary things. It’s like an orchestra that has been formed from the bits and pieces that might lie forsaken on an old and derelict factory floor, picked up by the ghosts of a rebel workforce that is determined to wreak havoc, and revenge, on centuries of oppression.

There are some wonderful moments on Kollaps where the music’s many and diverse elements are brought together in startlingly original, and sensationally effective, ways. Nowhere is this more spectacular than in the long title track, where an incessant electronic beat, punctuated by all kinds of freaky industrial clang and clatter, and by ugly but irresistible grunting vocals, bores its way into the innermost regions of your gut. It’s dreadful, it’s frightening, but it holds you captive all the way through.

And then there’s the nightmare of ‘Hirnsäge’ (Brain saw), where a grotesque dance is beaten out on cavernous drums and on more metal bashing metal, while vocals scream like invocations from hell – music that makes the most blood-soaked Nick Cave sound like Julie Andrews.

There are many things that I can admire in music, but nothing more than the ability to make music from ugliness, from austerity, the ability to grab the misshapen things, the unattractive things, the things that are cold and only functional, and to batter and bash them into art that makes your hair stand on end, and your heart miss a beat, and your gut wrench. Mahler did that in pretty well every one of his symphonies and here, on Kollaps, Einstürzende Neubauten does it on pretty well every one of the album’s 23 tracks.

Marty R has given me a lot of helpful and treasured musical guidance over the past several months – but this is surely one of his best. Thanks Marty. Clearly a return trip to Heartland Records is imminent.


  1. Watch Berlin Now, rare 1985 doc featuring classic Neubauten performance

  2. well...what can i say...i let neubauten speak instead ;-)
    "fuetter mein ego" from the album "halber mensch"

  3. Thanks both for the post ... the video looks great, groove68, and it has, by a roundabout way, led me to the book, which I am now hunting down ... and Seemore, needless to say, Halber Mensch is now part of the collection!!