Thursday, 5 July 2007


Now that you've seen what's up my sleeve, I thought I'd say a few words about the band Einstürzende Neubauten, since they use that distinctive image as their logo.

They hail from.....well *cough* its not important for the purposes of this post where they hail from. No prizes for guessing though.

I first heard of them around the age of 13 when they caused a bit of a fuss in some of the tabloid newspapers after a pretty riotous performance at the ICA, during which it was reported that they managed to drill a big hole in the stage, amongst other acts of wantonly anarchic destruction. Their name sounded rather scary and these lurid tales of (supposed) violence and frenzied chaos only served to increase the sense of threat and menace that they conveyed to the likes of me. The newspaper reports seemed to paint a picture of them as being so twisted, decadent and on the edge, that there was something worrying and fascinating about them in equal measure.

My brother was at college at the time, and I would look forward to him coming back home every so often with a stack of weird and wonderful albums under his arm which he had either bought, or borrowed from his esoteric fellow students (they were esoteric to me - one of them even smoked a pipe). It was like a window into a different and exciting world - exotic, intriguing, sometimes baffling, but always a quantum leap away from the music I was used to seeing on Top of the Pops or hearing on the radio.

One day he came home with "Strategies Against Architecture" by Einstürzende Neubauten, practically unveiling it from within the Selectadisc bag with a flourish. The band's name adorned the sleeve in spidery writing, just above the logo in the middle of the black album cover which had fine red scrawl all over it. On the back were the song titles and a number of pictures of three extremely intense looking individuals with their array of instruments: drills, jackhammers, metal frames and implements, electronic equipment, even a couple of guitars.

I wasn't sure what I was expecting to hear, but when I got the chance I put on the headphones and, with great anticipation, took the album out of its sleeve and onto the turntable. Click: needle hitting plastic.

Then, a weird, metallic sounding scraping noise which became a dissonant hum.

A couple of words uttered in German, then shouted.

Suddenly all hell broke loose as the opening track, Tanz Debil, kicked in properly. I had never heard anything like it, and I was scared shitless. All I could hear was a screaming atonal racket, cold and metallic, which seemed to increase in its relentless intensity as it went on. My heart rate had increased and I was feeling very uncomfortable. I took the headphones off. I looked at the information accompanying the track. "Metal drumkit/record player" were the instruments listed. I was deeply troubled.

The first reaction I gave to my brother was a scornful one, borne out of defensiveness.

"You mean you actually paid for that? Bloody hell, they saw you coming!" Or words to that effect.

And that was that.

But before much time had passed, something drew me back to it. I think I was fascinated that something could have had that effect on me. It didn't sound like music. It didn't sound like anything. I had no reference points that could help me put it any any kind of context. At that age, I barely knew what context was. But the fact that it had produced such a reaction in me stayed in my mind, and I had to go back and explore.

So, maybe days later, maybe a week, the headphones were on again, not without some trepidation and a quickened pulse. Again came that scraping sound, that hum, those words. Stell dich tot. STELL DICH TOT! And again all hell broke loose. The sound of a metal drumkit and a record player having the shit kicked out of them. Someone shouting like he too was having the shit kicked out of him. It was still terrifying, but it was compelling as well. I'd never heard anything so raw and unfettered, and so aggressive. On my next listen I realised I actually found it exciting.

From that point on, I was hooked.

Looking back, I'd say this is precisely the same reaction that many people would have had a couple of generations earlier when they (or their parents) first heard, say, Jerry Lee Lewis. Or, later, punk rock. Shock. Rawness. Aggression. This isn't music, this is unlistenable.

But I love it.

p.s. Incidentally, their lead vocalist will be recognisable to many as long-term (but now departed) guitarist with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Neubauten themselves are still going strong and still give pretty electrifying live performances, the mayhem finely balanced with moments of quiet beauty. These days they look like elder statesmen, bedecked as they often are in suits and waistcoats - but they can make a hell of a noise.


Dzem Fan said...

That was the best review of a record I have read in a long time.

Ms Melancholy said...

Well, I could never get into them much myself but around the same time I bought a Dead Kennedy's album which still holds very dear memories for me. Reminds me of sitting in the 5th form common room doing the NME crossword with my history teacher, and wondering how I could get into his pants. (Is that a little too much information?) I seem to remember Nuebauten being an NME favourite.

trousers said...

Thanks, dzem fan.

MsM, I do remember a couple of NME articles about them. The NME seemed much more genuinely authoritative then - I don't mean in this case particularly, but generally.

Funny really though - I never really got into the Dead Kennedys, although I did have a certain amount of respect for them.

Oh its not too much information by the way :)

Nell said...

In the words of a Post Office ad from a few years back: I saw this and thought of you :-)

zola a social thing said...

The same reaction as trousers hung up on a line with only ONE SOCK!!!
That is the limit....

exile said...

Nice. I utoobed it after reading this. I love their lyrics and how they play around with the words. Always have a feeling it is easier in German than in English.

The music is strangely addictive.

trousers said...

Thanks for that Nell. Have I ever mentioned how much I like the Fall?


zola, we all have our limits..

exile, I'll check out the link, thanks for posting it. I'm sure a lot of the nuances with the lyrics are lost on me. But since the music always sounded so different, then the lyrics being (mostly) in German kind of suited that.

Plus its always nice to have a stroll around and find myself singing words like "Wass ist die befindlichkeit des landes"