The images they conjure up are heady and extreme; a fire and metal theatre of performance, head-on confrontation with chainsaws and a plot to piledrive the ICA stage in order to access the secret passages to Buckingham Palace, double dates with Showaddywaddy, buildings collapsing at the mention of their name. But Einstürzende Neubauten are just as much about a voracious intellect; incisive and ever-questioning, a love of language manifested in gleefully malevolent humour and an ability to transpose their elegantly harnessed forces of chaos to whichever medium they choose.
They first stated their intentions in 1980, when Blixa Bargeld and NU Unruh performed beating the sides of a hole hollowed into a Berlin motorway flyover. As the name Einstürzende Neubauten - roughly translated as collapsing new buildings - spread, Berlin's congress building caved in on itself. A propaganda blow had been struck. Joined by FM Einheit (Mufti), Mark Chung and Alexander Hacke, Neaubauten's first LP was dutifully christened 'Kollaps' (1981) and came with the one-line press statement; "You'll never listen to this."
The band's philosophy of destroy-to-create was conveyed by their barely controlled riot of noise; road drills, power hammers and heavily beaten junk, machines taken apart and struck; a bold new language for music created from the ruins of archetype. The emaciated, black leather-clad Bargeld smiled as he sang. "We used to play without knowing what we were going to do at all, in the next ten minutes or throughout the whole concert," Blixa later recalled. "But this way of losing control onstage becomes a lie. After a hundred times...it is not at all uncontrolled any longer, and the only way to continue from there was to actually work out what we do."
After the sawing in half of pianos and piledriver/stage interaction passed into legend, Neubauten changed tack, continually exploring new frameworks in which to present their vision. Variously, Blixa became guitarist for Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds - "I had to find a way to react to the whole symbolism of the guitar, which I hated; so I built a repertoire for myself; 50 ways of playing guitar without playing guitar" - while Alexander contributed what was roundly decided to be "Jimmy Page for the '90's" guitar for Crime And The City Solution. Meanwhile, Mufti has composed for various theatre companies, ranging from Greek classics to expressionist works, while Mark Chung founded Neubauten's publishing company Freibank.
As a band, they worked with American armed entertainment terrorists Survival Research Laboratories for a performance in the Mojave desert, and gave further unconventional concerts upon the racetrack top of the Fiat factory in Italy and the notorious Goldener Saal on the former Nazi Reichsparteitag-area in Nuremberg. Expanding into theatre, they participated in the prestigious Hamburg Schauspielhaus production of Andi, turned leading German playwright Hiner Müller's Hamletmaschine into a radio play and, more recently, Mufti composed another radio play Radio Inferno with Andreas Ammer, based on Dante's Inferno and featuring John Peel as the In-Hell DJ. Reprising the role he also commanded in a 1993 New York production of Faust, for which Neubauten also provided the music, Blixa played Mephistopheles.
Which partly explains why their recorded output seems limited at a glance. After six years with Some Bizzare, and further classic albums 'Patient O.T.' (1984), 'Halber Mensch' (1985), 'Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richerskala' (1986) and 'Haus der Lüge' (1989), Neubauten signed to Mute, re-releasing the 1984 'Strategies Against Architecture' compilation of earlier works in September 1992, and thus providing critics with the chance to mull over the legacy this work created in inspiring hordes of 'industrial' bands to follow in Neubauten's wake, and firmly deciding that this record, "still stands out as the uncompromising genuine article." "Sorry for not being too modest," remarked Blixa at the time, "but I think that Neubauten are the first musical group to have taken a bit of conceptual wisdom into popular fields."
In early 1993, the band released a triptych of records; the maxi-singles 'Interim' and 'Malediction' and the album 'Tabula Rasa', which all featured as cover art exquisite 17th-century still lifes by Flemish painter Ambrosius Bosschsaert the Younger from 1635. Translated as 'Clean Slate', 'Tabula Rasa' was Neubauten's first "multi-lingual" album, featuring songs and versions in English, French, Japanese and Latin, as well as in their usual German. Employing the fragile vocals of Anita Lane to haunting effect on the beautiful 'Blume', a piece originally commissioned for the Canadian dance troupe La La La Human Steps, and ending with the infernal 15 minutes of 'Headcleaner', in which The Beatles' 'All You Need Is Love' is taken apart and reassembled as what Blixa described as "a battle painting", 'Tabula Rasa' presented Neubauten at their most sublime and destructive.
It also enabled Blixa to flex his extraordinary intellect with zeal: "Utopia is one of the topics that somehow hangs invisibly over 'Tabula Rasa'," he revealed. "I said, 'Between semtex and utopia,' in the text of 'Die Interimsliebenden'. Semtex is one of the 12 riddles I put all over the record."
Seeking out new sources for sounds, on 'Tabula Rasa' the band employed such diverse elements as sand, burning oil, guitar leads, stone, and Unruh's 11-bell and mechanical guitar machines, alongside more orthodox instruments. "The oil didn't make a very interesting noise until we lit it, and then the dripping, burning oil made a fantastic sound." Just as the band were adding this effect to the end of 'Wüste' ('Desert'), the Gulf War broke out. "About one month later the oil really was burning in the desert," Blixa recalled. "It was bizarre for us."
As well as pursuing their own solo projects, Einstürzende Neubauten began work on their next album in 1994. Initially, they began by deliberately eschewing studio spaces and recording, instead in East Berlin's Akademie der Künste and a theatre in Potsdam. Sessions then moved from Connie's Studio in Berlin to longtime-producer and colleague Jon Calfrey's new La Chapelle studio in Belgium, where they employed all manner of metal, Unruh sound sculptures and building site machinery to generate noise. Finally, they finished the album with a string section drawn from the Brussels Symphony Orchestra and some "field" recordings of 70,000-volt electricity cables "singing" at an intense frequency, made at an electricity transmitter relay station. As well as assembling choirs, the band also asked singer-actress Meret Becker in as a guest artist. Stripped down to a three-piece core of Bargeld, Unruh and Hacke, Enistürzende Neubauten are ready to present the world with the results of their extensive explorations, the astonishing 'Ende Neu' album in August 1996.
Preceding the album's release, on June 24, comes the single 'Stella Maris', the title track of which is a stunning duet between Blixa and Meret Becker. Also featured is the results of the installations made in their initial theatre recordings, the aptly titled 'Installation No1', as well as 'Bili Rubin', which is not featured on the album.
"I would say that the band went through many processes of transformation during the making of this record," considers Blixa, "from losing all kinds of perspective and direction, to finding something new that justifies the name of the band.
"The results of this record might sound quite different to our earlier attempts at making music, but here we stuck much closer to our root method than we did on some of our previous records. In fact, I have never been keener on seeing a reaction to an album than since our first album 'Kollaps'."
Bio taken from Mute Liberation Technologies homepage