One of the reasons I am waiting for the release of the wonderful James Mollison’s photo book about rock fans – Disciples – is to see if he selected any image of Einstürzende Neubauten followers.
Among the hundreds of gigs I went I am not capable of naming another band that has a fanbase as cohesive, loyal and supportive as Einstürzende Neubauten.
Just before my first Neubauten gig, a couple of years ago at London Koko, I chatted with a woman who came all the way from Boston (USA), on her own, in order to follow their UK tour. She told me how hard was to convince her husband (who stayed at home) to let her cross the Atlantic in order to see some gigs of her favorite band. I have always been fascinated by the psychology behind die-hard fans and I was trying to catch which is the drive that a person finds to employ so much energy and money into this.
While chatting, we were heard by a group of Neubauten devotees who joined our conversation. Unsurprisingly (at that moment I could expect everything) they had just traveled from Germany specifically for the gig and were standing by her choice against husband’s doubt. They were utterly convinced that a Neubauten gig is worth a familiar crisis and a transatlantic flight.
At that point I felt curious and fascinated at the same time, I didn’t tell them that my drive to be at that gig was the Australian band The Devastations supporting!
I cannot call me neither a fan nor an expert of industrial music to attempt a qualified review. I got to know Einstürzende Neubauten about 10 years ago through Blixa Bargeld’s collaboration with the Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds. My words are just a passionate complement to this picture story of one of their legendary live performance.
An introduction for the ones who don’t know them, an apology for the fans who are reading.
Everyone is invited to comment and improve this article with their experience, anecdotes, corrections.
Named after the German equivalent of “collapsing new buildings”, Einstürzende Neubauten formed in west Berlin in 1980.
Condensing the dark sounds of Manchester post-punk, industrial noise from the Ruhr steel factories, Klaus Schulze and Kraftwerk electronica, German lyrics (which I don’t understand!) and a stupefying and unexpected endowment for sumptuous melody, that only a country who gave birth to Beethoven and Wagner can have, their work is a sonic experience that goes beyond any music classification.
Neubauten are the music equivalent of a work of conceptual-art or, if you prefer to see the other way round, a conceptual art collective that performs using music, words, design, architecture and theatre.
Their music is produced by conventional rock instruments, their noise achieved with conventional industrial tools, unconventionally brought on theatre stages. It wasn’t surprising to meet on a Neubauten’s eighties show pneumatic hammer, air compressor, circular saw. It is still common to see them producing sounds using steel plates, metal shavings and “instruments” made from any building material.
The environment is first “collapsed” by the use of loud metallic devices then your deafened ears are gently tickled by polystyrene flakes let fall softly. The gentle sound of a chemical rain in a post atomic landscape.
Blixa innate theatrical attitude is the centre of attention around which everything and everyone else gravitate. A magnetic director of his orchestra, an opera singer on loan to entertain metalworkers in a plant yard.
Supported by the eminent contribution of original members, bassist Alexander Hacke and “instruments’ inventor” N.U. Unruh, the line-up completes with three more artists who share guitar, drums, keyboards and (odd) percussions duties.
Their early live performances used to concentrate on the noisy industrial aspect of their sound, ending with systematic destruction (Einstürzende=collapsing) of the stage, operated by their own instruments.
After this first radical decade, Einstürzende Neubauten music in the nineties took a twist experimenting with electronica and melody. The compositions started to have a “kind of” identifiable song structure.
The recent live shows privilege this aspect, nevertheless I still find more enthralling any moment the stage resembles an assembly line and ceases to appear a rock concert.
The band returns fans devotion letting them being part of their projects.
Unsigned to any record label, Neubauten albums are produced by the band, sold at gigs and available only through their official website.
Any of their concert is recorded on site and released as limited edition double CD that you can book only the same night of the gig.
They also created a form of support which, behind a payment of a fee, gets you audio and video material, links among supporter through your dedicated @neubauten.org e-mail, and an active part in spreading their music to the world. An all-embracing plan which allows full communication between the band and its public bypassing the music industry.
I don’t have doubts building such a community is good to keep all fans united, but looking at the dedication of their almost religious audience I wonder how this is effective to involve new fans and simple avant-garde music lovers. My feeling is that this looks as a very strict circle and speak a personal language which could be a bit intimidating for a novice. Who wants to be part of it, but isn’t ready to start a conversation about their change of line-up or doesn’t have a clue about the meaning behind their German texts, could feel out of place.
At the end of that first gig, I looked for those fans arrived from everywhere. I wanted to tell them that after two hours of such a majestic experience I could understand better their passion. Unfortunately I haven’t found them and I haven’t joint the EN supporters.
I find it difficult to be a fan of anyone, I am too curious and moody. My musical preferences change with my feelings, as you can guess reading the progression of artists decorating this site; nevertheless since I experienced how Einstürzende Neubauten produce their works, I periodically play one of their Strategies against Architecture. These three collections should be the starting point for anyone approaching the band.
It is a while I wanted to talk about the use of details in concert photography, I was just waiting for the right act.
Now, using Einstürzende Neubauten performance can be even cheeky, but it definitely speaks my mind out. Neubauten are recognisable more by their stage design than by the musicians. They use a logo that competes with Prince’s for the most famous (and beautiful) all through music scene.
I bet much more people know the Einstürzende Neubauten logo than the face of their guitarist. A picture of it (or including it) could be more revealing than the artist.
Who does it regularly knows that taking concert pictures can be incredibly repetitive. You spend countless “three songs” waiting for a moment diverse from the usual “singer playing guitar stuck to the microphone pole”. It is boring and you have to think different. You make use of lights, you change your lenses, you move along the stage although photographer’s freedom in a pit is not much.
We depend on both the artists in front of us and the light technicians at the mixing desk.
That is why, I tend to make use of other elements beyond the artist himself. It is plenty of interesting things to photograph on a stage, pedals, instruments, stickers, amps, boxes, cables, glasses of beer, weird tools and band logos.
Taking advantage of this, whenever you spot something interesting, is useful. You might not use the images for a one photo complement to a review, but they can harmonize a report and complement a portfolio with some different shots.
Don’t be too seduced by your stars, ignore them for a little while every so often.