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Einsturzende Neubauten - Tabula Rasa


[Originally published in Pop Culture Press magazine, Austin, in the summer issue of 1993]

Neubauten dream, Feb. 1993-
This is my dream, as much as I can remember: I'm going to see Neubauten play. The parking lot and the club are unfamiliar. The events unfold slowly, excitement builds, I'm with friends from work and around me are people I know. The stage is framed by two large speakers, like those in a stereo system. Suddenly the music begins, "Die Interimsliebenden," and two white-face dancers are on the stage. The next part of the dream finds me somehow outside of the show going away from the club. I realize somehow that I'm leaving just as the show is beginning. turn around and drive back and try to find a place to park. As I walk up to the club my car is following me and I have to keep parking it. Finally, I'm back inside the club trying to reason with the people at the entrance that I accidentally left the club somehow. In the background the band is playing. I try harder to reason with them and some of my friends are leaving. "This show sucks!" they say as I cringe. Finally I realize that I'm dreaming and I can solve everything by just waking up.

Talking to FM Einheit Part One-

d.n.l: To what extent has post-Wall Berlin affected the band and your working there?

FM: It hasn't really affected it at all because we're not really a Berlin based band. Three of us are living in Berlin, I live in Bavaria and the bass player (Marc Chung) is living in Hamburg. We don't even do most of the recording in Berlin anymore. We mostly record at Conny Plank's studio (in Wolperath). I moved to Bavaria because I hate the information overkill of being in a big city.

d.n.l: Do you get a lot more work done out there?

FM: Yes. If I were recording in Berlin then every few days somebody would want me to record something with them, and I always seem to say "yes, I will do it".

d.n.l: It seems that a lot of people ask you to do music for them, like the 'Prometheus / Lera' soundtrack that came out recently.

FM: I do a lot of theater stuff. It's actually what I make a living off of. I couldn't make a living just off of Neubauten, so I have to do this soundtrack music as well.

d.n.l: Are you working with Caspar Brotzmann?

FM: Yes, we do have a duo record coming out ('Home'). He was down in Conny's studio recording his latest album, which is actually going to be released in America as well, and we just got together and recorded the album in one day.

d.n.l: You have a home studio as well?

FM: Yeah, but this one we recorded in a big studio because Caspar needs really a lot of space when he plays guitar.

Die Neubauten Geschicten (the Neubauten history)-

E.N played their first live show in April of 1980. The original line-up consisted of Blixa Bargeld and N.U Unruh (American born Andrew Chuddy) with two female band members, Beate Bartel and Gudrun Gut. They recorded their first single and self released it. Soon after FM Einheit and Marc Chung replaced the female members, having jumped ship from Hamburg's Abwarts (with whom FM has occasionally played with since joining EN). 'Kollaps,' their first album, was recorded during the in-between period before Marc Chung joined the band. The group was completed when Alexander Hacke (ne Von Borsig) joined the band as well, leaving Bargeld free to mostly sing. Their shows, almost from the start, became events, as much spectacle as musical force. Their work paralleled that of bands such as England's Test Dept. and Australia's SPK, and inspired a number of bands after them. They played scrap metal, springs, dripping water, drilled, banged and scratched, burned and ripped, with Bargeld's vocals alternating between torrents of shouting and shrill screams. They've collaborated with the likes of Lydia Lunch and Roland S. Howard, and, over the course of several albums, established themselves firmly in the avant garde slipstream of '80s culture. Blixa, most of all, has become a recognizable figure, partly due to his role as guitarist in Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds. They were seen as being an essential part of pre-Wall-fall Berlin of the mid-'80s scene. This was captured best in Wim Wenders classic film 'Wings of Desire' in which Blixa appeared with the Bad Seeds. Crime & the City Solution, with whom Hacke was later to join, was also in the movie. Neubauten split their time between its album projects and live shows (which also included a long stint in the Hamburg Schauspielhaus production of the play 'Andi') and its many individual projects.

Talking with FM pt.2-

d.n.l: there seems to be a part of "Headcleaner" that samples from the Beatles. Is that a tribute to them?

FM: Well, the thing about that was we needed the French National Anthem, and so we had to use the Beatles...

d.n.l: Yeah, from 'Magical Mystery Tour' ("All You Need Is Love"), but there's also "all you need is Headcleaner," which could just as well be "All You Need is Love."

FM: (laughs)

d.n.l:...and I thought it was part of the whole 'Tabula Rasa' and going back to the beginning.

FM: Well, if it's going back to the beginning of anything it's going back to the beginning of Neubauten, but the Beatles, we never had anything in common with the Beatles. They did pop music and we do some sort of pop music...

d.n.l: Yeah, but you were both big in Hamburg too though!

FM: Yeah, sure (laughs) that's your connection. "headcleaner" is, for me, a painting, it's a war painting, it's got the different troops coming in and we needed the French anthem because it's another war song and the samples of the Beatles came with it. We just couldn't get rid of them.

d.n.l: One thing I noticed, at the Munchen show, was the backing tapes to one song starting up by accident, and Blixa got kind of pissed off because it wasn't the song you were ready to do. Does using backing tapes like that sometimes condemn it to being a show instead of being a spontaneous event?

FM: I don't think so. Some things you just can't do live, but if you want it there you have to tape it. We're still totally free to go in any direction that we want to. It doesn't have to be the same every time. We can do something different on top of it.

d.n.l: How much of what happens in a Neubauten show now happens by accident?

FM: It's hard to say, it's different with every show. It depends on how much of the show f*cks up that night. (Laughs) I still think that Neubauten is improvising good, and we're going to keep that. I think it's a very important part of it, that things happen out of the blue. Even if it's only for two minutes I think it's a very big part of the show.

Munchen (Munich), April 3rd 1993-

Went to Marienplatz (tourist central) to cash some travelers cheques and found the banks closed (after all, it's Saturday). Walking around looking for someplace to cash checks or someplace to eat and find neither. Went to the W.O.M (World of Music...the German equivalent of Tower Records) and found lots of cool stuff, including solo albums by FM Einheit and Alexander Hacke. Went to the international money machine (ATM) hoping to draw out money on my credit card. I know it's maxed out, but it takes it and gives me 100 dm. Money from heaven (with a nice overdraft charge, I later learn). Without it I couldn't have gone to the show tonight. Went out to Olympia Stadion for a walk and a panoramic picture from the man-made hill. Back to Stephenplatz, then out again to find my way across town to the Panzerhalle, carefully following (my host) Wolfi's instructions). Switching from the underground to the bus, I get off at the specified stop and find I have to walk down a dark, desolate street. A group of people see my EN shirt and ask me where the show is (in German). I answer (in English) that it's up ahead a bit, I think. As I walk into the parking lot my legs start to wobble as I realize that this is the parking lot that was in my dream! I waited in a long line, paranoid that the show would sell out before I got to the entrance. Finally, at the entrance way, I realize that it too is the same as in my dream, as were the speakers when I walk into the main room. One thing wasn't going to be the same as the dream; I was determined that I was going to go stand in one place and stand there like a cement block until the show was over! There was a mind boggling amount of stuff to buy: t-shirts, books CDs. I looked but restrained myself in in fear of needing cab fare. Instead I pulled myself away and made my way up towards the stage. There was no opening act, and at 9:15 they came onstage.

They begin with "Zebulon," then "Haus der Luege," and did a frantic "Ich Bins," "Ein Stuhl in der Hoelle" and several others before ending the set with a very long version of "Headcleaner," the centerpiece of the new album, which was exhausting, with all its stops and starts. There's a couple kissing in front of me and they keep getting in my way and bumping into me. How annoying! I have visions of my arm becoming a baseball bat and knocking their heads off, but in actuality I'm too into the show too let it bug me too much. EN plays their first encore, four songs, two of which are new and very long. One song features sand and gravel on metal as N.U pours dripping, flaming, plastic while perched dangerously above FM's percussion cage. Then three more encores, one with two songs, then "Dre Kuss" and one of "Der Tot Ist Dandy" which is so loud that it's blowing through me, pushing its way through every molecule of me while my system magically retains. Then FM mouths "NO MORE" to the sound-man and the lights come on, everyone is leaving through the side of the building where one side of the hall has opened to let us all pour out. I briefly ponder BS'ing my way backstage, but can find no reason why I should other than to say "Hey, I came all the way from Texas to see you tonight" and I opt for catching my bus instead. I make my way back across town to Wolfi's, looking for a place to eat at 12:30 AM on a Saturday night. Having no success, I turned in, drank the one beer in the fridge, washed my clothes in the bathtub, and watched a dirty movie on the television. Cheesy Euro-porn on late night TV. I love it here!

Talking with FM pt.3-

FM: I wouldn't consider myself as being a part of the industrial scene. I can prove that because I don't wear a tattoo. Nothing against tattoos, but I can prove that I'm not a part of the Industrial scene because I don't have one.

d.n.l: Well, you were there before there was an industrial scene.

FM: Well, I think we made it possible for that kind of music to come up, but I have nothing in common, we don't use sequencers, the vocals are not distorted, we don't even wear camouflage anymore.

d.n.l: What do you think about the band being shoved into that scene, I mean you've outlived most of the bands that were a part of it.

FM: When we started we really wanted to change a field of music and somehow it all took off, and I quite like it. It doesn't mean that the music had any, uh, leads to us. When we did the first album, 'Kollaps,' we said "let's make the most un-listenable album ever," but if you listen to the album now there's common ground.

d.n.l: Yeah, it's almost easy listening now.

FM: I think the very perception and acceptance of the audience has changed, which is good! This may be the 500th interview I'm doing, and very often people tell me "this is the most accessible album you've done," but I think that's wrong, it's that the acceptance of the music has grown. We're more accepted now, but we're doing the same thing. I think "Headcleaner" is one of our hardest songs ever that we ever did. I think people are used to it now.

d.n.l: I think a lot of people said the same thing when 'Haus der Luege' came out.

FM: I think you're right. It's always like that. I think the whole acceptance of our music has changed, and I like that.
d.n.l: I think that there's always a group of people waiting around for a group like Neubauten to "sell out."

FM: Very often people want you to stand up for them, sorry I can't do that. I just can do what I'm doing. Mainly I do music for myself. If someone wants to set the stage on fire they can f*cking do it themselves! We did all that!

d.n.l: Well, how many times can you do that?

FM: Not very often. You can make it bigger bigger bigger, but in the end you just cut off your arm or shoot yourself on stage. That's the direction it goes.

d.n.l: I was wondering if there's ever been a time when you really feared for you life up there on stage?

FM: Just recently, actually. I did a couple of shows with Caspar Brotzmann, with a couple of steel plates, stones, a drill and that's it, and I was happily drilling along and then my hair went into the drill...

JR (my friend who's with me as I interviewed FM): I heard about the show where you got capped by the steel thing that got thrown back onstage, in Denver. Was that the worst injury or were there others?

FM: Yeah, that was the worst injury. It wasn't that bad. The funniest thing about it was I did that five minutes after the show was started. I had to go off, go to the doctor and get it stitched. The band didn't realize that I was gone and just kept playing.

d.n.l: It seems like you shows used to be a lot less structured, as far as going from one song to another, they all blended together?

FM: It's different from one day to another. One day we get it together better, and the next maybe not so much.

JR: Do you think you'll ever play other weird locations like out in the desert or on a boat?

FM: The show in the desert was, ah, one of the most interesting ones we ever did. That's very difficult if you go with a commercial (booking) agency to get something like that. The desert show was organized by some maniacs, so a normal agency couldn't get us shows like that.

d.n.l: There was an interview I read where Blixa said, this was maybe five or so years ago, but he said that Berlin would be much less interesting if the Wall came down.

FM: Yeah, but this is very, uh, I think that Berlin is very interesting now because it was too cozy, surrounded by a different country, and the (Western) government had to push a lot of money into it. A lot of subsidizing. It made it very easy for people to live there, and people didn't want to move, and now you've really got to get your shit together...

d.n.l: You think it's better now?

FM: No, it's just different. I think you can't just sit back and everything's fine, I think that's not a very creative atmosphere.

d.n.l: I think, to some extent, that Berlin in the '80s was really good for bands like yours and Crime & the City Solution and, earlier, the Birthday Party, because it was so walled in it allowed you to just sit back and write.

FM: Well Berlin's still the only city in Germany that you can live, it's the most interesting city. It was before the Wall and after the Wall.

Clean Slates-

In February of this year came 'Tabula Rasa,' the eighth Einsturzende Neubauten album (ninth if you include the '2x4' tape on ROIR). The release was preceded by the 'Interim' EP and followed by the 'Malediction' EP. All three feature the beautiful artwork of Flemish painter Ambrosius Bosschsaert, and elaborate inner-sleeve work, along with a sort of "Last Supper" themed group photo. The two EPs covers are close-ups from the master painting, and the music inside is also like a blow-up of the main work. There are two versions of "Die Interimsliebenden" on 'Interim' and three versions of "Blume" on 'Malediction' (in French, English and Japanese).

The album begins with "Die Interimsliebenden," a kind of uneasy love song, and the first single from the album, which starts with a kind of Turkish wail, and proceeds through a list of parables almost like riddles. "Zebulon" begins with gentle bass harmonics, which shows how temperate they can sound. The words seem to be from the female perspective, and seems to be at least an appreciation as it builds up speed like an orgasm. "Blume," in its English version (read by Nick Cave associate Anita Lane), is the first of two songs from the album that was commissioned by the L La Human Steps Dance troop. It is as sweet and pretty as EN gets, and it's disarming how sinister a love song can be. From there "12305 (te) Nacht" and "Sie" both seem like short stories. The second song for La La is "Wuste," which translates to desert and features the sound of sand and dripping burning plastic over an ominous string part and buzzing. It's quietly and cryptically about a desert war that, to quote FM, "We couldn't get away from seeing it, it was always on CNN." It's a whisper before the storm. "Headcleaner," in four movements, takes up the remainder of the album. FM describes it as being a "war painting," and it works on all fronts even as it winds down again in what seems like the sound of ruins. This closes the album, but the EPs work best as bookends, from the summation "Rausch" at the beginning of 'Interim' to the rather brief "Ring My Bell" that ends 'Malediction.' Most of 'Malediction' was also recorded for La La Human Steps. This EP further explores the universality of "Blume," like looking at the same flower in three different shadings with it's multi-linguistic readings. "Ubique Media Daemon" borrows wholesale from Carl Orff, while "3 Thoughts" furthers Blixa's apparent fascination with the common ground between war and sex.

Dallas Texas, April 28th 1993-

I've arrived by bus to see EN and to interview FM Einheit, though I don't know when or where. A cryptic phone call the night before informed me that I had an interview at 4 PM, at which time I would still be somewhere between Austin and Dallas on the bus. I meet up with my friend, JR, at the bus depot and he tells me of his seeing Alexander Hacke wandering around Deep Ellum, waving his arms and laughing. We go to a Miranda Sex Garden in-store at a video store and meet up with Matt, the rep from Mute, for further direction. After a few cups of wine at the in-store, we're off to the club and I meet FM coming out of the club. I tell him the situation and we're soon off for the interview.

Talking with FM Pt.4-

d.n.l: How has the process of recording EN changed over the years?

FM: It's changing, really, from song to song. On 'Tabula Rasa' most songs we played maybe four or five different times.

d.n.l: Before you recorded them?

FM: Oh no, we recorded them fifteen times. It took us one weekend to get all the different parts and then put the parts together to make up the one version.

JR: It seems that, with all the solo projects, recording must be pretty hard.

FM: Well, we just make up our schedules.

d.n.l: There's also the geographic aspects of getting together?

FM: Yeah.

d.n.l: Do you think that of all of the albums the new one sounds the most organic? There are parts that are very quiet, and even personable. Do you agree with that?

FM: Yes. It has to do with the fact that most of the stuff was really played together, because, ah, we would play a song together in a room, uh, that's organic. You get five people to be like one organism.

d.n.l: Are you, or the band, going to be involved in more film or play type things anytime in the near future?

FM: I think so. At the moment we are mainly working with theatrical type direction. We'll probably do more plays, and myself, I work a lot for theater. When I get back from this tour I have to do three plays until the end of this year and a couple more next year.

d.n.l: Did 'Andi' open things up for you all in that area?

FM: No, not really. No, after 'Andi' we really had enough work together. We did about fifty shows of that and were supposed to do another fifty but we just didn't want to do that anymore. We were just repeating ourselves. But I do like theater...

d.n.l: Having not seen 'Andi' I wondered how much of that became songs on later albums?

FM: Actually, we ripped them off and gave them some music we had already released. It was really a good occasion to make some money.

d.n.l: It seems like Germany is much more supportive of its arts (that the USA).

FM: Yeah, in Germany there is a lot of support for theater. Every bigger city has a theater which is funded by the city of the country.

d.n.l: One of the things I noticed about Frankfurt was that it had a really good program for the arts.

FM: Frankfurt has a couple of good theaters. Berlin has five or six different theaters. For the moment they are really cutting it down.

d.n.l: I guess because of the cost of re-unification...
FM: That's what they say. It's a good excuse!

Dallas, later that evening-

Back at the club, JR and I both get in with our backpacks. Mine with the recorder and his with a video camera (both contraband). Miranda Sex Garden is playing first. I'm restless and wander around the club to the booth with the t-shirts. Alexander Hacke is sitting there talking with the girl selling t-shirts. I buy one of the shirts and the girl suggests I ask Alex to sign it. Then I ask him to sign the CD inserts I have in the backpack before signing the shirt in silver metallic marker. Later I look at the shirt to see what he wrote and realize it says "BLIXA." Smart-ass German rock stars! Later, the show begins and, despite what FM says about each show being different, this one is a lesser version of the one I saw in Munich. Not nearly as intense, and also shorter. They play a quick, two song, encore, after which I tell the people around me to keep clapping because I saw them do four encores in Munich. They keep clapping but the house lights come on and one guy turns to me and says "Yeah, well I guess we're not in Munich, pal!."
Tags: all you need is neubauten...

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