A concept of “conceptlessness” was created at that time from a spontaneous idea (many thought it was an April Fool’s joke when the Einstürzende Neubauten first stood on the stage at Berlin’s “Moon” on April 1, 1980; more than 35 years ago), from which the “brilliant dilettantes” developed their own strategy against social and musical architecture using metal pipes, feathers and machines. In keeping, Blixa Bargeld constructed metaphor-laden poetry, around which unique worlds of sound were built up from objects of the most varied origins. The band discovered sounds beyond the pain barrier, the beauty of dissonance and the aesthetics of the scrapyard.
They are regarded as the most important engines in the development of new musical strategies. Hardly another German band has characterized the music landscape as lastingly as EINSTÜRZENDE NEUBAUTEN. Their influence on the music world was and is as great as their timeless character.
How to continue? Not because one can or because one must, but because one does. The title track of Einstürzende Neubauten’s 2004 album said it right: Perpetuum Mobile. Once fully set in motion – by West Berliners Blixa Bargeld and NU Unruh and Alexander Hacke in the early 1980s – Einstürzende Neubauten have pressed on regardless. Indeed since percussionist Rudolf Moser and former Die Haut guitarist Jochen Arbeit joined 19 years ago, the Einstürzende Neubauten line-up has not only been their longest lasting; going on the evidence gathered here, it’s arguably their broadest ranging and most fruitful partnership, with Rudi and Jochen always gamely responding to the musical challenges posed by NU Unruh’s battery of invented instruments and devices. Along with multi-instrumentalist Alex Hacke, who took over bass after the departure of Mark Chung (after their 1992 album Tabula Rasa) and FM Einheit (during the recording of 1996’s Ende Neu), they willingly switch between their chosen instruments and NU Unruh’s inventions, sounding the depths, tapping, scratching and hammering out beats, or drawing haunting tones from the seemingly most ungiving of source materials presented to them, invariably in the service of the song. And how does the song go? “We didn’t die”, sings Blixa, “we‘re just singing a different song”.
“The difference”, he goes on to clarify, “is in the song”.
The song in question, “How Did I Die?”, comes from Lament, Einstürzende Neubauten’s 2014 soundtrack to a specially commissioned live performance by the Belgian Flemish town of Diksmuide to mark the centenary of its fall to German troops at the outbreak of the First World War. It might be steeped in the history of catastrophe but it’s also the newest track on Greatest Hits, the compilation album named after the special shows they’ve been touring the world with these past few years, initially while they were researching and preparing Lament for its Belgian premiere performance.
The music for those Greatest Hits shows was largely drawn from the last 27 years, and then most all of it created by their current longest lasting line-up. The earliest track here, however, is a newly mixed version of “Haus Der Lüge”, the title track of their 1989 album Haus Der Lüge; except it’s now adorned with freshly recorded trombone and string parts, which the group wanted on the original but couldn’t afford, so had to use synth simulations instead. 1993’s Tabula Rasa is represented by two tracks, “Die Interimsliebenden” and “Salamandrina”. It’s the last album to feature bass player Mark Chung, who joined in 1981 shortly after FM Einheit, aka Mufti, while they were both members of the Hamburg punk group Abwärts. Mufti himself left during the recording of 1996’s Ende Neu, and he doesn’t actually feature on Greatest Hits’ opening track “The Garden”, the first line of which was inspired by an English woman overheard by Blixa: “If you want me you will find me in the garden/Unless it’s pouring down with rain”.
Here begins proper the phantasmagoric journeys documented on Greatest Hits, taking Einstürzende Neubauten – so the song goes – to the banks of all four rivers and the spring of consciousness, through all four seasons while waiting for the apple to fall. And the music they’ve made on those journeys has reflected those changing seasons, responding to the changing times, refracting those hard knocks. Five tracks are taken from their 2000 album Silence Is Sexy: “Sabrina”, “Sonnenbarke”, “Total Eclipse Of The Sun”, “Redukt” and “Die Befindlichkeit Des Landes”. , Translating as “The Lay Of The Land”, “Die Befindlichkeit Des Landes” also featured in Einstürzende Neubauten’s melancholic soundtrack to Hubertus Siegert’s Berlin Babylon, a 2001 documentary about the changing face of the purportedly unified city since the November 1989 fall of the Cold War-built Wall dividing it since 1961. The ten minute piece “Redukt”, meanwhile, has become a live favourite, long ago replacing the early Einstürzende Neubauten staple “Sehnsucht”, both as a showcase for the group’s extraordinary capacity for invention, and as a vent for the emotions accumulated over the course of a concert.
During the 2000s, Einstürzende Neubauten’s resourcefulness extended beyond the stage and the recording studio into the economics of alternative music practice. In response to the worldwide decline of the record industry, neubauten.org webmaster (and Blixa’s wife) Erin Zhu proposed a new working model based on the close relationship built up between the group and their fans. Her business plan provided Einstürzende Neubauten the means to bypass the ever more controlling music industry and continue down their own path, as indeed they always have done. Two Greatest Hits tracks, “Dead Friends (Around The Corner)” and “Ein Leichtes Leises Säuseln”, originated on their Supporters Album #1, which in publicly modified form became Perpetuum Mobile (Mute, 2004). Something like 2000 supporters financially pledged their faith in Einstürzende Neubauten two more times, for which they received Grundstück (2005) as their first dividend, followed by a special supporters’ version of the self-released Alles Wieder Offen (Potomak, 2007). The latter provides the following three tracks to Greatest Hits: Einstürzende Neubauten’s playful homage to early 20th century’s dada pranksters “Let’s Do It A Da Da”, “Susej” and “Nagorny Karabach”.
The last named is a simultaneously haunting and heartbreakingly beautiful psychogeographical piece that stands as one of Einstürzende Neubauten’s greatest album hits. As the song indicates, they have taken more than a few hard knocks, bumps and glitches on the way, but there’s no stopping them now.
Now as then as always, declares Greatest Hits’ aforementioned newest track “How Did I Die?”, “The difference makes the song”.