Since 1980, German rock band Einstürzende Neubauten—in English, “collapsing new buildings”—has been reinventing music by destroying all preconceived ideas of what music is and by redefining the beauty of sound. Their music has the undeniable ability to vibrate every particle of the listener’s being, the goal being to make the listener feel absolutely alive. Besides guitars, their musical arsenal includes power drills, shopping carts, oil drums, broken glass, and sheet metal. The sounds Einstürzende Neubauten pioneered became known to a wide audience when the popular British dance band Depeche Mode used them in their 1984 hit “People Are People.”
In the 1980s Einstürzende Neubauten’s frontman, Blixa Bargeld—a former gravedigger, bartender, and theater manager who appropriated his first name from a brand of German ballpoint pen—predicted that “the entire pop culture would change while we (Einstürzende Neubauten) would remain the same, and the day would come when our ‘noise’ would sound like their new ‘music.’” His prediction was not too far off, evidenced by the popularity in the 1990s of what has come to be known as “industrial” music. By the mid-1990s, in fact, Einstürzende Neubauten’s music seemed much tamer, due in part to the “noisification” of mainstream music, and also to the natural growth and change that is part of the band’s creative process.
Members include Blixa Bargeld, vocals; Mark Chung, bass; F. M. “Mufti” Einheit, percussion; Alexander Hacke (born Alexander von Borsig), guitar; and N. U. Unruh, percussion. Former members include Beate Batel and Grudrun Gut.
Original lineup formed in 1980; released Kollaps, Zick Zack Records, 1981; released numerous singles and albums on Monogram, Zick Zack, Some Bizzare, and Mute labels, among others; toured Europe and U.S., beginning early 1980s.
Addresses: Record company —Mute Records, 140 West 22nd St., Ste. 10A, New York, NY 10011; 345 North Maple Dr., Ste. 123, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
As Bargeld told Kenneth Laddish of Mondo 2000: “When we are at our best, our sounds form sentences as surely as words, which reinforces on another level what we are trying to express. The idea of using sound, stepping away from notes—add to this the quality of what the instrument actually is: this is burning oil. Put in a certain context, you compose a sentence dealing with burning oil.”
Einstürzende Neubauten started out as a four-piece ensemble comprised of Bargeld, N. U. Unruh, Beate Batel, and Grudrun Gut. For those who missed the quartet’s historic first show, Bargeld sold tapes of it in his second-hand store, Eisengrau (Iron Grey). The week after Einstürzende Neubauten formed, the Berlin Kongresshalle collapsed. The band viewed this as a perfect propaganda opportunity and took it as a good omen.
Another German band, Abwärts, of which Bargeld and Unruh were fans, featured F. M. “Mufti” Einheit and Mark Chung, who both eventually became members of Einstürzende Neubauten. As a trio, Bargeld, Unruh, and Einheit released their first LP, 1981’s Kollaps. This was actually a follow-up to the previous lineup’s successful single “Für den Untergang” and the “Kalte Sterne” double-pack 7-inch single. Shortly thereafter, Chung formally joined the group. In 1983 16-year-old Alexander Von Borsig, known as Alexander Hacke, who was involved with many strange musical projects and had performed with Einstürzende Neubauten sporadically, began to play with them on a more regular basis.
Soon after the release of Kollaps, Einstürzende Neubauten became favorites of the British press and in 1983 released their first album in the United Kingdom, Drawings of Patient O. T. Although some felt it lacked the primitive intensity of their first release, most felt Patient O. T. had more texture and direction. The sound seemed more stripped down but better structured. The band had torn themselves down and moved on to yet another stage of their evolution.
The following year Einstürzende Neubauten released Strategies Against Architecture on the Mute label and 2X4 on ROIR. Strategies is a compilation of five tracks from Kollaps, two from Kalte Sterne, the B-side of the “Für den Untergang” single, and previously unreleased works, some of them live. The cassette-only 2X4, contains live performances recorded in Europe from 1980-1983.
In 1984 Einstürzende Neubauten began appearing at special-event “site-specific” performances. One of the more notorious of these took place in California’s Mojave desert on March 4, 1984. Fans who attended the show were brought to the site on a chartered bus caravan. While refrigerators and other appliances loaded with explosives were detonated for their enjoyment, courtesy of Mark Pauline and Survival Research Laboratories, Einstürzende Neubauten filled the desert air with their music in an unforgettable symphony of apocalyptic sights and sounds.
The band’s indoor shows had also become quite notorious. Fire had become a regular part of their program. But at one Los Angeles performance, an onstage fire got out of control and completely burned the props for the second half of the show. The same night, vibrations from the power drill used onstage caused plaster to fall off the ceiling and onto some record company executives who were eating dinner a floor below.
Soon promoters were forced to turn down opportunities to mount Einstürzende Neubauten shows; insurance companies had begun to refuse to cover the venues at which Einstürzende Neubauten was booked. The band rectified this untenable situation by toning down the more “explosive” and uncontrollable elements of their live show. By the mid-1990s, their shows were more restrained; they needed only brandish the drill or empty water out of a gasoline can to raise the tension level and get a strong audience reaction.
Displaying their creative compositional techniques by employing grand piano, bizarre dance beats, and their trademark thunder, the band released Halber Mensch in 1985. The a cappella title track sounded like part of an avant-garde opera. Then, Einstürzende Neubauten disbanded for a year. In 1987 they reformed and released Fünf auf der Nach Oben Richterskala, perhaps their quietest release, one that left many of their fans confused, waiting for the thunder that never emerged from this album. The thunder returned, however, with 1989’s Haus der Lüge and reappeared again on Strategien gegen Architektur II in 1991. And after yet another prolonged hiatus, 1993 saw the release of the highly acclaimed Tabula Rasa triptych, which contains the pieces “Blume” and “Wüste,” originally composed for the avant-garde Canadian dance troupe La La La Human Steps.
The music of Einstürzende Neubauten has been called everything from “junk rock” to “industrial.” The musicians themselves have been labeled “aural terrorists” and “musical mutants,” as well as “the Kings of Industrial Rock.” Bargeld has termed their efforts “hardcore New Age,” while Einheit once classified them as “contemporary German folk music.” Bargeld explained the philosophy behind the music to Klaus Maeck in his book Hör Mit Schmerzen! (Listen With Pain!), asserting, “Einstürzende Neubauten … is a positive sound, possibly the most positive sound of all. Old objects, meanings, buildings and music get destroyed, all traces of the past are abandoned: only out of destruction can something really new be created.”
“Für den Untergang,” Monogram Records, 1980.
“Kalte Sterne,” Zick Zack Records, 1981.
Kollaps, Zick Zack Records, 1981.
(With Lydia Lunch and Rowland S. Howard) “Thirsty Animal/Durstiges Tier,” Zick Zack Records, 1981.
Zeichnungen des Patienten O. T. (Drawings of Patient O. T.), Some Bizzare, 1983.
Strategies Against Architecture 80-83, Mute Records, 1984, reissued, Homestead, 1986.
2X4, ROIR, 1984.
“Yu Gung,” Some Bizzare, 1985.
Halber Mensch, Some Bizzare, 1985.
Fünf auf der Nach Oben Richterskala, Some Bizzare, 1987.
Haus der Lüge, Some Bizzare/Rough Trade, 1989.
Strategien gegen Architektur II, Mute Records, 1991.
Tabula Rasa, Mute Records, 1993.
“Interim,” Mute Records, 1993.
“Malediction,” Mute Records, 1993.
Dolgins, Adam, Rock Names, Citadel Press Books, 1993.
Maeck, Klaus, Hör Mit Schmerzen/Listen With Pain, Max Volume Production/E.M.E., 1989.
Robbins, Ira A., Trouser Press Record Guide 4th Edition, Collier Books, 1991.
Thompson, Dave, Industrial Revolution, Cleopatra Press, 1993.
Billboard, May 22, 1993.
Chicago Sun Times, April 30, 1993.
Columbia Daily Spectator (SC), April 30, 1993.
Details, April 1993.
Entertainment Weekly, February 19, 1993.
Los Angeles Reader, December 4, 1992.
Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1984.
Melody Maker, March 5, 1983; September 3, 1983; December 3, 1983; September 14, 1985; July 18, 1987; August 3, 1991; February 27, 1993; April 17, 1993.
Mondo 2000, No. 11, 1993.
New Music Express, April 17, 1993.
Option, May/June 1993.
Rockguide, April 1993.
Rockpool, January 15, 1993; February 15, 1993.
San Francisco Weekly, March 17, 1993.
Seattle Rocket, February 1993.
Soundviews, February/March 1993.
Spin, August 1991; March 1993.
Village Noize, No. 14, 1993.
Wall Street Journal, October 3, 1985.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Mute Records press material, 1994.
"Einstürzende Neubauten." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 11, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/einsturzende-neubauten
"Einstürzende Neubauten." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved December 11, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/einsturzende-neubauten