While every month I highlight a different musical act that performs in the German language, I can’t say that I’m always a big fan of each month’s artist. This month is a little different. Einstürzende Neubauten is, without a doubt, the first German band that I ever really discovered and have been my favorite band, regardless of language, for many years now. While it’s often easy to label musicians as “rock” or “pop,” it’s a little more difficult for Neubauten. At times their music can be noisy and bordering on performance art while other tracks can be decidedly mainstream. But it’s always on their own terms. That means, among other things, unconventional instruments. This month, let’s learn German with the music of Einstürzende Neubauten!
About Einstürzende Neubauten
Einstürzende Neubauten was formed in 1980 in then-West Berlin, Germany. The early years saw a number of changes in members but the standard line-up for those earliest years is Blixa Bargeld, NU Unruh, Alexander Hacke, Mark Chung, and FM Einheit. The group’s name translates in English to “Collapsing New Buildings.” The name is a reference to the “new,” cheaper, weaker post-war buildings that were constructed across the country.
It was under this initial line-up that the group released six albums: Kollaps, Zeichnungen des Patienten O.T., Halber Mensch, Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala, Haus der Lüge, Tabula Rasa, and Ende Neu. The albums are noisy experiments that can be melodic at the most unexpected of times. The title track from Halber Mensch, for example, features ghostly chanting while “Morning Dew” (from 1987’s Fünf auf der nach oben offenen Richterskala) is delicate but edgy. (“Morning Dew” is actually of cover of folk singer Bonnie Dobson although it was the Grateful Dead who popularized the song.)
A “New” Neubauten
Around the mid-1990s, Neubauten’s lineup had a few changes. Chung and Einheit left, making way in 1997 for what would become, seemingly, the permanent lineup which still exists today. Bargeld, Unruh, Hacke, plus guitarist Jochen Arbeit and percussionist Rudolf Moser.
Since then, the group has released four full-length albums: Silence is Sexy, Perpetuum Mobile, Alles wieder offen, as well as the World War I concept album Lament. The “new” Neubauten is perhaps less noisy than the original, but the focus and rejection of rules is still alive and well. They even have a greatest hits album!
While not all of Neubauten’s lyrics are in German, a significant portion of them are. Bargeld’s lyrics are like poetry matched only by his trademark piercing scream that is, in a way, an instrument itself.
While Hacke generally can be found behind a bass guitar and Arbeit with an electric guitar, that’s about all that’s “normal” with Neubauten’s instrumentation. The band frequently utilize instruments of their own making, whether that be using a plastic barrel or plastic gas cans. Moser’s drum kit, in particular, features sheet metal “drums,” pieces of cut aluminum suspended like cymbals on stands, and an electrified spring. On Lament, Hacke transforms crutches into a musical instrument while Moser performs on (empty) ammunition shells.
Another staple of the band’s toolbox is a jet turbine which they play (carefully) as it spins with wooden or metal drumsticks for a unique and special sound. Listening to Neubauten’s music is fascinating but watching them transform these ordinary objects into some musical is captivating.
The Supporter Project
Long before crowdfunding was a household word, Neubauten were pioneers in the concept. In the early 2000s, eschewing support of a traditional record label, the band turned to their fans. The supporter project allows fans access to the band through their creative process. Supporters had access to benefits like webcasts and a web forum. Just this spring, the band rebooted the supporter project and are currently working on new material. I know I’ve been enjoying and looking forward to each webcast!
Looking for another Ohrwurm to help you learn German? Check out previously featured musicians and bands!
Photo by Mote Sinabel. This post contains affiliate links.